Saturday, December 12, 2015

An Interview with Italian novelist Bruno Arpaia, conducted by Elisa Cozzarini

[TRANSLATION by Kitty Rock in Rome, Italy] [Thank you, Kitty!!!!]

An Interview with Italian novelist Bruno Arpaia, conducted by Elisa Cozzarini in Italian

Mr. Bruno Arpaia: «I will tell you how we may live the nightmare of global warming»

HEADLINE: Cities submerged in water, desertification, floods, droughts, apocalyptic scenarios provide the background to cli-fi novels, a new literary genre born in the field of....


Cities submerged in water, desertification, landscapes, floods, droughts, apocalyptic scenarios provide the background to cli-fi books, a new literary genre born which today has been gaining enormous popularity among young English-language readers worldwide.

Its definition was coined by the American writer and journalist Dan Bloom in 2008. Today, over 2000 titles are labeled as climate fiction (cli-fi) on the Amazon website. Among the most well-known authors, there are the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood and the English novelist Ian McEwan. In their works, they build up possible nightmarish future worlds, they make the readers live the experience of new reality revolutionized by the catastrophe of global warming. They try, with literature, to do their best to save the planet. 

In Italy, the first one to embrace the genre of climate fiction is Bruno Arpaia, writer, journalist and translator of Spanish and South American Literature. His coming novel, "Something, out there", which will be released in Italian in April 2016, is set in a completely desertificated Italy and in a new Germany, where the winter rain falls incessantly while in summer water is scarce. 

In the following interview, he tells us about his choice of the climate fiction genre.

Bruno Arpaia, how do the cli-fi writers fit in a public debate which offers no space to climate changes?

Bruno Arpaia: "In Solar, Ian McEwan's cli-fi novel, the protagonist's girlfriend says that to take global warming seriously would mean thinking about nothing else, considering the looming dramatic scenarios. It is therefore, from one point of view, such a terrifying topic that people avoid talking about it. Climate change, and now terrorism too, represent the greatest fear of our times, as the atomic bomb was the terror symbol of the XX century. 

On the other side, it is not much discussed by public debate because it is difficult to face. In fact, even though 99.5% of scientists now agree on blaming human interventions as the cause of the global  rising temperatures, there are no effective instruments to provide an accurate forecast of what will happen. There are  many unknown variable, like the movements of the deep seas, and other unpredictable things beyond our comprehension. But there are  also studies and models which allow us to imagine a possible future world. Compared to science fiction then, climate fiction creates contexts which may really happen, on the basis of true scientific information. By reading, we enter a new world and we learn that it could be ours in sixty years' time, if we don't act now".

The 21st  U.N. Climate Change Conference took place recently in Paris. The objective of the 195 Member States was to achieve a binding agreement to limit the global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. There were many expectations about it, what is your opinion?

Bruno Arpaia: "I wish it ended with an ambitious agreement, but it is already clear that it will not implement the measures necessary for a radical change.  Many scientists now believe that the scenarios outlined by the expert of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,  are rather optimistic. For example, they are not taking into account the effects of the melting permafrost, liberating methane, which heats up twenty two times more than carbon dioxide. This is why the global warming limit of 2°C  appears rather arbitrary, a mere convention with no basis. Nobody can assure us that no irreversible process may have already started. Many scientists predict that ice melting may cause a sea level rise from 12 to 80 meters, with a rise in temperatures of 6°C in 2100. And I would like to remark that this will happen if we don't act immediately."

Literature can be valuable in stirring people's conscience and awareness. What is the key to change?

Bruno Arpaia: "In our democracies, at all levels, from national to local government, politicians have never been able to look ahead, they are too busy with re-election. To recognize the urgency of acting against climate change would mean, instead, adopting drastic unpopular measures, thus breaking down consensus in the short term.  This is exactly why literature can play an important role; it allows the readers to live the experience of a shaken universe. By being part of a story, it is possible to have a more distinct and clear perception of what may happen. Learning these scenarios through our emotional filter, which is of greatest impact, can really shake the public opinion and pressure the governments into adopting all the measures necessary to avoid worst-case scenarios."

How did you create the setting for your novel?

Bruno Arpaia: "It is a distressing world which I have created from the scientists' predictions, but it is also realistic. In about sixty or seventy years, this may really be our future, and the life as we know it today would be possible  only around the Arctic polar circle, in Scandinavia, Siberia, Greenland, Canada. I have read the studies of James Hansen, one of the guru of climate change who was among the first at NASA to predict the risks of global warming, and the documents issued by the Earth Science Department of Oxford University. In line with my dedication to writing novels with a focus on science, the book explores this fascinating, mysterious and engaging field  of life."

While narrating these stories, did you identify yourself with your characters? Did you feel in first person the effects of climate change? 

Bruno Arpaia: "When you write you are into your characters' head, so yes, I felt anguish, I was thirsty and dreamt about salvation just like them. Writing is a never-ending learning process, it is a discovery. I have seen the mangroves walking with one of my characters in Hamburg, I have had the experience of how such a world may be. For the first time I have written in a compressed  period of time, only three months, while it took me years to write the previous ones. I started from something which had been in my head for twenty years, an image of a huge migration. I joined it to the readings about climate change and I imagined this world. I felt this need to write about it and I did not even know that this literary genre existed. Because it is true, as Solar's protagonist declares, that climate change may seem too big to consider, but after all it is important to do it."

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