I’m going to have thoughts. And then some of those thoughts will find their way here. So this is a series. Of thoughts. Published randomly. For no reason. Thank you for coming.
“Then we came to the end of another dull and lurid year.” — opening line of Don DeLillo’s first novel, Americana
As we enter Act Three of the most recent version of The Plague, I’m not so much looking ahead to our post-plague lives (which I am, for sure, don’t get me wrong), or to our immediate future (say, this time in 2021) as much as I’m looking ahead into something more mid- to long-term, say 30 -50 years out. Long before a bug started infecting people in Wuhan, I was thinking about our collective impact on the world, thinking about the planet my son would inhabit, about what happens when stresses are applied to a people (this usually results in bad things) and how these stresses make solutions seem more radical, or remote. And what the worldwide lockdown proved, or stressed, is this: much of the befoulment is systemic. Sure, we shouldn’t just throw everything out, and recycling is good, we should try and live more sustainable lives, we should favor products that have less of an impact on our water and soil and air, but we were all home for a few months, and our global emissions fell…10%.
What that tells me is that our system is corrupted, the dirt is baked in, and anyone who has watched a dishwasher detergent commercial knows how hard it is to remove baked-on grease. So even though the cries of “peak oil” are growing louder and louder, we’re not there yet. The combustion engine still rules the world. And, sure, the new “big oil” is “big renewable,” but California just started a futures market for water (and I get why, but that can’t be good, can it? What happens if you get priced out of water? Is that the makings of a revolution? Remember when Sam Kinison told the people of Ethiopia “you live in the desert!” to explain their hunger? What would he say to the people of the American Southwest?).
In The Graduate (1967) Dustin Hoffman’s lost and disillusioned college student is famously told that the future is plastics. And though the advice stood for something else, it was prescient. There’s a lot of plastic out there. They’ve counted it in California. Moscow is looking at repurposing oil refineries in the Arctic to produce it. We are drowning in the stuff. We haven’t lost the plot, we’ve lost control and we can no longer see the forest for the plastic. I’ve written a book (it’s with my agent, and he should sell it at some point, that would be nice) where the world is essentially a duopoly run by Oil (in the form of plastic) and Insurance.
We are good at creating garbage. We’re dirty, filthy animals and when we figured out how to create synthetic crap, we went into dirty, filthy overdrive. And we have not only blessed our soil and water and air with this crap, but space, too. Yes, I’m feeling good about things. Can you tell? (Look it’s my birthday very soon and I get this way in the lead up.)
Though, perhaps, there is a silver lining to how badly we run things. That space pollution could be, perhaps, a shield, against The Galactic Federation, which, apparently, is a thing. And that means Area 51 is nothing! Though, really, what would any Federation, galactic or otherwise, want with us? This guy nailed it:
OK. Back to pollution. All that plastic ends up somewhere. If you remembered your lessons from Finding Nemo, you know that “all drains lead to the ocean.” Which, great, we need water. And though we can’t drink water from the oceans, we need them more than most realize: oceans regulate temperatures, house an enormous amount of carbon, and support a biodiversity that much of the world depends on for food. Rising waters are bad not because of the rise per se, but because of why they are rising (the novel, I’m glad that you asked, is called The Higher The Water), and what melting polar ice means to our future. The actual displacement is significant but manageable. (I think; play around with this and you’ll see if it’s manageable where you live). But climate-based displacement is already happening and with it comes tension (see: Syria, Guatemala, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Nigeria, etc). The melting of the Arctic means enormous changes there (see the plastic link above, or this one about what man-made light does to an environment that has evolved to adapt to complete darkness half the year). Scientists have found plastic at the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean. Our garbage is everywhere. There’s a lot of work to be done and there are good people doing good work. Of course, a significant group of people will always fight things that require a lot of work, or that threaten their livelihood. That’s understandable and it’s how we’re hard-wired.
And while we can watch our forests and jungles with the help of satellites, those satellites are showing that the situation is…bad.
Also, I should note here that I’m more than a gloomy one trick pony. I have been reading up on trees, and how social they are, how they communicate, even with trees that are competitors for resources. The Lord of the Rings is a documentary! Trees are alive, of course, and I think most people feel a geniune connection to them, but the fact that researchers are finding out just how social they are, is going to make us rethink trees and forest in general.
Because when you do see the forest for the trees, you grow. You feel the enlightenment sprouting within you, a seedling of knowledge and joy. Suddenly you live in a world that isn’t just full of dumb but is more alive than you realized. That continues to grow in every way imaginable, even as other things — countries, societies, things, businesses — die, because everything dies eventually (this is my favorite piece of cultural criticism this year — it’s about decline; right next to this). Dying is a part of life (I’m not a fan of Peter Thiel, he may, in fact, be one of the most evil corporate/VC types in the world, and that’s saying a lot, but in an interview he said “This is the year in which the new economy is actually replacing the old economy,” that this is the year the 21st century starts, and more and more you get the sense that he’s right). You realize that you live in a world where breakdancers can suddenly dream of Olympic gold, and where a movie sponsored by Kentucky Fried Chicken called A Recipe for Seduction isn’t just a weird joke on the floor of some hack joke writer, but a real thing that millions will watch, just because.
Because we’re in Act Three. And we just have to get through a little more conflict before we achieve resolution. My only hope is that we will all have learned something meaningful in process.