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Windup Girl in flooded Bangkok (and a Christmas gift suggestion…)

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So…last month Thailand announced that coal-fired power is the “only way for the country to move forward”.

It’s kinda sad, when you think of all the tourists who go there for the sun – and wind, for the sailors. You would think that wind and solar energy would at least be part of the mix. Or hydropower. Oh, but no.

The 2011 flood in downtown Bangkok

The 2011 flood in downtown Bangkok

It is even more ironic when you consider where the decision was taken: Bangkok, right smack at sea level. Bangkok, which already suffered a devastating flood in 2011. There are currently plans to build a three-meter tall dyke surrounding the whole city, with pump houses along the Chao Phraya river; experts expect that this would reduce future flooding from 740 km2 to a mere 360 km2 – imagine!

Part of the problem is that the city is sinking at a rate of three centimeters per year (yes, centimeters!), making it an Asian counterpart to New Orleans. And, like New Orleans, it has a government that is completely deaf to bad news. Says scientist Art-Ong Jumsai, former Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs:

“Nobody is taking the lead in the government. They are only looking at the next election. And people don’t like to hear this. The government has to consider business interests, it also wants to attract more tourists. So they don’t want people to talk about anything that is negative.”

If you’d like to imagine what Bangkok could look like in the distant future, you could do worse that read the Hugo award-winning 2009 novel “The Windup Girl”, by Paolo Bacigalupi.

The action is set in a steamy, claustrophobic Bangkok, protected from flooding by giant walls where coal-powered water pumps chug away; oil has run

Bangkok of the Windup Girl

Bangkok of the Windup Girl

out, the elite can still fly in helium airships. Never mind the frenzied chases between germ plasm hunters, the genetically engineered pleasure girls and beasts of burden, or the all-too-realistic corrupt politicians; it is the description of a doomed city fighting for its life in the rising ocean, and of its population trapped behind its looming walls and dikes that makes a lasting, frightening impression.

It’s a wonderful thriller set in a dystopian future, at once weird and realistic, a book that would make a great Christmas gift for any sci-fi fan. But it’s also a great parable of our short-sighted folly. Really, Bangkok? Coal?

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Written by enviropaul

December 11, 2014 at 10:01 pm

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