Worldwide, it’s been the hottest summer yet, we’ve had heat waves, storms with torrential rain, floods, mudslides and drought. This year alone, the US have seen 23 catastrophic weather events, each causing damage upward of one billion dollars.
In comparison, the UK has had a fairly good year so far, although empty supermarket shelves do bring the climate crisis closer to home: drought in Spain meant that in spring for weeks, salad, cucumbers and tomatoes were hard to find. Right now, organic lemons have vanished from the shelves. No need to panic though, so far there are other things we can eat (and not just turnips).
Still, even on a bright and mild autumn day the news headlines leave many of us with more than a lingering sense of unease at the back of our minds.
While ‘climate grief’ encapsulate a vague feeling of being unnerved and depressed, ‘climate anxiety’ describes a fear of what catastrophic weather events will strike next, what this will mean for food production, for the way how and where we can still live.
Anxiety and fear have driven evolution: unpleasant emotions that trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response. Unlike the hungry lions our ancestors may once have faced, the climate emergency is omnipresent but ‘vague’, and there is no ‘silver bullet’ to defeat it. That leaves the flight option. We can’t run from the climate crisis, but we can retreat into virtual worlds, take a break from reading the news, live our life on social networks, binge watch TV, escape to TikTok, Youtube or – my preferred choice – read fiction.
That’s how I ended up reading Stephen Markley’s book ‘The Deluge’. It comes with high praise from Stephen King: “This book is, simply put, a modern classic. If you read it, you’ll never forget it. Prophetic, terrifying, uplifting.”
Maybe I should have kept in mind that Stephen King is, after all, a master of the horror fiction genre…
‘The Deluge’ begins in 2013, and on the first 100 pages Markley gives us the backstory to what happens between 2025 and 2040, the year the book ends. The shift from the present and very recent past to the future is seamless. The narration switches between a number of protagonists, but the story they tell might as well be from a Bob Woodward book, the sequel to his Trump era books ‘Fear’ (2018), ‘Rage’ (2020) and ‘Peril’ (2021, written together with Robert Costa).
As long as you keep reading ‘The Deluge’, the escape hatches are closed and the nightmare enfolds. Since the US scientist Wallace Broeker in 1975 first talked about ‘global warming’ we’ve been on a trajectory and Markley simply and logically continues this trajectory into the future, while forcing us to see the interactions and feedback loops. We know what we need to do to tackle the climate emergency: all remaining fossil fuels have to stay where they are, in the ground, while every attempt has to be made to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to prevent a further rise in temperatures and hopefully even cool the planet. (For more details see the latest IPCC report.) Implementing this strategy would not only pull the rug from under big corporations and shareholders, the global impact would be profound, a western lifestyle as we know it now would no longer be possible. So, politicians in ‘The Deluge’ stay well clear of any meaningful climate policies, while more and more extreme weather events devastate harvests, forcing migrants to seek refuge in rich countries. Authoritarian politicians use security forces, AI and the latest surveillance tactics to seal the borders. ‘Americans eat first’ is one of the political slogans in ‘The Deluge’. In Markley’s world it takes just 15 years to have a third of Americans unemployed, destitute and hungry, right wing militias patrolling, and eco-terrorists enforcing their version of brutal justice.
Did Stephen King say something about ‘The Deluge’ being uplifting? Well, after a whopping 880 pages Markley does leave the reader with a glimmer of hope. And throughout the book there are a few vague mentions of a network of farmers and urban gardeners facilitating community projects to grow food which is shared and donated to people in need. Such networks already exist, and Slow Food is part of them. In the dystopian nightmare that is ‘The Deluge’, the food networks and communities are the one ray of hope and it’s not fictional, it’s real.
Simon & Schuster, 2022
Marianne Landzettel is a journalist and author writing and blogging about food, farming and agricultural policies in the UK, the US, continental Europe and South Asia. She worked for the BBC World Service and German Public Radio for close to 30 years. Follow her on X at @M_Landzettel Images used with kind consent.
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