Thursday, March 15, 2007

"one school of thought, and a few nutters"

Robert Butler describes what sounds like a good essay by the novelist John Lanchester about climate change. The article, from the London Review of Books, is [update 16 March now online here]. From Butler's summary:
"Someone my age," writes John Lanchester..., "is likely to have spent a couple of formative decades trying not to think too much about nuclear war"...There was a fact of life that combined "individual impotence and prospective planetary catastrophe". Then along came climate change. "I suspect we're reluctant to think about it because we're worried that if we start we will have no choice but to think about nothing else."

"In respect of the science," writes Lanchester,"...there is one school of thought, and a few nutters. There is an urgent requirement in the public arena," he continues, "for the issue to be considered now as one of plain fact."
The mention of nuclear war resonates. See my post from last December, The day before yesterday.

The relations between politics and the arts are complex, especially when it comes to imagining catastrophe. What are the responsibilities of 'cultural workers' in times of crisis, and what to make of, for example, Danny 'Trainspotting' Boyle's Sunshine (Voiceover man: "Every second, somewhere in the Universe a Sun dies. In 2007 it will be ours")? Is it distraction, confusion and bogus science at a time we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball or is it (as I imagine the movie makers would riff) an artistic approach to facing and dealing with massive and inchoate fears?


Gia said...

Hey! Thanks for the link! Bizarre, I was just talking about Kat last night with someone who works with her!

I'll tell you what *my own personal* take on Sunshine is (this isn't necessarily the official take, nor is it Danny's or Alex's take). Sunshine is about a few things:

1) It looks at how individuals deal with the 'eventual end'- the end of their own life *and* the idea that ALL of mankind will eventually cease to exist.

2) It looks at how people deal with the power of Nature. Do they see it rationally, in the way a scientist does, or do they take a more mystical approach and call it God? Can a scientist see the universe with a sense of wonder? (of course they can and do, but many religious people might attempt to argue the opposite).

3)If the fate of mankind rested on the shoulders of one person - what would that do to that person's mind? What would he sacrifice to save a species who, let's face it, seems to enjoy engaging in war and destruction? Would he choose to sacrifice them all in favour of his own personal beliefs?

4) Nature can be as violent and destructive as humans can be. Moreso, in fact. If Nature is God's realm, as a religious person might argue, then do we have the right to question the wisdom of God? If we don't continue learning about the universe scientifically, would that be our undoing?

5) Is the logical choice always the 'moral' one? If not, does that matter if the pay-off is big enough, like, say 'saving mankind'?

I think the themes are *very* relevant to the world right now on lots of different levels... Using the plot device of the Sun's destruction is 'movie shorthand'. Setting it in the near future allows people to have a connection to the characters and their feelings.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts when (if) you see it!

Caspar Henderson said...

Thanks, Gia. After reading your comment, I do want to see Sunshine.

Going on a slight tanget, I've heard it said that the first Alien is "really" about cancer, or AIDs, or something.

Michael Cieply wrote recently in the New York Times about a slew of films (most of them not too good from the sound of it) on cruel nature/earth "revenge" type themes (On Screens Soon, Abused Earth Gets Its Revenge).

When it comes to a humourous approach, I am still a fan of John Carpenter's Darkstar and the bomb that discovers phenomenology.

Douglas Coker said...

Caspar. Lanchester's extended LRB article is very good. I recommend it for all those busy people who haven't time to read the books and trawl the websites.

I'm a bit wary about what he says about individual action. Should I start flying again? I don't think so. Lots of individual actions begin to count. Ohh ... and he seems to go with Lovelock on nuclear. Exactly how big is his back garden?

Hadn’t previously noticed your December comments on capital/markets saving the planet. Am aware I need to read all the Cornerhouse stuff. Can you recommend any shortcuts?

Douglas Coker

Caspar Henderson said...

Dear Douglas,

The Cornerhouse report is a mega read. Oliver Tickell boils it down to what he calls Lohmann's Fork: does a given action (e.g. carbon trading) prevent fossil fuel being burned?

The best short overview and analysis I have read in recent months is A rough guide to carbon trading by Matthew Lockwood.