Ian McEwan's Solar: The First Good Climate Change Novel? (Video)


Image credit: Friends of the Earth

Back in 2008, TreeHugger founder Graham Hill posted on author Ian McEwan's thoughts on climate change. At the time, the word was that McEwan's next book would be all about climate change. Now that book is out—and it looks like it's going to be a cut above the usual simplistic fearmongering and moralizing that has come to stand for climate change art. I've long wondered why there are very few decent novels or movies explicitly about climate change, given that it is one of the most pressing concerns facing humanity. But I suspect it is the very urgency of the topic that hinders decent art—pushing any attempts to depict the subject toward the rather overblown disaster movie approach of The Day After Tomorrow, or the post-apocalyptic strangeness and moralizing of Age of Stupid.

But anyone familiar with McEwan's novels will not be surprised to learn that his novel, Solar, avoids the obvious route of the-end-is-nigh hand wringing. According to The Guardian's review of McEwan's solar, the result is a careful, comic yet illuminating look at the moral landscape around climate change. How can a person, or a society for that matter, that is convinced of the science behind climate change still not do all they can to reverse the consequences? It's this moral dilemma that seems to be at the heart of McEwan's writing.

Christopher Tayler reveals a little more about the plot, which centers around a fat, lazy, philandering physicist turned solar entrepreneur called Michael Beard, and about McEwan's position on the role of the individual in fighting climate change:

"...the overarching plot pulls off a clinching novelistic coup, using comedy to sneak grimmer matters past the reader's defences. Beard's argument about the correct response to climate change, an argument that McEwan has also made, is that we have no choice but to hope that technological ingenuity, enlightened self-interest and the market's allocation of resources can get us off the hook; personal virtue counts for little."

Now as someone who likes to write about DIY compost tumblers and installing solar hot water, I may have some trouble digesting McEwan's apparent rejection of personal action as a viable response to climate change. But a novel, and especially an Ian McEwan novel, isn't the right place to campaign for personal emissions cuts, or political action for that matter—it's a place to explore the complexities of what makes us human. And by the looks of things, Solar will not disappoint. I'm ordering my copy now.

Tags: Activism | United Kingdom

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