Browsing the teenage fiction section of the library the other day, I came across The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd. I borrowed it, planning to read a few pages and then pass it on to my sons (16 and nearly 13) but it proved impossible to rip it from my cold green hands until I’d got to the end.
The novel, as suggested by the title, is set in 2015 when, following storms which have devastated our western coasts, the U.K. is the first nation to bring in carbon rationing. It is narrated by Laura, a middle class sixth former from Greenwich in South London who plays bass in a straight edge punk band, argues with her parents and elder sister and is falling in love with the boy next door. The author is a teacher at a sixth form college and knows her environment well, with a few touches (the iPod has mutated into an ePod; a new quasi-anarchist hydro symbol is being scratched onto petrol cars) to remind us that the story is set a few years (but only a few) in the future. The love story is predictable, Jane Austen’s old favourite, and Laura’s dysfunctional parents distinctly George and Pauline Moleish (is it ever possible for teenage diaries to avoid echoes of Adrian?) but these don’t really matter, as the focus is upon the events surrounding the characters rather than their individual characteristics.
The story begins gently, with Mum’s attempts to negotiate the bus, their central heating being turned down and the family’s cuisine morphing from Waitrose ready meals to locally-grown carrots. Pretty soon, however, we’re into a summer of heatwave and drought, paralysing power outages, riots, torrential rains and the flooding of large parts of London. Meanwhile Laura’s cousin reports of the catastrophe wreaked by a hurricane across the western U.S. and we watch as European riot police strike down climate change protestors from Rome to Brussels. It’s all very much more than plausible; the virtually inevitable migration of catastrophes that are already taking place in the majority world.
The book, and its sequel, The Carbon Diaries 2017, are to be filmed for the BBC, so there will no doubt be much discussion (and dismissive contempt from the usual ‘sceptics’) of Saci Lloyd’s not-quite dystopia. Meanwhile I’ll be interested to see what our boys make of it…