2007 the year for final decisions

2007 the year for final decisionsDuring 1984, the year providing the title for perhaps the best known futuristic dystopia in the English novel, numerous social, political and literary commentators compared George Orwell’s projected world with the one that had come into being. Orwell wrote his political science fiction around 1948 and discrepancies between the apparent realities of life in 1984 and his rigidly controlled system are understandable given the rapidity and depth of social and technological developments in the intervening thirty-six years.

In 2001, despite acknowledging that 'fiction is a foolhardy venture', Australia’s Robyn Williams, afforded 'national treasure' status as a science broadcaster, produced a novel that is set in 2007. The casting of his characters only six years into the future suggests that change is occurring with exponential speed, and that our opportunities for altering course are dwindling numerically, shrinking in size and diluting in quality.

Julian Griffin, his twelve year old daughter Louise and their border collie Jez, live at a meteorological station on the north west coast of Tasmania. They are flown to Washington where Griffin participates in a television discussion with three prominent environmentalists (all named David and somehow familiar) and Kate Schumpeter, an 'events analyst' from the Simon Institute, a think tank with Future Options as its 'premier remit'. There and at the United Nations, Griffin attempts to explain the latest ecological catastrophe. Worldwide, animals both wild and domestic have begun a 'bestial insurrection', sinking whaling boats, closing airports, strangling drivers of bulldozers in rainforests, savaging packs of beagles and smothering expressways in heaps of manure.

Comparatively few humans have died in this catastrophe and the closure of facilities seems to be 'selective', as though the animals were issuing a warning. Griffin explains that nature is fighting back against its impending destruction by human exploitation. The animals face the 'obliteration of their entire habitat', something like the biggest earthquake ever. The problem for humans is that they want the immediate threat to be removed without 'sacrificing the conveniences of twenty-first century life'.

Williams has a keen eye for the ironies in debates over the fate of the earth. He notes that at the end of last century, ministers presented 'their total ignorance of science as a natural asset, even a badge of honour. Now it was seen to be otherwise'. When governments looked for experts to explain what was happening, most of the candidates were ‘wildly green.

2007 the year for final decisionsYou couldn’t possibly have the minister sitting next to some hirsute Jeremiah telling the world’s press grimly that it’s all our own fault and we should dismantle Greed City’. The 'Pontiff', who heads the Simon Institute, recommends faunicide, a scorched earth response that will extinguish all species of animals. Coincidentally he has an interest in a biotechnology firm waiting to replace them with their own designer animals.

The politicians are condemned for their short-sightedness and self interest:

"It is one of the rules of politics that tomorrow is a better time to take action than today. Next year is even better. It is the job of the politician to sow doubt, to cloud the issue, to encourage fudge, to greet every revelation with studious doubt, diminish it and claim it to be but part of a complex web of uncertainty with which experts are battling."

As a result, it is not the politicians who make the necessary decisions, but Louise, as she mobilises the world’s children to support their pets.

There are echoes here of the Gaia theory that sees the earth as a single complex organism whose instinct for survival advises it to turn against any threatening organism. Williams raises serious questions about the purpose of life and our responsibility to the planet. Julian’s friend and colleague Cyril Ampleforth quotes Gerard Manley Hopkins:

O let them be left, wildness and wet,
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Clearly, we need to learn to listen to the animals and nature in general. We are after all, part of the system, and our arrogant refusal to acknowledge this can only be destructive.

Distasteful enough are the Australian Government’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it would be a futile gesture, and its failure to design a viable strategy for dealing with global warming. The Prime Minister’s decision to push nuclear power rather than potentially small scale alternatives to fossil fuels suggests that the Government too is beholden to those big businesses which might profit from the catastrophes of climate change.

If he manages to prevail politically in spite of the advice of scientists and the pleas of those who are concerned about the environment we are leaving to future generations, history will regard his mastery as absolute. How it will judge the world we leave behind is another matter altogether. Robyn Williams’ prediction was accurate in that 2007 is a year for absolutely vital and final decisions.

Robyn Williams' novel was titled 2007: A True Story, Waiting to Happen. It was published by Hodder in 2001 (ISBN 0-7336-1424-8)



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