Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Windup Girl

Florida governor Rick Scott probably won't read Paolo Bacigalupi's novel. But he should.

I let this fragment of a review linger incomplete, while Marrianne lent out our copy of the book (with my consent). I find that the notes I pencilled in the margins to be the basis for whatever else I might write about The Windup Girl are gone for now, perhaps for always. Is a piece half-done worth the trouble of reading it?

Probably. After all, it's probably less than 400 words. Who's going to pretend that they haven't ever before wasted the time it would take to read 400 words?

So Florida, the state likeliest to suffer most from rising sea levels caused by climate change, has, under the dubious leadership of Republican governor Rick Scott, developed a de facto policy that scrubs the use of terms like "climate change" and "global warming" from documents produced by state employees and contractors. Such a policy moves Scott to the very front rank of climate-change deniers and, given Florida's particular vulnerability, would likely make Scott a candidate for some kind of Darwin award if he wasn't also past his peak period of reproductive activity.

Scott probably isn't planning to read Paolo Bacigalupi's book, The Windup Girl, but it probably wouldn't make a whole lot of difference if he did. After all, one arrives at the end of the book considering the possibility that a variety of factors, including climate change, have already narrowed the global path to the point that we can stop worrying about Florida, which is bound to become swamp, and start worrying about our own skins, which are likely to sweat copiously and fry quickly for extended periods on both sides of high noon.

In Bacigalupi's dystopic world, most of us in the West are pretty much in the same boat as Floridians. The exceptions are likely to be chemists and geneticists and engineers working for global corporations that own seed copyrights, possess the firepower to enforce and exploit those copyrights, and do not let ethical considerations weasel their way into strategic plans. But the catastrophes that The Windup Girl imagines, predictions of a world less than, say, 50 years away, do not seem (with a few exceptions) like events from which we will run screaming, but more like moments we will watch like frogs in a hot tub, unaware that the temperature of the water is rising toward the boiling point.

Of course, some of us already recognize that the temperature is rising and some of us do what we can to address that developing problem. But Bacigalupi's point seems to be that whatever it is we are doing, it's not enough. And though some few of us will survive, sign on with one of those global corporations with the reach and power of government, or find a remote, little tub where the water is cooler, those survivors will find that the regret that they did not do enough is a crushing weight on what life they have left. The difference between their regrets, however, and the regrets of humans who are simply aging out and passing on, will be the difference between dying in the full knowledge that one has failed a most important moral challenge and dying ignorant of one's failure.