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Abstract

This article considers climate change as a contested cultural idea, which is mediated to the public through varying forms of cultural narrative whose conventions and rhetorics impact significantly on how the ‘story’ is told. Specifically, it examines four recent British stage plays, each of which depict climate change scientists as central characters. These are Steve Waters' The Contingency Plan (Bush Theatre, 2009), Mike Bartlett's Earthquakes in London (National Theatre, 2010), Richard Bean's The Heretic (Royal Court Theatre, 2011), and the multiauthored Greenland (National Theatre, 2011). The essay argues that these plays represent an evolutionary step forward from the rather crude, apocalyptic narratives apparent in mainstream film treatments of the subject, insofar that they attempt to grapple—in various ways—with the necessary uncertainty around scientific findings and future projections. They also attempt to dramatize the ‘new cultural politics of climate change’ (Smith) by examining the relationships between, and contrasting responsibilities of, scientists, politicians, and the lay public. This article considers various critical questions arising from the plays' varying treatments of these interactions. Waters' play sees a pragmatic, technocratic role for scientific advisers in government; Bean's argues for empirical purism (and satirises the UEA Climategate ‘scandal’ of 2009); Bartlett's presents a Lovelockian scientist figure as the tortured villain in a kaleidoscopic theatrical treatment of cultural despair (following the failure of 2009's Copenhagen Summit); Greenland presents scientists old and young as ethically engaged witnesses to environmental change. WIREs Clim Change 2012 doi: 10.1002/wcc.173

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