Saturday, September 12, 2015

In 2015, Bill McKibben has his 2005 answer now

In 2015, Bill McKibben
has his 2005 answer now
by staff writer
[written as a guest column for San Diego Jewish World in California]

This column starts out with a salute to a Canadian Jewish woman who works with American climate activist Bill McKibben,  and then segues into a brief overview of where McKibben stands today. And all this as the United Nations climate conference in Paris gets set to start in late November. Let's hope it's not too late.

First to Naomi Klein. A globally-renowned environmentalist Klein is a 45-year-old Jewish feminist born in Montreal in 1970. Her parents were American Vietnam War era peace activists who moved to Canada because of their disagreements over war issues.  

And their daughter Naomi was recently invited to address Vatican officials in Italy after Pope Francis asked her for help in his ecumenical campaign against climate change and global warming. All in the family.

​recent ​
​nonfiction ​
​is titled "
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,
​belives strongly
that the global economy needs to be fundamentally changed, rather than just
​merely ​
tweeked, to slow the warming of
​our treasured ​
She's one tough cookie.

Klein, a seminal thinker in the climate change awareness movement worldwide
is one of the few Jewish climate activists appointed to sit on the board of directors of Bill McKibben's campaign group.

Now to the McKibben story: As some readers of San Diego Jewish World might remember, ten years ago, in 2005, McKibben, now 55,  published an important essay in Grist magazine headlined ''What the warming world needs now is art, sweet art,'' calling for novels and movies about climate change issues.

The term 'cli-fi' did not exist at that time, so McKibben did not use it in his piece, but he is aware of it now his personal assistant told this reporter in a recent email from his office in Brooklyn.

But in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, climate change issues ''had not yet flooded into fiction," as journalist Stephan Phelan put it in a recent article about the cli-fi meme.

Scientists in 2005 were still wondering if and when the worlds of art and literature would ever collide with the overheating planet that they saw in their projections, Phelan remembered.

And then McKibben, in his famous clarion call in Grist, asked: "Where are the novels [about climate change]? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?"

McKibben's theory, according to Phelan? Most people still weren't quite scared enough in 2005.

''The problem was too big, too diffuse, too complex to provoke a visceral response," Phelan opined.

"It hasn't registered in our gut,"
wrote in 2005. "It isn't part of our culture."

​Four years later, in 2009, McKibben wrote a second essay for Grist which revisited his 2005 piece. The new one was headlined "Four years after my pleading essay, climate art is hot," and the busy activist noted: ''That pleading little essay I wrote in 2005? It was probably the last moment I could have written it. Clearly there were lots and lots of people already thinking the same way, because ever since it’s seemed to me as if deep and moving images and sounds and words have been flooding out into the world."

 And, in fact lots and lots of people were thinking the same way as McKibben, including British nature writer Robert Macfarlane, who also in 2005 penned a popular essay about the need for climate art, titled "The Burning Question."

McKibben says now in 2015 that via some kind of undercurrent of global climate awareness there is now "a torrent of art" about  global warming. His 2005 essay, along with Macfarlane's piece in the Guardian newspaper, raised the alarm and artists and novelists answered it.
In fact,
the climate change opera that McKibben
​was humorously calling
​ in 2005 was actually mounted for real in May of 2015 at La Scala opera house in Italy. Titled ''
'' the opera was di
rected by Giorgio Battistelli and inspired by Al Gore's documentary
​ ''​
An Inconvenient Truth."
Today in 2015 McKibben confesses he's too busy organizing climate protest actions for his group to get much new writing done, so he has no plans to revisit his 2005 Grist essay for now. However, he told Phelan that artists are a vital part of his projects and that he sees them as "the antibodies of the cultural bloodstream."

​Recent climate art projects "help people p
icture meaning in their minds,
​ told Phelan​
Nuclear explosions were relatively easy to imagine, because we always had the mushroom cloud. But here we have the explosions of a billion pistons in a billion cylinders every second.

cKibben also told Phelan that ​
​realy ​
​that yet ​
another treatise from himself or some like-minded polemicist would
move the needle all that much.
That said, a really good metaphor is probably as useful in the
​[climate awareness] ​
fight as a new kind of car engine
​he added.​

And as Klein and McKibben would agree, many ways to raise awareness of the pressing (and oppressing) climate issues that face us are needed now more than ever, and cli-fi novels might be one answer for those who work in the literary trenches.

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