Ecology, a major theme in science fiction

Ecology a major theme in science fiction

Two weeks after the end of the COP26 in Glasgow, held under the threat of a global temperature increase of 2.7 ° C by 2100, novels, films and video games take up this issue under the aegis of a genre: ecofiction. Futura and the astrophysicist Roland Lehoucq, researcher at the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) offer you an overview of these works addressing these themes head-on, which are more topical than ever.

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[EN VIDÉO] Interview: is science fiction really scientific?
Sometimes it’s hard to know if science fiction is inspired by scientists or if it’s the other way around. From its inception until our time, this genre has amazed, certainly because it is based on scientific rationalism. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the CEA (French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission), Futura-Sciences interviewed Roland Lehoucq, a physicist keen on science fiction.

If we can not predict the future, some still try to see it, using their creative ideas. Authors, screenwriters, directors or cartoonists …, many artisans of the imagination have tried to sketch what could happen to humanity in the years and centuries to come through science fiction . Since the birth of this genre, from the second half of the XIXe century, with the novels of writers like Jules Verne (20,000 leagues under the sea, From the Earth to the moon…) or HG Wells (War of the Worlds, The Time Machine…), science fiction has diversified into dozens of ramifications and subgenres. Among them, the first ecological stories emerged between the 1930s and 1950s, thus tackling new subjects with novels such as Tomorrow The Dogs by Clifford Simak or May the earth remain by George Stewart. With the increase in the threat induced by global warming and the impact of human activity on this phenomenon, ecofiction has become a type of novels in its own right, and finds a resonance particular in science fiction.

The impact of the human being in ecofictions

A science fiction story works when you can relate to what it tells. Ecofictions are no exception to the rule and some are even anchored in a reality relatively close to ours. The limit of exploitable natural resources, or the impact of humans on the environment, haunts science fiction writings onecology. In these accounts, the history of mankind is entangled with natural history, in which the interests of a civilization are not the only ones to be legitimate. The human being asspecies is often represented in a dynamic of overconsumption or destruction, oblivious to the threat it poses to ecosystems, thus reminding of its responsibility. Some protagonists sometimes understand this limit imposed by Nature: in the film Interstellar, the main character declaims when speaking of the Earth that ” this world is a treasure, but it pushes us towards the exit ”.

In this fascinating interview, Roland Lehoucq talks about science fiction, ecofiction, and what their authors can bring to the world of science. © Futura

In most of the works dealing with relationship of man to nature, this one sees itself devastated and disfigured. In the saga Blade runner, the fields have given way to grayish plains of solar panels or vertical cities in which the light of the Sun does not pierce, while in the video game series fallout, a nuclear war destroyed the United States (and possibly the rest of the world), leaving only a land infertile and hostile to life. Some authors adopt this postulate even more brutally, like Cormac MacCarthy in his novel The road, adapted for the cinema by John Hillcoat, in which a father and his son roam blackened and desolate lands, without knowing what caused such a cataclysm. In the aforementioned works, the observation is nihilistic: nothing will come to save a drifting humanity having sacrificed what it had most precious.

The importance of vital resources is a topic that is not necessarily focused on human activity on Earth. One of the most decisive ecological novels of the last 50 years is none other than Dune, by Frank Herbert, recently brought to the screen by Denis Villeneuve. Through his dense and complex story, Herbert speaks directly to us about the importance of the connection between ecosystems and lifestyles, notably through the narrative arc of the Fremen. Likewise, the terrible and austere Arrakis could become a veritable oasis through terraforming, desired by the natives. But the greedy interests of various factions only lead to conflicts centered around the infamous geriatric spice, allowing the interstellar travel. Other literary works approach ecological problems from another angle. All in Zanzibar, by John Brunner, sets up a crowded world in which New Yorkers live with cash dispensers.oxygen because of pollution, while eugenics is practiced on a global scale. From the same author, The Blind Flock makes us fall into a reality in which the pollution of the sea Mediterranean is such that rains acids regularly fall on the east coast of the United States, while thelife expectancy is decreasing around the world due to lack of food and resistance from microbes to treatments.

These fatalistic observations therefore place humans at the heart of current thinking: can civilization save nature with the aim of saving itself?

How to save humanity from itself?

Few of the ecofictions in which humanity has not caused or exacerbated a climate problem to the extreme, thus creating a reversal of forces, with nature taking over and becoming a de facto threat. There are several examples in this area, including the novel Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer adapted into a film by Netflix, in which a team of biologists are sent to an area where an altered and monstrous piece of nature ends up attacking scientists, in a spirit reminiscent of the writings of HP Lovecraft. Here, Nature is personified and vengeful, acting brutally against intruders entering Area X.

What would remain to humanity if it destroyed nature? Certain scenarios decide to exile Men, leaving behind only an unlivable planet. This is the case in the animated film by Pixar, Wall-E, or a small robot abandoned on Earth travels through dry plains. In Elysium, by Neil Bloomkamp, ​​it is the poor and the marginalized who are left to fend for themselves on a destroyed planet, while the rich have taken refuge on an orbital station. Series The Expanse reverses this paradigm: the workers and popular classes are installed in the asteroid belt located between March and Jupiter, a military and plutocratic faction took control of the Red Planet while the dignitaries of the UN and other institutions remained on Earth. Ecofiction then takes on a double hat: it speaks of ecology but also gives pride of place to discourse on the class struggle, the ecological disaster then carrying a social discourse.

If the ecofictions make it possible to highlight the problems that humans face and will face, in an exercise almost cathartic, however, it is difficult to transpose miracle solutions to our reality. There is little chance that a wormhole makes us travel to another galaxy, just as it is impossible to master hypervelocity to visit the forests of Endor. As said Carl Sagan in a 1994 speech titled The Pale Blue Dot : ” nothing indicates that something will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves […], for now the earth is all we have. “

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