Vince Cable: ‘‘Poverty as we know it will be largely gone. The vast majority will constitute a global middle class’’

The Secretary of State for Business answers the NS Centenary Questionnaire.

What is the most important invention of the past hundred years?

Television: for me, as a platform to communicate; and for billions, a window on the world.

What is the most important scientific discovery of the past hundred years?

DNA research has opened up immeasurable life-enhancing medical applications and a better understanding of life.

What is the greatest sporting event of the past 100 years?

A quirky, personal choice: the 1955 FA Cup semi-final, York City v Newcastle United. It was the biggest, most memorable sporting event of my upbringing. And a reminder of days when David could challenge Goliath (and draw 1-1, after a goal scored by a milkman called Bottom).

Which book or film has had the greatest impact on you?

David Lean’s Great Expectations. The opening scenes haunted me for years, but made me addicted to the power of the cinema.

Which piece of music?

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 1 – a reminder of the musical family that my late wife, Olympia, created and of the education she gave me in the world’s great music. Beethoven was her idol.

Which work of art?

The entire temples of Khajuraho. I once travelled a thousand miles across India to see this masterpiece of temple art and architecture, created five centuries before the European Renaissance.

Who is the most influential or significant politician of the past hundred years?

There is little to be said for the monsters who dominated the politics of the 20th century – Stalin, Mao and Hitler – or for those who served them. One remarkable exception is Deng Xiaoping, whose economic reforms, post-Mao, unleashed the most successful era of poverty reduction and material advance in history.

And sportsperson?

Muhammad Ali. He demonstrated great physical and moral courage, as well as great skill, in the most punishing and demanding of sports.

And business person?

Ratan Tata (and his predecessor J R D Tata). One of Britain’s leading manufacturers and an embodiment of the long-term strategic thinking that lies behind a dominant business of the coming Asian century. He has maintained a reputation for ethical and honest business in a highly amoral environment.

And author?

For non-fiction, and as an economist, I am torn between John Maynard Keynes and Amartya Sen. For fiction, the greatest modern novelist never to win a Nobel prize for literature –Graham Greene.

And philanthropist?

The Rowntrees. In the city where I grew up, they created a model of responsible capitalism that influenced me greatly and which lives on. The work of their foundation on poverty is as relevant as ever.

What is your favourite quotation?

Mahatma Gandhi: “Western civilisation? It would be a good thing.” A gentle reminder that many people outside Europe do not totally share western conceit.

What is the most significant change to our lives you envisage over the next 100 years?

The most significant change in our lives will be the impact of ageing and growing life expectancy, with the dependent frail and elderly becoming a very large social group, not just in Europe, but also in countries such as China.

What is your greatest concern about the future?

My greatest concern is that the self-discipline of deterrence will no longer stop the use of nuclear weapons in a future conflict (or conflicts). And this is why we have to scale down our nuclear deterrent and work for a nuclear-free world.

In your own field of work, what will be the most dramatic development?

For the first time in history, poverty as we know it today will be largely gone. The vast majority of humanity, who will live in Asia, Africa and Latin America, will constitute a “global middle class”.

What is the most important priority for the future well-being of both people and our planet?

Making a transition from governance built around nation states to one with a strong system of global rules to deal with shared problems such as climate change and lethal weapons proliferation.

Vince Cable is Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and MP for Twickenham

Vince Cable. Artwork by Ellie Foreman-Peck

This article first appeared in the 13 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Exodus

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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.