From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Environmental Demonstrations Ideas from 1970s Science Fiction

 John Brunner was a UK science fiction writer active from the 1950s through the 1990s.  Some of his work was truly prescient, mostly the four novels Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Jagged Orbit (1969), The Sheep Look Up (1972) and The Shockwave Rider (1975), where the term worm for a computer virus was coined, which have been called the "Club of Rome Quartet" because they deal with overpopulation, ecological collapse, and runaway technology.

In The Sheep Look Up (ISBN 0-345-24948-8-195), Brunner comes very close to predicting the recent Just Stop Oil traffic blockades, down to the symbol they are using, a skull and cross-bones:

Sharp on nine the Trainites [environmental protesters] had scattered caltraps in the roadway and created a monumental snarl-up twelve blocks by seven.  The fuzz, as usual, was elsewhere - there were always plenty of sympathizers willing to cause a diversion.  It was impossible to guess how many allies the movement had;  at a rough guess, though, one could say that in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, LA or San Francisco people were apt to cheer, while in the surrounding suburbs or the Midwest people were apt to go fetch guns.  In other words, they had least support in the areas which had voted for Prexy.

Next, the stalled cars had their windows opaqued with a cheap commercial compound used for etching glass, and slogans were painted on their doors.  Some were long:  THIS VEHICLE IS A DANGER TO LIFE AND LIMB.  Many were short:  IT STINKS!  But the commonest of all was the universally known catchphrase:  STOP, YOU’RE KILLING ME!

 And in every case the inscription was concluded with a rough egg-shape above a saltire - the simplified ideogrammatic version of the invariable Trainite symbol, a skull and crossbones reduced to


I've always liked the way The Sheep Look Up ends with USAmerica having declared war against an enemy it can't name which is simply all the poisons we've thrown to the winds coming back to poison us and a woman in Ireland greeting someone at the door.

Opening the door to the visiting doctor, also to apologize for the flour on her hands – she had been baking – Mrs. Byrne sniffed.  Smoke! And if she could smell it with her heavy head cold, it must be a tremendous fire!  

"We ought to call the brigade!" She exclaimed. “Is it a hayrick?”

"The brigade would have a long way to go," the doctor told her curtly."It's from America. The wind's blowing that way."

My full notes are available at 

Steve Baer was one of the hippie domebuilders back in the 1960s©™allrightsreserved working at Drop City building Zomes out of the repurposed metals roofs of scrapped automobiles.  He has also invented a series of passive solar designs and founded the company Zomeworks to produce his products and designs.  In his book, Sunspots (Albuquerque, NM:  Zomeworks Corporation, 1975, 1977) he imagined a different vision of the environmental demonstrations of the future in a story called “The Sun Riots":

A week earlier at a demonstration a large van was driven next to the crowd.  The driver, a swarthy man of about 40, opened the back doors and began passing out foot square mirrors. “Give ‘em some sunshine.”

A few dozen mirrors began playing beams of sunlight on a police car that had been dogging the rear end of the demonstration.  The officers were caught by surprise.  The driver managed to back the car down the street, but not before his partner, panicked by the glare and the rapidly rising temperature, had jumped out and run.  More and more mirrors were out in the crowd now.  The crowd glinted like a bank of crystals…

The mirror crowds are completely silent.  They move everywhere on foot.  A secretary at City Hall says, “They just looked so funny - a whole crowd of them standing just as still as could be holding onto those mirrors and then pretty soon the store across the street was burning." 

He also imagined a response by an anti-solar and energy independence government:

On the outskirts of town the helicopters wheeled and took up stationary positions - you could see the crewmen struggling with lines as the shrouds were lowered.

A large white patch of frost and snow, an island of grey and white amid greenish brown, marked their target.

It was a method of non-violent control for dissidents who were disconnecting from the power system and going solar... 

My own preference is more practical and quotidian.  The daily practice of a kind of solar swadeshi, local production, a variation on Gandhi's "soul of satyagraha."  I have one room in my rented apartment off-grid for my reading lights at night through a couple of small solar panels in one south-facing window, solar flashlights and emergency power in another south-facing window, and a little solar light and charger on my backpack that I use as a bike light. 

This is also a solar civil defense, the light, battery, and phone or radio you've supposed to have on hand in case of emergency.  

This year I'm giving solar battery chargers with rechargeable batteries as Christmas presents.  Maybe it will become a movement.

I don’t know what you’re going to do about it,

But I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m just

     going to walk away from it. Maybe

A small part of it will die if I’m not around


      feeding it anymore.

from "Chicago Poem" by Lew Welch