Way back in 2001 I read The Ingenuity Gap by Thomas Homer-Dixon, a prof at the University of Toronto. He said, “We are amazingly ingenious, but we may not be ingenious enough to manage our world and prosper within it…We crisscross the sphere in our planes, cars, and ships, subordinating all its places and resources to our needs.” We suffer from techno-hubris. We would rather look for after-the-fact solutions to the difficult problems we face than prevent the problems from becoming so difficult in the first place.
Skip ahead to 2020. Canadian author Catherine Bush has written both a fast paced and lyrical novel called Blaze Island. Set on an island off the coast of Newfoundland (based on Fogo Is), climate scientist Milan Wells and his young daughter, Miranda, arrive as US refugees from death threats and hate mail due to the publication of dire climate modeling vis a vis global warming. Both characters are traumatized by the climate deniers and the not-so-accidental killing by car of Wells’ wife and Miranda’s mother. They set up a life on the island that is as carbon free as possible. Miranda grows up being very in tune with weather and her natural surroundings. The topography, birds, plants, ocean, wind, rain and snow are beautifully described and are practically characters in the story.
The after effects of hurricane Fernand ravaging the east coast of North America cut off communication to and on the island. However, that doesn’t stop mysterious characters from showing up by plane to change the balance of everything in young Miranda’s life. Unbeknownst to her, her father has not given up his climate modeling and secret activism. Wells has raised Miranda to be self-sufficient but now Miranda is 18 and is starting to have a mind of her own. As the tension of the story rises, she begins to question everything she’s ever known about her father and his secrets. One stranger asks her, “Miranda, do you know what solar geoengineering is? Solar radiation management, does that mean anything to you?” This question rocks Miranda’s narrow world view and begins a cascade of trust breakdown. The science in this story is solid. The explanation of solar radiation management is brief and understandable, comes in the form of dialogue and echoes the concern of Homer-Dixon as regards our techno-hubris. We can’t really control or predict what we might shoot up into the atmosphere. It might just make weather even more unpredictable and wilder. But the technology exists and it’s alluring. It’s also alluring to uber-capitalists, another twist in this story!
While this novel can be classed as an eco-thriller, Bush does introduce ways of thinking about responses to our predicament and what sacrifices might need to be made to stabilize our world.
As Miranda says, “Change is clear after it happens.”