Environmental Dystopia Online



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Environmental Dystopia Online
Jonathan Wiechecki

jchex@terpmail.umd.edu
Abstract

This project centers around the creation of a fictional online space where current scientific predictions regarding anthropogenic environmental impacts, particularly those related to climate change, have come into being. This resulting environmental dystopia represents what will become of our species and planet if we do not make efforts to mitigate human impacts. Audio clips posing as news broadcasts will be the primary means of storytelling. They will present dramatic accounts of the issues facing human populations. Inspired by the shockingly large public ignorance and apathy toward climate change and other environmental issues, this project aims to engage its audience through compelling stories that encourage stronger environmental awareness.


Introduction

This project is an exploration of our planet in a not-too-distant future, where humanity has failed to reign in its excessive environmental impact while climate change has been allowed to continue unchecked. With rising tides and falling biodiversity, resource scarcity has become a problem worldwide. Technology may have reached significant advances, but more people than ever are going hungry due to the loss of cropland and decreased crop yield. This is the dystopian future that will exist through a series of podcasts on a website. The intention is not to predict what will become of our planet, but rather, to serve as a wake-up call to the many people who are aware of their collective environmental impact, yet refuse to make lifestyle changes to accommodate an environmentally sound future. Overall, this website will serve as a warning against what may become of our future as a species if we neglect acting in the present.


Project Description

Humankind as a whole has had a massive ecological impact on the planet. With current trends of development, these impacts are magnified. The interdependence of countries brought about by increasing globalization means that environmental problems in one country can affect other countries through mutual dependence. Many human activities contribute to increased stress on Earth’s ecosystems, but many people either do not care enough to change their habits or outright deny their own impacts. Since many of the impacts of human activity, like ocean acidification and climate change, are not immediately apparent to most people, it is easy to ignore or deny their occurrence. In his book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, George Marshall interviews behavioral psychologist Daniel Gilbert, who claims that human survival instincts are only triggered by events that are perceived as personal, abrupt, immoral, and/or immediate. Since climate change fails to meet any of these criteria, it is easy for humans to ignore or deny it as an existential threat (Marshall 47).

The goal of this project is to present the threats posed by climate change and other environmental issues in a manner that will meet these criteria and evoke a more urgent response to these issues. This project will attempt to put a human face on these issues by creating a future world where humankind has failed to reel in its environmental impacts and suffered as a result.

The stories will be presented through a website in the form of audio clips taken from a fictional news broadcasts. This website will present itself as a news site that tracks stories of human survival in the wake of great environmental degradation. This world will be largely shaped by scientific predictions regarding environmental and social conditions.


History

The modern environmentalist movement in America began in the 1960’s with the release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which brought public awareness to the adverse impacts of the pesticide DDT on bird populations. Carson’s work discussed issues that the vast body of scientists at the time either did realize or deliberately ignored. Some scientists spoke out against Carson through denialist claims or ad hominem attacks, but they failed to stop the public outcry for environmental protection. Through her work, Carson promoted the “democratization of information” by making previously obscure information available to the public, thus allowing them to make informed decisions regarding their concerns over the environment (Egan & Crane 198).

Environmental issues became increasingly important through the second half of the 20th century, with 1970 seeing the first national Earth Day and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency by President Nixon. The late ‘80s saw the discovery and awareness of some of the most important environmental issues of today, with the first reports on global warming and Amazon deforestation being released (Dykstra). This was also around the time that scientists around the world discovered the hole in the ozone layer caused by emissions of CFCs that were in heavy use at the time. The Montreal Protocol marked the first international agreement focused on solving an environmental issue and provided a precedent for solving future issues.

Although President Reagan shifted away from environmental regulations, the Republican party was not totally averse to environmental regulation. His successor, George H.W. Bush branded himself the “Environmental President.” Environmental issues would not stay on the Republican agenda, for the September 11 attacks shifted the national focus on to issues of global terrorism.

In 2007, former Vice President Al Gore released the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” in conjunction with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Synthesis Report (Dykstra). Despite earning a Nobel Prize for Gore and the IPCC, this presentation of sheer scientific facts did not manage to convince a large portion of Americans of the reality of climate change. A survey carried out across 20 different countries by the market research company Ipsos MORI in 2014 reveals that a large portion of the population does not believe that human actions have influenced climate change. Among the 20 countries surveyed, America had the lowest rate of belief that current climate trends have been influenced by human actions with only 54% who believe as opposed to Germany’s rate of 72% or China’s 93% ("Global Trends Survey | Environment"). Although this is still a majority, the ratio of those who believe in climate change to those who do not is still almost an even split, implying that the matter is still up for debate even though the IPCC claims there is a 95% chance that current climate trends are being driven by anthropogenic sources (Pachari & Meyer v). America’s current political climate may prove to be even worse for the future of Earth’s climate, considering the President-Elect’s dismissive attitude regarding climate change and his vow to pull out of the the most recent international climate agreement.

Significance and Distinction

The premise of making a website to chronicle humanity’s future has already been thoroughly explored on FutureTimeline.net, which predicts the course of future events in human history through articles and ‘historic’ accounts; however, the format and message of my project will be quite different. The Future Timeline site as a whole is relatively unappealing, with its overwhelming amount of content that is presented solely through large pages of text with minimal flair. My website will differ from this by presenting information in the form of audio recordings presented as news broadcasts, to be streamed from the site. This aims to draw the reader in more readily through the dramatized reading of information.

Dystopian future settings have been employed extensively over time. Books like 1984 and Brave New World are famous for their commentary on social and political conditions of their times while some films, such as “Wall-e” and “Soylent Green,” have become known for their representations of environmental destruction at the hands of humans. Just as other dystopian stories have attempted to shape public opinion of current events, this project will try to influence viewers’ opinions on the environment by personifying and emotionally displaying the human cost of failing to address the many environmental issues of today. In contrast to many dystopian stories in books and movies, this project will not focus on a single character or story arc; rather, it will consist of numerous stories that shift the focus to people around the world. Because climate change will affect people differently depending on where they live and how much wealth they have, it is necessary that this project covers the impacts on people’s lives around the world.
Expertise and Skills

Because I want to structure my content around scientific truths, writing the script will require research on environmental issues and the implications of letting them go uncorrected.

I have some experience in programming with HTML, CSS, and Java. I will need to improve my knowledge of these and learn Javascript in order to build the project website. For the audio broadcasts, I will need to learn audio recording and editing skills, so that I can produce quality audio content.
Approach

I will present the content of the website from a subjective perspective as opposed to presenting all information as objective and impersonal. I feel this subjectivity is an important aspect of the project because people tend to respond best to emotional appeals. Scientific information regarding the effects of climate change is already widely available, so rather than be an outpouring of facts, this site will turn these facts into stories that the audience can emotionally connect with.


Work Plan and Timeline

capstone timeline.png
Audience

Anybody who has a computer with internet access will be able to view the site. This project will aim to influence people who may not have concern over the planet’s future or who see environmental crises as only vague and distant threats by providing an illustration of climate change’s effects by providing a personal view of its effects.


Budget

The domain name for the website will cost about $10 per year.


Outcomes

As an Environmental Science major, this project will allow me to combine elements from my major with other technical fields, like computer science, as well as more creative areas, like story-writing and audio recording. One of my big concerns regarding the environment is a lack of awareness and initiative among people regarding climate change and other environmental issues. My hope is that this website encourages people to be more conscious of their own impacts on the environment and make more conscientious decisions regarding their own actions. The website will be publicly available online as a resource or source of entertainment for anyone.


Bibliography
Crane, Jeff, and Michael Egan. Natural Protest: Essays on the History of America

Environmentalism. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Dykstra, Peter. "History of Environmental Movement Full of Twists, Turns." CNN. Cable News

Network, 15 Dec. 2008. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.


"Global Trends Survey | Environment." Ipsos Global Trends. Ipsos MORI, 2014. Web. 21 Nov.

2016.


Jacques, Peter J. "A General Theory of Climate Denial." Global Environmental Politics 12.2

(2012): n. pag. Project MUSE [Johns Hopkins UP]. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.
Lal, R. Climate Change and Global Food Security. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis, 2005. Print.
Liptak, Andrew. "A Brief History of the Dystopian Novel." Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus Media LLC,

25 June 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.


Marshall, George. Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate

Change. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA, 2014. Print.
Pachauri, Rajendra Kumar, and Meyer, Leo. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report:

Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva, Switzerland: IPCC, 2015. Print.
Parham, John. Green Media and Popular Culture: An Introduction. London: Palgrave

Macmillan, 2016. Print.
Phillips, Dana. The Truth of Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature in America. Oxford:

Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
Williams, Jerry, and Shaun Parkman. "On Humans and Environment: The Role of Consciousness

in Environmental Problems." Human Studies 26.4 (2003): n. pag. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.


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