Have you got your biscuits and a nice cup of tea? Have you cleaned up? Done the pots and hoovered around? Have you made sure that you’ve dusted? Do you see where I am going with these questions? It’s an analogy for how writers are tackling climate change. It’s one of the reasons I am responding to it, challenging the preconceptions that climate change is ALL CHANGE. Or worse still, the premise for some conspiracy in a thinly veiled thriller masquerading as speculative fiction. You have to rewind the clock back some distance to see how a protagonist responds to nature, you have to look at Frank Herbert, Kate Wilhelm, John Brunner and George Turner to find writers writing about people living, responding and accepting the impact of climate change. No genetic modifications. No plagues. Just the steady thrum of our own stupidity. In recent weeks, scientists have expressed concern over the east glacier field in Antarctica. The simple fact is, it’s melting, and it isn’t supposed to. Kim Stanley Robinson in 2312 has characters expressing concerns that this is the last place on Earth you can find ice outside of Greenland. They fight to save what is left in Greenland but Antarctica is lost. Sea levels rise. Displacement happens but no one discusses the impact on displacement, the media harp on about weather, about sea levels but not people.
The nifty little image above gives you some idea of displacement at a rise of 28m in sea levels. This takes into account the complete melting of that east glacial sheet at the South Pole, that’s not even west Antarctica. You can find this wonderful and startling app at Flood Map. Let’s skip around this map to give you an idea of populations. Let us start with the Netherlands, there are just over 17 million people living there at present, there a quarter of million people in Hull, around 200,000 people in York, over 8 million people in London, around 330,000 people living in Cardiff, 139,000 in Blackpool, 81,000 inhabitants in Peterborough. Just in the UK we could have displacement figures that run into around quarter of the population. These are conservative estimates and would more likely run into half the population and the impact on cities above the water line, such as, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (which will be a seaside city by then, unfortunately Glasgow will take one for the team and be a swamp) will see a flood (no pun intended) of internal refugees. We estimate the impact of this in reports, rate these impacts as high or low but need to start pointing at existing events to see the real impact of climate change.
Now, we have models for what happens when cities have to take in refugees from the surrounding countryside. Syria for me is the first climate change conflict. For those of you who think this conflict is about a power mad despot and ethnic cleansing you are far from the mark. It starts in 2006, with the first wave of droughts in the region, farms collapse, products once destined for UK supermarket shelves vanish and you may have noticed then a rise in some of your green beans. Between 2006-2011, the UN state that 75% of farms fail in the region and 85% of livestock die. That’s 85% of livestock that no longer feeds a nation. 1.5 million people are displaced into the major cities which are already struggling with food supplies. Old hatreds. Fear. Starvation. Hunger. No water. No food. A perfect melting pot to take what was once a beautiful country into the abyss. Today, 6 million people are displaced within Syria and a further 5 million have fled the state placing the same pressures on neighbouring countries that are also suffering from long term droughts. Turkey has increased security on it’s boarder to keep out refugees. You wonder why these people are climbing into leaking boats to get to the UK? This is the city of Homs, before and after the drought that created a civil war.
Now, you may think that the British are more civil. We have no religious conflict in this country but we do. Religious and racial bigotry will escalate with displacement, as will regional bigotry. Those old jokes about people from the North and from the South will become more tainted when farmland is swallowed by rising sea levels and temperatures will be high enough to allow malaria to reach our shores. 1.5 million people being displaced lit a powder keg. What will 20 million people do? How much space will we give up for them? Harry Harrison caught these fears in Make Room! Make Room! (this became the film Soylent Green), the idea was simple, we accept being squashed in but that violence erupts on a regular basis, the police and the state can’t manage so many people being in such a small space and people, people keep breeding because there is no work, no jobs because we are in a world that is mechanised. So, do we talk about climate change as all change or as something far more creeping, far more accepted by us? History teaches us that we do this, we accept, we adapt, we die.