I found the Herald’s front page this morning a sad and depressing read. My heart goes out to all those affected in some way by the terrible bush fires ravaging so much of Tasmania, Victoria, & New South Wales.
I also had a certain sense of deja vu as I read of the fires – for I’d read something similar last year, in blog-buddy Gareth’s book The Aviator, Book One of the Burning World series. Except that in the book, the scale of events is much greater than is (thankfully) the case at the moment, and Melbourne is destroyed by a fire storm. Gareth’s vision of a not-too-distant future in which our global ecosystems have been irreparably affected by anthropogenic greenhouse warming, is both an alarming foretaste of how things could become**, and a rather good read (another blogging friend, Ken Perrott, reviewed the book very favourably when it first came out, & I’ve been meaning to write my own review for quite a while). The story follows the key character (& narrator – well, one of them), an airship pilot called Lemmy, in his travels around a world in which ecosystems and societies have collapsed, or changed – in many instances, beyond recognition. (There are actually 2 narrators: the second is Jenny, the artificial intelligence who actually runs the airship. Their commentaries alternate, & it’s interesting to see the differences in perspective, especially given that the AI is to some degree self-aware.)
As the series title suggests, in this future world it’s not only Australia that suffers from fire. Lemmy also witnesses huge fires in the Arctic, where massive methane deposits originally locked under the ocean in the form of methane clathrates have been ignited and the flames burn seemingly endlessly. I’ve recently read more about these deposits in Bill McGuire’s Waking the Giant: we are talking significant carbon stores here, at around 2000 billion tonnes of carbon trapped in the form of clathrates: something that is highly attractive to energy companies & of deep concern to climate scientists.
The first time I read The Aviator, I thought it would be a rather good classroom resource for senior students. And that hasn’t changed on a subsequent re-reading. Its engaging focus on a current, extremely relevant topic means that the book could be used in many different areas as the basis of discussion and to provoke further student research: how do individuals, and societies, cope with change? What happens when the technologies we rely on so heavily are no longer available, or are concentrated in the hands of relatively few people? How would a rise in average global temperature affect various ecosystems? Is a future such as the one Gareth describes, something that we can yet avoid?
** In some ways it reminds me of Richard Cowper’s The Twilight of Briareus - though having said that, Cowper’s world has been sunk into an ice age, and his story has a strong mystical feel to it. But the themes of societal and ecological break-down, and how people cope with these, are common to both books.