The Extract: News from Gardenia, By Robert Llewellyn
Robert Llewellyn has updated William Morris's vision of the future, 'News from Nowhere'. Here, his time-traveller learns how we grew a gardeners' paradise.
Paula leant forward and rested her substantial arms on the table. "It was not a single thermonuclear war as I believe was often expected, but many hundreds of small conflicts. It was a very dark period. The wealthy nations suffered just as much as the poor, the whole supply system collapsed, the oil extraction industry finally disintegrated – they were simply unable to supply the demand. The price of crude oil went so high it choked itself and the global industrial sector ground to a halt. Governments became unable to govern."
Paula sat looking into her tea for a while. I realised then that I was sitting on the edge of my seat, concentrating with more effort than I could remember doing for a long time.
"So who did govern?" I asked impatiently.
"Sorry, yes, well, the big three took over the running of the countries they were most interested in."
"The big three, who were they?"
"Moshchnost, BipTic and Greywater. The big three corporations. I suspected you might have heard of them. All incredibly wealthy and powerful."
"Wow, I've heard of Moshchnost, the Russian gas people. Who are the other two?"
"Well, let me see. BipTic was a company that started here originally, although it was said to be owned by a Chinese corporation. British Independent Parking Tickets was the original formation; it was a Christian fundamentalist corporation made up of a great many previous companies– there is detail about its formation and ethos in the volume." She said, patting the big book on the table between us. "I didn't write that chapter so my knowledge is limited. I do know they slowly expanded and took over all forms of transportation, not only the management but even the production of transportation systems."
"BipTic," I said. "What a rubbish name."
Paula smiled briefly. "Greywater was a corporation that started out in security but took over banks, financial institutions, several countries and just about all the energy supplies that BipTic and Moshchnost didn't control. They had their own armies, their own private systems of administration. They wanted to govern the world and for a while they succeeded. But instead of nations going to war, the corporations did. Moshchnost started a corporate invasion of Western Europe, not a military one, but it eventually descended into a paramilitary situation. This resulted in total chaos and a further breakdown of international relations. After a few years of sponsored governance as it was called, corporations proved themselves uniquely unable to cope, and in 2079 they rapidly collapsed in a mire of debt and dysfunction."
"2079," I said with a smile. "A hundred years after I was born."
Paula smiled at me and nodded. "I won't pretend to know what that must be like," she said gently.
I shook my head for a moment, slowly leafing through the pages of human history I had somehow skipped. I wasn't reading anything in particular; my eyes just skimmed over the dense text. I looked up at Paula.
"It doesn't feel possible that this is history," I said. The text on the page went blurred and, being as unconnected with my emotions as I must have been, it was only when I rubbed my eyes that I realised I was crying.
"So much suffering," I said. "Over such a long time."
"Indeed, there were many hard years and many people suffered unenviable fates." I sniffed and Paula handed me a linen handkerchief. I looked at it for a moment. It was beautifully clean and pressed. I'd never blown my nose on a piece of cloth before; I'd only ever used tissues. I took a deep breath and had an impressive blow.
"So how did you get to this?" I gestured around the kitchen.
"Well, I suppose once again we saw how human beings, when under pressure, are remarkably resourceful. Small communities had sprung up all over the world, operating outside the corporate system, effectively off the grid so to speak. People started producing their own energy on a large scale, partly due to being unable to obtain it through the big three."
"Sounds like it was total chaos."
"Oh, it was, but there are always pockets of peace, and the technology was well-known by then. Cellular solar, wind, tidal and geo-thermal plants came on line. In this country, the people took over the new grid as no one else was looking after it. BipTic, who had owned and controlled it, had disappeared, and it was rapidly falling into disrepair. They were lucky in that many of the former employees of BipTic shared the vision and used their undoubted expertise to reinvigorate the system. Slowly the power spread, the infrastructure was gradually increased and improved, and the crucial thing was that they distributed this energy free of charge."
"Free of charge! Why on earth did they do that?"
"Well, they didn't really have much choice. There was no economy to speak of – all the previously existing structures of banking, finance and corporate governance had slowly melted away. It is important to remember that we create energy without burning any form of fuel, Mr Meckler, which I know is a big change from your era. We capture energy that already exists, so other than the energy expended in creating and maintaining the capture systems, there is no other cost involved as such. I imagine understanding a nonecon model is very hard."
"Nonecon?" I asked. The word just popped out, almost hidden in the flow.
"That is what the system we live in has been dubbed. Nonecon, you aren't familiar with the term?"
"Um, no." I said.
"Essentially it is a system of non-centralized governance which bases all transactions on energy expenditure. I suppose it's an energy economy, but with the understanding that all forms of activity, human, biological, mechanical, either absorb or generate energy."
"Wow," I said. Something in this sounded vaguely plausible.
"So," continued Paula, "some brave and far-seeing individuals gave away their power. This in turn meant that any last vestige of profit-making from power supply simply became impossible. I suppose people turned their attention elsewhere. It is now generally accepted that this supply of free power undermined what was left of the fiscally based exchange systems. People concentrated on supplying themselves with food to such an extent that the gardens grew. The gardens took over everything, not through some grand political strategy, just basic human need. We needed to feed ourselves."
I laughed. "Are you telling me there was a gardening revolution and the gardeners won?"
Paula didn't laugh, she didn't even smile, she ignored my comment completely and continued.
"No, there was no revolution, but when people are hungry and they see they can supply most of their own food, gardening becomes a very attractive option. So it was about a hundred years ago that this place, the place you knew by so many different names, the United Kingdom, Great Britain, England, this place became more commonly known as Gardenia."
Paula waited for my response. I wanted to laugh: Gardenia? I managed to just smile. They renamed the country after a flower.
"I considered you might find the name rather crass. I don't think anyone named it thus; it just somehow came to be. While I might agree the name is a little immature, this country became a beacon in a blighted world. People travelled from all over the globe to study here, to learn our skills."
I smiled. "You'll hopefully forgive me if I say this all sounds a little ridiculous. Truly, people came from all over to see how the British did something?"
Paula nodded and smiled gently.
"Sorry, I mean the Gardenians, blimey. Maybe it's just me," I continued, "but I was always under the impression that we had become uniquely rubbish at doing anything innovative. All the skilled people I knew who came from here had to work elsewhere, unless they were bankers."
This time Paula's smile broadened and she raised her large eyebrows a little. "That may well once have been the case, but I think you'll find that has changed now. There is no question that we do hold a very special place in the world. We've had no wars, no strife or social unrest for over one hundred years. We are completely self-sufficient for food, energy and all the resources we need to maintain our lives."
"How can you be? I mean, this is England. The weather is lousy, what about oranges, what about, I don't know, out of season strawberries?"
"Well, there's no denying we are very blessed; we have adequate rainfall in the northern half of the country. The south-east is mainly arid, but here we grow a lot of subtropical plants, plus we have the infrastructure to conserve water. We have a temperate climate most of the time although our summers are now much hotter than you would have known. We grow oranges. All along the south coast are very large orange groves, and grapevines of course. But even here, in our glasshouses we grow pineapple, kiwi and many other types of tropical fruit. We have large nut groves, hardy fruit orchards, berry groves as well as more common root vegetables, grains and pulses. We grow anything and everything here." I sat looking out of the window in silence... Eventually I shook my head and said, "Wow."
"One hundred years, Mr Meckler," said Paula seriously. "That's how long we have been struggling to make this frail system work. It won't last for ever, we all know that, but for now, we have reached a sustainable equilibrium between people and nature. We garden the whole country, we look after it, we waste nothing, we hoard nothing, we take nothing from people less well off than ourselves. A little different from your era, I would suggest."
Taken from 'News from Gardenia' by Robert Llewellyn, published by Unbound: £9.99 hardback; £5.99 (including VAT) e-book
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