2020 - En framtidsoptimistisk roman
Since the start of my career as a researcher, about 9 years ago, I have been struggling with the notion that what “we” need are optimistic stories of what a sustainability transition would entail. Stories to ensure a common vision, a sense of belonging. I still doubt such “positive” stories will do the trick, not saying experimentation with alternative futures and exploration of other possible worlds shouldn’t be done more widely. When asking writers and literary critics about why they think there is a lack of fictional stories of how the 1.5-degree, or 2-degree targets where met, almost of all of them reply that such a story with a happy ending is not interesting enough to explore through fiction. “The reader wants tension”, “the author needs conflict or something problematic to explore” are common replies. There is certainly a fear of seeing fiction as an instrument for change, a didactic tool part of the transition propaganda. In the midst of these conversations, I received Jesper Weithz’s new novel 2020 – En framtidsoptimistisk roman (2020 – A future-optimistic novel). Happy ending guaranteed (it even says so on the back cover)!
We follow the life of Panter Allglans (or Panther Algae as one of his US mentors mistakenly name him), born the same year as COP26 was held in Glasgow (which turns out to have been 2021 rather than 2020 but we’ll just pretend that the author got it right and don’t bother with the details) and the UN declared it impossible to reach the Paris agreement targets. Born into poverty in the suburbs of Stockholm, Panter learns to embrace hope and determination early in life, which leads him and the world as a whole to success. This is a world devoid of climate denialists and so-called sceptics. Everyone is concerned about environmental upheaval and try their best to abate it: they sniff organic glue (the islands sink less that way), the nazis that run the homeless shelter only serve organic pea soup and cabbage rolls, and protesters are being shot at with degradable rubber bullets. Nevertheless, when this is not enough (the global temperature is rising nonetheless) a radical solution is presented: to wipe out the boundary between humans and nature. Without this dichotomy, species are chosen, not given, and thus the world is saved!
2020 – En framtidsoptimistik roman is climate change satire at its best. This is no critique of human nature (à la Ian McEwan) or certain groups of people – everyone who claims to be concerned about climate change are taken to task. Though Weithz clearly has issues with certain “solutions” to climate change – most notably green consumerism and posthumanism – what this piece of fiction really asks us to do is scrutinise our tendency to wish for solutions that do not really demand anything from us, that would not lead to a radical restructuring of society.
The pace of the story starts slow and accelerates, mirroring the idea that only growth is progress. At times it is a bit overwhelming and the dark satire becomes too much to bear. The inauguration of a biofuel power plant in southern France – using human and more-than-human bodies as fuel, efficiently harvested from the shores of the Mediterranean – being a case in point. Most of the time, however, this novel provides some much needed laughter for the not-too-optimistic reader in these times when so few of those who should be taking responsibility seem willing to do so. But why should anyone blame humans in the post human era? “What if micro-plastics and chemicals want to be released? Maybe carbon atoms want to fill the atmosphere?” as one of the characters exclaim after having told the waitress off for choosing to stay human.
What Jesper Weithz does most prominently with his new novel is to show that the boring story – lacking tension and conflict – of how the 2-degree climate target was met does not exist. Such a journey will never be easy, and it will never be conflict free – and because of that, such a story should be interesting material for any writer. Besides, the happy ending is never what we thought it would be.
2020 - En framtidsoptimistisk roman is published by Ordfront förlag. It is only availble in Swedish.