CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Forget protecting pensioner benefits. We need to prioritise real hardship (Guardian)

Older people in Britain have never been so well off, says Peter Wilby: because of their voting power, politicians are scared to upset them.

2. Resignation is not an option for the Pope (Times)

It is Benedict XVI's duty to implement worldwide the reforms already made by Catholic leaders in Britain, says William Rees-Mogg. But he cannot resign -- the last time a pope did so was in the year 1415. A resignation under pressure would not be the Church's last.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. Obama throws out the political rules (Financial Times)

Clive Crook discusses the passing of the US health-care bill. Elated Democrats feel they have the upper hand, but now they need to get the public behind what they have done.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. Parliament's wash-up's a stitch-up (Guardian)

Martin Bell argues that due democratic process is lost in the secretive pre-election horse-trading to decide which bills will survive. Electoral reform is a potential casualty.

5. Shock, horror . . . America places its own interests first (Independent)

Bruce Anderson says there is only one certainty in foreign policy: that there will be regular proclamations of the death of the special relationship, but the hearse will never arrive.

6. The special relationship has been a myth for decades (Times)

Anthony Eden wondered whether we should have taken a leaf from de Gaulle's book and treated the Americans mean to keep them keen. Better late than never, says John Charmley.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

7. Refugees for settlers is the way forward for Israel (Financial Times)

Israel is unlikely to abandon the Jewish settlements, writes Eugene Rogan. The only way forward is to put a real price on settlements that might make the Israeli government pause before expanding them -- giving right of return to Palestinian refugees.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

8. A rate for the rich (Guardian)

Twenty years after the poll-tax riots, John Andrew argues that reform is needed for council tax that benefits the wealthy. The longer the tax stays unreformed, the more unfair it will become.

9. Europe has resolved nothing over Greece (Financial Times)

Last Thursday's agreement sounded significant, says Wolfgang Münchau, but the deal was mostly smoke and mirrors -- it is hard to imagine even a hypothetical scenario in which the European Union would disburse the emergency aid.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

10. This is one utopian vision that need not be so far from reality (Independent)

Charles Leadbeater of the Young Foundation makes the case for greater citizen engagement, to create a high-energy politics based on constitutional convention which could replace the exhausted parliamentary system.

Sign up now to CommentPlus for the pick of the day's opinion, comment and analysis in your inbox at 8am, every weekday.

Show Hide image

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.