What will it take to save the earth? A wilder shade of green
The central issue as the new millennium dawns is technocultural. There are, of course, more traditional issues also at hand: Cranky fundamentalism festers here and there; the left is out of ideas while the right is delusional; income disparities have become absurdly huge. However, the human race has repeatedly proven that it can continue to prosper despite ludicrous, corrupt, demeaning forms of religion, politics, and commerce.
By stark contrast, no civilization can survive the physical destruction of its resource base. Our material infrastructure is not sustainable. Therefore, new, radical approaches are in order. They should be marshaled into an across-the-board cultural program and publicly announced--on January 3. (On January 1, everyone will be too hungover to read manifestos; on January 2, nobody's computers will work.) Any group that offers a coherent, thoughtful, novel, cultural manifesto on January 3, 2000, has a profound opportunity to affect the zeitgeist.
Civil society does not respond well to moralistic scolding. Small minority groups (deep greens, the Amish, people practicing voluntary simplicity, Gandhian ashrams, etc.) are perfectly aware that it is immoral to harm the lives of coming generations by massive consumption. These public-spirited voluntarists are not the problem. But they're not the solution, either, because most human beings won't volunteer to live like they do. Nor can people be forced to live that way through legal prescription, because those in command of society's energy resources will immediately neutralize any legal regulation system. Still, contemporary civil society can be led anywhere that looks attractive and glamorous.
The task at hand is therefore an act of social engineering. Society must become green, a variety of green that people will eagerly consume. Not natural or spiritual green, or primitivist or blood-and-soil romantic green, but viridian green, with its electrical, unnatural tinge.
The best chance for progress is to convince the people of the 21st century that the 20th century's industrial base was crass, gauche, and filthy. This approach will work because it is based in truth. The 20th century was much like the 18th century before the advent of germ theory, stricken by septic cankers whose origins were shrouded in superstition and miasma. So why is this an aesthetic issue? Because it's a severe breach of taste to bake and sweat half to death in your own trash, that's why. To boil and roast the entire physical world, just so you can pursue your cheap addiction to carbon dioxide. What a cramp of our style.
Unlike modernist movements, a Viridian movement cannot be concerned with challenging aesthetic preconceptions. We do not have the 19th-century luxury of shocking the bourgeoisie. That time-honored activity will not get the poison out of our air. We must cause the wealthy to willingly live in a new way.
We need a genuine avant-garde, a cultural elite with an advanced sensibility not yet shared by most people. Their task is to design a stable, sustainable physical economy in which the powerful prefer to live. We need a form of green high fashion so appallingly seductive it can save people's lives.
Environmental awareness is currently annoying: Consumers must gaze at plastic recycling labels, wash the garbage, and so on. Better information environments can make the invisible visible, however, and this can lead to a swift re-evaluation of previously invisible public ills.
Energy meters should be ubiquitous, enshrined within the home, not in an obscure box outside. This is not a frugality effort, but a luxury, a mark of class distinction. Solar and wind power should be marketed as premiums available to affluent, savvy consumers. Fouling the air with every flip of a light switch should be considered the stigma of the crass proletarian.
Computerized designer sunglasses that reveal the unspeakable swirl of airborne combustion products over the typical autobahn would make it immediately obvious that clean air is also a luxury. Infrasound, ultrasound, and sound-pollution monitors would make silence a luxury. Monitor taps with intelligent water analysis in real time would make pure water a luxury. Lack of mutagens in one's home would become a luxury.
Our movement is not hip, underground, bohemian, or alternative in any way. If anyone asks, say you are engaged in corporate futurism and product development. Trust me on this one. I have an exquisite understanding of how this system works, and at the end of the '90s, underground real estate is priced out of sight. It's not worth it. Give it back to the young people.
We're not particularly interested in young people; they've suffered enough. They should not be required to be trendy anymore; the overhead is just too cruel. They should be left to enjoy their pirated MP3 music and baggy cast-off clothing, and everyone over 30 should get the hell off their backs.
We are an avant-garde interested in old people. If anyone should be galvanized with guilt over this issue, it's guys who have been driving big ugly cars and living in leaky mansions for 60 years. Well, your chickens have come home to roost, Mr. Little Deuce Coupe. This is your legacy to the grandkids. If you have just a spark of decency, pitch in and help.
Any avant-garde that lacks a designated hate and contempt figure immediately breaks up into warring schisms. But the Viridian movement comes presupplied with the perfect villain: the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). They have industrial backing, massive PR budgets, and headquarters in Washington--things we deeply envy and will never have. They also have a vested interest in obscuring and distorting the truth about climate findings. We intend to find out about the GCC people, to make public fun of their moms and the way they dress.
We also love cops and soldiers; one problem with traditional cultural movements is that they have way too much culture and too few people with revolvers. As for terrorism and vigilante action, we just find this absurd. These people obviously have no idea how to seize and hold power.
One gets tired of watching cultural movements act as if they were engaged in something daringly criminal and semi-licit; the GCC fits that bill. So we don't engage in Net-radical hacking or monkeywrenching nonsense; we're far more interested in on-site inspections and legal indictments.
If several million people starve to death because, for instance, repeated El NiÒo events disrupt global harvests, there will be a catastrophe. The best solution would be something like the Czech lustration and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The late 20th century has given us a mechanism by which societies that have drifted into dysfunctional madness can be put right. We expect no less for future malefactors whose sly defense of an indefensible status quo may lead to the deaths of millions of people who have derived little benefit from their actions and were never given any voice in their decisions. We recommend that dossiers be compiled now, openly, in a spirit of civic duty.
While it is helpful to have a polarized, personalized enemy class, there is nothing new about this political tactic. Revanchist sentiment is all very well, but survival requires a larger vision. It must become the work of many people who ignore traditional disciplinary and ideological boundaries and unite to pursue a single practical goal: redesigning the global climate.
Bruce Sterling is a science fiction and techno writer. The complete Viridian Manifesto is at www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/2606/viridian.htm. From Whole Earth (Summer 1999). Subscriptions: $24/yr. (4 issues) from Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834.