Given what we’ve long known about the impact of carbon emissions on our atmosphere, the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should not have been surprising, and yet it hasn’t been greeted with nearly the amount of shock it deserves.
The report makes clear that we are essentially cooking the planet, that every fraction of degree of temperature rise has additional impacts, and we are not doing nearly enough to stem the tide. In fact, under the Trump administration, fossil fuel industries — coal especially — have been encouraged to party (and spew carbon into the atmosphere) like it’s 1949.
This is an existential threat to humankind, and its consequences will be felt within the lifetimes of many of the people reading these words. I don’t think running around outside screaming, “The world is ending! The world is ending!” would likely do much good, but it wouldn’t be inappropriate.
There happens to be a book that’s a blueprint for what’s happening now — and the future that awaits us, if we don’t radically alter our current trajectory: “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler.
Butler is one of the most decorated science-fiction authors of all time — the first, in fact, to win a MacArthur Fellowship (aka “genius grant”) — but she is often overlooked, likely because she was a woman and African-American.
“Parable of the Sower,” published in 1993 when it was still possible to heed its warning, tells the story of a world collapsed due to climate change, economic inequality and unchecked corporate power. Resources are scarce, and only gated communities are safe.
Set near what used to be Los Angeles, the novel focuses on teenager Lauren Oya Olamina, who has “hyperempathy,” both a gift and an affliction that allows her to feel the pain she witnesses others experiencing. Spurred by her worldview, Lauren develops a new belief system called “Earthseed,” which posits that humans’ time on Earth is a kind of childhood and that they will emerge as adults once they travel to other planets.
It is a story of two diasporas, first as Lauren and other refugees are forced out of Los Angeles, and then as they look toward finding an extraterrestrial home.
The book was followed by “Parable of the Talents,” which takes us through Lauren’s adult life and that of her daughter, as a fundamentalist Christian authoritarian government persecutes religious and ethnic minorities in the name of — and I’m not making this up — “making America great again.”
Butler became blocked in trying to complete what was supposed to be the final installment of the trilogy, “Parable of the Trickster,” which was meant to illuminate human life on a new planet once her characters had escaped the bounds of Earth. Butler died at 58 in 2006.
If even Butler could not conjure humanity existing elsewhere, I cannot imagine such a scenario coming true in reality.
I first read the book many years ago, hipped to it by a friend when I asked for good science fiction that would make me both think and feel. It does that.
Butler’s stories often shifted between past and present, a recognition of the forces working against the liberation of minority and persecuted peoples, and how those forces remained present, even as they were considered banished.