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

 

 

 

Anticyclonic Haze

A few hours north of where I live in France, but the haze looks about the same. Photo: AFP

A few hours north of where I live in France, but the haze looks about the same.
Photo: AFP

It’s been a hazy couple of days here on the eastern edge of France, dry and cloudless but when I look out the window, the air above (the currently invisible) Lake Geneva is whitish-yellow.And indeed, checking the news, I find that three-quarters of France is under a high pollution alert. City bikes are free today in Paris, leave the car at home, etc., due to “anticyclonic conditions and cold nights followed by more hot days.” Which means we have a high pressure system settled firmly above the country, and the air pollution isn’t being dispersed.

This week, the Chinese government announced a massive new program to fight pollution and restructure its economy to be more environmentally sustainable. This isn’t due to some newfound altruistic leaning into the green. China is choking on the fruits of its growing economy, and not just because of the almost tangible blankets of smog filling some of its cities. The water is either drying up or polluted and the growing areas of soil are so damaged that they can no longer be farmed.

Tiananmen Square, October 2013 Photo: AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan

Tiananmen Square, October 2013
Photo: AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan

One solution is to import water in the form of food grown elsewhere, to outsource major polluting industries off Chinese soil.

Another is to change course. As of this week, China has said it will “resolutely declare war against pollution as (it) declared war against poverty”. Premier Li Keqiang described smog as “nature’s red-light warning against inefficient and blind development”.

A high pressure weather system makes for warm, sunny days, until it doesn’t anymore and it causes haze and lack of rain instead. Considering China’s long spell of high pressure economic success, if we are measuring success in terms of GDP, it will be interesting to see what the country can do if it truly throws its weight behind wrapping its economy around sustainable development, and what the costs, both financial and human, of this course change will be.