David Cameron speaks during his press conference on the EU in Brussels earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron admits that the Treasury kept him in the dark over £1.7bn EU bill

The PM found out about the demand several days later than George Osborne. 

Aside from his visible fury at the EU landing him with a bill for an extra £1.7bn in membership contributions, the most notable thing about David Cameron's press conference in Brussels was his admission of a communication breakdown inside the government. While Cameron only learned of the budgetary demand yesterday, he confirmed that the Treasury knew of it several days earlier:

The first that I saw of it was yesterday, Thursday, and my instant reaction was to look at the other countries that are being treated in this way and to form an alliance with them and put a stop to this European Council so it could be properly discussed and an emergency meeting of finance ministers could be established.

Yes, the Treasury had this information a little bit earlier but I don't seek to single people out and say 'Why didn't you tell me this?' or 'Why didn't you tell me that?'.

When this information comes in the first thing they do is try to check it and sort it.

I think, frankly, it is a bit of a red herring. You can all do 'Who knew what whens' and all the rest of it but actually, frankly, you don't need a Cluedo set to know that someone has been clubbed with the lead piping in the library.

George Osborne revealed on Sky News earlier that he was "told on Tuesday", while Danny Alexander said he was informed of it "over the past couple of days". "It's something that's only formally been handed over in that period." One wonders if Cameron is as content with his ministers keeping him in the dark as his public comments suggest.

While the timing of the demand and the order for payment by 1 December has come as a surprise, the request itself should not have done. The Treasury knew months ago that the British economy had been reclassified as around £10bn larger than previously thought (owing to the inclusion of illegal activities such as prostitution and drug dealing) and that a higher EU membership fee would result. 

And for all Cameron's protestations, the government will surely pay up (if likely later than 1 December). The demand is entirely consistent with the principle that member states should contribute according to ability to pay. The complaint from the Tories that the UK is being "punished for success" is no more acceptable than a individual complaining that they are being forced to pay more tax when their income rises. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.