January 4, 2015

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: The Saga of Science Fiction and Anthropogenic Global Warming

I wonder sometimes if the authors of SF novels that base their plots on the certainty of anthropogenic global warming are as likely to be “right” about their futures as George Orwell and Jules Verne were right about theirs.

Anthropogenic Global Warming, or AGW, was a precise descriptor but was downgraded to the meaningless phrase climate change. It’s virtually impossible to find AGW still in use anywhere. Perhaps the science has sharpened to a point where the consensus now believes that climate change is natural. I never had any argument with the idea that the climate changes. My objection has always been that 2.867E11 kg of people can totally alter the climate of 5.972E24 kg of planet. I understand that this isn’t a perfect comparison, but “climate” is a complex thing no matter how simplistic we try and make it sound when we talk about stopping AGW.

By definition “Climate is a measure of the average pattern of variation in temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, precipitation, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological variables in a given region over long periods of time.”

How can Humans have gained such power to alter all of these variables over such an incredibly short period of time? With a population of just under a billion and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s, Humans supposedly gained the power to alter the climate of the entire planet. So in the space of 250 years, we completely mastered the planet to the point we are at today. We can extinguish the planet or we can save the planet.

The choice, according to the consensus of essentially 100% of the scientific community, is ours and ours alone. There are no other factors to consider. We can stop global warming. We can cause global warming. You can find an clear history of the discovery of global warming here: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/summary.htm. You can also find counter arguments here (which has the advantage of linking to climate change discoveries in order to refute them) here: http://wattsupwiththat.com/

Getting back to science fiction, Orwell and Verne clearly got certain things right – sometimes uncannily right. Ubiquitous surveillance and submarines leap to mind. But you can find as many things they got wrong. A simple internet search will bring up plenty of articles enumerating both. (http://www.zmescience.com/other/science-abc/things-jules-verne-got-right-and-he-didnt/ , http://john.a16z.com/2013/06/21/where-orwell-got-it-wrong/)

It seems logical that “predictive science fiction” regarding climate change would be the same. However, it sometimes seems that the SF community insists that it gets things spot on when it actually doesn’t. For me, a glaringly obvious manipulation regards my favorite of all pastimes, watching STAR TREK.

In the Wikipedia article: “Climate Change in Popular Culture” one of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, “The Inner Light” (Season 5, episode 25, 1992) is used as an example of how anthropogenic global warming might destroy an entire civilization: “The issue of climate change and global warming, its possible effects, and related human-environment interaction have entered popular culture since the late 20th century.” In this episode, “Jean-Luc Picard lives a lifetime on a planet experiencing Global Warming and aridification. Ultimately, the climate change becomes serious enough to threaten all life on the planet. This Hugo Award winner is among the 5 most popular out of all 178 episodes in the TNG series.”

The truth of the matter is quite different, which I cross-checked using the STAR TREK geek’s “bible”, Memory Alpha, where it says something quite different regarding “The Inner Light”: “Ten years have passed on Kataan, and Kamin, together with his adult daughter Meribor, have found that the soil in their yard is simply dead. The sun's radiation has sterilized the dirt making it incapable of supporting life, a process that is implied to be wiping out all plant life on the planet.

“La Forge has managed to trace the alien probe's path back to the system of Kataan, which contains no habitable planets as the star went nova approximately one thousand years earlier.” (http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/The_Inner_Light_(episode))

How did this little faux pas happen? (And why hasn’t anyone protested it? It seems that wiki articles get slammed all the time!) Why would anyone take a bit of fiction and twist it to advance a political/scientific agenda? It’s a TELEVISION show – an old one at that.

As I tend to read “space opera” and have a usually passive interest in near-future SF, I wasn’t even aware of the newest category alliterated here http://www.salon.com/2014/10/26/the_rise_of_climate_fiction_when_literature_takes_on_global_warming_and_devastating_droughts/.

While I certainly think it’s important for SF to look at the future and imagine what it might be like and what our responses to the future might be like, I wonder if the climate change scientists are moving to coopt SF as a medium for their message. In 2013, Curry at NPR books noted, “‘You know, scientists and other people are trying to get their message across about various aspects of the climate change issue,’ says Curry. ‘And it seems like fiction is an untapped way of doing this — a way of smuggling some serious topics into the consciousness’ of readers who may not be following the science.”

Funny, in any other instance, the climate change agenda infiltrating fiction might be called propaganda. I’m almost certain that if, say, the dreaded creationist theories turned up in SF like this, there would be a massive hue and outcry that “they” were trying to sway the public. The difference being of course that essentially 100% of all scientists believe that AGW is a clear and present danger.


Jeff said...

Pretty good post. Climate always changes. How it will change is long-term unpredictable. How much each driver to the change is responsible for it (people included) is also unpredictable. The only predictable thing is that people who want to believe we're wrecking the planet will also believe we're changing the climate.

GuyStewart said...

Jeff -- thanks for stopping by and commenting! I completely agree. We believe what we want to believe, sometimes despite evidence against or even lack of evidence.

I include myself in this assessment as well!