Take it From the Future
Personally, I have always been an environmentally conscious person. I recycle, compost and irrationally obsess over where my trash goes; I often wonder about landfills and how long we can expect to keep filling them. I think about all of the fuel we burn: driving our cars, powering our homes, and the factories that produce baubles and trinkets we don’t really need. The health of our environment seems to be a concern that is swept under the rug, and we don’t pay nearly as much attention to it as we should. We seem to be living in an era that insists we consume now and ask questions later. How long should we keep pretending as if it is not a serious issue? My guess is that it’ll continue until we begin experiencing the true consequences of our actions. Several of the stories we have read throughout the semester voice some concern over our treatment of the environment and the potential consequences of our inaction.
Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is a great example of the anxieties of a future in which we have abused the environment and the human race is bereft of resources. In Lauren’s world, water is worth more than gold, this is due to a number of factors: climate change, and a lack of environmental regulation. Climate change can affect access to water, as the atmospheric temperature increases the lithosphere will experience droughts more frequently, which results in less groundwater and depleted aquifers—our main sources of water (“Water…”). Another concerning factor of Butler’s novel is the lack of environmental regulation; this too is problematic, since it contributes to climate change and holds the potential to contaminate water sources as well, thereby reducing the availability of water even further. This is essentially what has happened in Lauren’s world, and as a result water is a scarce commodity; furthermore, agriculture has been greatly affected as a result and those who wish to survive must grow their own food. This lack of water security also appears in other texts.
“Stone Lives” by Paul di Filippo also possesses a pointed concern in regard to environmental concerns; however, it is something not often considered: the subject of environmental justice. The concept of environmental justice is concerned with providing all people with “the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work” (“Envir…”) Given this definition, it is easy to see that this is a serious concern in Stone’s world, in which the Free Enterprise Zones have been established. These “Zones” are clean, safe environments, as we learn through Stone’s exit from the Bungle. This is a stark contrast to the trash littered, polluted and resource scarce environment in which he has lived his life. Those who reside in the Bungle, were simply unlucky enough not to live in a zone which has been bought and restored by a corporation.
This isn’t so hard to imagine, it happens in our world. There are cities all over the United States who do not have the funding or resources to provide a reasonably safe environment, and there have been cases where concentrated pollution has affected entire cities: Flint, Michigan, for example. Residents of the city have had contaminated water coming through their city water reservoirs for years, yes, YEARS. It started in 2014, where the taste and discoloration of the water led residents of Flint to raise some concerns over the quality of the water (Kennedy). After testing, it was found that lead had been leeching into the city’s water supply; however, the real issue is the inaction on the city’s part. After three years, the city’s water supply has been deemed safe, however, they are still being advised not to consume the water (Kennedy). This is just one example of environmental injustice, however, it shows us that we must pay careful attention to environment and to take care of those around us. Otherwise, we could end up like the Machine People.
If we look to “Chocco” by Ernest Callenbach, we can see that the author has laid out a world, in which the Machine People—that’s us—have degraded the environment so badly that we have nearly pushed the human race into extinction through climate change. As the narrator explains, we have driven our cars and exploited our resources, coupled with the issue of overuse of technology—which is another argument for another day—which has caused them to lose touch with nature. Those who survived the change in climate were the ones who moved away from the Machine People and learned to live off the land. Their ethos demands that they never use more than they need, do not overpopulate, and treat the land well—a very environmentally conscious people—this has enabled them to thrive in their environment. If there is a lesson that is to be learned here, it is that we have way too many people, using way too many resources at an unsustainable rate. Our current rate of consumption of resources, supposing the trend continues, suggests that we only have about thirty-three years until we completely deplete our resource (Burke & Townsend). This fact has long been an anxiety and will continue to be until we learn to live more like those in Chocco. Otherwise, we’re just borrowing from the future.
Speaking of the future, “Mozart in Mirrorshades” by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner, we get an interesting concept concerning the depletion of resources. This story concerns itself with travel through parallel dimensions, in which said travelers are using their technology to mine for resources in another time and place. This concept plays well into the idea of environmental justice, as these travelers are depleting other times and dimensions of their resources, while simultaneously causing a detriment to the environment without concern since it isn’t their world. One can only suspect that the reason they are mining for resources in other parallels is that they themselves have depleted their own. This concept is alarming, since we understand that travel through other dimensions is impossible, and it forces one to wonder about the state of our own resources. Once we’ve used up all of ours, we can’t jump through a portal and find them somewhere else. Sterling and Lewis force you to consider this fact, one it’s gone—it’s gone.
All of these stories contain elements of disbelief and are certainly unrealistic at times, but the themes they present within those narratives are real. Much of science fiction deals in our future, and it usually isn’t pretty. These concerns pop up in science fiction for a reason, they are issues we must come to face at some point in our future. We can choose to ignore them and continue to consume until the world consumes us, or we can take more consideration. We can live like Chocco or we can try to build an interdimensional portal and find resources elsewhere. Though, I think the latter suggestion is a bit beyond our reach. If 2050 is the point of no return, we better hurry up and build that portal!
Burke, Jason and Townsend, R. “Earth Will Expire by 2050”. Huffinton Post. 2002. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/jul/07/research.waste.
“Environmental Justice”. Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice.
Kennedy, Merrit. « Lead-Laced Water In Flint : A Step-by-Step Look at the Makings of a Crisis”. National Public Radio. 2016. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/20/465545378/lead-laced-water-in-flint-a-step-by-step-look-at-the-makings-of-a-crisis.
“Water Supply”. National Climate Assessment. 2014. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report.