Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Five books about good energy

Juliet Davenport is chief executive of Good Energy, the UK's only 100% renewable electricity supplier.

With Daisy Banks at The Browser, Davenport discussed five books about "good energy"--having a practical interaction with climate change--including:
by Ian McEwan

Your first choice is Solar by Ian McEwan, which sets out to put the issues of climate change in more of an everyday setting through a novel.

I met Ian McEwan as part of the Cape Farewell programme. That is an organisation set up by a lovely man called David Buckland, who is a photographer and an artist. He wanted to create a social response to climate change. In other words, he wanted to get people like Ian McEwan to mix with the scientists and find out more about what is going on. So he took a lot of people – including Ian McEwan, Philip Pullman and Jarvis Cocker – to the North Pole along with some scientists, so they could see what was going on for themselves. Ian took what he saw and put it in a novel. He wanted to put some big scientific ideas into everyday language.

So much of our world revolves around creative media. We watch television, we watch films and it is very much part of our society. David Buckland wanted to make climate change part of that dialogue. A lot of people find it very difficult to write about climate change because it is not something that lends itself to comic effect, and it is not something that people often want to write about, but Ian managed to.

What did you think of the actual novel, because it has had mixed reviews?

I thought it was very funny. It was an interesting take on the perceptions of some of the big issues between society and scientists, and the fact that we as a society don’t really understand what scientists are doing. Scientists are these objects that go around winning Nobel prizes, but actually not many of us really appreciate that they are human beings as well. In Ian’s book you have the physicist Michael Beard, who was brilliant once, won a Nobel prize earlier in his career and has been cruising ever since. Quite often a scientist makes a brilliant discovery and then you become part of a government and funding system where you stop being a scientist. It is a little bit like teachers, who when they progress get further and further away from the classroom.

The novel starts when Michael Beard has lost his scientific thread, and there is this rather bizarre death at the beginning when someone falls over and kills himself in his house. Then he steals a science idea from the dead man, and the rest of the book is an unravelling of the personality of the professor and this solar technology idea that he has stolen. Part of the book is set in the Arctic, where Ian went with Cape Farewell. It all has Ian McEwan’s humour.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue