Water was traded on Wall Road alongside oil and gold for the primary time in early December 2020. That may appear weird, however there’s a grim logic at play. Dependable sources of water which have nourished civilisations all through historical past – the glaciers and ice packs that launch a gradual movement every spring – are shrinking. New analysis has revealed that the world is dropping ice 65% sooner now than it did within the Nineteen Nineties, at a charge of 1.3 trillion tonnes a yr.
In works of local weather fiction, depictions of environmental catastrophe usually concentrate on the very property of water that has introduced it to the eye of futures merchants: its volatility. It has fed fantasies of flooded future worlds all through historical past. However with the melting of the world’s ice sheets monitoring the worst-case situations of scientists, the tales not appear so fantastical. A sea-level rise of two-and-a-half metres is feasible by 2100, based on the estimates of the Nationwide Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration within the US.
These predictions resonate with prophecies which have haunted cultures because the daybreak of language. How may life be completely different in a drowned world? Who’s chargeable for the flood? And the way can folks alive in the present day face this sea-soaked future? Literature is an inevitably wealthy information.
Conjuring the flood
The story of a world-destroying flood reaches again in Judeo-Christian traditions to Noah’s ark and past that, to the Sumerian flood story that dates to round 2000 BC. This was handed down in hushed voices round campfires till it was recorded on Pill XI of The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Floods happen within the myths of most cultures. The Ojibwe First Nations folks in North America converse of The Nice Serpent and the Nice Flood; the story of Manu and Matsya is a Hindu flood delusion; and the Welsh story of Dwyvan and Dwyvach is an analogue for the son of Prometheus in Historic Greek mythology, Deucalion, who survives the flood by constructing a big chest upon which to drift.
In most of those tales, the flood is the wrath of the gods (or god) on a hedonistic or godless neighborhood, although the “good” are saved. Zeus sends a flood to punish the conceited Pelasgians; Noah is commanded to construct the ark; and Lord Vishnu, disguised because the fish-like Matsya, warns the good-hearted mortal Manu of the approaching waters. Our trendy preoccupations with rising seas map immediately onto these tales, as we assign fault for the worldwide warming that’s melting ice caps and inching the ocean up the shore.
An ocean of loneliness
Apocalyptic narratives have abounded for hundreds of years, however JG Ballard’s The Drowned World was one of many first to supply a contemporary interpretation of a planet beset by rising seas. Set in 2145, the affect of the 1962 novel on modern fiction set in a deluged future is unmistakable. Ballard imagines a balmy London that’s largely submerged, infested with big alligators and traversed by mercenary scuba divers who plunder the town’s museums and cathedrals.
The Drowned World explores the results of human isolation, as London is emptied of all however just a few die-hard survivors, troopers and scavengers. As separate islands, the characters wallow within the loneliness that so many people have develop into used to throughout lockdown. Not solely does the sea-level rise destroy coastal cities, it additionally limits emotional connections between the remnant populations. With most typical floor inaccessible, Ballard initiatives a lonelier, extra violent, world.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2017 novel New York 2140 precedes Ballard’s setting by 5 years, however other than depicting cities underneath water, the 2 imagined worlds couldn’t be extra completely different. “New York is underwater but it surely’s higher than ever,” reads one evaluation.
Robinson strikes between first and third-person narration, with a number of sections given over to an omniscient city historian narrator often called “the town” or “that metropolis smartass”. These sections describe adjustments within the Hudson Bay space over the past millennium, from its pre-colonisation days, by means of the 2008 crash, the rising seas and world disasters to the “current” day of the flooded near-future.
This deep-time perspective means that particular person motion for environmental restore is each futile and completely crucial as a type of reparation. That is the contradiction of optimistic pessimism widespread to speculative fiction. The person should take political motion towards local weather catastrophe, or face a drowned world alone, as Ballard’s anti-hero Kerans is doomed to.
Robinson’s heroes are Charlotte and Inspector Gen, two middle-aged girls working in refugee resettlement and policing, respectively. They dwell in the identical cooperative housing challenge in Madison Sq. Park as Franklin, a younger futures dealer manipulating water commodities. His shark-like method to buying and selling is altered by his community-minded neighbours, who encourage him to insurgent. For Robinson, people can solely overcome in the event that they organise.
And overcoming the rising seas will imply greater than adjusting to flooded coasts. Some works of fiction think about how an increase in sea stage will restrict meals manufacturing, as in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Woman. Others depict the implications of mass migration to the remaining liveable components of the planet, as in EJ Swift’s The Osiris Mission.
These tales discover a sea-level rise as an existential risk to human life that’s exacerbated by the paralysis and inaction of people. Latest choices of local weather fiction, akin to Robinson’s New York 2140 or The Ministry for the Future go additional, and function on the stage of utopian creativeness implicit in Ballard’s earlier dystopian imaginative and prescient, asking: what if we do one thing about it?
Chelsea Haith doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.