Originally published September 2019
Picture yourself waking up one midsummer day. You’ve slept in and the sun is now rising into the sky. You keep the curtains drawn but already you can feel the heat of the sun pressing against them. Not for the first time, you wish you could afford air conditioning.
Wiping the gleam of sweat from your forehead, you sit on the couch. “Screen on,” you murmur and the holo-screen blinks to life. The weatherman’s face fills the wall in front of you. “We’re in for a reprieve today,” he says. “Temperatures are dipping to the low forties Celsius for the first time in over a month.”
You groan. “Screen off.” The weatherman disappears and a faint glowing clock takes his place. It’s 10 o’clock in the morning. Two more hours until you have to be at work, but the rolling brownouts will be hitting in half an hour. You’ll have to start getting ready now.
You head for the washroom to shower. Tapping your wristband against the chip near the dial, you hear a faint beep as it deducts $10 from your bank account. Water starts pouring out of the shower head. When water conservation efforts were first mandated, you only had to pay to activate the shower, and then only once. Now it’s been expanded to sinks, and if you’re still in the shower after five minutes, you’ll have to pass your wristband across the reader again. Soon, no doubt, they’ll expand it to flushing the toilet.
It’s the dawn of the 22nd century, the year 2103. Human advancement has more or less stalled. Sure, we have things like 3D video calling from your wristband, and holo-screens instead of TVs and computer monitors. Locking doors, payments, downloading interesting news articles from lightpost newsstands are all done through your wristband. If you’re wealthy, a chip embedded in your wrist will do the same. But things like flying cars? We gave up dreaming of those things years ago.
It’s hard to have grand ambitions in a world where everything is a struggle, in a world where every year, millions die from pollution. How can you dream of a brighter future when you can only see the Great Lakes through massive steel fences since they’ve been declared National Treasures? When only the wealthy have access to green spaces? When rugged, dry vegetation is overtaking long abandoned industrial buildings? When the homeless camp out in cities of their own?
Back when the world could have afforded to change things, people were too busy bickering about whether climate change was real to start. Even when they did finally start waking up, they wasted years arguing over whether the radical changes to the earth’s climate were being caused by humans or as part of a natural cycle. As if that mattered.
By the time they began to act, the wars had started. Extreme heat, droughts and food shortages bring out the worst in people it seems. The fighting, of course, did nothing to ease any of our problems. Around the world, governments began investing in defence and military technology, eschewing the needs of the average person. The wars finally ended, but by then governments could no longer afford to invest in renewable energy.
It took the United Nations declaring a worldwide drought in the year 2073 for people to start waking up again. At the same time, melting ice caps drove up ocean levels. You’re old enough to remember when the city of Miami was evacuated forever and swallowed by the ocean. It wasn’t all that long ago that Shanghai suffered the same fate, forcing 34 million people to flee further inland.
But humans, it seemed, had already squandered their chances at redemption: as temperatures climbed, epidemics swept through Africa, Asia and South America. As they spread into Europe, scientists rushed to perfect a genetically modified organism that would target the bacteria causing these diseases. It turns out a disease fighting genome is not something you want to rush. 80% of North American crops were wiped out in a single season.
It would be easy to think any of these things caused today’s problems. But you know the truth: the responsibility for the state of the world today lies entirely on the human inclination to spend more time assigning blame than actually fixing problems.
Is that really how the world will look in some eighty years? Maybe. If you read a growing number of studies, it stands to look a whole lot worse. But in a nutshell, that’s how I envisioned the future when I started writing Dawn of Magic.
In Dawn of Magic, Mother Nature comes to the rescue of the planet, determined to save it from a human population seemingly bent on destroying it. She recruits and trains a new army of wizards to try to restore the world to balance.
In reality, I’m afraid we won’t have that luxury. No one is going awaken from an eons long slumber and save the planet. The responsibility for that lies squarely on our shoulders. And yet we sit here arguing over whether climate change is caused by humans or not.
I am not an environmental scientist. I’m not actually any kind of scientist, but I do pride myself on my ability to think for myself and draw reasonable conclusions. And here’s the conclusion I draw when I listen to all these debates, when I read all these arguments:
It is undeniable that the world’s temperature is increasing. Anyone who still doubts that, please take a gander at some respected scientific sources before you leave a nasty comment. Here’s one that will get you started:
And regardless of what started the climate shifting, I don’t think there’s any way we can argue that we’re not amplifying it. Our society is driven by corporations to use, use, use. We’re driven to always buy the next best thing even if we don’t need it. Don’t reuse. Throw it away and buy a new one.
But beyond that, our entire manner of living drives the mass terraforming of the planet.
Take eating for example. How much of our food is locally grown? Much of it comes from mass farms that clear-cut acres and acres of forest, destroy natural wetlands, smother local ecosystems that are critical to the balance of the earth. I’m not talking about local farms here, I’m talking about the large-scale agricultural monsters that grocery stores turn to because their sheer size of production means they can afford to keep the costs down...to levels that we as consumers will pay.
Energy is much the same. Our expectation is that of instant gratification. We demand that we have the power to do anything we want to do when we want to do it. That takes energy, in the form of coal which produces terrible amounts of carbon, nuclear energy which has the potential for huge disasters, oil which disrupts the natural ecology around its wells for years to say nothing of what burning the oil does to air quality, etc. Now, our relentless demand for more has led to fracking and surface mining which destroys the surface of the earth, leaving the area infertile and waste. Some of these are +80km in size!
Even our so called environmentally friendly alternatives are little better… electric cars for instance run on lithium batteries: have you ever looked up an image of a lithium mine? It’s not pretty.
The good news is that some of these industries are actively trying to change their image by destroying less of the environment they are active in. But still, how can we clear-cut thousands of kilometers of forest around the world, blow up mountains, place massive concrete barriers to redirect ocean currents around populated areas, pump hundreds of millions of tonnes of pollution into the air every year (https://ourworldindata.org/air-pollution), fill our oceans and land with discarded plastic that takes hundreds of years to decompose—if it ever does—and say that we’re not affecting the planet? We as a species are terraforming the world to meet our needs, not thinking about the needs of the planet.
I’m not saying I’m any better. I love to travel. I love to explore. I own a little red pickup truck that I take as many places as I can because it’s comfortable, is actually better on gas then my car was and takes me offroad to places I couldn’t get with a car. When it came time to get a new vehicle, I could have opted instead to go for public transit. But I didn’t, largely because in order for me to get to work on time, it would have added 3.5 hours to my day and actually would have wound up being more expensive.
But—I’m trying. I avoid single-use plastics wherever possible, I try to bring my reusable mug with me, pack my own water in a reusable bottle. Ironically, I am trying to do everything my parents and grandparents taught me before we forgot that 3rd “R”: Reuse.
We need to fundamentally change how we think. We need to stop thinking about what we want, and start thinking about the planet we live in. We all need to start actively reducing our carbon footprints. Here in Canada, our government has recently introduced a carbon tax. Many people I know are strongly opposed to this because it will cost them more to do the things they love to do. But unfortunately, hitting people’s wallets is the most effective way of driving change! At the bare minimum, hopefully it will make them consider a vehicle that is more fuel efficient for instance. What I really hope is that the companies that make these things realize that their customers don’t want to pay the tax and come up with new technology that is friendlier on the environment. At the same time, our provincial government has gone backwards, undoing many of the green initiatives put in place by the previous government, removing funding that otherwise would have provided jobs for green industries.
It won’t happen today, but we need to start the action. We need to start transitioning our economies so that there are jobs in energy efficient, environmentally friendly industries. We need to step up and build affordable public transit that it is also convenient.
I don’t have kids, but I have nieces and nephews, and I want them to have a planet to grow up on!