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Tuesday, December 8, 2015


I posted this story before on my blog, then under the title THE ENGLISH DISEASE (you'll see why when you read it). I took it off my blog as I submitted it as an 'unpublished' story in a competition. It never got anywhere even though Noam Chomsky liked it. Now when reading George Monbiot in the Guardian on his take of the recent UK floods and the incomprehensible stupidity of the UK government not to deal with even basic remedial action like planting a few trees, I thought I would re-publish my little story in terms of 'climate change', just with minor changes in the dates/names used.


The following text fragment is on display at the Museum of Humans. It dates from approximately ten planetary years before the final demise of the human species. In the interest of authenticity the text was reconstructed in the dominant language of the time, namely English. The text, in digital format, was found in an area then known as New Zealand.

“New paragraph … as mentioned before when in 2015 a psycholinguist from the University of Auckland published a paper called The Consequences of Language Obsolescence in an obscure academic journal, there were only a few fellow travelers who nodded wisely. Yes, they had read it many times before, the dire warning of language species extinction, analogous to biological species extinction. Yes, they knew the simple analogy: while it might have been very economical to have just one species of tree for economical exploitation, there is the danger of some unknown disease wiping out the global plantations of Pinus radiata. Ipso facto, no more trees. Apso ficto, no more languages. Full stop.”

Now wait a minute, the uninitiated said. Scaremongering, the anti-climate and anti-language change proponents screamed. Not possible. How could a language like English disappear? Languages do not get affected by viruses (well, computer languages might!). Next you crazy lefty greenies telling us that degenerative TRUMP English ISIS the cause of all this non-existent climate change. In any case, in Orwellian 2015 it was considered a laughable proposition by new-speak, even by those who thought it quite possible that climate change might affect the earth adversely. Sure, the Maori language had been nearly wiped out, but weren’t there signs of a renaissance? Plus there were all these community languages in New Zealand. And English! English everywhere. The language of globalization. New Zealand was blessed to have native speakers of English, hence providing a sizable pool of teachers of English for those billions of people unlucky enough to have been brought up with a lesser tongue. Teaching English was a major industry. Worth millions if not billions. English as an ass-et.

When in 2019 there was a sudden and dramatic increase in the incidence of a variant of Alzheimer’s Disease in the English speaking world with ageing populations, a noted Chomskyan neuro-linguist from MIT (not the one in Auckland) came up with the thesis that the disease was caused in part by a degeneration of the language capacity (an organ in the brain) which in turn was caused by English mental stresses which in turn were caused by modern life styles, etc, which in turn, etc, etc. Case studies seemed to provide evidence for the proposition. Most worrying of all was the high incidence of variant Alzheimer’s in English speakers in their thirties. For a while the mass media picked up the story and there was a popular debate on whether or not medical science had shot itself in the foot. Do we live longer only to lose our English minds faster? Even the old joke reappeared whereby English-speaking men, young and old, maintain erections with vast supplies of Viagra but cannot remember what for. Soon, of course, the debate was overtaken by other weather news. A gigantic tornado had wiped out large parts of Kansas City. Hundreds of thousands died. The drought in Australia had become so severe that a state of emergency had been declared and vast tracts of land were placed under the command of the military forces that regulated the remaining water supplies on behalf of water corporations. In the UK a 200-year flood event arrived first with a 10-year frequency and lately as an annual event. In New Zealand a 1,000-year flood covered most of Northland for weeks on end (the commonality of hundred year floods had necessitated upping the ante exponentially). 2019 was a bad year alright. Most people blamed it on the accelerating climate changes. Governments around the world scrambled to halt the decline. The New Zealand Parliament formed a grand government coalition and banned the use of private cars below 1,000 cc, private boats and private jets below 1,000 cc for private use. It became a national past time to define, refine and redefine ‘private use’. The working classes were forced to use scarce public transport, having to get up two hours earlier to go to work, waiting in long queues at bus and train stops. Public air traffic quadrupled. Air taxis became the favoured mode of transport for those with disposable incomes. Drunk flying and carnage in the skies became a bit of a problem. In 2020, however, there were hardly any new natural catastrophes of note, and the world and the transport and knowledge industries sighed a collective sigh of relief. Only the ongoing drought in Australia led to large-scale riots in the major cities which were forced to drastically reduce their water consumption. Civil unrest and civil wars continued at their usual level of intensity. The United States government and its armed forces, as usual, were fighting evil insurgencies in various vassal states and the mimicry of the Roman Empire extended to a Nero-type president incinerating a large part of Washington DC. The president blamed a barbarian group of evil extremists with headquarters in Barbados. All and sundry were nuked out of existence. It was later claimed that the president and his women had confused Barbados with Bavaria (both beginning bith b). The whole spectacle was a fantastic opportunity for a start-up interactive Internet service called Inferno.

As we all now know now, the first signs of the oxygen fluctuations were reported from Christchurch in the same year. A bizarre confluence of cosmic and local events indeed: a spot of extreme ozone depletion coupled with the Christchurch Föhn and an electric storm served as a catalyst for oxygen in the air to form allotropic ozone. This went on long enough for people and animals to suffer respiratory difficulties leading to some 50,000 items of collateral damage in humans. Scientists assured us that this was a one in a billion year event. Ha, in 2027 we knew new now better semi-colon.

It’s hard when you cannot breathe. Like an asthma attack of asthma. You suck air into the lungs but you cannot expel it. You feel like exploding. Sure, just about everyone was running around with inhalers and a bottle of oxygen and stuff. Like, like way back when people, like, ran, like, around with bottles of water. In the beginning it was status symbol. Oxygen bottles in many fashion colours. Like, a cool accessory. Clean green oxygen from New Zealand sold well all over the world. Cynics like you and me pointed out that oxygen is oxygen all around the world makes the world go around. A severe oxygen fluctuation in 2029 around and around Shanghai killed 10 million people. There was not enough oxygen to go around go around. Even mild oxygen depletion affects the brain. Or is it the mind, English or otherwise? It affects your language exclamation mark. You become incoherent. You tend to babble like Bertrand Russell who became my English mantra:

After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it generated Neros, Genghis Khans and Hitlers. This, however, I believe is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will again become incapable of supporting human life, and peace will return.

                                                                                    [1950, Unpopular Essays]

In moments of doubt and sufficient oxygen I caught snippets of Wittgenstein. What did he say? Quardle ardle wardle doodle? No, know, now not that one! It’s on the tongue of my tip. It’s all a game. I never felt so happy as never before. It’s a game. It’s really funny. Shame on the trilobites. What a word. In the beginning was the word. You see. English words like word. Crazy Germans have a funny word for that: sich totlachen. I can hardly breathe.

Today looks like a good oxygen day. Our Coromandel commune is waking up to the latest news that Auckland now looks like a scene from Quiet Earth. One of our scouts had tramped there and returned to tell the tall tale. I remember this from my English lessons. No, no, nothing to do with Smith’s Dream or Bruno. There’s a name for it. A row of words all beginning with the same consonant. I know it but I cannot remember it. I know a lot of things. Lucky I don’t remember. But Auckland, how could I forget. I lived there all these years ago. Taught English. Brought up a family. Had a mortgage. I can still recite the poem ‘the farm’s still there, mortgage corporations couldn’t give it away, and quardle ardle wardle doodle the magpies say’. See ‘say’ I say to my students, bloody brilliant, present tense, you see. They don’t, never learnt no English grammar. They think I’m mad. So does the management and I lose my job, never to get another one. Yes, how could I forget when the bubble burst, as foretold by my father-in-law. We had signed an unconditional agreement to buy this lovely 10 acre persimmon and olive lifestyle block in Katikati to get away from it all. We borrowed and paid the ten percent $74,900.00 deposit. It all depended on us selling our she-sells-sea-shells-on-the-sea-side home in Gulf Harbour and the flat in the city. It was just a matter of weeks, said our nice real estate man, especially if we meet the market, he said with a twinkle in his eye. It would sell, but it didn’t because it was a leaky home and then the bubble burst and it was too late to meet the market. Deposit gone. Noah’s Ark flooded. Timber not treated. No job, no income. Market collapsed. Yes, I remember. Bloody disaster alright. Great depression followed. I shall – future is not a tense – now not now remember now what happened now next. I cannot remember. Member. Me.

Today smells like a bad oxygen day. There is a fly around in my brain. I try. Breathe, baby breathe. Tihei mauriora. Kia kaha. Excuse my relapse, te reo pakeha, the language of darkness.

Pen-ultimate paragraph (sic, sick). The sun did not rise today. I rage against the darkness. The journey north. Soulless souls. Unable to even speak in tongues. Ethereal English. Devoid of all alliteration, allusion, antonym and anality. Blank. Blank. Spacebar. Battery very low. Close down. Computer speaks English for the last time.

We have reached Cape Reinga. Hip-i-ti-hop hop-it-i-hip, oh what fun, we all jump.