Eco-Fiction: Bringing Climate Change into the Imagination
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
As a global population, inclusive of humans, fauna, and flora, we are each subject, though disproportionality, to the risks associated with our planet’s changing climate. These changes are largely caused by our unabated expulsion of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Our globalized world and economic activities have largely engendered the burning of fossil fuels. The 2014 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, which means keeping warming below 2°C, we need to achieve emissions scenarios relative to pre-industrial levels. Without such reductions we can expect substantial species extinction, increased food insecurity, frequent extreme precipitation events, continued warming and acidification of the ocean, global mean sea level rise, and more frequent and longer lasting heatwaves. Responding to this means collective action at a global level. In my thesis I ask how the novel can respond to and help us to cognise these demands, as well as to cognise the scale and complexities of climate change, its philosophical and physical implications, and to attend to the particularities of local place whist remaining global in its scope and vision. I argue that climate change gives rise to a new form of novel. My work is primarily concerned with eco-fiction and how it can raise consciousness about climate change. I consider that the novel, as a counterfactual narrative, can personalise the issue, create stories so that we have ways to speak about it and enchant us towards an ecological imagining. My thesis begins by discussing the existing genre of popular climate change fiction. This mostly consists of clichéd, post-apocalyptic and hero-orientated disaster narratives. These novels are often predictable and limited in how they can engage the reader with climate change. In my second chapter I look at how climate change affects and alters our language. Certain processes belonging to it lead to a loss of words but also to the production of new words. I examine these themes in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Marcel Theroux’s Far North (2009) and Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (2007). My third chapter considers how climate change confounds scales and forms of measurement, as it can be invisible, trans-temporal and trans-spatial. I discuss this in reference to John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (1956), Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1984) and Nadine Gordimer’s Get a Life (2005). In my fourth chapter, by close reading of Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010) and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow (2013), I suggest how much of our existing climate change discourse has become outworn and fails to prompt critical reflection. In my fifth chapter I argue that particular mitigation strategies and consequences of climate change force us to revise certain epistemologies. I examine how this is represented in Jean Hegland’s Into the Forrest (1995) and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour (2012). In each of these chapters I suggest that creative writing and revising the form of the novel can take account of these aspects and bring climate change into the imagination. In my final chapter I discuss how Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide (2005) overcomes some of the obstacles associated with representing climate change in the novel. The Hungry Tide’s form, plot and characters are structured by the unique tidal landscape of the Sundarbans, Bengal. Popular fiction typically provides an egocentric account, concerned with the development and interior world of an individual. Yet, they must move towards a more holistic outlook, as found in Ghosh’s example, which can depict the wider interconnections of the nonhuman world. Though climate change is both global in impact and the response it demands, it is particularity with the local that I consider to be essential to eco-fiction. The complexity, wonder and incalculable interconnections and variety owing to place cannot be evoked without such particularity. Therefore climate fiction must balance itself against the broad demands of a global crisis whilst attending to the special character of place and fabric of the local.
PhD in English