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2007 the year for final decisions

  • 02 April 2007

During 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.

You couldn’t possibly have the