- Published on Friday, 22 August 2014 08:29
by Nick Breeze
Dystopian projections of the future for human civilisation can hardly be called optimistic but should they be taken seriously?
Contributors to IDP:2043: Enfant terrible of Scottish letters and author of Trainspotting Irvine Welsh and graphic artist Dan McDaid, celebrated French graphic novelist and illustrator Barroux, Costa Award winner Mary Talbot and artist Kate Charlesworth, ‘godfather of British comics’ and creator of 2000AD Pat Mills and graphic novelist Hannah Berry, graphic novelists Adam Murphy and Will Morris. Story editor: crime writer and graphic novelist, Denise Mina.
Fiction certainly does not have to adhere to any rules of fact but our identification with it usually implies some kind of connecting cord from the imagination. In the case of the new literary genre, known as “Cli-FI”, shortened from “Climate-Fiction”, authors are increasingly depicting the world as it might be towards the end of the century, or perhaps even a decade or two away. Needless to say, the depictions are seldom desirable, but are these storytellers reflecting an unnecessary internal pessimism, or are they derived from visible seeds of decay, visible now in our current existence?
Having spoken to many scientists about their findings on climate change I am intrigued by the often appended line to the dialogue that goes something like, “…but I am an optimist and I am confident humanity will make the necessary changes before it is too late.” Of course, the trouble is, instead of slowly turning the carbon effluent monster of human civilisation around towards a sustainable future, the rate of consumption, and thus pollution, is actually going up.
Corporations have taken over our democracies, assuming the status of living entities (extremely wealthy entities), and proceeded in buying up vast quantities of the natural world, before converting it into carbon pollution and wasteland. Conflict among humans and the number of failed states is rising. The amount of food being produced is required to go up to feed our burgeoning populations but it can only go down due to pressure from climate change and poor use of land. Corporations are manipulating seeds, patenting them and desecrating the future potential for organic agriculture. Water is running to all time lows as fossil acquirers that supply much of China, India and other regions are drying up. Huge food baskets like California is collapsing to drought. The Ukraine is being destroyed by war. The list goes on and with it the hopes for a stable, secure and plentiful future diminish.
It is hard to comprehend the reality of all this when one lives in a wealthy western culture like the UK (where I am), and the supermarket shelves are stacked with plentiful supplies of everything and anything. Stalls on the street are bursting with colourful fruit and veg, whilst restaurants and coffee shops are everywhere. The UK imports around 40% of its produce, a figure likely to rise as the government offers up more agricultural land to housing developments. The impacts on food prices from a range of impacts, largely all with a root cause of climate pressure, will be a steady rise with some shocks along the way. Conflict around the world will continue to rise and be exacerbated by these issues. We in the west may feel safe from harm now but the seeds of dystopia are most definitely being sown around us.
In this graphic Cli-Fi novel, titled IDP-2043 (IDP standing for Internally Displaced Person/’s), a number of distinguished writers and graphic artists have contributed to one flowing storyline. Perhaps the most recognisable name in the list is Irvine Welsh but this is very much a collaborative effort and each contributor makes a mark. The story extrapolates out all the trends of our current course, starting with massive sea level rise that leaves the UK about half its current size in area. The government is largely a corporate dictatorship ruling with fear and hardship, with dark plans to save it self.
The lead character in the story is a woman from the ghetto who’s growing celebrity and outspokenness is causing problems for her superiors. Even the hit men sent to execute her have some logic to their own psychotic disposition as they lament the burden of human population. The unfolding story is fast paced and makes for good entertainment. It would be great to see many more of these stories being published with strong links to the challenges that we can see in our own societies. For instance, the restriction of education and fairness, and the subjugation of democracy for corporate power, in order than money can continue to flow into the hands of those who least deserve it.
The narrative points to one conclusion, which humanity should try to grasp sooner rather than later. True value does not reside in the blind acquisition of inanimate objects. True value will always be in the balance of human life with nature, the ability to feed to satiety, to sup water when thirsty, to remain warm when outside it is cold (and vice versa), to be stimulated intellectually and to live our lives with respect for the social dynamics of our society, as much as for the individual private worlds which we inhabit.
Cli-Fi is a growing genre and this graphic novel is a worthy contribution, beautifully packaged with its own tapestry of talent to embroil oneself in. It is available to order online from Freight Books: http://www.freightbooks.co.uk/idp-2043.html
by Nick Breeze
- Published on Thursday, 31 July 2014 08:32
On the 10th July we were able to attend and record the Geoengineering Debate in Cambridge. Here is the list of participants in the debate and the link where each segment can be watched. The following quote is from Professor Martin Rees's preface to the Royal Society report on geoenegineering (read by Dr Hugh Hunt in the opening):
"The continuing rise in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is driving changes in the Earth's climate. The long-term consequences will be exceedingly threatening, especially if nations continue 'business as usual' in the coming decades. Most nations now recognise the need to shift to a low-carbon economy, and nothing should divert us from the main priority of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. But if such reductions achieve too little, too late, there will surely be pressure to consider a 'plan B'—to seek ways to counteract the climatic effects of greenhouse gas emissions by 'geoengineering'"
Watch the debate here: https://vimeo.com/channels/geoeng
For the motion:
Oliver Morton is The Economist's briefings editor. Before coming to The Economist as energy and environment editor in 2009, he was the chief news and features editor of Nature, the international scientific journal. He specialises in the energy business, climate science and policy, and other green issues. He is the author of "Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet", a study of photosynthesis, its meanings and its implications, and "Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination and the Birth of a World".
Peter Wadhams is Professor of Ocean Physics in the University of Cambridge, and is an oceanographer and glaciologist involved in polar oceanographic and sea ice research and concerned with climate change processes in the polar regions. He leads the Polar Ocean Physics group studying the effects of global warming on sea ice, icebergs and the polar oceans. This involves work in the Arctic and Antarctic from nuclear submarines, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), icebreakers, aircraft and drifting ice camps. He has led over 40 polar field expeditions.
Against the motion:
Helena Paul works with EcoNexus on the impact of emerging technologies on biodiversity, communities, food sovereignty. Technologies include synthetic biology, geoengineering, GM crops and trees. I also focus on the impact of biofuels, biomass production, bioenergy generally on land and biodiversity. EcoNexus researchers are concerned that not enough account is taken of the complexity of natural systems when making interventions.
Matt Watson is a Reader in earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. He is the Principle Investigator for SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering). His research involves inversion of remotely-sensed data to retrieve physical parameters of volcanic plumes and clouds over several spatial scales, using both ground- and satellite-based techniques.
In the chair:
Hugh Hunt is a Senior Lecturer in Engineering at the University of Cambridge. He leads the "Delivery Methods" part of SPICE and is the engineer in charge of the 1km testbed that was cancelled. His other research interests include wind-turbine reliability, tidal power and flood defences, noise and vibration from railways, gyroscopes and boomerangs. He has also made several documentaries for Channel Four and PBS Nova on subjects such as Dambusters' bouncing bombs, the Colditz glider and WW1 Zeppelins.
- Published on Friday, 13 June 2014 08:21
By Nick Breeze
I must admit to not having heard of Clive James for a couple of decades or more. Last I saw he was hosting a television talk show series that featured a Cuban singer called Margarita Pracatan. So it was with an open mind that I read this review of a biography of the political theorist Thomas Robert Malthus by Robert Mayhew in Prospect Magazine.
Clive James and Margarita Pracatan
James immediately states that “Malthus was wrong that population growth would lead to famine” and asks “Why are his ideas still popular?”. Alarm bells chime in the distance. Malthus is very famous for his conclusions about population growth and natures ability to feed it. The human population has gone from 2bn to 7bn in 85 years . What makes his conclusions more prescient is the enormous body of scientific research that estimates that the Earth’s human carrying capacity has exceeded its resource capacity to sustain us. We are now in exponential population growth, whilst all of our life support systems (forests, oceans, agriculture, water, etc.) have become stressed and are at risk of collapse. Although James would undoubtedly describe this as alarmist, I would certainly assert that it is alarming!
What becomes quickly apparent is that James does not care much for any form evidence in making his grand put downs of the scientific establishment. He prefers statements alluding to his own wisdom instead, such as “… I know quite a lot about mass media, having worked in that area all of my life.” The reader should be reminded that James’s mass media career peaked over two decades ago and, from a media perspective, the pre-internet world was a very different place. The contemporary world, he seems to have no knowledge of at all.
There are so many incorrect statements (with no citations of evidence except “…all the statistics agree…”) that I’ll only highlight a few. James is certain that food security on the planet “will be abundant for years to come.” This seems quite opposed to what is coming out of the scientific studies that show that increased soil erosion, weather anomalies, water and energy shortages, have put the global food baskets under considerable stress. [3, 4].
James cannot abide the author of the book, Robert Mayhew, seemingly because he, himself, does not believe in the seriousness of climate change. All criticisms are framed around this premise, existing without any evidence and with (oddly amusing) demonstrations of James’s own wit in tackling the subject. One of the best lines is as follows: “… I speculated aloud that the famous 97 per cent consensus among scientists was perhaps only a consensus among climate scientists…” . It begs the question, which branch of scientific specialism would he prefer us to trust in analysing the state of the Earth’s climate? Dentists?
James goes on to describe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “an unfailing source of alarmist propaganda…”, following up that they have somehow backtracked on their assessment of the global impacts that we can expect from a hotter planet. The truth could not be further away. The past few months has seen IPCC lead authors stating that we are on track for a global average of 4C rise in temperature by the end of century that will cause resource scarcity, increased conflict and sea level rise to name but a few outcomes . He then goes on to state, “the emphasis had clearly shifted from mitigation to adaptation.” There is an element of truth to this but not because the problems we face are any less dangerous (as he implies). It is rather that the political and corporate will does not exist to take the necessary precautionary action. Therefore the world population at large are forced into the only response available: try to adapt.
But the change is happening and in the US we see a huge willingness by the Obama administration to show courage in squaring up to this very real issue . With wildfires, drought, incredible sub-zero conditions and dangerous hurricanes as Sandy becoming a real threat to the wellbeing of the nation, it is sad that the likes of Clive James wish to remain in a silo of ignorance. Many of the poorer nations around the world are feeling the dire effects of manmade climate change, with low-lying islands and coastal areas facing direct threats from rising sea levels and extreme weather. To them, the idle jokes and mass media wit of a has-been like James would sound galling if ever they heard it [8,9].
From this point on James’s mask is off as he invokes the memory of the famed non-scandal tagged “climategate” by the media, representing vested business interests, propagating similar myths as James himself . The inquiry that followed the non-scandal exonerated all those scientists whose emails were illegally hacked and misrepresented to the press to discredit their work. But the damage was done. The most important conversation we needed to have in 2009 (James says it was 2007 but that is incorrect) was dropped from the agenda altogether. That itself will be seen as a far greater scandal in the years to come . It seems odd that our “mass media” expert was unable to decipher the truth from the loud shrills of tabloid mania that scoffed at innocent men.
Although I was compelled to smile at James’s peculiar rant against something he can’t seem to grasp despite mountains of evidence, his case against Malthus, climate change and associated risks, do carry an undertone of sadness. For James is not inheriting the Earth, he is bequeathing it to future generations and it is in a terrible state. To shrug and insinuate that the problems we face collectively, as a result of the mistakes made in the preceding decades, are just an illusion, is disrespectful and ignorant.
Thomas Robert Malthus (pic. Wikipedia)
Clive James’s appraisal of ‘Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet’  seems to fall away somewhere in this piece of writing. But between the lines of his misty views, he has done us some service. His message is clear but our reading of it should be clearer: the book is likely to be a very good insight and analysis of a man who, over 200 years ago, diagnosed the problem that we today are facing: population really does matter!
12 June 2014
- Book Review: IDP:2043 A Graphic Novel Depicting The UK Ravaged By Climate Change Impacts
- Geoengineering Debate - University of Cambridge
- Debunked Or Defunct; Is Clive James Really An Able Commentator On Our Times?
- UK Shale Extraction Series - Part 1
- Food insecurity ~ 2014-2015
- The Truth About This Devastating Weather: David Cameron’s Policies Will Make It Worse!
- David Wasdell: Earth Sensitivity To Temperature & Emissions
- The View From The Met Office: Super Models and Climate Change Customers ... Welcome To Planet “B”
- Part 2: Environment In TV
- Environment in TV - The View From The Audience...
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