Friday 25 February 2011

would a play about climate scientists be the best way to write about climate science?

In wanted: a portrait of the climate scientist as a real person, this blog argues that

the most interesting characters to put on stage right now are climate scientists ... simultaneously appalled and fascinated by what they are discovering.

The artist and theatre-maker Tim Nunn responds

My trouble is not wanting to use climate scientists at all. Is it the same as writing about human rights by portraying a human rights activist? (That isn't a rhetorical question by the way.) Your last paragraph makes it sound as if the climate scientists would do a pretty good [job] themselves if they were given the chance - why should we represent that on stage? (Again, not a rhetorical question.) I've been torn about this for ages and not finding a way through.

True, there's no reason why a play about climate science need feature any climate scientists. A good play is about more than its immediate subject matter. For instance, David Hare's The Permanent Way is about the privatisation of the railways. But its real theme is grief.

That said, there have been important plays that are fairly directly about scientists. In Science on Stage, Kirsten Shepherd-Barr lists "a wonderfully diverse" range of scientists who have (since Brecht's Galileo) peopled the stage.

Her list mentions Bohr, Heisenberg, Ernest Rutherford, Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, Ralph Alpher, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Rosalind Franklin, Thomas Huxley, Tycho Brahe, Johann Kepler, Stephen Hawking and P.A.M. Dirac.

Yes, climate scientists can do a good job representing themselves. But playwrights can do a good job representing them too.

Interestingly, Science on Stage makes no mention of climate scientists. (It was published in 2006.) But it's evident that James Lovelock has been the inspiration behind characters in The Contingency Plan - Steve Waters talks about this here - and Earthquakes in London.

But Tim Nunn is quite right: a play about human rights does not have to feature a human rights activist.

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