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The future of the Earth under climate change is 'Denial'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

When you do a quick Google search to see how climate change is expected to affect the Earth in, let's say, 30 years, the results are bleak. A new novel, "Denial," offers a vision of a possible near future amid higher temperatures and constant drought, one in which humanity just carries on. Everyone is driving electric vehicles, many have quit eating meat, and fossil fuel company CEOs are prosecuted for their harm to the Earth. And in this future, a middle-aged journalist is in Mexico tracking a CEO who escaped authorities to enjoy his life on the lam. "Denial" is written by Jon Raymond, who joins us now. Welcome.

JON RAYMOND: Thanks so much.

RASCOE: So why did you decide to write about climate change?

RAYMOND: Well, I mean, it is the - one of the major issues facing humanity at the moment and in our lifetime. It's hard to avoid it. As we see the evidence of climate change hitting our cities and our country, it's just impossible to avoid it.

RASCOE: The thing about "Denial" is it's not exactly this dystopian future. It's not like "Mad Max," right?

RAYMOND: Precisely.

RASCOE: And it's not like "Star Trek" where everything's been solved. It's somewhere in between. Like, did you feel like this middle ground is more realistic and that's the route you chose to go?

RAYMOND: Yeah. I mean, part of my desire to write this too is a - kind of an ongoing argument I think I've been having with the dystopian post-apocalyptic genre. The number of ways I've seen the Earth annihilated in popular culture at this point is, like, uncountable. You know, I mean, I've seen it destroyed by aliens, I've seen it destroyed by zombies, I've seen people rapture it, I've seen pandemics. And at a certain point, the genre held some sort of cautionary moral energy, you know? Like, be careful of your choices, be careful of your consumer society. But I feel like, as the decades have gone on, it just starts to feel really morbid and, like, a kind of death wish almost - humanity just in some obsessive repetition, compulsion, imagining a future that is not necessarily preordained.

RASCOE: Do you feel like the world that you envisioned where people are still around but changes have had to happen - do you think that that is something that people today could connect to or that you think is just more realistic, what's likely to happen?

RAYMOND: Yeah, well, I mean, to me, that was the, like, perverse sort of leap of imagination I was making. Like, what if you wake up in 30 years and things are more or less as our lives are now? I mean, it is almost unimaginable, you know? It seems to me that's the vision that we need to somehow start to manifest in some way as a species. And, yeah, the fact that the status quo as it exists has become a kind of utopian ideal is incredibly sad. I mean, for me, it seems like the challenge for fiction writers in particular.

RASCOE: And, you know, I want to talk to you about one thing that was envisioned in the book that does seem almost a little bit far-fetched based on today, which is the upheavals. And in the book, it takes place in, like, the 2030s when there are all these global protests and many but not all CEOs of big fossil fuel companies are actually prosecuted, and some of them are, like, executed. You know, I cover energy. I see the - you know, the people - the CEOs get dragged up to Congress and sometimes they get yelled at and stuff like that. But the thought of them actually, like, facing some serious consequences - that seemed a little fantastic, and I mean fantastic in a fantasy sense. What do you think?

RAYMOND: Yeah, no, it's absolutely fantastic. And that's one of the, I mean, more literary attractions to climate fiction for me is that the moral ambiguity is really profound. I mean, it's really hard to assign blame in this kind of situation because everyone on Earth is culpable for it. I mean, we can blame CEOs and corporate executives, but the reality is, you know, we're all eating the meat, we're all driving the cars, and the lines are just not that clearly drawn. And, I mean, that ends up being one of the conversations that happens in the book between this journalist who encounters the carbon criminal. You know, I hope that, as they progress in that conversation, the moral ambiguity just kind of ramifies in some way.

RASCOE: Yeah. You know, the main character, he goes to Mexico. And Mexico seems to have a different type of life going on. Like, there are these distinctions between what's going on with people who are more poor, Black and brown people, than necessarily kind of the more upper-class folks. Some of the poor people are still eating meat, but the upper-class people can't imagine eating meat. They just - this is just so out of their framework now. Like, did you want to explore those differences or how they might play out?

RAYMOND: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I - there's a - I think it's a William Gibson quote, a famous one, that the future is here, it's just unevenly distributed. And that was the kind of sense that I wanted to have in this book, that there was a global Green New Deal that occurred, but it has played out differently in different sectors of the planet. There's not, like, a year zero that you can suddenly - where you can suddenly change everything. There's just too much of the past that is always being dragged along by the present. And there's - you know, the ways that this future would play out, yeah, would have very different local ramifications. That was part of the draw for having them cross the border somewhere and experience something in a different place.

RASCOE: Was there an ultimate thing that you wanted to accomplish with this book? It seems like you're kind of offering readers a glimpse of what could be if they tried to, you know, maybe adapt to driving electric vehicles, cutting back on meat. There - a character in the book does talk about, like, he didn't know that these changes could happen, but they did. Like, is that the message that you want to send?

RAYMOND: Yeah. I mean, I think - definitely. I mean, I wanted to try to paint a future in as moderate a possible way as I could with as little sort of hyperbole and as little sense of emergency as possible. I guess I feel like, for me, you know, the last 10 years and more have been characterized so much by just this radical foreshortening of the future. And I wanted to, I think, create a little space where a reader could, for a moment, entertain the idea of a future horizon, at least extending a few decades. You know, like, let's at least try to imagine that our children will still be walking around in the world. And, to me, it's just incredibly depressing how hard that is to do.

RASCOE: Jon Raymond is author of "Denial." Thank you so much for speaking with us.

RAYMOND: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.