McEwan: A novelist contributes his 2 cents to the climate change discussion (photo from McEwan's website: http://www.ianmcewan.com)

Rather unnervingly, in reading Ian McEwan’s “Solar” yesterday, I saw the subject of this blog and my postgraduate

dissertation brought up by a fictional academic talking to the fictional Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Michael Beard.

“I’m interested in the forms of narrative that climate science has generated. It’s an epic story, of course, with a million authors.”

Better still is the scientist’s grumpy reaction – “Beard was suspicious…People who went on about narrative tended to have a squiffy view of reality, believing all versions of it to be of equal value.” (p.147) The character is also hilariously annoying and seems to completely miss the point of the speech then given about climate change in order to analyse it from a literary perspective. As you might imagine, dear reader, this gave me some pause for thought!

At the same time it is the innovations of an earnest, workaholic nerd that show the most signs of social benefit, compared to the farcical artists working on conceptual dance pieces and ice-sculptures of polar bears.

Questioning the way reality is viewed does not mean a complete disregard for some opinions and arguments being better to others. If “Solar” shows anything, though, it’s that the institutions of climate management are influenced by the range of unscientific human emotions we all experience: the protagonist of McEwan’s novel throws his full weight behind an urban wind-farm project, knowing it to be a farcical waste of time and resources because to back down would be “a personal disaster” (p.28).

One of the interesting things about Solar to me is that it tells the fictional story of a climate scientist, who is a thoroughly dislikable character. This makes a refreshing contrast to the many personal stories already used in the climate change literature. Al Gore (“An Inconvenient Truth”) and James Hansen (“Storms of My Grandchildren” – 2010) spring to mind. On the one hand, the personal story structures the otherwise dry-as-a-bone science. On the other, like all good Victorian novels, there’s a sense of the main character charging forward into the world, making mistakes, learning the error of his ways and coming good despite his flaws. It’s all well and good, but can seem more than a little staged.

Perhaps it’s the Englishman in me, but when people start talking about their beliefs and convictions, and saving the planet, despite whole-hearted agreement intellectually, a little bit of me dies inside. This is a public-relations circle the green movement will find hard to square. Perhaps we need to find more cynical, knowing, self-serving and world-weary climate-change spokespeople to hook the masses?

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