Dystopian Fascination

Months ago, I made a confession in this newsletter. Today, I’ve got another one: I devour apocalypse media. Any TV show with a dystopic, grayish filter over landscapes of destruction – that is my kind of entertainment. I like to be unsettled. 

I especially enjoy a dystopian theme that brings climate change into the equation. Forget a pandemic (although I have my theories about the probability of the end of times and some contagious virus): I want a natural disaster. Give me that out-of-season flooding, that raging wildfire. I need to believe in what I’m seeing. 

Two of my most pivotal childhood memories come in the form of a book and a movie: the first, titled Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, involves an asteroid that strikes the moon and changes life on earth, as we know it. Tides change, volcanoes erupt, plants no longer grow and people die. I am still shaken to my core by the premise of this book, which, while Googling it, I am just now learning is the first of a four-part series. Catch me sprinting to my local library to reserve the next three books. 

The second, a movie, is called The Day After Tomorrow. Embarrassing, but I must be honest with you: this movie, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal, may have changed the chemistry of my brain when I watched it in my eighth grade science class.

Quaid’s character, whose name I refuse to look up, became an instant role model for my thirteen-year-old self. The man is a climate scientist, and a good one at that. His character predicts exactly what’s going to happen to planet Earth if we continue on our carbon-consuming trajectory, and guess what? His prediction is right, and comes to fruition just days after he presents it to the world’s leaders (fictional, of course). 

This movie has some of the least realistic situations you could ever imagine, even given the shocking circumstances real-life climate change causes. In The Day After Tomorrow, New York City freezes over in approximately one day, if memory serves. Some other wild and improbable stuff happens (forgive me, it’s been 11 years), but truly, the movie’s message that we’re all doomed if we don’t do something about climate change really resonated with my teenage self.

Often, there is rural representation in this apocalypse media, but it’s not usually very favorable. The people who survive, at least for a while, are the ones many miles from cities who were already self-sustaining, off-the-grid and prepared with years’ worth of canned foods. They also tend to suffer from some sort of dramatized paranoia.

But is this “prepper” stereotype  the rural reality? For most, the answer is no. 

Rural communities are often the most vulnerable in the face of climate change, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Jobs that exist primarily in rural settings like agriculture and outdoor recreation see the effects of climate change first, and those jobs disappear or change drastically as extreme weather conditions transform those industries. Communities in the wildland urban interface – when residential homes and businesses are built adjacent to brushy or forested areas – are at a higher risk of wildfire. And rural people suffering from climate-related health issues, like asthma from low air quality or heat stroke from hotter temperatures, are less likely to have access to healthcare because of the decline of rural hospitals

These are just a few of the problems rural communities face, but you never see them represented in the apocalypse media I love to consume. Instead, the struggles rural places are already facing as they reckon with extreme flooding, or wildfire, or receding coastlines, are an afterthought or never mentioned at all as time after time we focus on how cities grapple with disaster. 

These big city stories are important, but small towns are in desperate need of their fair share.

Rural Reading List

Commentary: Addressing Rural America’s Veterinarian Shortage

Large animal veterinarians are often the first line of defense in keeping a nation’s food supply safe, yet there’s a shortage of veterinarians in rural America.

Study: Rural Healthcare Access Lacking for Minority Populations

Rural healthcare access is lacking for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, according to a report from the Rural and Minority Health Research Center.

Is There a Better Way to Deal With Wild Cattle?

The federal government created an uproar by slaughtering New Mexico’s “feral” cattle via helicopter. Ranchers and animal advocates aren’t happy, but disagree on the best path forward.

One More Thing: A Media Update, and a Reelection Campaign 

The past two days have been big for breaking news. Today’s news is that President Biden has officially announced he’s running for reelection in 2024. Yesterday, the headlines were that Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon were fired from Fox News and CNN, respectively.

Related to headlines and the organizations they come from, our country is now on track to lose a third of all its newspapers by 2025, according to Northwestern University’s Local News Initiative. Of the more than 360 newspapers shuttered between 2019 and 2022, all but 24 were weeklies distributed to communities with populations of a few hundred to several thousand. Is it any wonder that rural areas have been hard hit by misinformation proliferated by cable and internet news?

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