Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear, an anti-environmentalist diatribe fashioned roughly in the shape of a thriller, concludes with an “Author’s Message”. In part, this asserts:
I suspect the people of 2100 will be much richer than we are, consume more energy, have a smaller global population, and enjoy more wilderness than we have today. I don’t think we have to worry about them.
The late – and admirable – Crichton was a far smarter man than I will ever be. His intellectual superiority, especially in matters scientific, means his opinions on climate change and global warming carry considerably greater weight and authority than mine ever will. I’d like to believe his prophecies to be accurate.
I just can’t.
Something in my gut tells me his optimistic outlook is wrong. More than that, any optimistic outlook is wrong. If you ask me, humankind is doomed to a future of rising sea levels, extreme weather events, mass starvation, resource wars, unsustainable mass-migrations from poorer to wealthier nations, animal extinctions, power shortages, and markedly reduced life quality and life expectancy. A hundred years from now I see a global population reduced by two or three billion, almost everyone sheltering from rampant flood waters in quasi-feudal enclaves, surrounded by husks of redundant technology and fighting off invaders with a mix of modern and medieval weaponry. A little bit Mad Max, in other words, and a little bit A Canticle For Liebowitz.
The stars? Intergalactic colonisation? The outward urge? Sowing the seed of humanity across the cosmos? Not a chance. Such grand visions never come to pass. No one is prepared to pony up the trillions necessary to fund that kind of dream-scale project. No one has the vision. Governments are irredeemably short-termist. They plan five years ahead, if that. This is why I don’t write space opera. To me it isn’t SF, it’s pure fantasy.
Things to come are things to dread. My two sons will grow up in a world where the best is past and where our present era will seem like a golden age – unlimited travel, plentiful food, material affluence, technological superabundance. They will look back on my generation with envious amazement, wondering how we could have been so reckless, so lacking in foresight, so wilfully vandalistic, so damn lucky. And all I’ll be able to do, if I’m still around, is apologise and say we couldn’t help ourselves. We tried but we just couldn’t break the habits of greed and squandering. We recycled our bottles and newspapers, but we knew it was a drop in the ocean. We installed low-energy lightbulbs, but our immense flatscreen TVs made up the difference in electricity consumption. We wanted to go veggie, but the lure of a fat juicy steak was too great.
I was in the dentist’s chair the other day, having a checkup. The dentist enquired about an article I’d written in the paper, prognosticating dire times ahead for planet earth. She told me, with a grim chuckle, that I was about to have a very uncomfortable experience at her hands if I genuinely believed everything was as dark as I’d stated in that piece. She would show her disagreement as only a dentist knows how.
With scenes from Marathon Man playing in my head, I desperately racked my brains to recall whether anything I’d submitted to the FT lately matched what she was describing. Maybe some book review where I’d blithely let slip that I reckoned civilisation was screwed? Then, light dawned. There’d been a case of mistaken identity.
“Oh, you mean James Lovelock,” I said. “The great prophet of eco-catastrophe. That’s not me. Definitely not. You can put away your rather enormous drill now. I disagree with everything the man says.”
I don’t, though.
James Lovegrove has published more than 30 books, including novels, novellas, short-story collections and books for teenagers. Having unleashed The Age Of Ra for Solaris, (reviewed here by Andy Remic) he’s about to follow it up with The Age Of Zeus in April next year.