Three years ago, the environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben made a striking observation: that despite overwhelming evidence of a world-threatening rise in temperatures, our cultural realm seemed unaware of the looming crisis. "Where are the books?" he demanded. "The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?" Global warming, he concluded, "hasn't registered in our gut; it isn't part of our culture".
How things have changed. Today, bookshops have entire shelves devoted to climate change. Television, too, has belatedly begun to catch up. Which is not to say every contribution has been well-informed or progressive: Channel 4 commissioned a contrarian polemic, The Great Global Warming Swindle, broadcast in March last year. Directed by the committed anti-environmentalist Martin Durkin, the spectacularly misleading Swindle marked a broadcasting nadir for the number of distortions, errors and misrepresentations that can be crammed into 75 minutes.
On 21 July the broadcasting regulator Ofcom handed down a severe censure, ruling that the programme had breached impartiality guidelines and treated contributors unfairly. This should be embarrassing for a scrupulous public service broadcaster, yet Channel 4 seems to have a higher regard for controversy than for truth.
But, into the intellectual and ethical vacuum that is Channel 4's environmental programming steps the BBC with a new, two-part TV drama called Burn Up. Screened on 23 and 25 July on BBC2, this thriller surely marks the belated coming-of-age of energy politics as a legitimate topic for popular entertainment. Written by Simon Beaufoy, screenwriter for The Full Monty, and starring Rupert Penry-Jones (from Spooks) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Burn Up really is thrilling (if you missed the original transmission, make sure you get hold of the download on the BBC's iPlayer, quickly).
The story finds the young chief executive of a British-based oil company wrestling with his conscience as the deadline looms in global clim ate-change talks. There's a fast-talking scientist and a bad-turned-good government appar atchik, both trying to confront the evil axis of oil lobbyists and the US government.
Yet this is not a televised Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report: there's sex and murder. I could quibble that, in the interests of gripping drama, the portrayal of climate negotiations isn't quite as I've seen in reality, but I imagine policemen feel the same way about The Bill.
Also well worth watching out for on the cultural front is the upcoming feature film The Age of Stupid, a drama-meets-documentary epic that casts Pete Postlethwaite in the role of "the archi vist", alone in the year 2055 in a specially constructed Arctic museum-cum-fortress, one of the last surviving human beings on the climatic ally devastated planet. The archivist - using his cache of all the world's broadcast material from past decades - is constructing a digital broadcast for other, future civilisations about why humanity failed to save itself from global warming.
This is where the real documentary comes in. The director, Franny Armstrong, spent years film ing people in various countries who illustrate the dilemmas of climate change: an elderly French mountain guide, the chief executive of an Indian low-cost airline and a Shell petroleum geologist who lost his house to Hurricane Katrina, among others. The film is anything but a good guys-versus-bad guys polemic; it is angry but nuanced, despairing but also strangely motivating. Indeed, the hero (in my opinion) - the one who coins the name of the film itself - is none other than the Shell man, who saved dozens of people in his boat in the aftermath of the hurricane, and has clearly done more thinking about the environment than many greens I know.
I should probably mention that I appear in the film (sketching carbon-emissions graphs in the garden shed), and I also had a hand in writing and advising on the scientific content of the script. Armstrong hopes for UK-wide cinema release in October or November this year, and discussions regarding a prime-time television slot are already under way. Watch out for the fast-paced animations and for the peculiarly captivating soundtrack. It seems that, finally, someone is answering Bill McKibben's lament.