Sunday, July 24, 2011
Environmental Novelist Kitty Beer: Writing of a time when Boston is underwater.
Kitty Beer, a member of the Somerville Bagel Bards, sets her new novel “Human Scale” in 2062, a time in which Boston is under water and the suburban town of Arlington, Mass has become a seaside community. Beer, a graduate of Harvard University and Cornell University, has been an environmental journalist for many years and to her a scenario such as this is far from farfetched. I talked with Beers on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: Was the book “Silent Spring” a big influence on you as an environmental journalist?
Kitty Beer: Well—‘Silent Spring” is very inspiring. But also, I was working on the the nuclear arms race, and I wrote a booklet some years ago that was sold all over the world—there was a huge demand for it. After I finished this, me, and a lot of people switched over to the environment. I think Carl Sagan was very influential with his concept of Nuclear Winter. He said that humans can actually destroy the earth. So the environmental movement was coming up strong at that time. So that is how I got into environmental activism—it started with the nuclear arms race.
DH: In your novel it is 2062 and Boston is basically underwater. Arlington, Mass –miles inland is a seaside community. How likely is this scenario?
KB: Well, I don’t view my novel as a prediction. I view it as a warning. And I am hoping very much that it does not come true. But every time you hear a report from an environmental scientist, they say” Oh, this is happening a lot faster than I thought.” The glacier melt and everything is accelerating, the sea is rising. The temperature has risen one degree Fahrenheit in 30 years. If it raises four degrees –which sounds small- well, it would have a catastrophic effect. I think it is very possible that Boston can be under water. There would be so much water in the city it would be unusable.
Every time I listen to the news there is something dire happening with the weather. The New York Times today talked about 14 states that are affected by this extreme weather. A few weeks ago there were wild fires, and floods, not to mention earthquakes. The earth is going out of balance. And it is going out of balance faster and faster. In a way the earth is fighting back—but I think this is only the beginning. Even if we stop using fossil fuel now, the effect will still go on. I have been an environmental journalist for some years and I am up on the science.
DH: In the novel a totalitarian state arises from the chaos the weather brings. Is this form of government another logical scenario?
KB: When you have all these catastrophes at the same time you will have a huge influx of refugees fleeing to other parts of the country. When chaos comes, historically governments shrink and are displaced. The center does not hold. Tribal enclaves form. So these local governments take over, which makes a totalitarian state more likely.
DH: Basically in the novel priests sort of run things. One of their duties is to deflower under aged girls. What is your personal review of religion?
KB: I think people turn to religion when they are scared. It is very likely that people are going to wrap themselves in religion. It would be very appealing to them—to be told that the earth is in trouble because of God and their sin. If they don’t sin and find God—and obey the priests—then everything will be O.K. So it would be very easy for people like the Priests to take over. If you have total power it corrupts.
DH: But as you told me the story concerns much more than the environment. In fact it is still the same old story --the fight for love—for glory—as time goes by. I mean there is love, lust and violence between these characters—this isn’t a clinical piece of writing.
KB: I write stories about love and glory. My first novel took place in the 2040’s: “What Love Can’t Do.” I shocked my friends with my first novel—but they enjoyed all the lust, and passion—just the same. My new novel is about Global Warming, but more so—the effect on people.
DH: There is an interesting cast of characters in your novel. Some sympathetic, some not so much, and some are despicable. How do you feel about your characters?
KB: I love them all. I even love the evil priest Father Rose. I don’t love them personally, but I love their characters.