Daisy Christodoulou has contributed an original brief outline of five pieces of literature: three novels; a play and a work of literary criticism. Daisy was keynote speaker at the Sept 2014 ENIRDELM Conference and is the author in 2014 of the controversial book “Seven Myths about Education”. At the Helsinki conference she attended the workshop about education’s failure to address the issues with which this website is concerned.
Literature about climate change and the environment
The beauty and preciousness of nature has been a theme for writers from the earliest times. In recent years, more and more literature has explored not just natural beauty, but the complex politics of the environment. All of the books below would be suitable for reading and studying at A-level.
Mara and Dann (1999)– Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing, the 2007 Novel Laureate in literature, had a track record of tackling big global issues. Her early work addressed the injustice of racial discrimination in 1930s southern Africa, while her later novels explored the feminist movement in the UK. Mara and Dann is one of her later novels. It’s set in a futuristic Africa, or ‘Ifrik’. The world has been transformed by climate change. The northern hemisphere is covered in ice, but the southern hemisphere is in drought. Mara and her brother Dann travel from the drought-stricken southern tip of ‘Ifrik’ to the last parts of the world that are still habitable. On the way they meet people who still refuse to accept the new reality.
“The ice came down, quite fast, in a hundred years.”
“Fast?” jeered one of the girls. She was seventeen. To her the hundreds, and the thousands, and the tens of thousands, meant no more than the kind of talk children overhear: grown-ups conversing above their heads using words they do not know.
“It began,” said Mara, “when these lands here.” — and she pointed to the north of the globe — “which had people and towns and plenty to eat, had to empty because it got so cold, and they knew the ice was coming. And that took.” — she looked at the girl who had spoken — “not much more than twice seventeen years.”
The girl burst into tears.
“These things can happen quickly,” Mara pleaded, imploring them, begging them. “Just imagine: all of this, all.” — and she made the globe spin slowly — “all of it here, the top half, beautiful and good to live in, and then the ice came down over it.”
The people were restless, their eyes evasive and gloomy, and they sighed, and wanted to leave.
There’s a sequel to this book called The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog. In an interview about this book, Lessing said that she worried about a future Ice Age, ‘because we’ve had many ice ages, and we are certainly going to have another one. What pains me is that everything the human race has created has happened in the last 10,000 years, you know, and most of it in the recent years. An ice age would just wipe that out. It would. Then we have to begin again then, don’t we, which is what we always do.’
The Road (2006) – Cormac McCarthy
The environmental writer George Monbiot called this ‘the most important environmental book ever written.’ The novel is a haunting and brutal description of a father and son’s travels through a post-apocalyptic world where the environment and civilisation have collapsed. It was made into a dramatic feature film in 2009.
The Heretic (2011)– Richard Bean
Richard Bean’s 2011 play deals with the modern politics of climate change. The main character is Dr Diane Cassell, a lecturer in earth sciences and a climate change sceptic. Her boss, Professor Kevin Maloney, wants her to suppress her research on non-rising sea levels so the university can win a lucrative research contract.
A clever blending of the personal, political and scientific, the play is also very funny, particularly the scene where Dr Cassell is interviewed on Newsnight by Jeremy Paxman.
Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (1991) – Jonathan Bate
This work of literary criticism by Jonathan Bate argues that Wordsworth’s work has been a ‘vital influence’ on modern green thought, and that Wordsworth’s early revolutionary fervour and love for the environment are closely linked.
Bate’s book opens with a striking epigraph from a Czech writer: ‘the air pollution, more than the existence of the Iron Curtain, brought about the revolution in Czechoslovakia.’ Bate also argues that ‘the revolutionary torch now burns in the hands of greens rather than reds.’
Solar (2010) – Ian McEwan
Like The Heretic, McEwan’s 2010 novel is also a cleverly plotted and amusing depiction of modern climate change politics. The main character, Michael Beard, is a highly successful and dissolute scientist. His young researcher, Tom Aldous, has come up with a way to solve all of the earth’s energy problems. As he says,
If an alien arrived on earth and saw all this sunlight, he’d be amazed to hear that we think we’ve got an energy problem…And get this. There’s a guy in a forest in the rain and he’s dying of thirst. He has an axe and he starts cutting down the trees to drink the sap. A mouthful in each tree. All around him is a wasteland, no wildlife, and he knows that thanks to him the forest is disappearing fast. So why doesn’t he just open his mouth and drink the rain? Because he’s brilliant at chopping down trees, he’s always done things this way, and he thinks that people who advocate rain-drinking are weird. That rain is our sunlight. It drenches our planet, drives our climate and its life. A sweet rain of photons, and all we have to do is hold out our cups! D’you know, I read this guy saying somewhere that less than an hour’s worth of all the sunlight falling on the earth would satisfy the whole world’s needs for a year.’
The novel includes an evocative description of the central character Michael Beard’s trip to the Arctic, which is based on a trip McEwan made there in 2005 with the art and climate change organisation, Cape Farewell.