Whatever space we leave

“And if you walk past the construction barriers, you find the remains of a path made by men, right by a thick bush bearing big scarlet berries. Maybe that’s from the Ruhr, too.

“If you follow the path, you find two small drifter camps, both evidently abandoned. Shelters made from found materials, including industrial tarps used as lean-tos. Not unlike the hawks, in a way. Except that the hawks don’t leave all those empties behind. 

“I was reminded of this time last year, when I volunteered for the local homeless count, and at daybreak we checked out another traffic island across the river by the branch library, and found an entire village of such abandoned shelters, some of which looked to have been there for years. We also found little shanty towns packed in under the little bridges behind the strip mall, on one of the busiest streets in town, many of the occupants teenage kids. When you participate in a project like that, you leave with a certainty that the count grossly underestimates the real number of people living outside, hiding just outside your view, sometimes in the same places the wildlife hides. And, at least if you are the sort who writes dystopian novels you get the sense that you are seeing one of those unevenly distributed futures, where the rights of ways and empty lots become involuntary refugee camps for those displaced by our slow collapse.

“Maybe it’s this weird zone I live in, but over the last decade I’ve been noticing how the things one sees in post-apocalyptic cinema and the things one sees roaming the contemporary American landscape have started to look so much the same. The only difference is that, in real life, nature seems much more ready to retake whatever space we leave…”

Text: Christopher Brown, The Vultures of SXSW, Field Notes.

Image: Marton Antal, Post apocalyptic landscape in Adventuretime style.

“Millions of years of fossilised Sun…”

“Along the slaughter spectrum, the weapons of choice scale up accordingly. Psychopaths have an intimacy with friends and strangers who they kill with their bare hands, knives, guns, and other implements. While their crimes may grow to paralyze a community, they rarely reach over the horizon. Sociopaths are incapable of unleashing widespread misery single-handedly, and instead rely upon the assistance of others: the proxies under their command or sway. Their violence extends over multiple horizons using offshore tax havens, financial algorithms, and military juntas, just as long as they avoid that dock in The Hague. 

“Ecopaths build upon a sociopath’s mobility and managerial savvy. But it is wrong to call the space they traverse global, if by that we mean exchanges among nations and multinationals. They have lifted their game to transform the entire solar-terrestrial environment into a slow, overheated killing field. Their achievement lies in triggering millions of years of fossilized Sun to accumulate in the glare of the Sun’s present life. They weaponise the troposphere, that thin film of planetary possibility, in order to murder the conditions for life. Slayers as a species will also become extinct. 

“Unlike their psychopathic and sociopathic peers who have humans in their sights, ecopaths are equal opportunity destroyers, omnicidal maniacs. Omnicide may be unfamiliar to some. Danielle Celermajer reinvigorated the term during the first days of 2020 when bushfires demonstrated to the entire world that Australia was the continental canary in its own coalmine. ‘We are unlikely to identify anyone actively scheming the death of the five-hundred million wild animals whom we believe to have died in the first month’, Celermajer wrote in the peak of the summer. Before the month was out that number was confirmed at one billion. ‘True, in recent years, environmentalists have coined the term ecocide, the killing of ecosystems — but this is something more. This is the killing of everything. Omnicide.’ Celermajer goes on to categorically identify many of those responsible. This is what the auditioning process looks like for court dramas…”

Text: Doug Kahn, What is an Ecopath? Sydney Review of Books.

From London to Rome

“The process, known as natural organic reduction, turns a corpse into two wheelbarrows’ worth of soil in four to six weeks. The body is placed in a reusable hexagonal steel container along with wood chips, alfalfa and straw. By carefully controlling the humidity and ratio of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen, the system creates the perfect conditions for a class of heat-loving (thermophilic) microbes that dramatically accelerate the normal rate of decomposition.

“It’s a bit of a surprise that when the microbial activity starts up and there’s enough feedstock, a whole different class of organisms, called thermophilic organisms, become active,” said Carpenter-Boggs.

“The pilot found that everything, including bones and teeth, is reliably transformed into compost (non-organic materials such as pacemakers and artificial hips are screened for and recycled). The soil was also found to contain low levels of coliform bacteria, an indicator of biological safety, meaning that relatives could safely scatter their loved ones’ remains like ashes, or use them to plant a rose bush or fertilise a vegetable patch.

“The process reportedly uses an eighth of the energy of cremation. According to Carpenter-Bogg, cremation in the US produces as much CO2 as burning 800,000 barrels of oil – for an individual, that is equivalent to taking a flight from London to Rome.”

Text: Hannah Devlin, Human composting could be the future of deathcare, Guardian UK.

Pic: Ricky Swallow, Younger Than Yesterday, 2006

A ready-made ideal city

“Since the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, world’s fairs and expositions returned continuously to the concern with creating idealized cities. The Chicago World’s Fair was especially significant in establishing what would later become integral not only to the logic of expositions, but to theme parks like Disneyland and EPCOT and urban destinations like Odaiba that would follow in their wake: in all instances, a ready-made ideal city was created, one that was technologically driven and reliant on commercial imperatives and popular culture. As James Gilbert has explained when discussing early exposition visitors, ‘the visible future they encountered was a carefully engineered vision, a prophecy […] of the coming relationship between work, leisure, and culture’. But unlike the dystopian futures often delineated in science fijiction, in the future visions of the expositions, the inclusion of technological and scientifij ic innovation within the social environment was intended to inspire the creation of utopian spaces.

“Events like the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-1934 (also called the Century of Progress International Exposition) and the New York World’s Fair of 1939 took the first important steps not only in forging a relationship between sci- ence, technology, industry, and society, but also integrating these concerns with the visions and consumer pleasures offfered by science fijiction and entertainment. Rydell explains that, in the wake of the Great Depression, ‘1930s scientists, confronted by a “revolt against science”, joined corporate backers of the fairs in trying to pin popular hopes for national recovery on the positive results expected from the fusion of science and business’. Specifically, combining the speculation familiar to science fij iction with the realities of the scientific and technological innovations of the time, these fairs specialized in presenting the public with future utopian realities made possible through technological advancement.

“A look at pre-World War II futuristic utopian thinking, as envisioned by Norman Bel Geddes for General Motors. This was designer Bel Geddes masterpiece — the “Futurama” exhibit in GM’s “Highways and Horizons” pavilion at the World’s Fair, that imagined the distant future of a faraway time 1960.”

It was the New York World’s Fair of 1939 that became one of the most famous examples to showcase a new urban landscape, one that featured the utopian possibilities of technology and science. On the opening night, after Albert Einstein switched on the lights that would bring life to the fair’s motto – ‘Designing the World of Tomorrow’ – the fair proceeded to create a vision of a world in which ‘science could become a way of life and utopia would be nigh’. The fair showcased the latest technologies offfered by corporations (such as Rotolactor, an automatic cow-milking machine). Numerous other technological inventions were presented to an eager public as well: Voder, a synthetic human-speech device by AT&T; television sets by RCA, GE, and Westinghouse; and Elektro, a walking and talking robot by Westinghouse. However, it was the representation of a ‘city of the future’ that drew crowds by the millions…”

Text: Angela Ndalianis, Disney’s Utopian Techno-Futures: Tomorrow’s World That We Shall Build Today, in Tourist Utopias: Offshore Islands, Enclave Spaces, and Mobile Imaginaries, ed. Timothy Simpson, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2017.

Moving away from its home star…

“Maybe that’s why we’ve never heard a peep from anywhere. It’s not just that the universe is too big. Which it is. That’s the main reason. But then also, life is a planetary thing. It begins on a planet and is part of that planet. It’s something that water planets do, maybe. But it develops to live where it is. So it can only live there, because it evolved to live there. That’s its home. So, you know, Fermi’s paradox has its answer, which is this: by the time life gets smart enough to leave its planet, it’s too smart to want to go. Because it knows it won’t work. So it stays home. It enjoys its home. As why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t even bother to try to contact anyone else. Why would you? You’ll never hear back. So that’s my answer to the paradox. You can call it Euan’s Answer.” Later: “So, of course, every once in a while some particularly stupid form of life will try to break out and move away from its home star. I’m sure it happens. I mean, here we are. We did it ourselves. But it doesn’t work, and the life left living learns the lesson, and stops trying such a stupid thing.” Later: “Maybe some of them even make it back home. Hey—if I were you, Freya? I would try to get back home.” Later: “Maybe.” 

 Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora.