Opportunities and challenges in writing about climate change
In an interview back in June, I mentioned the challenges of using climate change as a backdrop to my novel Osiris, and The Qwillery has kindly asked me back to talk a bit more about it. I made a decision quite early on that Osiris would be set in a world drastically altered by climate change – I could have gone down the fantasy line with it, but I chose this route, partly because the changes happening to our planet are something I feel very strongly about, and partly because I like the scope the subject gives me as a writer of fiction.
It’s important to me to create a plausible world as far as possible, but plausibility is always going to be limited to what is known at the time of writing. Although there’s a prevalence of information relating to climate change, both in terms of what is happening right now, and predictions for the future, new data is constantly coming to light, and predictions can conflict one another. A good example is the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow, based on the idea that a shift in the Gulf Stream could bring a new ice age to the northern hemisphere – a scenario which was also highlighted in Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but which in light of more recent information now seems unlikely.
As a novelist, the possible scenarios certainly allow plenty of room to play. I’ve always been drawn to bleak landscapes; but I’m also interested in the politics of a future where large parts of the world have become uninhabitable. What does that mean for countries and borders? Who survives and who is left behind? Geoengineering is a hot topic in environmental discussions – if we are unable to prevent change happening on such a vast scale, would there be attempts to reverse it? What would be the movements for and against those actions?
The challenge for me is to incorporate some of these questions and details into the backdrop of the novel without detracting from the narrative. With The Osiris Project trilogy, I’m working in a close third person point of view, and the closer the viewpoint, the more bound you are to the character’s inner world. The question then becomes what does that character have access to, and what can they discover from other people or events? In Osiris this had its limitations because the city has been cut off from the rest of the world: neither of the two principal characters could know what existed beyond the city’s towers. One technique which I always enjoy when I’m reading and like to incorporate in my own work is stories within stories. I love the theatricality of storytelling, and the question of its perspective and veracity. Another way of showing details is through the landscape influencing a character’s behaviour; in Osiris, I wanted the sea to creep into in all aspects of the characters’ lives, consciously and unconsciously.
These are all questions I continue to face whilst writing the next two installments of the trilogy. The world can offer a great deal to the story: it can inform the mindset of the characters and the decisions they make and the crises that they face. It can inform the wider politics of the society they are part of. But it needs to sit behind the story, influencing, but not overshadowing the actions of the characters.
As a postscript, I wanted to link to an article published by Rolling Stone at the beginning of this month - if you’re interested, you can find the full article here: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719 , but it’s based around three statistics, which I think speak for themselves:
2 degrees – the widely accepted (at least politically) upper limit of global warming which can happen without climate change running complete riot
565 gigatons – the amount of carbon dioxide which can be released into the atmosphere without passing the 2 degree threshold
2795 gigatons – the amount of carbon dioxide we’re currently planning to burn, i.e. gas, coal and oil reserves of energy companies – the amount that is already in circulation in terms of financial commitments, investments and equity.
I think this could inspire some interesting scenarios for science fiction writers.
OsirisOsiris Project 1
Night Shade Books, June 5, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages
Nobody leaves Osiris. Osiris is a lost city. She has lost the world and world has lost her . . .
Rising high above the frigid waters, the ocean city of Osiris has been cut off from the land since the Great Storm fifty years ago. Most believe that Osiris is the last city on Earth, while others cling to the idea that life still survives somewhere beyond the merciless seas. But for all its inhabitants, Citizens and refugees alike, Osiris is the entire world--and it is a world divided.
Adelaide is the black-sheep granddaughter of the city's Architect. A jaded socialite and family miscreant, she wants little to do with her powerful relatives--until her troubled twin brother disappears mysteriously. Convinced that he is still alive, she will stop at nothing to find him, even if it means uncovering long-buried secrets.
Vikram, a third-generation storm refugee quarantined with thousands of others in the city's impoverished western sector, sees his own people dying of cold and starvation while the elite of Osiris ignore their plight. Determined to change things, he hopes to use Adelaide to bring about much-needed reforms--but who is using who?
As another brutal winter brings Osiris closer to riot and revolution, two very different people, each with their own agendas, will attempt to bridge the gap dividing the city, only to find a future far more complicated than either of them ever imagined.
Osiris is the beginning of an ambitious new science fiction trilogy exploring a near-future world radically transformed by rising seas and melting poles.
About E.J. Swift
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