20 million people in Sao Paolo are facing the kind crisis we usually see in dystopic fiction and film. They’re almost out of water.
This kind of news clip is usually reserved for opening scene montages that give us the backstory of a film’s apocalyptic setting. Perhaps this is why our limited response to Sao Paolo’s crisis: we think of ourselves as apathetic audience rather than participants in the world.
Brazilian sci-fi novelist Ignácio de Loyola Brandão Ignácio de Loyola Brandão calls his country nonchalant in the face of disaster. “The majority doesn’t get indignant with anything,” he said, “as if we’re comfortably strolling toward our own demise.”
If we’re all complacent, we’re all complicit too. The fool hardy enough western world, for instance, chows down on McDonald’s McNuggets of soya-stuffed chicken. The soya’s flown in from farm lands that used to be rain forests whose trees once pulled moisture from the sky into the earth, filling Brazil’s water reservoirs. So 20 million people are running out of water for, amongst other alleged profits, soya to feed chickens and cut them into nuggets.
Thinking about chicken nuggets sends me into a kind of creepy word reverie: soya sounds suspiciously like soylent.
The 1973 dystopic film Soylent Green‘s post-industrial, post-global warming world is fed by the Soylent corporation’s protein rations which *spoiler alert* Charlton Heston’s character discovers are made of people. The film’s setting – an overcrowded world with resources enough for only a select few – sounds suspiciously like Sao Paolo. A glance at just one film and I can see why we think of ourselves as watching the world rather than creating it.
Here in the U.S., soya is more commonly called soybean. The association still works, maybe even better: soybean, Soylent Green. I have to wonder if food marketers were serious or if they tucked a sick joke into the foodstuff’s name. All of this – South American rain forests cut down for beans grown for the bad eating habits and profit margins of the so-called first world – sounds like a bad joke. You say soybean, I say Soylent Green. Let’s call the whole thing off.
Or at least it all sounds like a bad conspiracy theory about magic beans for the prince rather than the pauper (remember those profit margins. They lift stockholders, not poor farmers, into the sky where they steal someone else’s gold). But it’s not a theory, it’s not a fairy tale, and it’s not a sci-fi film. Sao Paolo residents are running out of water. In eating McNuggets, we’ve been eating away at trees, soil, and water.
And we’ve been eating away at people. Sao Paulo hasn’t emptied their reservoirs yet, but already people and businesses are going days without water. For McNuggets. We’re willing to sacrifice people for a snack.
Meanwhile, people don’t believe in global warming. U.S. Senator James Inhofe denies global warming because he can make a snowball. But saying that “it’s very, very cold out” and throwing a snowball in the senate doesn’t really disprove climate change.
If my drawing Charlton Heston into a discussion of Sao Paolo’s water crisis is absurd, Inhofe’s bringing a snowball into political debate is even more so. Per Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim, “Inhofe is not some backbench member of the upper chamber, but is in fact the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, with jurisdiction over the allegedly non-existent climate problem. And so it may have been deeply disturbing for a man with so much power over the fate of the planet to display such stunning ignorance.”
You’d think someone who represents Oklahoma might take growing conditions more seriously. Peer reviewed climate models from the University of Montana “project that much of the food-producing Great Plains and Corn Belt will experience the country’s most drastic temperature and precipitation changes in the coming years.”
Rather than looking at a snowball, United Statesians should be looking at a globe. Climate change isn’t limited to other hemispheres. We’re not walled off from South America. There is no movie screen separating us and them.