Our precious planet and human life as we know it is in peril. This is the premise of Karen Thompson-Walker’s much talked about novel The Age of Miracles, an apocalyptic tale of the future.
Written from the viewpoint of a woman looking back at her childhood, the ordinary moments of life and adolescence become more profound in the light of an unfolding disaster affecting everyone on Earth.
A slow death
The story is conjured from the idea of a ‘slowing Earth’, the germ of which, according to Thompson-Walker, stems from the powerful Indonesian earthquake and tsunami of 2004 which physically affected the rotation of Earth and shortened our days by a fraction of a second.
The Age of Miracles exploits the concept to maximum effect as the rotation of Earth continues to slow and slow, inflicting enormous and ultimately unmanageable changes on everyday existence.
Whilst making broad ‘scientific’ assumptions in parts, it is convincingly unsettling and points ultimately to the fragility of society when it is faced with an existential threat. Such is the parallel with climate change which, in 2023 alone, has brought a dangerous new breed of extreme weather and storms to almost everywhere on Earth and much faster than scientists predicted.
We reap what we sow…
The increasing frequency and potency of droughts, unseasonal and intensive heat waves, storms, ice melt and floods around the world are linked to humankind’s increasing consumption of fossil fuels and the resultant global warming is ignored at our peril.
Simply put, if as a global population we carry on releasing more and more energy into our Earth system we shouldn’t really be surprised that it will have consequences.
Heat a pan of cold water on the stove, for example, and what happens? As more energy, in the form of heat, transfers into the water the hotter and more agitated that water becomes – a previously relatively stable environment is soon transformed.
Thompson-Walker describes The Age of Miracles as a novel about a catastrophe that no one was expecting: “We sometimes over-estimate what we know about the world, but I think we all live with more uncertainty than we like to think,” she says.
Ignorance is no longer an excuse
Only now is such a point brought into sharp focus when we view pictures on our TV screens of extreme weather, throwing previously benign parts of the world into an increasingly volatile atmosphere.
Yet distance and the often remote nature of catastrophic weather events in relation to our own daily lives means that we are seldom moved to any kind of action – either direct or indirect – on behalf of those affected or our future selves.
If, as a global population, we continue to rack up the temperature of our planet then we shouldn’t be surprised when stronger and more devastating natural events are unleashed at more frequent intervals.
We are, perhaps incontrovertibly, becoming just like the anecdotal frog that is placed in a pan of gradually warming water and gets so accustomed to the rising temperature that by the time it is too hot for survival, it can no longer jump out.
The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people and politicians to react appropriately to ultimately significant changes that occur gradually.
Welcome to the last chance saloon
Today, in respect of climate change, we just about still have a choice even though we’ve been warned about its effects for decades.
But the point of no return is now alarmingly close and there are warning signs all about – not least in the corridors and side rooms of the UN’s COP28 climate talks in Dubai.
Findings from the IPCC 2023 Synthesis Report prepared for COP28 couldn’t be clearer – there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.