“The Ministry for The Future” fiction or non-fiction?

The book “The Ministry of the Future,” published in 2020, opened the storyline with a depiction —or more like a prediction— of the great Indian Heatwave. The book was intended to be a fiction novel that paints a picture of the future of our world in the coming years.

The air was still hotter than the water. He watched sunlight strike the top of the trees on the other side of the lake; it looked like they were bursting into flame. Balancing his head carefully on his spine, he surveyed the scene. Everyone was dead (Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future [United States: Orbit Books, 2020], 1).

This was a quote from the last scene of the “Great Indian Heatwave” in which people in India eventually perished from the deadly heat massacre. As far-fetched as this may sound, the fiction is not too far away from our reality as India has just experienced one of its greatest heatwaves in 122 years.

The Great Indian Heatwave: In March 2020, India experienced one of its greatest heatwaves of the century. The highest temperature hit 49.5C in its capital Delhi. However, this is not the first heatwave and will certainly not be the last. The heatwave caused many people to suffer from extreme weather with little to no resilience against it. The many reasons behind this unprecedented heatwave stem from one main factor: climate change. The extreme weather has affected many areas and countries leading to damage in terms of the economy, social wellbeing, and even livelihoods. To worsen the situation, the rapid urban development in India was a sprint for economic development but at the same time became the propeller for the extreme heat in India. The choice of materials in urban settings is mostly composed of tin and concrete, which are heat-absorbing materials. In general, the high temperature in India is already unbearable for the human body, but the materials would amplify the effect of the heat waves, turning the city into a literal furnace. Countermeasures would undoubtedly include turning on the AC, which in effect, would worsen the situation due to its emission of hot air. It would just turn into a negative feedback loop, transforming the urban heatwave problem into a wicked problem that seems to come to no end.

What is the effect?: The various impacts of the heatwaves come in different aspects including social, ecological, financial, etc. The main and most visible effect would be that of the human body. In general, hyperthermia is one of the main illnesses that occurs when one’s body temperature is way past the norm (99 or 100 Fahrenheit or above). Different from having a fever, hyperthermia is caused by the over-expose to heat and it may lead to several symptoms including heatstroke, heat stress, heat rash, heat cramps, and even death. In most cases, the elderly and children, the most vulnerable in society, are those who suffer from death caused by heat waves. Though many precautions have been taken to prevent the tragedy from further spreading, in 2022, 90 lives were claimed due to the heatwaves across India and Pakistan (90 people died in 2022 due to heatwave spells in India, Pakistan: Study [New Delhi: Business Standard, 2022]).

Another social issue that could stem from the effects of heatwaves is the increase in poverty. The many cases of social inequality have taken a toll on the low-income families in India due to their lack of financial means for taking precautions against the heatwaves. Although there is no proof that low-income families have a higher death rate due to the heatwaves compared to high-income families, one could still presume the sociological toll the families must have undergone during the heatwave season. Low-income earners are more likely to conduct physical labor, which lacks protection from the blazing sun, thus exposing themselves to the danger of hyperthermia and even death. Therefore, the inevitable effect of the increase in social inequality would be an external outcome of the heatwaves.

Transitional Design for a Solution: Despite the temperatures hitting a new high this year, heatwaves are not news in India. The country has been suffering from this climate phenomenon for several years and has developed many coping mechanisms accordingly. One very interesting method is to smell onions which according to an Indian local is an old yet effective remedy that is quite common among households. However, one must look at the bigger picture and ask themselves what a sustainable way to solve this wicked problem is. What kind of transitional design method could we approach this issue with? First of all, Many efforts have been made to green the city. City planners see the importance of greenery in cities not only for aesthetics but also for functional means such as lowering the city temperature and thus saving it from the further deterioration of the urban heat island effect. Another simple yet useful design is the creation of double rooftops. The heat would bounce off the first layer of rooftops and would not be in direct contact with the actual structure of the buildings. “Now we could sleep at night and even during the day. Before we couldn’t even sit in that room it was so hot (India’s 49C heatwave – how extreme heat became the norm [Channel 4 News, 2022]).” Several solutions which don’t cost a large budget could easily increase the resilience of the community and the entirety of humanity in general when facing crises. A sustainable way of living does not necessarily need to come with a great cost. The heatwave is indeed an issue that comes with great social and ecological consequences. However, collectively, we could come up with many resolutions to create a better society and living environment for the present and future of humanity.

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