Anyone who’s read a history book knows that the world has always been a chaotic, mad place, but the level of sheer absurdity we are currently being forced to endure has to be unmatched. As the ravages of climate change become too obvious to dismiss, finding solutions quickly has become paramount. The survival of much life on the planet hangs in the balance. It is an existential crisis, the unfurling of an environmental Armageddon, a literal “fate of humanity” moment. It’s a problem the best and brightest of the world’s minds should be working on around the clock. Perhaps we should get other people on the job… Scientists at Harvard and Yale have suggested spraying chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the intensity of the sun.
Trying to prevent global warming by dispersing chemicals into the sky is literally a plot point in the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige. I’ve never read it, but I’ve watched Snowpiercer, the Chris Evans-led, English-language film, which is based on the book. Following the catastrophically failed experiment to alter the atmosphere, a new Ice Age begins, and all of humanity is obliterated except for those who made it on board a train, the titular Snowpiecer, which runs on a perpetual motion engine, never stopping, plowing through snow and ice on a track that circumnavigates the globe. The train is divided by class, and the boundaries are enforced ruthlessly. The tail of the train, steerage if you will, is like any other ghetto — overpopulated with poor people who don’t have enough food. Evans’ character, Curtis, leads a revolution and sets forth for the front of the train to take over the engine. Brutal hatchet fights ensue.
“We don’t know who struck first, us or them; but we do know it was us that scorched the sky.”
That’s a line from The Matrix — another film about the destruction of humanity by technological hubris. These stories are meant to be stark warnings not instruction manuals.
I constantly feel as though my credulity is being strained, as if I’m living in a massive psychology experiment, that this is all a simulation, and someone in a lab coat is taking copious notes of our reactions. They’re pulling plot points out of dystopian fiction — well-known dystopian fiction, proper popular culture — and asking us to take it seriously. It’s the stuff of Bond villainy. All that’s missing is a man sinisterly petting a cat. This is the part where we say, “Nope, not falling for it,” and they disconnect the electrodes.
Scientists at Harvard and Yale are proposing blotting out the sun. Really think about that, then break out the box of wine.
Effacing the sun is being proposed so we don’t have to confront, challenge, and dismantle capitalism. Make no mistake, that’s what these contortions are about — finding a way to allow capitalism to continue its path of never-ending growth and demanding all of us and the planet absorb the consequences of its excesses.
One hundred corporations are responsible for over 70% of the emissions driving the climate crisis. Shouldn’t someone be having sharp words with the people running them instead of asking us to consider unleashing the dystopian nightmare of a permanently darkened sky? There is a cowardice at work in all of this that is as appalling as it is disheartening. There is also a pridefulness driving things. Much of the West, particularly the United States, has made capitalism central to their identities. It is a religion. It is not to be questioned or constrained. We must all serve it without demur.
Every day it’s becoming clearer that magical thinking has attached itself to the capitalist experiment. No amount of evidence for the damage it is causing is enough to change course. We’re heading full bore for the iceberg, and when the ship gets smashed in half, steerage will flood, and first class will have dibs on the life rafts. It’s already happening. The most recent example is private firefighters in California saving celebrities’ mansions, while regular working peoples’ homes were being razed to the ground.
The dystopia is here.
When I first watched Snowpiercer, I remember thinking it was a story from a different era: presented as future when it was past. I believed there was a much more velvet touch to post-modern political oppression, a real sophistication at work. In the film, when Tilda Swinton’s minister of propaganda spoke, I heard a cheap Joseph Goebbels — obvious if not as odious. I thought that for Snowpiercer to have been more effective as social commentary, we needed to hear the more measured approach of Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. I’ve obviously revised my point of view on this matter.
An orange, spray-tanned, carnival barking reality TV game show host is the President of the United States. There is a straight line from George W. Bush’s bumbling ineptitude through Sarah Palin’s foolishness through the Tea Party’s dishonest hysterics to Donald Trump’s election. The bar that was on the ground was sent hurtling towards the molten core of the Earth, propelled by a massive propaganda campaign spearheaded by Fox News. A huge part of their mission — which they’ve accomplished — was convincing their audience that evidence of climate change was the propaganda.
So, here we are. Some parts of the Earth are being scorched by fires, others are being ravaged by massive storms and floods, others are melting. It is a global catastrophe. One that was wholly avoidable. One we were told was coming. One those 100 responsible corporations knew they were unleashing. Here we are, talking about dimming the sun. It’s madness. Suicidal, geocidal madness.
The only thing I’m certain of regarding how to get out of this mess is that Indigenous people have to lead, and the rest of us have to find the humility to follow. The Harvards and Yales of the world have been captured by capitalist, imperialist thinking and won’t dismantle the systems that grant them their power and influence. Indigenous people need to have their land returned to them, and their sustainable ways of life need to be respected and scaled as best as possible.