Thoughts in a Time of Drought

“History knows no happy endings, just crises that come and go.”

This summer has been extremely hot and dry here in Sweden. The unusual weather started in May and still continues two months later. Sweden’s meteorological records go back 270 years and nothing like this summer has ever been registered. The scientific underpinning of anthropogenic climate change is strong so I am convinced that mankind is heading into an era of turbulent weather.

(However, if you, dear reader, happen to be a climate-change denier, this blog post is NOT an invitation to enter your objections in the comment field. The post’s purpose will become clear below, and TL;DR is not an acceptable excuse.)

Mythic and Real Climate Horrors
Norse mythology speaks of the Fimbulvinter, a winter that lasts for three years and heralds Ragnarök when the world will perish in storm and fire. Archaeologists speculate that this mythic winter may been a reflection of an extreme cold-weather event around AD 540, caused by volcanic eruptions. I have lived through many harsh winters so I understand my distant ancestors’ fear of that season.

But these days, a Fimbulsommar appears to be a more realistic threat to my country. Warm summers are generally considered to a blessing among us Swedes, but I have endured hot Augusts in the eastern Mediterranean, in Florida and in Afghanistan, so I have come to understand how long periods of drought and heat can be regarded with as much fear as overlong winters. The Sun is not a merciful celestial entity, something that is obvious in descriptions of Apollon, a Greek Sun god who also is the lord of plague, and in the legend of Phaëthon, a demigod whose failed attempt to steer the Sun chariot across the sky almost causes the end of the world by taking the Sun too close to Earth’s surface.

The warming of Terra will probably disrupt the extant political order severely as people and agriculture will have to move away from the expanding tropics. At the same time, the rising oceans will inundate major urban areas like Dhaka, London, New York and Mumbai.

Melting polar caps will reshape our world

American Revolution vs European Evolution
When I was young, science fiction stories often spoke of a future unified Earth, usually considered to be a “good thing” with humanity coming together in a union of regional “states”. Often such a unification was justified by appeals to reason, e.g., as a way ensuring peace and social stability. But the warming of Terra might instead justify a “unification by necessity” scenario: the challenges to human civilization become so huge that long-term transnational efforts are required to ensure its survival.

The European Union can be seen as a case of transnational cooperation originally instigated by the necessity of avoiding yet another devastating European war. Unlike the United States, which was created by a revolutionary declaration in 1776 and by the promulgation of a constitution in 1787, the fusion of Europe’s nations (starting in 1952 with the CECA Treaty) has incrementally expanded in extent and scope, treaty by treaty. This evolution will probably never end and so I dare not guess what a united Europe will look like by the time my children, all born around the millennium, get grandchildren.

Since three decades, the European Union has had to find new ways of dealing with some serious and unexpected challenges, for example:
— the Balkan Wars in the 1990s, and the resulting political complications, some of which remain unresolved 20 years later.
— nation-building in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001/02. I went to Kabul ten years ago as a member of EUPOL Afghanistan, a civilian EU police support mission.
— widespread piracy around the Horn of Africa after the internal collapse of the Republic of Somalia in the 1990s. EU has organized the long-term counter-piracy missions Atalanta and Nestor.
— the huge refugee influx caused by the drawn-out Syrian civil war in the 2010s
— the spectre of resurgent European authoritarianism, also in the 2010s.

The EU administration in Brussels has therefore been forced to develop central political and administrative mechanisms for crisis management. Whether those efforts have been productive is another issue, but we can at least commend the EU for trying.

A Green Cyberpunk Setting?
Going from reality to the realm of science fiction, I now envision an EU-inspired setting for an RPG setting, perhaps in 2118. Heroism in small steps might be an apt campaign theme, i.e., determined characters strive to handle minor crises that never stop coming.

The loose Terran Federation (TF) is Earth’s dominating political entity. It grows slowly as sovereign nations accede to it one by one to get the full benefits of TF’s civilization-saving ventures.

The TF’s tasks at hand are immense because agriculture must be reorganized at the continental level and new cities built at Earth’s new coastlines. Its Crisis Investigation Center (CIC) dispatches intrepid operators to trouble-spots around the world. Their job is to check what is really going on and figure out what to do about it, their conclusions sometimes leading to the establishment of specialized operations for handling specific problems.

But serving as an field operative of a cumbersome organization is never a smooth ride; in this particular context, CIC agents often need to come up with creative solutions that accomplish what’s needed, while keeping the home office in a state of semi-ignorant complacency. When hotshot freewheelers, for example the militant activists of the Emerald Serenity movement, jump into the fray, the situation of the ground gets even more messy.

Voilà, I have moved from my reflections on this extreme Swedish summer to outlining a setting for a semi-near-future science fiction campaign based on a very troubled Earth, executed as “green cyberpunk”. And that’s the core of this post: a piece of political science fiction inspired by the current grim climate changes.

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