How literature tackles climate change

A few months ago I reported on Ian McEwan, currently writing a book inspired by his Cape Farewell
journey to the Arctic, who was saying how hard it was to was to tackle such a “virtuous” topic in a novel.

The trajectory of a short story is very different from a novel, but Helen Simpson manages it deftly in her story “In-flight Entertainment” which appeared in Granta 100. In it, two men who meet in the first class cabin of a transatlantic flight discuss global warming, while, next to them, another passenger dies of a heart attack.

“Four hours’ delay,” volunteered Alan, “thanks to those jokers at Heathrow. Alan Barr, by the way.”

“And I’m Jeremy Lees. Yes, those anti-flying protesters. A waste of time.”

“Complete time-wasters.”

“I suppose so,” said Jeremy. “What I meant, though, was it was a waste of their time. They’re not going to change anything.”

It’s nonsense, isn’t it, this global warming stuff. Trying to turn the
wheel back. Half the scientists don’t agree with it anyway.”

I think you’ll find they do. Ah, red please,’ said Jeremy as the air
stewardess offered him wine. ‘What have you got? Merlot or Zinfandel?
I’ll try the Zinfandel. Thank you. No, they do agree now, they’ve
reached a consensus. I ought to know, I was one of them. No, it’s not
nonsense, I’m afraid. The world really is warming up.”

“Merlot,” said Alan, rather annoyed.

It was published well before the Heathrow decision, but manages to include the line: “Heathrow will get its third runway any time now.”

Nominations for other pieces of contemporary lit which tackle this sort of stuff?

Picture: Still from The Coming Race by Ben Rivers 2006. “An indistinct, slow-moving sea of humanity clambers valiantly up a rocky mountain.” Showing as part of Figuring Landscapes at the Tate Modern, February 6 – 8. Details here.

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