MAKING THE POTENTIAL EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE “REAL AND RELATABLE”
Mel and I have been watching the PBS series “The Abolitionists.” One of the commentators stated:
“People knew slavery existed. People in the north were opposed to slavery in general, but their opposition was more of an abstraction. They were opposed to slavery in principle. Many of them had never met a slave, had never actually seen slavery up close. William Lloyd Garrison and Fredrick Douglass wrote and went on lecture tours for years, but abolitionism remained something of a fringe cause. It wasn't until Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin that the cause of abolition gained a widespread following in the north. After that book became a bestseller, no politician or statesman could avoid the issue. It became central to political discourse.”
Story is central to how humans perceive the world. One could have available all the facts which demonstrate the necessity of a change, yet still fail to create sufficient impetus for change until the facts were connected in some compelling narrative. While logic and facts are useful in making decisions, it is emotion that actually drives the majority of human actions. A story can demonstrate a point while integrating it with emotional content. This is one reason myths have persisted for thousands of years – they demonstrate philosophical principles or make statements regarding the human condition or anthropomorphize natural cycles and forces in stories featuring characters to whom the audience can personally and emotionally relate.
The facts are in: regardless of cause, climate change is happening. In fact, change is really the only constant in the universe, and major shifts in climate have occurred hundreds of times during the “life” of our planet. The fossil record would indicate that each time one of these major shifts happens it is followed by mass extinction. While the extinction of any species is tragic, the extinction of humans would mean the end of intelligent life on the planet (depending upon how one defines intelligence, of course). I like people, and really don't want that to happen.
What is needed for most folks to personally connect to and emotionally engage with climate change is a compelling narrative, a sort of neo-mythos. The speculative fiction genre always starts with the question, “what if...?” As such it is the ideal vehicle for answering the question, “what if all of the predicted climate change events occurred?” Mel and I are collaborating on a series of connected speculative stories set in the relatively near future in which all projections regarding climate change have occurred, conventional civilization has broken down as a result, and people are experimenting in the face of vital challenges. I'm envisioning the first “book” as a quasi-allegorical travelogue, a sort of Gulliver's Travels meets The Voyages of Marco Polo. In Dune Frank Herbert created a fantastic mythos around the House Atreides. I intend to borrow a technique brilliantly employed in both Frank Herbert's Dune series and Octavia Butler's Earthseed series – introducing chapters with excerpts from fictional historical, religious and philosophical texts in order to inform context. When attempting to create myths through speculative fiction one could do worse than by imitating great authors who have already successfully done so. Also, in tribute to some of my favorite speculative fiction authors, I'm going to include the character Sandor, first created by George Alec Effinger and more recently employed in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. The character has been used in at least a dozen stories by various authors, and tends to be complicated and tormented, and debilitated disabled or disfigured in some way. The character faces a sort of moral dilemma and a personal challenge and is eventually redeemed in a fashion by the end of the story, sort of like the Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader character from the Star Wars cycle (another wildly successful mythic speculative fiction series).
I don't intend for this to be a conventional post-apocalyptic “everything has gone to hell and evil stalks the earth,” type of story cycle. That is just depressing, and there have already been altogether too many of those. Instead of focusing on the “disaster” aspect of things, I intend to focus on the opportunities afforded by great change, and the dynamic and varied strategies for coping with it or profiting from it which a species of clever monkeys like us can devise. My brother lived in New Orleans for several years during the 1990s, and I visited a few times. While the food was (and remains) awesome, and New Orleans was (and remains) a musician's and alcoholic's paradise, the city was then dirty, crime-ridden, dilapidated and occasionally depressing. And then disaster happened. I visited the city with Mel a couple of years ago, where one of her very cool best friends and her awesome husband put us up for a few days and acted as tour guides. Despite a bad sinus infection, I had a great time. I was amazed at the transformation. The “new” New Orleans has a much lower rate of crime, is comparatively clean and new, and is a much nicer place to visit and a safer place to live. This is because residents rose to the challenge of rebuilding, envisioned an improved city and collaboratively worked to make their ideals real. I saw something which really blew my mind and inspired me: a totally “off grid” house (solar panels, rainwater collection) in the 9th ward, an area that was once a notorious slum with some of the least efficient housing in the nation. The same thing could happen for the country or the world, all it takes is informed planning, collaborative effort, a positive attitude and the will to persevere. That is the perspective I wish to impart in these stories.
I'm going to open this project for submissions once I've developed it a little more, and the “rules” regarding how things are to function and what is possible in this postulated world have been sufficiently established (without rules there is no structure; without structure a story lacks coherence; an incoherent story is just noise). Very few rules have been established so far, but one is: “nothing supernatural; no zombies or vampires.” Like the creatures themselves, just when you think they've been done to death, some uninspired author resurrects them and suddenly they are everywhere, sucking the lifeblood of creativity and consuming the brains of readers.
More on this as it develops.