Last week I went on a family vacation to a cottage on Canadian Lakes. Interspersed between paddleboarding and kayaking until my arms were sore, I read two speculative fiction books—The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He—based in the far and not-so-far future, where climate change has rendered the world unrecognizable.
They didn’t exactly make for the best beach reads, but they did give me a lot to think about, especially after coming home from vacation and seeing the UN report on climate change. And then, as I sat down to write this, I saw that Joan He had gone ahead and done my work for me, tweeting uncannily similar excerpts from her book (drafted in 2017) and the report.
In short, the not-so-far future is already the present.
Both the books I read, although fantastical, nevertheless display a grim present. The characters in The Fifth Season have developed a survival-dedicated society due to catastrophic seismic events causing years-long “Seasons,” and the characters in The Ones We’re Meant to Find live in floating e-cities (after storing up enough stewardship goodwill to buy entry and escape the fires and floods on land), where they experience most of their lives through holograms in order to limit carbon emissions.
The most damning part of the reading experience for me was realizing that I didn’t want to live the way that the characters in either book lived. Both ways of life were depressing to me—living either at the brink of survival or having to give up so much of life that it barely resembled living. And yet I know that this sort of selfishness, of not wanting to change my life merely because it would be an inconvenience, is exactly what holds us back from making real strides in combating climate change.
As I floated on my paddleboard, admiring the nature around me—the blue herons flying low over the water, the muskrats giving glimpses of their heads before diving back underwater, the mournful cry of the loons, the platoons of water lilies—it turned over and over in my mind that all that I was seeing was so very fragile. Sure, I was able to enjoy it now and forget the worries of the “real world” for a week, but the truth is that these respites will become few and far between as the climate crisis continues.
It’s easy to feel immobile in the face of an issue as global as, well, global warming, especially when most of the decisions are in the hands of people much higher up and with much more money on the line, but change is possible, and every tenth of a degree we can keep the globe from warming matters. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves, make what changes we can in our own lives, and demand change from those who represent us.
So I may have to start looking at my life and my trends of consumption and figure out where I can stand to be less selfish. As I do so, I’ll be haunted (but hopefully also motivated) by this line from The Ones We’re Meant to Find: “None of us live without consequence. Our personal preferences are not truly personal. One person’s needs will deny another’s. Our privileges can harm ourselves and others.”
Lauren Cole (’20) graduated with a major in English and minors in French and psychology. She grew up in Grand Rapids and wants to live as she wants to die—surrounded by trees. She loves adding books to her TBR, but actually reading them is another matter.