It had been two months since satellites first detected two large patches of phytoplankton growing on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. One slightly larger than the other, their ovoidal shapes and perfectly defined perimeters made them look like man-made objects. They looked almost like paper cut-outs that a 4-year-old in kindergarten had made and glued onto a toy version of Earth. Both phytoplankton blooms had more or less the same peachy / sandy color, which came in stark contrast to the much darker, blue ocean that surrounded them – but eerily matched the color of the nearby Sahara Desert with such spooky accuracy that, you would have been forgiven to think for a minute that Earth was one giant lava lamp, and the Sahara had just given birth to two round floating blobs. Two new, floating deserts that had been set free to roam the ocean on their own, seek out their destiny on the seven seas.
The phenomenon attracted the attention of horrified marine scientists the world over, who had been all too familiar with the increasing occurrence of large seasonal algal blooms, in a planet now experiencing the worst of climate change. But this phytoplankton bloom was by far the biggest event of its kind that they had ever witnessed. It didn’t surprise them. Nothing surprised them anymore. As the planet constantly broke weather records, and each new extinction event became bigger than the previous, it didn’t take a guess to know where all of this was going. The biological sciences, and almost all sciences, had shifted their scope of study. It wasn’t anymore the study of the heritage that this planet had left us with. It wasn’t the study of understanding the planet’s secrets, and all of its species. It was now the study of unexplainable weather events. It was the study of extinction. For those biology students who thought they still had a future and bothered to go to university, the curriculum included a macabre menu of the most depressing subjects: Extinction Ecology, Principles of Ecosystem Death, Case Studies in Ecosystem Collapse, Viral pathogens in the Anthropocene and so on. Biology had become the study of extinction. Being a biologist in a 2C Earth took serious guts. Either that, or a tremendous amount of self-harming obsession.
Over time, each biological science had developed its own series of urban myths about what the worst future scenario could be, sometimes drawing on popular science fiction books, which ironically often ended up predicting the near-term future. For a marine biologist specifically, each new phytoplankton bloom was enough to awaken the worst recurring nightmare scenario: no, it wasn’t giant squids attacking tall ships. It was a tiny, barely visible organism that could wreak havoc worse than a pandemic. Those whose imagination had dared to go the distance, had already found a name for it: they called it The Veil: a thick, impenetrable polymerized phytoplankton cover spanning the seven seas and which would end up suffocating all ocean life and even altering the Earth’s atmosphere. It was a plausible scenario. 3.5 billion years ago, cyanobacteria growing in the ocean had given us the oxygen that we breathe today. What if a new organism gave us poison instead?
During the last days on Earth, humans had almost stopped talking to each other. Just like monks that had taken a vow of silence, a large section of the population had realized the extent of damage that language, especially in its written forms, had inflicted on society. The news stories that the ordinary person would see on their tablet or screen weren’t simply misleading or made up. They were so realistically fake, that no one trusted anyone anymore. Many people eventually lost trust in language itself altogether. Following years of successive wars, pandemics, cyberattacks, AI viruses, economic crash after economic crash and a worsening climate crisis, humans finally lost their trust in the words coming from their so-called leaders. They realized that they had been defeated by the very thing that was supposed to bring them all together: communication.
Perhaps it was for the better. Human civilization itself had been built on lies anyway: false archetypes, stories about founding fathers that suited the ruling classes, and made-up fairy tales that served religious fearmongering. As for communication, it had become the business of manipulating others. Language had long ago fallen hostage to marketing, propaganda, and lies that were not even manufactured by humans anymore. They were crafted by sophisticated AI algorithms who had been built by humans, trained through machine learning over many years to create the most manipulative messaging for any occasion or outcome. Anyone who had access to these tools knew that they could use them to claim almost anything: whether it was a product feature, a political promise, or a fake news story.
As the last generation of humans on Earth began to abandon spoken language, written text and social media for large parts of their day, some of them gradually became more like animals. They began to pay attention to what matters, what they can verify with their own eyes as “real”: sights, sounds, even the delicate whisper of a breeze caressing their face. They began to pay attention to other people’s facial expressions and body language, which were much more accurate, honest, and reliable forms of communication compared to language. They began to pay attention to other peoples’ actions, not their words.
Of course, this had its downsides. It was a massive adjustment to the “economy’’ – which had previously relied on a delicately choreographed architecture of lies: lies to consumers, lies about the natural destruction and unavoidable decline that was coming, lies about what makes people truly happy outside of the world of luxury brands. Abandoning the convenient, reassuring, fake world that humans had surrounded themselves with to keep the consumer game going, was a giant step out of anyone’s comfort zone. It would be like throwing away the blanket on a cold winter night and running out in the snow naked.
Surprisingly, there were some people who were ready to take that leap of faith. They were able to see their manufactured safety bubble and were willing to step outside of it. It didn’t take a lot of imagination. People knew anyway that they were part of the last generation of “normal” humans. And no one cared about “the economy’’ anymore, especially after much of it had collapsed. This was a new, post-apocalyptic world where the ordinary people had taken back some level of control over their lives: doing their daily business with other people face-to-face using smiles and handshakes, and keeping verbal communications to the bare minimum. Things were difficult, but the upside for humans was that their life had become much, much simpler. Many people had come to cherish their silent way of living. Since minimizing their use of language, it seemed that all their senses had been heightened to some degree, much like someone who had recently lost their eyesight, but pleasantly discovered that their hearing, smell and sense of touch had now been enhanced.
These people were able to pay a lot more attention to the world around them: noticing every detail, every sound and smell, sometimes even able to anticipate the weather. Some had developed a new awareness, a new intuition about the world around them: they felt so connected to life, nature, and the other people around them that they found themselves able not only to read the present, but to sense the future. Their new insight was more powerful, more effective than any language that humans had previously invented.
(From the upcoming novel A New Earth – The Apocalypse Locus – Release Date Nov 20th) – PRE-ORDER NOW
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books