Is Climate-Themed Fiction All Too Real? We Asked the Experts – by Livia Albeck-Ripka – NYT

Climate Effect: Adaptation‘The Machine Stops’

by E. M. Forster

Forster’s eerily prescient novella imagines a world where life on earth’s surface — besides ferns and “a little grass” — has become impossible. Humans live underground, where they communicate via glowing blue-lit plates and eat, drink and sleep to the rhythm of the eternally humming “Machine.”

Written in 1909 — just over a decade after the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius suggested anthropogenic emissions could change the climate — “The Machine Stops” prophetically described something like the internet. But it was far off in imagining how we would adapt to climate change, said Jonathan Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences.“The idea that we could have self-sufficient civilization underground basically requires we replace the sun,” Dr. Foley said. “And any technology that’s capable of doing that — whether it be fusion, or some kind of magical technology — would have to be so powerful that I’d ask: Why didn’t we solve the climate problem first?”

Dr. Foley said the novel’s ideas weren’t that far from the science-fiction-like discussions he heard coming from Silicon Valley, where vertical gardens, orbiting microwave transmitters or machines that harvest carbon are touted as silver bullets for climate change. “The actual solutions are far simpler,” he said. “But they’re not as sexy. Like, hey: What if we threw less food away, or we ate less meat?”

Dr. Foley said that if he ever wrote a novel, it would be one in which “we all do the slow, hard muddling work of just pitching in, but no hero rides in on a spaceship to save us all.” It would be a terrible novel, he admitted. “No one would buy it, and Hollywood wouldn’t make a movie, but it’s the one I want, and it would surely save the world.”

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