From the Hunger Games to the New York Times literary section, dystopia lit is extremely “in” right now. I’m going to go out on a limb here and theorize that books about the world ending are resonating in our culture right now because, well, the world is ending.
Okay, so it’s not like the planet is going to explode, but the world as we know it is definitely on a path towards a staggering degree of change. I recently gave in to the dystopia fascination myself, and went on a tear of reading a bunch of nonfiction books about climate change. (New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction” is the gold standard; after reading it, you’ll vow to never have kids, and then go spend your entire retirement fund, because what’s the point of saving for the future when there is no future?)
Actually, back that thought up. As I said before, the world isn’t ending, but it’s going to dramatically change in the very near future. Washington DC and the rest of the US is still going to be here (probably), but it will be totally different. How, you ask? Well, let’s take a look at DC in 2075.
Gosh, don’t you just love the distinctive DC rowhome? Me too. Too bad we’re going to have to tear them all down. Without coal/natural gas/oil to heat and cool our homes, housing construction is going to have to undergo a radical paradigm shift, and retrofitting all these drafty piles of bricks is going to be so expensive that it’ll be easier just to start from scratch. These German houses are a good example of what the future will probably look like: triple-glazed windows, everything sealed, passive air heat exchanges for heat/cooling. Basically, your home is going to be a hermetically sealed miniature biosphere heated by your recycled flatulence. God, I’m glad I’ll be dead by then. Of course, maybe solar technology will have advanced to the point where everyone’s personal solar array can generate enough electricity for all their personal needs. That might work especially well here in DC, since, well, read on …
Global warming isn’t going to destroy the planet, exactly, it’s just going to shift all the climate zones towards the poles. So a huge belt around the equator is going to be as barren, arid, and lifeless as my ex-girlfriend’s soul. We’re talking the Sahara times fifty. On each side of that superdesert will be wide bands of just regular sort of Middle East-type hot scrubby desert; in rough terms, the bottom half of the US is going to turn into Iraq. DC will probably be right in that area. (Northerly zones, like the now-frigid Canada, Greenland, etc., will become the new temperate zones. If you have grandchildren, buy them cheap real estate in these areas, and they will be wealthy.)
But yeah, remember the worst day of last summer, when it was like 102 with 100% humidity? That’s what the coolest day of the year is going to be like in future DC. Ha ha! I’m already laughing at how bad your hair is going to look. The upside of this is that your solar panels in the middle of this desert city are going to get insane amounts of direct sunlight, which will probably be just enough to power your window unit, which will maybe, if you’re lucky, get the inside of your apartment down to 100 degrees. Man, the future sounds TERRIBLE.
Oh man, it sure is hot in your sealed, fart-heated desert house with windows that don’t open. Probably a good day to drive down to the 3-D multiplex for a nice air-conditioned matinee. Oh my god, where’s your car? Did someone steal it? OH WAIT, IT’S THE FUTURE, NO ONE HAS CARS. I’m sure some of you are smirking like, “come on dude, everyone has electric cars to zip around in.” Well, I’m smirking right back at you with double the condescension, because electric cars are the biggest scam ever. Where do you think electricity comes from? Coal, mostly. There won’t be any of that in the future. Grab your bike and combination sunshade/Camel-Bak, because the future is a “bike only” zone. This is actually one of the best things about this environmental dystopia coming down the pike: streets will belong to bicyclists only. Sometimes I ride my bike down 16th Street at like 3AM and think, “man, it’s going to be great when all the cars are gone.” Hmmm, now that I think of it, all jobs are probably going to be “work from home,” because no one’s riding their bike down 395 in 118-degree heat to get to the office. Okay, I’ve changed my mind. I’m all-in on this environmental dystopia thing. Sign me up for life extension. Let’s spend the morning browsing the Internet 3.0 in our pajamas and then bike down to the sushi place for a two-hour lunch. Oh wait..
Hey, do you like chalky, tasteless pancake-batter-like nutrient shakes? No? Too bad. There’s nothing else to eat. Biodiversity is going to plummet in this super-hot future; not only will many species just bake to death, even ones that could potentially adapt or migrate to cooler climes will be overtaken by the sheer pace of heating, which is going up at a rate hundreds of times faster than it could ever go up naturally. The oceans are turning to algae-choked acid, so no more fish. Factory farms are going to be a thing of the past; factory farm-produced methane is one of the largest culprits of global warming besides fossil fuels, and will certainly be banned. And even if it wasn’t, the resources it uses will be a thing of the past. How are you going to grow corn in Iowa and Nebraska after they’ve turned into New Mexico and Arizona? We’re going to have to eat something like Soylent, the brutally utilitarian nutrient concoction created by some Silicon Valley bro-trepreneur who was too busy being an “innovative disruptor” to go to Subway. In 2075, after you get drunk on watered-down laboratory alcohol cocktails (no wheat = no beer), you can take a camel taxi over to U Street for a nice draught of Ben’s Chili-Flavored Nutrient Shake.
Sea levels are going to rise several inches, even if everyone in the world stops using fossil fuels tomorrow. And that’s definitely not going to happen. More likely, we’re going to squeeze every last drop of oil out of the ground and then look up one day and be like, “why are all the gas stations closed, and why am I knee deep in saltwater?” (America: We Confront Problems After It’s Already Too Late!)
So yeah, our coastal cities are going to be inundated. That includes DC. Thing is, there are cities already dealing with this sort of thing, the best of example of which is Amsterdam. Most of the Netherlands sits below sea level, and has been periodically devastated by flooding, forcing the Dutch to devise a mind-boggingly complex series of flood management systems. The good news is that we’ll be able to save most of the coastal areas; the bad news is that we’ll inevitably have to abandon some of them. The vaunted Southwest Waterfront will probably get revitalized just in time to get devitalized. Hmm, I wonder if I can buy a condo in “The Wharf” megadevelopment, and negotiate a mortgage that only starts in, like, 2040? If I time it right, I’ll only have to make a couple payments before the US government is dynamiting the building so they can use the rubble to build a dike.