Anti-Dystopian Non-Utopias

Literary, cinematic and gaming dystopias have been all the rage for a long time now, offering generational visions of the world in various states of post-apocalyptic disarray, either due to war, societal collapse environmental disaster or all of them combined.

With a recent history of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster or the Bento Rodrigues dam collapse in Brazil, or any number of environmental calamities¬† which conspire to damage the environment over decades (not to mention the societal strife they cause in the forms of poverty, terrorism and mass migration), it’s easy to succumb to the dire appeal of dark future visions.

Image from Bladerunner (1982) Source: Wikipedia

Image from Bladerunner (1982)
Source: Wikipedia

I was listening to the BBC this morning when I recognized a familiar voice speaking. Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist, writer and broadcaster who has narrated countless documentaries that have introduced viewers to a deeply respectful view of the natural world.

He was being interviewed at the start of the climate talks in Paris, and the questions posed to him went to the heart of the matter this week: Did he believe that nations could agree to the kind of action that needs to be taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and if so, did he think that action taken now would be enough to slow climate change.

Artworks created by Brandalism, placed in advertising spaces owned by JC Decaux, one of the sponsors of the COP21 talks in Paris. Source: BBC

Artworks created by Brandalism, placed in advertising spaces owned by JC Decaux, one of the sponsors of the COP21 talks in Paris.
Source: BBC

His answer was simple.

He said that effective climate change agreements require something of humanity that it has only achieved on rare occasion:

Seeing beyond all national borders and interests and embracing both climate and the natural world as unifying elements that we all share rather than territories over which we fight.

Paris poster Source: Brandalism

Paris poster
Source: Brandalism

Did he think an agreement could be both reached and then implemented?

Again, he said that although that kind of agreement would be virtually unprecedented, our increasing knowledge of our own impact and reliance on the global climate is also unprecedented. So, in a guardedly positive assessment, he said we might just see unprecedented agreement and action.

Disclaimer: I personally enjoy fictional stories of how humans react to dystopian collapse. Having said that, I feel that at this point, against a backdrop of ever larger challenges, they don’t inspire positive action as they might intend to do.

Image from The Matrix (1999)

Image from The Matrix (1999)

Rather, they prepare the ground for a deep resignation that whatever we do, things are going to get much worse before (and if) they get better.

And if that’s the case, if nothing we do will make any difference at this point, then we are absolved of any responsibility to make real decisions or changes in our lives, or in business as usual.

Still from Mad Max: Fury Road

Still from Mad Max: Fury Road

Dystopia was originally used as a counter-term to utopia, an imaginary non-existent place of near-perfect qualities.

I suppose it says a lot about humans that while many of our most popular stories are dystopian, very few are utopian because most people find utopias to be rather lacking in the challenges we think of as making for a good story.

High City Blowing Away Artist: Jacek Yerka via Saatchi Gallery

High City Blowing Away
Artist: Jacek Yerka via Saatchi Gallery

So, instead of dreaming of boring utopias, or indulging in the melancholy pleasures of dystopias, we can reach for something closer at hand: the very real challenges of our own world, somewhere between the two.

The stories we can create of surmounting our own history of limitations and, as Sir David suggests, taking unprecedented positive action on a global scale.

Let’s create these antidystopian, non-utopian stories as if our lives depended on it.

"Anything can happen" poster in Paris. Source: Brandalism

“Anything can happen” poster in Paris.
Source: Brandalism

 

 

 

Reclaiming The Stuff That Matters

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to read the results of a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showing that three-quarters of Americans are not very worried about the effects of climate change. After all, a lot of money and energy has gone into sowing doubt when it comes to climate science.

The inundation of daily data, from gossip to war to financial news to games and local weather that we call the Information Age also makes it easy to miss the links between various developments unless those links are helpfully made in the media, but then, often with round-the-clock media, the links take on an alarmist character. And unless it affects them directly, people can only stay in a state of panic for a short time before they get dulled to the noise.

FlowerHouse, a project in Detroit to try and reclaim a ruined home with fresh flowers. All images: FlowerHouse

FlowerHouse, a project in Detroit to transform a ruined home with fresh flowers.
All images: FlowerHouse

After all, how many people really care that climate change is responsible for the sudden death, in the space of a single month, of half the remaining population of the curiously snouted and endangered saiga antelope? Tens of thousands of wild antelope just dropped dead. But does that really affect anyone’s day-to-day life? Maybe if it were half the dogs in the country. Or half the cattle. The saiga antelope are strange, unique and far away. But we need to talk about these weird animals as if they matter. Because they do.

The lack of climate worry would be a problem if the United States itself didn’t weigh so heavily on the global climate change balance, both in terms of cause and effect.

In 2012, the top 10 GHG emitters accounted for more than two thirds of the global emissions total. Find the newest data on global greenhouse gas emissions on the CAIT Climate Data Explorer, click here for an interactive version of this graph. Source: World Resources Institute.

In 2012, the top 10 GHG emitters accounted for more than two thirds of the global emissions total. Find the newest data on global greenhouse gas emissions on the CAIT Climate Data Explorer, click here for an interactive version of this graph.
Source: World Resources Institute.

It’s not just the production of greenhouse gases, or the consumption of energy and goods, either. Wars – and the U.S. has a lot of influence when it comes to wars, both actively and in weapons manufacture – have a major environmental impact. And wars are already being fought over the effects of climate change, too – water wars, oil wars. We need to be aware of the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict as if it matters to us personally, because it does.

I hear from many people, and I read, that great hope is placed in major technological breakthroughs, big fixes for big problems, solutions that will absolve individuals and industries and countries from having to reconsider what the desire to stick to business as usual really means.

FlowerHouse promotes sustainability and responsibility to American-grown flower farms.

FlowerHouse promotes sustainability and responsibility to American-grown flower farms.

The fact that three-quarters of the population in one of the world’s major contributors to climate change isn’t worried at all about climate change is probably one of the main reasons that real solutions aren’t being implemented on a wider scale. Sure, renewables are making progress, but fossil fuel production and consumption have expanded dramatically in the U.S. over the past few years.

A recent study says that worriers tend to be creative problem solvers. So, by extension, a nation of non-worriers isn’t going to engage overmuch in problem solving because they don’t see the necessity.

I’m not advocating round-the-clock worrying, which doesn’t do anyone much good.

Some people try to ignore climate change as just another turn of the global screw, too big for humans to fix.

Some groups, mainly in the U.S., try to divert attention from imminent climate change impact on crops, lifestyles, water supplies and shorelines. Apparently, 300 million people have something else to think about, and I know that plenty of those people have real, pressing issues that are as important to them as future notions of rising waters and wild temperatures.

Still: Talk about the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris as if it matters. Because it does.

Change is coming, it’s coming soon, and sugar-coating that reality will just make adjusting to the changes harder when they are no longer something that can be ignored.

The FlowerHouse is a collective effort to reclaim what's been abandoned, condemned and neglected.

The FlowerHouse is a collective effort to reclaim what’s been abandoned, condemned and neglected.