Climate change and doomsday sci-fi
The Last Albatross
By Ian Irvine
Simon & Schuster, 2008
History is littered with examples of doomsday cults preaching an impending apocalypse: from the middle ages' superstitions of Christian sects predicting a fiery "second coming" of Christ, to the modern day exploits of bizarre suicide cults.
The idea that humanity itself, rather than the profit-driven capitalist system, is somehow incompatible with a safe climate amounts to the flip-side of the politics of climate change denial. Ian Irvine's science-fiction thriller, The Last Albatross, takes place in a not-too-distant future where such anti-human ideas have become widespread.
The background setting of the novel is frightening and bleak. Despite the clear social and environmental emergency there is no environmental movement of any significance agitating for political change. Frenzied eco-terrorist groups dominate the headlines.
An unlikely series of events thrusts Jemma and Ryn Hardey — an ordinary couple struggling to make a life for themselves in a decaying world — into the middle of a grand eco-terrorist conspiracy that only they can stop.
An old university friend of Ryn's, Hercus Barges, has been driven to insanity by the ecological crisis and decides that he will wreak his own personal revenge on humankind by contaminating the population of Sydney with plutonium dust.
Jemma (a school teacher) and Ryn (an environmental scientist) are alerted to Hercus' plot. They embark on a series of car-chases, kidnappings, improbable rescues and near-death experiences. Can they stop Hercus in time?
Given the interesting subject matter of a future wracked by runaway climate change it's a disappointment that the novel's plot is thinner than a cigarette-paper.
That the dialogue is often tinged with sexism is another frustration.
So many of the "environmentalists" in the novel are such unappealing and ridiculous figures that at times the book seems to be a hostile caricature of today's environmental movement.
While the nihilist and eco-fascist conclusions of some environmentalists in The Last Albatross may appear to be far-fetched, the book does contain a warning that should not go unheeded. As the environmental crisis deepens and the spineless inaction of the major political parties becomes more exposed, a whole range of possible alternative responses will get a wider hearing.
There is nothing inherent in the threat of climate change that guarantees a left-wing or ecosocialist response will gain broad support.
But unlike past movements, the stakes have never been so high. The future of humanity, and of the earth's other species, depends on the outcome.