Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Four Horsemen + Two of the Climapocalypse: McKibben, Macfarlane, McRich, McBloom, McKlein and McAtwood

In a very good piece of international reporting about the rise of the 'cli fi' meme worldwide by Irish journalist Stephen Phelan working out of his office in Brazil (or is he in Tokyo now, or Barcelona) and published in a glossy in-flight magazine for a major airlines in the Middle East (see link here to read full story with Flip Book technology: it's free for all readers but the article is not archived on the Internet yet via Google spiders since there is no hot link per se), several major playaers in the cli fi world gave fresh new quotes to Mr Phelan and it's a scoop.

Below are some excerpts from the article with major quotes by the Six Horsemen and Horsewomen of the Climapocalypse worth knowing about:

Bill McKibben quoted:

Phelan begins his article: "A decade ago, in the year of Hurricane Katrina, climate change had not yet flooded into fiction. Scientists were wondering if and when the worlds of art and literature would ever collide with the overheating planet that they saw in their projections. Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” asked the leading US environmentalist Bill McKibben in an article of 2005. His theory was: we still weren't quite scared enough. "

The problem was too big, too diffuse, too complex to provoke a visceral response. “It hasn’t registered in our gut,” he wrote [in that Grist essay in 2005.] “It isn’t part of our culture.” In the 10 years since, the weather has worsened and the culture has shifted. The USA alone has seen its eastern seaboard half-submerged by Hurricane Sandy and half-buried under arctic snowstorms, while the west coast suffers chronic drought and near-constant bushfires.

As this article is being written, the monsoons are again inundating the streets and buildings of Mumbai, and the heat index in Marshahr just popped the top off the thermometer at a fantastical 165 degrees fahrenheit. Rising temperatures, sea levels and rain gauges seem to have finally released what McKibben calls “a torrent of art” around global warming.

Poems like Ruth Padel’s Slices of Toast. Plays like Richard Bean’s The Heretic. Movies like Snowpiercer and Interstellar. This past May, we even got the climate change opera that McKibben called for, when CO2 – directed by Giorgio Battistelli and inspired by Al Gore’s landmark eco-documentary, An Inconvenient Truth – made its debut at La Scala in Milan.

The last decade has also seen the flourishing of literature on the subject. Relatively recent non-fiction titles like Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes From A Catastrophe draw on McKibben’s own work by way of precedent. His pioneering 1989 treatise ''The End Of Nature'' is now read as something of a classic, having raised the alarm with an early, mournful note of eulogy. “I love winter best now,” he wrote way back then, “but I try not to love it too much, for fear of the January perhaps not so distant when the snow will fall as warm rain.”

Today [in 2015 for the purposes of this interview], Bill McKibben [IN THIS NEW INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN PHELAN, A MAJOR SCOOP!] says he’s too busy organising to get much writing done. He’s an instrumental figure in the campaign, which takes its name from the maximum number in parts per million CO2 at which the Earth’s atmosphere can sustain our current civilisation. Artists are a vital part of the project, he says, “the antibodies of the cultural bloodstream”. He cites the time-lapse photography of James Balog, which shows city-sized regions of ice collapsing into the ocean, and the aerial tableaux of John Quigley, who arranges crowds into formation against dramatic natural backdrops to militate for urgent action. But writers make images in their own way.

2015 QUOTE HERE:"They help people picture meaning in their minds,” says McKibben. “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.” He doesn’t think 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 fight as a new kind of car engine.”


Dan Bloom quoted:

“I’m an optimist,” [he] says. “I’m not coming from a dark place, I’m working from a reservoir of compassion for the next 30 generations.”

He is also thinking of Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel On The Beach, a work of popular fiction that probably awakened more people to the threat of nuclear war and the horror that would follow than any contemporary scientist or campaigner had managed. It was later made into a hit movie with Gregory Peck that buried even deeper into the public consciousness. ....

He keeps particular track of the literature now making its way into school curricula and college reading lists – “cli-fi” is being rapidly adopted as a subject of academic study, giving rise to new university courses in Cambridge, Norway, India. More important, [he says,] is the way that subject seems to be engaging and inspiring young readers.

QUOTE UNQUOTE:“My hope is that one of those readers might become the next Nevil Shute and write the ''On The Beach'' of climate novels. Personally, I’m not so worried about the next 100 or 200 years. No apocalypse will come that soon. But we need to start preparing now, mentally, emotionally, and I think art can help. Visionary storytelling that sounds the alarm.”



Robert Macfarlane quoted:
British nature writer Robert Macfarlane [who wrote an essay calling for climate-themed art in 2005 that was very similar to McKibben's essay the same year] has noted that the Norse legends of Ragnarok and Balder became popular again in Victorian England, when eminent scientists like Lord Kelvin were predicting a new age of global cooling, as a prelude to the so-called “heat death” of the universe. The Earth would turn too cold to live, the sun would freeze into a ball of black ice and fall out of the sky, just as the Vikings had foretold. Except, of course, it didn’t happen.

Which is to say that we’ve been burned before. If we need a fitting flood myth for the Anthropocene epoch – what some environmentalists are calling our current geological period of prevailing human impact and influence – then we also need it to ring absolutely true. To be most useful to us, Macfarlane has suggested, the ideal literary response to climate change “would need to be measured and prudent, and would need to find ways of imagining which remained honest to the scientific evidence”.
Nathaniel Rich quoted:
"And to that end, Nathaniel Rich’s ''Odds Against Tomorrow'' might be the very model of a cli-fi novel: the story of a New York risk analyst who is fully exposed to one of his own worst-case scenarios when a superstorm devastates Manhattan. "

Rich [told Phelan that he] did not intend ''Odds Against Tomorrow'' to be read as prophesy, or prescription. He wasn’t trying to convince climate change sceptics or play to the worst fears of those already persuaded. “I had no axe to grind,” he says. His protagonist, Mitchell Zukor, obsesses over imminent disaster, while other characters face it down or look away, adopting attitudes that range from nihilism to pragmatism to panic. Rich says {TODAY in 2015} he doesn’t feel that any one of these positions is more valid than another, but he does think they raise questionsthat all of us must resolve for ourselves”.

 “It’s not just the fear of environmental collapse, but pandemics, terrorism, financial ruin, natural disaster, you name it. What’s it doing to us, this constant sense of threat, the inundation of bad news? And what are we supposed to do about it?”

Writing cli-fi might be one answer, and reading it might be one way to prepare.

“Imagination can ready the mind for eventualities that might once have seemed far-fetched,” says Rich [in 2015.]

By 2030, he reckons, every university in the world will be teaching courses in ['cli-fi' literature]. “But younger novelists will be producing the work. We’re the ones with most at stake. We’re the ones who have to live through this mess.”


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