The ascendance of cli-sci and cli-fi culminates in David Brower’s radical concept of Earth National Park, an existential utopia. Esteemed biologist E.O. Wilson lately calls it Half-Earth, but the nomenclature is nowhere near as important as realizing that our current technocracy leads directly to extinction. We’ll have no choice sooner than we think.
Earth National Park fluidly phases between necessary non-fiction and cli-fi’s speculative fiction. A daring concept reframing astronomical reality, it rewarded its author, naturalist and Sierra Club founder, David Brower with exile to the fringes of the environmental movement.
“Brower was obviously using the idea rhetorically or ontologically, trying to shift consciousness, but the concept has grown enough,” director Mark Kitchell told me during an interview about his sprawling documentary of the environmental movement, A Fierce Green Fire. “We might be able to make the whole world a national park. When I look at where the movement is heading today, I see restoration, adaptation and amelioration of climate impacts.”
From decelerations like degrowth and deconsumption to accelerations like reforestation and rewiliding, cli-fi’s moving visions, from masterpieces of Miyazaki to Legend of Korra, are gaining traction and adoption. Cli-fi isn’t reanimating zombies for (or from) an exhausted, annihilated past. Its time is and always the here and now, should we have chosen to accept its formidable mission. We didn’t. We should.
“The green technology plot is getting more interesting by the minute,” Margaret Atwood once told me, during a conversation about her cli-fi essential, Year of the Flood. “Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Now that people see the great big mess coming before them, they are more interested in inventing things that can help. I’m really interested in solar fabrics that you can wear or put on walls. Or Zerofootprint’s building reskinning contest, which puts a new skin on old buildings that are inefficient. I saw another good one on algae walls.”
“Rooftop gardening is a growing movement; so is urban beekeeping,” Atwood added. “Same with growing certain weeds on your lawn, which are more adaptable to the climate and edible. These are trends that people thought would be a good idea a while ago, and now they’re becoming necessary.’
Much of sci-fi proper is human skin wrapped around a mechanical mind, but Newtonian force flows also toward the foundations of rigorous philologist, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose personal/political rage against machines sequenced the genes for fantasy as we understand it so far. Both are riven with technocratic exhaustions and world wars.
Tolkien’s Middle-Earth fantasy epics arguably function as sci-fi, anchored as they are by the technocratic domination of the One Ring, the weapon annihilating Middle-Earth’s ecosystems and species, who await the revolution to cast it into the engine from which it came. That its mammoth cinematic adaptation arrived in concert with 9/11 and the war in Iraq seems no accident.
“Dick Cheney was speaking to a bunch of Republicans, and he said that the U.S. taxpayer would not pay a single cent for the Iraq reconstruction,” Viggo Mortensen, who inhabited Tolkien’s returning king, Aragorn, once told me, as both iterations of the legendary author’s own iterations of World Wars I-II collided with apocalyptic force in the new millennium. “Chaney said Iraqis would have to do that themselves. I think this is not only a lie, one that he is quite conscious of telling, but the statement itself, true or not, displays the horribly arrogant attitude of the Bush administration. We went into Iraq and made a mess for economic reasons that will benefit a lucky few, and we’ve seriously undermined any kind of global community.
“To see the president of the United States and his administration admonish the U.N. and individual wealthy nations to pitch in with reconstruction now that such a mess has been made by the U.S. government — which, as everyone knows, chose to deride and completely ignore the grave concerns expressed by the community of nations when invading Iraq in the first place — displays a degree of arrogance that’s as frightening as it is ridiculous,” Mortensen added. “For the American citizen, real dialogue and balanced information about these matters has been largely choked off. In some way, I think that small companies or individuals that are willing to help draw a broader picture, offer more information and contrasting views, are especially valuable at this time. They’re worth their weight in oil!“
Lord of the Rings subterranean Hobbits, sentient Ents, mining-mad dwarves, and more are archetypal inhabitants of Earth National Park. Through their looking glass lies the desertified killing fields of the Mad Max franchise, and further extractive fantasies of sex and violence.
Regardless of these mounting and multitudinous differences and their resolutions, Earth’s turbulent transformations are already exhausting nationalism, as envirogees flee natural disasters and disaster capitalism alike. Previously existing borders are simultaneously rendered essential and meaningless. Given too many centuries for its ego to run amok, capitalism is rebooting Earth as a ruined park.
But its apotheosis cannot withstand a thermal wasteland wracked by a megavolcano, like the one in Yellowstone overheating America’s heartland. But perhaps a solarized utopia empowered, by antimatter fusion and capture strategies, may still be in flux.
Whether it is Half-Earth, Earth National Park, or another conception that manages to make its way into the Real, so much remains uncertain. We could aspire to Alan Moore’s Mogo, a sentient planet who also happens to be a galactic peace officer. From its living, breathing world, to the inexhaustible optimism of Elon Musk’s future industries, and further life-saving wonders Earth-centric science can teach us, cli-fi’s ambitious terraformations are evolving beyond merely discovering their common language and purpose.
They have literally come to save us. We have only to embrace them, and ourselves.
Photo: Owly Skywarn, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s adorable herald of apocalypse.