Climate Fiction is big business. There’s even a website devoted to academic research in the subject with its own Research Tool (Dan Bloom is his name. He’s a 1971 graduate of Tufts University in Boston where he majored in post-modern European literature.)
Most of it seems to be rough, tough American stuff, but I’m sure a more genteel version could be created for the British market:
Kathy looked up from the HADCRUT GISTEMP4 Northern Hemisphere Land temperature graph she’d been poring over and stared out over the rolling hills of Surrey where a herd of skeletal goats were feeding on the scant tufts of pampas grass, while vultures wheeled overhead. “We can’t leave it any longer, Damian,” she whispered. “Thank Gaia for the cottage in Cornwall. If we go now we’ll arrive in time for the monsoons.”
“You’re right darling,” Damian replied brightly. “I’ll pack the kids and the Perrier in the e-Golf straight away.”
“No, not the e-Golf,” said Kathy. “According to today’s Guardian there’s no charging point working between Reading and Exeter, not unless the wind picks up.” It’ll have to be the Land Rover.”
“OK darling. I’ll tie the bikes on the back. It’ll look better, and if it comes to the worst and the petrol runs out…”
He was interrupted by the sound of machinegun fire from the direction of Weybridge, where a gang of pro-Brexit Climate Denialists were holed up…
I once wasted a chunk of my life reading Ian McEwan’s “Solar” which was billed as an intelligent climate change novel. It isn’t. McEwan can write novels which, while not exactly enjoyable in the normal sense, are at least thoughtful and well-written, but Solar isn’t one of them. It’s awful, terrible, worse than you thought possible. There’s a laboured joke about the hero, a Nobel prize-winning scientist, nearly losing his penis pissing outdoors in the Arctic. The joke takes about ten pages to tell, and the only amusement comes from the fact that the physical description of the hero bears a striking resemblance to Sir Paul Nurse, which gave me a certain frisson of pleasure. Then there’s the hero’s wife’s lover who dies suddenly, slipping on a polar bearskin rug – another sideslapper. And the hero’s wife’s other lover who chucks rocks at the Nobel hero’s solar panels at the opening ceremony of his groundbreaking project, thus putting paid to his efforts to save the planet.
For actual references to climate science, there’s just one paragraph in which the hero moans about sceptics, and that’s it. So bored is the author with the whole idea of climate science that he doesn’t even bother giving names to the team of young geniuses who are saving the planet, merely referring to them as “the ponytails.” The fact that McEwan was clearly bored, and no doubt bored his readers, is a plus from our point of view, but that doesn’t compensate me for a wasted weekend.
This weekend I read an old John le Carré spy thriller, “Absolute Friends” – something completely different, except it wasn’t.
A large part of the pleasure of le Carré comes from the tensions between his socialist convictions and his descriptions of the upperclass, almost Kiplingesque atmosphere of the British spying establishment. At his best, as in “the Little Drummer Girl,” you get a subtle feeling for the complexity of the background to the world’s woes; at his worst, you get wooden, unbelievable characters, particularly of the female genus. I know one of his themes is the difficulty British public school chaps have empathising with other chaps, particularly the XX chromosome variety, but still – after twenty novels you’d have thought he’d have sorted that one out. The Girl Guides and Podgy Pig’s sister in my Rupert annuals were more rounded characters than anything in a skirt in a le Carré novel.
“Absolute Friends,” published in 2003, blazes with the author’s anger at the Iraq war, and covers far left activism in some detail from Berlin in the sixties to the stop the war movement during the Iraq invasion. The careers of the two friends take some pretty weird and unbelievable turns, but that’s par for le Carré. Criticising the opening scenes where an aging British ex-spy with a taste for Goethe is shacked up with a Turkish ex-prostitute on a Munich housing estate while acting as a bowler-hatted tour guide at mad King Ludwig’s palace is missing the point, like criticising a Salvador Dali painting because giraffes are not inflammable. But all is satisfyingly complex and riveting until near the end when the final revolutionary leftwing plot is revealed: a plan by a shady billionaire to finance a scheme to overthrow capitalist society once and for all: by opening a series of anti-universities with libraries full of leftwing books.
Er, well, yes. There used to be a couple of hundred bookshops like that on my beat round Camden Town. Maybe a few still survive. Many of the books ended up in the possession of Professor Lewandowsky, as you can see by blowing up some of the videos of his fireside chats on Youtube and looking past his face to the bookshelves behind him. There’s some interesting reading there, and some of it may have helped to turned parts of North London into hives of Corbynism. But as to overthrowing Capitalism by reading about how horrid it is…
But there’s worse: a list of some of the authors which le Carré’s aging revolutionaries are going to press on the unsuspecting young in order to change their lives, and eventually the entire world. They include Susan George, Naomi Klein, and – wait for it – George Monbiot.
(To be fair, Monbiot in 2003 wasn’t the dribbling idiot he later became. He was a decent investigative journalist who had risked his life exposing the foul horrors inflicted on East Timor by the Indonesian invaders with British complicity. He didn’t come on Heat until 2007, but he stayed on the boil until Phil Jones lanced it for him with Climategate in late 2009, when he lost interest in the coming climate Armageddon and took up badger bothering.)
Le Carré doesn’t mention climate in his diatribe against the world his heroes wanted to turn upside down. There are a several mentions of how capitalism is destroying the planet, but no details on how that destruction is manifesting itself. Every leftwing writer knew in 2003 that the planet was being raped by capitalism and industrialisation, they just hadn’t worked out exactly how. Poverty and disease were declining, life expectation was rising, but that wasn’t so well understood at the time either. It took a lot of hard work by the likes of Monbiot to explain how the thermometer was the weapon of choice for the modern revolutionary. If le Carré were writing the book nowadays, you can bet climate destruction would be the principal accusation against our Western Way of Life, and George Marshall and the Cook / Lewandowsky Debunker’s Handbook would be on the revolutionary reading list.
Le Carré might have been more convincing (and more entertaining) if he’d put the memoirs of some real nineteenth or early twentieth century revolutionaries on his red reading list. When Alexander Herzen was sent to Siberia for singing an anti-Czarist song he wasn’t bundled into a train to the Gulag. He was given a sending off ceremony at which the Czar kissed him on the forehead. But then he was a nob, like so many of le Carré’s characters, and so many of Herzen’s fellow revolutionaries. One rebel prince arrived at his Siberian exile in a horse-drawn carriage with his mistress, two greyhounds, and a couple of dozen parrots. The welcome he got from the local governor displeased him for some reason, so he invited the governor and his family to a meal, at which he served an enormous pie. All went well until the governor noticed the absence of the greyhounds…
Real revolutionaries didn’t read the 19th century equivalents of Monbiot; they read the likes of Hegel and Goethe, who were reactionaries, but at least they were reactionary geniuses who might just inspire a bright young idealist to revolutionary ideas of his own. I’m not sure what reading George Marshall might inspire you to, except to find a cushy job at some climate NGO financed by the European Environment Foundation, churning out pie charts about the coming end of the world until retirement.
Cli-Fi is back in the news with the programming, after a delay of a few years, of David Finnigan’s play “Kill Climate Deniers” from 23rd February at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney, Australia. Details are at WattsUpWithThat, including links to a spoof interview and an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which summarises the plot:
The provocative play centres on a militant cell of eco-activists who take the audience hostage during a concert at Parliament House. Led by charismatic spokeswoman Catch, they demand Australia immediately cease all carbon emissions and coal exports – or they’ll start executing their 1700 hostages. The embattled Environment Minister has no choice but to pick up a gun and stand up for her ideals.
The short trailer at the theatre’s website
is actually quite funny, since it’s mocking a green-rinsed environment minister for her ignorance of the imminent climate catastrophe. They don’t say, but I’m guessing that the play ends with the Environment minister gunning down the eco-militants. If I’m right, it’s quite clever, since the audience get to have their carbon fruitcake and eat it. They can share the psychotic fantasy implied in the title, while revelling in the underdog victimhood which is their natural state. And since the confrontation is between the true belief of the activists and the hypocritical pretence of belief of the politicians, denialism doesn’t get a look in, and no-one gets hurt by a confrontation of ideas. This is climate political science raised to a level of ineffable abstraction where it is entirely without content. Is it a coincidence that the Griffin Theatre’s following performance is entitled: “Good Cook. Friendly, Clean”?