When being the Prime Minister gets in the way of a good holiday

Clamouring for Cameron to come back from holiday when things get tough just feeds his Etonian ego.

It can't be easy for David Cameron. You take a nice holiday, to which you're perfectly entitled, and then news happens. Why can't that pesky news just leave you alone for five minutes? But after having cut short a delightful time in Tuscany to declare war on human rights and health and safety after the recent riots, the PM's stay in Cornwall got interrupted by Libya.

The situation in Libya isn't quite as clear-cut as it appeared on Monday night, though - not quite the out-and-out triumph for steely Cameron as it might have seemed after those first few hours, anyway. It's tempting to wonder if our beloved leader hasn't hastily headed back down the M4, only to be called back once again when the rebels started getting on top. You'll probably see him sat at Costa Coffee at Leigh Delamare services, muttering into a phone: "Well, can I go back or not? I've left the bucket and spade and everything."

Whatever Cameron's doing, though, it appears to be working. Whether it's claiming that health and safety and human rights have something to do with the culture that led to rioting in English cities this summer - entirely serendipitously chiming in with his longstanding commitment to obliterate the public sector in the 'red tape challenge', of course - or claiming partial credit for the decision to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, he seems to have had something of a boost in the polls. He must be hoping that holiday time never ends: every time he goes on one, there's a crisis that apparently warrants his early return in order to appear statesmanlike and sort everything out.

It's our fault, of course, for dragging him back in the first place. Even before Jim Callaghan breezed back from sunny Guadeloupe in 1979 and ticked off the press for their 'parochial' view of events (leading to the infamous Sun headline "Crisis, what Crisis?") politicians have been wary of being seen detached from events, especially if they happen to be in sunnier climes than their constituents. We can't bear the thought of our leaders sunning themselves on a beach somewhere, or sipping white wine on a balcony somewhere disgustingly lovely, when we're suffering at home. We want our leaders to come back and sort out the mess. But it's an attitude that plays right into their hands.

Cameron knows this - he's good at presentation - and so rushes back to save the day every time, like the trusty white knight. The delay during the riots, if anything, made it better for him, not worse. The clamour for our Prime Minister to return from Italy made it seem that he was the only one who could save the day; his return was the only way of changing things around and making the important decisions. So when he did come back, and announced a huge surge in police numbers that capped the violence and unrest, it did the trick. He could have done it all on the phone, and it wouldn't have made any difference at all, but why do that when you can make capital out of it? While everyone else was holding the spanners and working like a dog, Cameron came back at the last second, gave the bonnet a polish and handed the keys back. You have to admire his style, if little else.

Whether the boost for Cameron lingers once the kids have gone back to school, and there are no more holidays to cut short, remains to be seen. I would find it depressing if a bit of tough talking after the riots and a war on human rights have proved popular with voters. What would that say about us? That we love to be governed, I suppose. We want the big Etonian alpha male to come and rescue us when we're in trouble, and keep us safe. What a horrible thought.

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How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change

The paradox is that the harder climate-fiction novels try, the less effective they are.

When the Paris UN Climate Change Conference begins at the end of November, the world’s leaders will review the climate framework agreed in Rio in 1992. For well over 20 years, the world has not just been thinking and talking about climate change, it has also been writing and reading about it, in blogs, newspapers, magazines – and in novels.

Climate change fiction is now a recognisable literary phenomenon replete with its own nickname: “cli-fi”. The term was coined in 2007 by Taiwan-based blogger Dan Bloom. Since then, its use has spread: it was even tweeted by Margaret Atwood in 2013:

It is not a genre in the accepted scholarly sense, since it lacks the plot formulas or stylistic conventions that tend to define genres (such as science fiction or the western). However, it does name a remarkable recent literary and publishing trend.

A 21st-century phenomenon?

Putting a number to this phenomenon depends, partly, on how one defines cli-fi. How much of a novel has to be devoted to climate change before it is considered cli-fi? Should we restrict the term to novels about man-made global warming? (If we don’t, we should remember that narratives about global climatic change are as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of the flood.) If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing. This is the figure put forward by Adam Trexler, who has worked with me to survey the development of cli-fi.

This definition also gives us a start date for cli-fi’s history. While planetary climatic change occurs in much 20th-century science fiction, it is only after growing scientific awareness of specifically man-made, carbon-induced climate change in the 1960s and 1970s that novels on this subject emerged. The first is Arthur Herzog’s Heat in 1976, followed by George Turner’s The Sun and the Summer (published in the US as Drowning Towers) in 1987.

At the turn of this century, Maggie Gee and TC Boyle were among the first mainstream authors to publish climate change novels. In this century, we can count Atwood, Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ilija Trojanow and Jeanette Winterson as major authors who have written about climate change. The past five years have given us notable examples of cli-fi by emerging authors, such as Steven Amsterdam, Edan Lepucki, Jane Rawson, Nathaniel Rich and Antti Tuomainen.

Creative challenges

Cli-fi is all the more noteworthy considering the creative challenge posed by climate change. First, there is the problem of scale – spatial and temporal. Climate change affects the entire planet and all its species – and concerns the end of this planet as we know it. Novels, by contrast, conventionally concern the actions of individual protagonists and/or, sometimes, small communities.

Added to this is the networked nature of climate change: in physical terms, the climate is a large, complex system whose effects are difficult to model. In socio-cultural terms, solutions require intergovernmental agreement – just what COP21 intends – and various top-down and bottom-up transformations. Finally, there exists the difficulty of translating scientific information, with all its predictive uncertainty, into something both accurate and interesting to the average reader.

Still, cli-fi writers have adopted a range of strategies to engage their readers. Many cli-fi novels could be classified as dystopian, post-apocalyptic or, indeed, both – depicting nightmarish societies triggered by sometimes catastrophic climate events. A future world is one effective way of narrating the planetary condition of climate change.

Some novelists are also careful to underpin their scenarios with rigorous climatic predictions and, in this way, translate science fact into a fictional setting. Kingsolver, who trained as an ecologist, is the best example of this – and Atwood and Robinson are also known for their attempts at making their speculations scientifically plausible. Also, cli-fi novels, particularly those set in the present day or very near future rather than in a dystopian future, tend to show the political or psychological dimensions of living with climate change. Readers can identify with protagonists. To some extent, the global community is represented in fictional everymen or everywomen. Or, often, it is through such characters that science is humanised and its role in combating climate change better understood.

Can cli-fi lead to change?

Could cli-fi affect how we think and act on climate change? The paradox is that the harder cli-fi tries, the less effective it is. Many writers want to inspire change, not insist on it: the line between literature and propaganda is one that most novelists respect. Literature invites us to inhabit other worlds and live other lives. Cli-fi at its best lets us travel to climate-changed worlds, to strive there alongside others and then to return armed with that experience.

In Paris, the UN will seek a global agreement on climate action for the first time in more than 20 years. There is plenty of climate change fiction out there to help provide the mental and psychological space to consider that action.

The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.