One of the many reasons I’m drawn to conservation and the world’s future is because I grew up watching The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s taken many re-watching sessions and a little aging to understand the underlying themes behind these movies, but nonetheless, I think my way of thinking about the real world was largely shaped by a childhood full movies about alien invaders and sentinel robots and apes.
One of the many great things about science fiction is that the writers always got it right. In 1931, Huxley wrote (the mind-blowing) Brave New World and predicted antidepressants 20 years before their appearance in 1951. Debit cards were introduced by Bellamy in 1888 with his (incredibly disturbing but eye-opening) novel Looking Backward over 82 years before they were introduced in the mid-1970’s! One of my favorite books/novels that inspired change was 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clark. He predicted communication through satellite-like objects in space in 1950, then 14 years later in 1965, the first satellite was launched. In short, the future is held within science fiction. These are just three of the many examples of how fiction got it right years before many of the world’s greatest technological advances were launched into the real world.
What does this mean for our future? Well, according to the great writers and directors of science fiction, apocalypse is headed our way. Global climate change and waste production will be our demise (and space invaders, but there’s no sign of the advancement in intergalactic diplomacy happening yet). One of my favorite outcomes of the world’s carelessness on waste and climate change is Godzilla. The very first Godzilla movie in 1954 predicted a treacherous lizard-like monster created from waste dumped in the ocean who would come out of the ocean to terrorize the world. Throughout the years, Godzilla’s themes of the world’s carelessness have held through most of the 40 movies produced within the franchise. In the most recent one, the most heart-thumping quote of the year for me was Dr. Ishiro Serizawa saying “the arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way around” as two nuclear-made monsters fought for supremacy and man’s destruction in his horizon. Though briefly, Pacific Rim predicted that humans terraformed an atmosphere that was viable for outer space invaders to come through and terrorize this world. Recently, Interstellar drew a world where the remainder of the world’s population is suffocating from all the unarable soil floating around in the disastrous and unpredictable climate. In this future, people of the past were uneducated, over-farmed every piece of land, and collapsed the climate with fossil fuel energy. The world in this future was hardly habitable, and people were desperate for a way out. Just to name a few other incredibly mind-blowing titles, The Postman, The Last Man on Earth, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Snowpiercer and more predict a future that’s inhabitable and no longer suited for humans. There many futures predicted, but a common theme flows through all of them: people of this century are destroying the world, and we are creating our apocalypse.
When science fiction has gotten it right so many times in the past, who’s to say this isn’t going to be our future as well? I’m not sure if I watch science fiction to motivate or depress myself anymore. I just know that it’s highly addictive, and more of our future is left to uncover in these stories. In some stories, people realize what they are doing just in time to stop the world from becoming an unpredictable wasteland. I wonder if that’s our story, or if Godzilla is just a few years away from surfacing. What story are we writing for ourselves? Are debit cards and antidepressants the only lessons we will learn from science fiction? I don’t think it’s still time we can just sit around and wait for others to come rescue us. It’s long due time to do something before write our demise.
“In the year 9595, I’m kinda wonderin’ if man is gonna be alive
He’s taken everything this old earth can give, and he ain’t put back nothing
Now it’s been ten thousand years, man has cried a billion tears
For what, he never knew.
Now man’s reign is through, but through eternal night,
the twinkling of starlight, so very far away,
maybe it’s only yesterday.”
– Zager and Evans, “In the Year 2525.”
Integrated Program in Sustainability Intern