What is Left to See?

Author Feature

James Miller, author of the short story What is Left to See? from Beacons: Stories for Our Not So Distant Future discusses how he became involved in the project, and his vision for how we avert climate disaster.

Gregory asked me to contribute to Beacons after reading my second novel Sunshine State. We had been at Oxford at the same time, although we didn’t know each other then. I was aware of his work and his mutual interest in the environment, so I sent him a proof of the book which is probably best described as a 'climate change thriller'. I’ve long been deeply concerned about the environment and one of my motivations for writing Sunshine State was to explore the connection between environmental destruction, our various wars in the Middle East and some of the more disturbing trends in American politics.

I’ve set my Beacons story, What is Left to See? partly in the same dystopian near-future 'storm zone' that I wrote about in Sunshine State and partly in the present. At the moment climate change impacts most drastically upon the Third World and I felt it was important that my contribution took this into account.

The story cuts between two different locations and perspectives – an American girl in Athens writing about her friendship with a Somalian refugee, and a version of the same girl in the future, visiting the ruins of Miami with her father and written in the style of Twitter or MSN Messenger. The technique was a lot of fun and enabled me to play with all sorts of ideas with much greater freedom that a straight, literal realist approach would have allowed. The piece loops around itself with a meta-fictional frame intended to keep this future vision very much (in brackets) – i.e. to reinforce the notion that it doesn’t actually have to be this way, that there might still be a chance to avert the grim future the story anticipates.

I remain very worried about the environment. It is intensely frustrating that no one in politics in the UK or anywhere else in the West is addressing this vital concern. Our politicians remain wedded to a discredited ideology of infinite growth – in itself an unsustainable idea – whilst failing to realise that the impending environmental catastrophe actually represents the ultimate contradiction of capitalism. An investment in green technologies and renewables might actually spur the economy, whilst also orientating us towards a more viable way of life.

In terms of my own environmental impact, I leave a relatively small footprint. I don’t own a car (I don’t really own anything) and last year I didn’t take a single flight. I’m quite sloppy at recycling, unfortunately. However, I am sceptical that these small gestures really make much difference, especially when India and China continue to industrialise at such a heavy rate.

We need a much more radical and substantial change – we need to totally reorganise society and move away from notions of growth being tied to consumption and production (which, however you look at it, basically means moving stuff out of the ground, and putting it back into the ground – as pollution – with ever increasing speed) towards a holistic and organic way of life in which we take no more than we can put back. This also means abandoning a ruthlessly individualistic, commodity orientated way of being towards something quite different – a slower world in which we all have less 'stuff' but hopefully a much better quality of life. Activists have a duty to take direct action and do everything they can to disrupt capitalist flows.

My great fear (and this was the central theme of Sunshine State) is that we will witness a growing instability as the remaining powers battle for strategic control of vital resources like oil and water. Invariably, the pressures these shortages and conflicts will put on society will swiftly bring about the collapse of liberal democracy and the values we currently put on human rights and lead us into a new dark age of crisis dictatorship and a permanent state of exception. The extreme weather events we are currently witnessing are, I fear, just the start of much worse to come.