With Gaddafi gone, we must support the re-building of Libya

The UK and France should offer their help in training Libyan officials.

As 42 years of 'one-man rule' in Libya now ends with the death of Gaddafi, the National Transitional [NTC] Council have added momentum for their nation-building role but the task at hand is no small fete for any country, especially one that has no independent public or democratic institutions of any kind.

The expectations of the Libyan people are high, as they should be. Not only have they suffered from decades of despotic rule many civilians also risked their lives and took up arms to help overthrow the regime. The NTC now has to navigate the country towards political legitimacy and build a nation with transparent, independent, inclusive and democratic institutions, and move towards reconciliation in order to meet the demands of the many diverse tribes and clans in Libya.

But, how will they achieve this? Who will their future leaders be and how confident will Libyans be in the capacity of their new leaders to deliver real positive change? We should be under no illusion of how difficult and complex this will be. Even leaders of the NTC, though playing strong and decisive leadership roles in the rebel movement cannot escape their part in the Gadaffi regime - Mustafa Abdul Jalil himself was the Minister for Justice where he imprisoned many dissident Libyans.

Beyond the politics of leadership, there is the harder more day-to-day issue of transitioning towards and actually running a democratic government and forming independent public institutions. Earlier in the Arab Spring I wrote about the strong benefits of institutions like the London School of Economics in providing training for senior Libyan government officials in transparency, good governance and public service delivery. The programme itself was sound but sadly the process followed fell foul of university decision-making boards of avoiding association with regimes with human rights abuses.

Now that Libya must start from scratch in forming an Interim Government, holding democratic elections next year and then actually running a country of six million covering a large land mass, it is perhaps time to re-visit this issue of training, equipping and supporting new leaders and officials in Libya and other countries newly liberated in the Arab Spring. Even the long-established parties of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had to be steered by the Cabinet Secretary and senior civil servants on how to form and deliver a strong, stable coalition government in the UK.

Libya also has the added challenge of ensuring inclusion of the many tribes who were also loyal to Gaddafi as excluding them from a 'new Libya' will only marginalise and disenfranchise them, and risk possible future retaliation.

Just as the Franco-British led NATO push supported the Libyan people in their uprising and while of course Libyans will want overall control of the design and delivery objectives of their future public institutions they will establish, maybe the UK, France and other countries with strong, respected and independent civil services should now also offer their help in training Libyan officials to meet the many challenges of good governance, transparency, accountability and institutional set-up and national public service delivery, ahead of them.

On the up-side, if Libyan leaders and government officials transition well towards democratic governance, institution and nation building they have enough oil resources - tapped and un-tapped - to re-build Libya and distribute the wealth effectively through investing in national education, health, economic and civil society programmes. Lessons could be also learned from successful examples in the region of such of long-term national re-distribution, investment and institution building from countries such as Qatar, to meet the needs and aspirations of the Libyan people.

What is clear is that Libya has many challenges ahead of it and it is the role of everyone, including those who supported the NATO intervention, to now also help the transition towards a democratic, inclusive and well governed Libya.

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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.