Climatic Sci-fi

Randall said, in a comment on my last post, "serious SF writers acknowledge that they are not trying to predict the future, but just explore possibilities."

That's certainly true, although I'm not sure it has always been the case. I think there was certainly a feeling of predicting the future in some 50s science-fiction - when it wasn't a vehicle for bad puns. Certain concepts came from sci-fi to become things that would definitely be in the future - flying cars, monorails, interplanetary travel, and so on. Looking at those, we're not scoring so well. Although Dublin's new Luas trams have a very scifi look about them, and when seen from Ranelagh Gardens, look like the 80s illustrations of the City of the Future.

I'm currently on a research jag for a D&D campaign I'm starting soon. It has involved a lot of reading about European history, particularly the late medieval period in Lithuania, Poland, and the New Forest. Something that's becoming clear from that, particularly in Simon Schama's Landscape & Memory, is that landscape and events are much more connected than I have previously given real credit for.

Now, I also have an interest in climate change - have had for years. Some events in the recent past of my D&D campaign world have led to a bit more research into this (although to reassure my players, I have no intentions of drowning the world).

Drawing all these together is making me interested in looking at the possibilties coming from climate change in the near future. Plenty of publications are predicting that as global temperatures rise, and the polar icecaps melt, that sea-level worldwide will rise. There's been, as far as I can see, remarkably little treatment of this in science fiction.

It's an area ripe for exploitation, though. You have to consider, first, the simple effect of reducing the landmass available to humanity. Places like the Netherlands and Denmark are in big trouble immediately, if they're not just gone. All the coastal cities in the world will have to evacuate - London, New York, Tokyo, San Francisco. That's a lot of people to move elsewhere.

Then there are the long-term effects on culture. In this case, people moved could really never go home. It's just not there anymore. There'd be blame assigned all over the place, but there's no one set of shoulders to place it on, not even one nation. There'd be wars of guilt and blame, in words if not in actions.

Tall buildings would become even more important, both as ways to house the displaced, and as the lone monuments still visible - and maybe usable - in the sunken cities. Underground, or underwater habitats would have to be considered. Architectural salvage would be presented with growth opportunities like never before.

So is there science-fiction out there dealing with this, or is everyone avoiding the question?

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Posted by Drew Shiel at February 2, 2005 12:34 PM | TrackBack

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I read a Finnish scifi book a couple of years back that was set around the subject of run-away greenhouse effect in the not-too-distant future: "Herääminen" ("Awakening" (Tammi 2000, 290p.)) by Risto Isomäki. As far as I can remember, it was a good book, and the science was solid.
Unsurprisingly, it hasn't been translated.

Thinking just from the top of my head now, but perhaps the subject is hitting a bit too close to home for writers to write (or indeed publishers to publish! what with the current, er, climate in the States concerning the "validity" of climate change and CO2 emissions' effect thereon, for example) about it; scifi is, after all, very much about escapism, and if you can read that sort of apocalyptica from your daily papers, it is less likely to entertain, no matter how fictional a guise you dress it in. I suspect this may be especially true about the people who read scifi (and especially the "harder" end of scifi) because they often are of the reasonably well educated, thinking kind(? ;-) ), and know more than enough about the dire possibilites already...

Posted by: pardina at February 7, 2005 1:11 PM

There's Earth by David Brin. Near future sf, he said about 50 years, so I suppose it's close to 30 now :-) Also has overpopulation, no privacy, physics discoveries.


Posted by: mollydot at February 7, 2005 2:20 PM

A few more global warming SF novels: Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Greenhouse Summer, by Norman Spinrad, and Heavy Weather, by Bruce Sterling.

Hmm. After a quick bit of googling, it looks like we're in for 1 m of sea level rise over the next century, (this is toward the high end of the estimates, but it's usually a good bet to go to the high end, when it comes to human folly.)

A collapse of the West Antarctic ice shelf represents another 5 m of potential sea level rise, but it's not clear that it's going to happen. (An increase in precipitation may balance out the melting) And if it does, it will take a few centuries.

I think there will be enough time for rich countries to build dikes to protect the biggest cities. (With some few exceptions like Venice and Miami that may be impossible to save.) San Francisco is quite hilly, and most of it is at least several metres above sea level. Likewise London, which is inland after all.

I would think that if anything, the Netherlands would be better off than most places. They already have dikes, and more importantly, the knowledge of how to build and maintain them, which they will be able to export at a premium.

Posted by: Owen at February 9, 2005 9:09 PM