Repair-adise: The Myth of the Self-Cleaning Earth

3224040683_22edd9a60cOkay, I’ve seen the trope enough.  Yes, it is a hopeful image, but it perpetuates a myth.  End of movie: three or four people after post-apocalyptic disaster come out to “healed” Earth.  200 years in City of Ember.  700 years in Wall-E.

Gaia is a nice idea–that the Earth is bigger than us and will heal itself even from our damage.  However, it lessens any personal responsibility, and gives us some odd idea that humans, in the form that we know them, will be back one day after the Earth has gone through a cycle similar to a self-cleaning oven.

Oddly enough, the base idea is shared by those who don’t believe in Global Warming, or who don’t believe that Man is causing global warming–the idea that the Earth shifts in cold and hot and finds a balance and everything is returned to a state of Eden.

Here’s two things I know: The last Ice Age was a documented shift in the planet’s balance of hot and cold.  Those ice sheets lasted for more than 100,000 years, ending about 10,000 years ago.  The animal and plant life that we know from then have changed quite a bit over that span of time.  No more giant ground sloths, mammoths or neanderthals.  Even the steppe grasses are gone.  So,  it took the Earth 10,000 years to right itself–after some massive glaciation.  In other words, Global Warming may well indeed have been a natural shift, but Humanity will not survive a massive shift like that–certainly not in the way we are now. And likely, the Earth will come up with some radically new life forms–if it recovers at all.

The second idea here is that the Earth can take a beating from us.  No problem.  A) if it disposes of us, what have we learned?  and B)  We are capable of damaging an atmosphere irreparably.

Those Ice Ages, devastating as they were, still counted on an atmosphere.  If we hurt our atmosphere, isn’t it possible that we not just trigger an Ice Age, but stop it from fixing itself?  James Lovelock, the man who created the idea of Gaia–the earth that is an organism–was interviewed in New Scientist.

Do you think we will survive?

I’m an optimistic pessimist. I think it’s wrong to assume we’ll survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesised it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It’s happening again.

I don’t think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what’s coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing’s been done except endless talk and meetings.

It’s a depressing outlook.

Not necessarily. I don’t think 9 billion is better than 1 billion. I see humans as rather like the first photosynthesisers, which when they first appeared on the planet caused enormous damage by releasing oxygen – a nasty, poisonous gas. It took a long time, but it turned out in the end to be of enormous benefit. I look on humans in much the same light. For the first time in its 3.5 billion years of existence, the planet has an intelligent, communicating species that can consider the whole system and even do things about it. They are not yet bright enough, they have still to evolve quite a way, but they could become a very positive contributor to planetary welfare.

How much biodiversity will be left after this climatic apocalypse?

We have the example of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum event 55 million years ago. About the same amount of CO2 was put into the atmosphere as we are putting in and temperatures rocketed by about 5 °C over about 20,000 years. The world became largely desert. The polar regions were tropical and most life on the planet had the time to move north and survive. When the planet cooled they moved back again. So there doesn’t have to be a massive extinction. It’s already moving: if you live in the countryside as I do you can see the changes, even in the UK.

He has a lot of optimism that despite all the damage we can do as a species, that the Earth will recover–even that perhaps these amazingly smart humans, in his opinion, the apex of creation, will figure out how to live in harmony with the Earth–eventually.

But it also might allow both a fatalism and a hedonism to develop–as if we can do nothing to hurt the Earth at all.  Lovelock was instrumental in getting the global CFC ban that led to saving the Ozone layer.   Perhaps there are still more things to do to stop the warming that’s happening–as he suggests in the article.   Certainly, we have to think short term.  Lovelock’s vision–is that after thousands and thousands of years–humanity will survive and learn.  Movies shorten that to a few hundred years, a slap on the hand for our negligent behavior instead of the mass extinction probably waiting for us.  They believe in Man rebooting after the Earth has rebooted itself.  Repair-adise.

All these movies have people waiting out the storm, walking into paradise, virtually unchanged.  Free of humanity for a mere 200 years, the planet heaves a rainbow sigh of relief, bushy gardens of plenty.  But with our weapons we can inflict planetary damage; Wall-E can never clean up all the trash and one plant can’t feed the multitudes–and there will be a long wait for the storm to be over.  And humans may not survive as humans.  There may be no humans to come back out after 55 million years….and if there are, will they remember what they did wrong?  We have to affect change.

Sure, we may not die, but we will all be changed.

Online SF Market: Futurismic–for near future stories

Another great market for Science Fiction writers, especially those dabbling in near future fiction.  Check out the full Guidelines here.  Here’s an excerpt of what they’re looking for.

Futurismic seeks contemporary, near future science fiction for online publication. We’re looking for innovative, exciting stories that use the tools of speculative fiction to examine contemporary issues and take a look at what’s just around the corner.

Whether by established professionals or promising newcomers, we would like to see the very best in today’s SF, with an emphasis on work that truly connects with and illuminates the fast-paced, fascinating times we live in.

Stories should be compelling and well written, with a strong emphasis on characters confronting or embracing imminent cultural, social, technological, and scientific changes.

PLEASE NOTE: Near-future, Earth-based science fiction is our primary focus!

WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR:

  • Mundane SF
  • Post-cyberpunk SF
  • Satirical/gonzo futurism
  • Realistic near future hard SF

WHAT WE’RE NOT LOOKING FOR:

  • Fantasy
  • Horror
  • Space opera
  • Off-world SF
  • Distant futures
  • Aliens
  • Time Travel
  • Alternate History

Length: up to 15,000 words!  and there’s a webform to submit with.  No nasty stamps and paper problems.  $200 flat rate for stories, 2-5 weeks to respond.

Click on the Guidelines link and read the rest if you are interested.  Good luck!

Writing Classes at Yukon College–Get Your Novels Out

Hey, Novelists!

For some of you Nanowrimo was a great experience–but what next??  Or some of you have an old novel kicking around in your closet.  Dust it off, get it ready.

I’m teaching two courses at Yukon College in the Winter, both of them are Fiction Writing Workshops.  You can read more about them if you click on Writing Classes up on the Menu Bar.

In brief:  Monday night is for novels that are more realistic–they don’t have magic, or time travel, or science fiction, or monsters in them.  They are set in this world, working with people as we know them.  They can be set in the past.

If you have at least 3/4 of a novel manuscript through a first draft, you are welcome to join the course.  If you don’t have that much done, that’s okay to join too, as long as you know that a majority of people will be working on novels, and that class time discussion will be focussed on longer story arcs.  People with novels are required to workshop 3 chapters over the course of the semester, comment on other people’s chapters, and with a group, present one novel to the class, one of the ones that we will be reading (we have three on the schedule), and  turning in to the class a synopsis of your novel.

The practical side is that in April you will need one synopsis and the first three chapters of your novel ready to show editors who are coming to the Yukon!!  Don’t pass up this opportunity. BIG name people are coming to look for manuscripts and help people move towards publication.  They will take our class to the next level, much farther than most could take you.  They will also take you to that next level if you AREN’T a part of the class–the Editor’s Weekend is a Yukon Wide event… (oh, it won’t be named Editor’s Weekend…I just made that up….).

Tuesday nights are for those novelists with a speculative element in their novel.  There are different considerations when you are working with speculative elements and you will want people who are familiar with those elements.  The rest of the class will be VERY similar to the Monday night group–all that’s different is that we will be working with texts that are outside of realism, even just slightly.

The courses are 16 weeks long, are the cheapest prices in any college in North America (dare anyone to beat $150 per course), and I think you will get more bang for your buck.  Workshops are good to use to get a good opinion of what to look at more closely.  Only come if you are ready to receive the opinions of 15 other readers, and to consider their thoughts on your work.

Come and Join us for a good workshop experience!  CRWR 241: Fiction Writing Workshop (Mondays–realism; Tuesdays–Speculative) Starts Jan 5 at Yukon College!

Muslim Punk Rock, or What Fiction Can Do

23moth_muslimThis just in from the New York Times. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a book about Muslim-Americans forming a punk band in Buffalo New York. From the article by Christopher Maag, “Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book“:

Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called “The Taqwacores,” about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

“This book helped me create my identity,” said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Conn.

A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. “When I finally read the book for myself,” she said, “it was an amazing experience.”

The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.

As a writer, the article is fascinating to me. Fiction has the power to give method and ideas to real people, helping to create reality. Now Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight isn’t gonna make vampires out of anyone–but it might make teenage girls want a chaste boyfriend. But Taqwacores imagined a reality for alienated Muslim teens in the States, a way to cope, a way to establish a new identity, a counter culture. The book empowers people. Through fiction.

Countless movies have played on the idea that a writer could create reality through writing about it–they are mostly comedies. But the concept, I think, is a powerful one. What if –instead of reflecting culture–we created it? What if we consciously created something that was not there before–something that could happen–so that it inspires others to create it?

Science Fiction often does this in reverse. Create something that we DON’T want around and then destroy it. And thank God we got rid of “it.” I think the Shine Anthology is seeking to help us imagine some creative solutions–and I still encourage you to submit. But I want to keep harping on the idea that you, as writers, can change the world. Michael M. Knight did. (I love that his name is the same as the hero from Knight Rider, the 80s TV show (with recent makeover)).

Go create something you want to see that doesn’t exist right now. Like Knight, create a subculture for disenfranchised teens. Or create the ultimate youth center in your town and inspire someone to imagine the real one. Or show oppressed people in power, how a family operates using green technology in their house, believable, doable, possible things. And then I hope your novel is photocopied and passed around and around and around. The world.

Fiction Can Change the World

It’s the subtlety of fiction that sneaks up on you and changes your mind.  No one has to argue in front of a court of law, no one has to hit you over the head, or point to a passage of scripture.  Fiction gives you a person.  And you learn about this person, what it is to be black, white, female, male, gay, straight, Christian, atheist, hermaphroditic, Klu Klux Klan, the president, a beggar, a horse.  And you can’t see the label as a label again—you’ve been talking with them all night.  You’ve seen where they’ve lived, heard what they’ve thought, and fought with them through battles where you were both alone.  Fiction appears harmless, but it’s the art that changes minds from the heart up.