In our Science Fiction Today posts, we’ve aimed to get out of the political fights of the present, and out of the logistical problems of the present, and think about what these issues will look like in the future – through the lens of science fiction. We have a lot of ideas, but a major one for me has always been the environment. A sticky and politicized problem, it’s hard to find someone without bias, or with a fact we can agree on, on this topic.
The problem as I see it is we are fighting over specifics like what is happening (global warming? climate change? or not?) and what is causing it (humans? not humans? not happening?). As someone who turns to science fiction for my food for thought, I think the better questions are the what ifs: what if the ice caps melt, or what if the earth cools? Science fiction can help us think of what might happen in this situation, and what people might do about it.
So first, I’m going to point out a real life situation where science fiction thinking might have helped, and then look at some possible thoughts for possible environmental situations for the future. My thinking at the moment seems to largely be hovering around the oceans and water, so we’ll go with that. Plenty more that could be talked about, and probably will be in the future.
Real World Example – The BP Oil Spill
Sadly, there’s a solid example to back up my point here: when the BP oil spill happened, why did it take so long for a plan to even be implemented? Why did no one have a response plan ready on this?
Where is the “what if” speculative thinking? Where is the science fiction thought? No one in BP or the government – or other world governments – had a plan in place for this situation? Really? Not even really an idea? Because what they went ahead with was put mud over it. Not rocket science.
I wrote this then decided that distance might be clouding my thought. Went back and looked over the timeline, and yeah, months of oil coming out. Some attempts at doing things happened, but it sounds like these were things that had worked elsewhere they were just trying – not at all an actual plan for dealing with this.
Yes, it’s an accident, unfortunate, unexpected, all of that. But someone, somewhere, needs to do more than just argue about offshore drilling in a political or economic sense. Someone needs to be employed asking “what if?” and helping develop plans for these what-if scenarios.
Or else, we definitely need science fiction authors asking these questions, and companies need folks reading these for ideas.
The Question At Hand
So, to ask a different question. One that comes up, but gets argued about politically. What if the waters rise? There are constantly terrible situations in coastal cities, from hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and such. But these do more temporary damage, and we keep rebuilding, we keep coming back.
So what would we do if the waters rise? I don’t see this being answered with plans or thoughts, don’t see people moving away from the coasts of the world. So even if people feel convinced about climate change or global warming, we don’t see them doing much about it – just buying their beachfront property, right?
I live near the ocean now, so what can I say?
The Dystopian Possibility
So I finished reading The Windup Girl recently, and though it is by no means the point of the story, the author does include the idea of rising waters. The story takes place in Bangkok, a city on the coast, a city that could easily be underwater. Even today.
However, rather than abandon the city, they built a giant retaining wall, a huge dam, a system of levees, pumps… a system to keep the ocean out. It’s a constant threat hanging over the city, one of any number of things that could go horribly wrong in the story. It’s the ever-present threat, the one that all the characters can see, the great wall above them.
Sadly, I can see this being our response to rising tides. Build levees. More walls. Keep it out. Stay in the cities. We’ve already invested so much in the places – homes, lives, attachments, infrastructure, building, business. We’re likely not going down without a fight.
It’ll all be reactionary, I’d think, too. It’d be too late for some people. Or, more likely, there would be those who wouldn’t listen when the warning signs arise: there’s people like that in any hurricane we see coming. Those who don’t evacuate when asked to.
But someday, it won’t be enough. Someday, the wall will come down. Or we’ll fight to defend it. Now we’re getting into Game of Thrones, though…
The Utopian Possibility
Of course, if I’m saying us building walls and fighting back against the rising tide is the dystopia, then what’s the up side? What’s the utopian possibility? The easy answer I suppose is the waters don’t rise. It’s possible. Not sure we count on it.
Maybe instead the vision is something like The Fifth Element, huge, skyrise cities, flying cars. They never seem to make it all the way down to ground level in that movie – all the action happens higher up. And that’s my image: a city up and above the water.
I may have to switch which one of these I call utopia, and which dystopia. Or maybe they’re both dystopia. Maybe there’s no winning in this situation. There will be loses. And if we don’t have a plan in advance, we’ll be scrambling to come up with something that would work, and I could see either of these as possible alternatives. Well, assuming buildings could stand up to the water.
And hey, in the Fifth Element scenario, we get flying cars…