Monday, 19 December 2011

What If... by Anne Liddon

Anne Liddon says:

I have written fiction for many years, but I earn my living as a communications professional. For the past five years I have been science communications manager for the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme, a national interdisciplinary research programme that brings together natural and social sciences. This has made me think about how technical progress and human behaviour influence one another in our everyday lives. In an era of environmental change, this interdependence is thrown into ever sharper relief and I think fiction can be a powerful means of examining some potential futures.

What if… by Anne Liddon

It’s all getting so complicated that sometimes I even wish I hadn’t said yes when Craig asked me. Mum wants a big do – that’s understandable when there’s just me, I suppose. Maybe in the old days, when people had brothers and sisters, it took the pressure off. Dad does all the calculating of their carbon allowance at home. He keeps tabs on their smartcards and swaps around the entitlements to keep them in the black. Heaven knows how he manages it. Craig and me never make our credits stretch and we’re always having to do without something at the end of the month. But Dad seems to work his magic - I’ve even seen him bring in a pineapple once on Mum’s birthday. She loved that. Sometimes I suspect he buys up a few black market credits so they don’t have to go without. They’ve never even had to switch their electricity off, as far as I know, not ever. I can see Dad’s point – if something like that happened it would just about kill Mum, the shame as much as anything. And he’s a bit of a softy about giving Mum what she wants. I just hope he never gets caught. Somebody at our office went to prison last year for fiddling their carbon allowance.

But now, with the wedding, it’s all coming to a head. Mum wants to have the reception at a hotel with proper wine and lots of imported food and me wearing a big white meringue. She was even talking about serving meat to fifty guests at one point. We couldn’t expect Dad to stump up all the credits for that – I feel bad enough about him paying out the cash for everything. But Craig says having money hardly matters any more, and that it’s only your carbon allowance that’s worth anything anyway.

Mum says it will be fine. She says they could trade in some of their future credits to pay the carbon costs of the wedding. The trouble is, who knows whether we’ll ever be able to pay them back? There’s a limit to how much black market dealing Dad could get away with. They might end up with no credits for electricity next year, and the last few winters have been terrible with all the snow storms. Nearly a hundred people froze to death in Scotland a couple of years ago and that was mainly older folk who had to turn their heating off.

Craig’s got this “live now pay later” attitude too. He thinks the wedding is a great opportunity for a big party. He says we don’t get many of those, so we should make the most of it, and I think Mum feels the same. But I can’t see him wanting to live on turnips from our allotment because we’ve got no credits left for food.

We’re lucky to have the allotment at all. I know people who’ve been on waiting lists for years and years. There’s such a shortage of land, what with so much of the world not even being able to grow food any more. Ours is half of Dad’s really and he does a lot of the digging for us. But Craig’s always moaning about the lack of variety, especially in the winter, and wanting to splash out on imported and greenhouse-grown veg. Plus, he’d eat meat and eggs every day of the week if it was an option. It would have helped if the hens hadn’t been eaten by a fox. I only had them for six weeks, but those eggs! Well, I’ve never tasted anything like them! They were completely different from the ones you buy in the shops. I suppose it’s because they get to scratch around outside while all the bought eggs are from intensive farms. Mum says battery cages were made illegal when she was little but the government brought them back in because the free range systems were too carbon-dear. It seems to me everything nice is carbon-dear.

Even getting married seems to come at such a price. I can see why people don’t bother. I really do love Craig, and I know he loves me too, but I’m afraid there’s something he wants to do, even though he’s never said it in so many words. It’s the way he looks at the pictures on those websites. And now he’s started to watch films on the internet.

He carries one of those new little Graspberries around with him all the time. You know the ones where you can insert your own picture into the action? They say it’s one of the addictions people can get. And he’s started asking me to watch them with him. He says he likes me to watch too so we can imagine we are those people – the ones in the old films, having lovely food and wine and going in amazing cars and on aeroplanes to far-off exotic places. But it doesn’t feel right, seeing my face on those people on the screen, doing those things. I think it would be easier if we just forgot about how it used to be. In those days nobody even knew about the carbon.

And now he keeps saying it’s time we made a real commitment to each other. It’s nice, I’m glad he feels like that. But all the time, I think that there’s one thing he’s not saying. It’s like something floating in the air between us, but never being mentioned. There’s one thing we could trade in and get credits for that wouldn’t just entitle us to a party, it would keep us comfortable for years and years. It would be worth tens of thousands of credits. We would even be able to have meat sometimes and drink tea and coffee more or less every day, and buy fruit all year round. I had thought I didn’t mind Craig feeling like that. I would have agreed. I would have liked all those things too. I know people who’ve done it and they have such nice lives. But I’m afraid. To get the full credit allowance it would have to be both of us. We would both have to agree and sign up to it. Then we would both have to be sterilised. The word sounds so awful. And after that there wouldn’t be any going back.


  1. Wow - this is powerful stuff, and intellectually terrifying! Given the challenges we saw in Durban over the international climate treaty, I can't ever see this future happening in reality. But just putting yourself in the shoes of people who are forced to take their carbon footprint seriously is a very sobering experience. I think about my carbon footprint, and do what I think I can to try and protect the climate for my children. But the idea of foregoing something now to help stop something far in the future from happening is quite abstract - not all that real or immediate sometimes. This story brings that future home, hard and fast!

  2. I agree - nothing like a dystopian view to get thinkgs changing is there?