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Bruce Sterling's Viridian Design Movement


Viridian Note 00495: Serbia and the Flames
by Bruce Sterling
Key concepts:
Serbia, climate crisis, Jasmina Tesanovic
Attention Conservation Notice:
guest-star Viridian pundit is wife of Bruce Sterling.

Links: Today was the hottest day ever recorded in Belgrade, Serbia. Broke the previous heat record by two-and-a-half degrees Celsius.

Naturally, I was there. Hey, I could have been worse off in Tewksbury.

I'd be betting that when they start counting the elderly ex-Communist dead in this region, they're going to stack up in surprising, French-heat-wave style numbers. Although we Viridians have been predicting and describing these calamities for years now, surprisingly, nobody in power seems used to them yet. Even the victims still act a little surprised.

I try not to yield to the temptation to repeat the obvious to 2,000 people day after day, though, when mayhem arrives on my doorstep, I still feel that Viridian urge. Nevertheless, I have to shut this list down soon. It makes no sense to mimic news that's on the front page of Google News every day. And it's getting louder. Every year. All those NGOs, corporate-funded professionals, energy speculators... let them do the heavy lifting, dammit!

It's not like the climate crisis is news to people in power; they all know it's there, like AIDS, or a fire in the basement; they just wonder what they can possibly do about their drowning, baking constituents.

Besides, I've now come up with a new,
non-Viridian design-journalism scheme which is going to occupy all my efforts for about six months! Rather than being global and theoretical and involving a lot of eco-handwringing, it's going to involve stuff like heavy industry and lots of cool conventions and glamorous parties! Furthermore, rather than being parochial, Texan and American, it will have a decisively Italian flavor! Did you know that Torino, Italy, is the official 'world capital of design' for 2008? Well, neither does anybody else, and I plan to help change that. Link:

You can help, too. There will be more news in September. In August I'm fleeing the heat by heading into the hills to finish my novel. Hey, somebody's gotta write 'em.

In the meantime, here is an article by Viridian guest star Jasmina Tesanovic.


Serbia and the Flames

Today was the hottest day in Serbia ever since the temperature has been measured, 45 C.

If we Serbs were truly interested in our survival as a nation, we'd be scrambling to get some modern hardware for dealing with ecological catastrophes. It's been ten years since Milosevic sold off our forest fire-fighting aircraft and pocketed the money.

We would talk together seriously about last year's massive floods throughout the Danube basin, about this year's deadly heat wave in Serbia and throughout the Balkans, about the state of emergency in our neighbor Greece, about the electricity shortages and blackouts throughout the region, about the woods of our homeland set on fire.

Even tidy Britain is being overwhelmed with their flood catastrophes, while here in Serbia we lack any organized emergency-response because the Serbian state is, by its nature, in an emergency situation all the time.

Instead, the Serbian Parliament spent this day discussing Kosovo: angling for Russian friendship to fend off the US demands, while dodging EU pressure to simply let go of that long-lost province. They have no air conditioning inside the Serbian Parliament, so delegates were comically fanning themselves with official papers while the presidents were sweating in their stuffy official suits.

The Russians promised us practical help for the smoldering forests of the border, but they have yet to send a single Russian helicopter. Meanwhile the firemen and local peasants are saving our burning forest heritage with raw courage and mostly hand-tools.

When will we overcome our local obsessions and realize we are part of a world in a general crisis? The climate crisis isn't for rich countries, it's for every country. Especially us. We had Floods in 2006, now Fires in 2007 == the cause is in the Air, and we will end up with no Earth.

Global warming is invisible... it steals up on us like a slow fever, but our daily lives are being transformed by it. Kids can't get milk at school, eggs might be poisoned with salmonella, the crops are wilting in the fields.

My friend, a pianist, sews clothes by her air-conditioner instead of playing her piano.

I am singing after dark instead of writing at noon.

My friend is writing a book about the future but is not sure if it is the same book he started anymore.

My young friend, the web designer, had her computer collapse. So she went out to walk her three dogs and collapsed from the heat in two hours.

My friend activist from inner Serbia is sleeping in an office where there is an air conditioner. Two weeks ago before, she condemned air conditioners because they burn fossil fuels and make the global warming worse. She also has the very Serbian superstition that cold drafts of air are not good for your bones. Well, any hot draft of air over 40C does not cool your body == it heats your body and can kill you from heatstroke.

My pregnant Albanian friend from Pristina sleeps heavily day and night while her friends in Kosovo demonstrate for some unilateral declaration of independence.

If there is any justice in this injustice, it is that global warming has no borders or nationality, and yet it has guilty and victims. Guilty: all of us who ignored inconvenient truths and sacrificed the ecological conscience for other more or less legitimate priorities. Victims: everyone yet to be born on our damaged planet; when crops wilt and forests burn down to black stumps, does it matter if that wasteland is called Kosovo or Serbia?

Year by year, mankind is becoming justly afraid of our vengeful climate. I have an epiphany: our world in 1999 is becoming all the world. No electrical, no water, no business-as-usual: fear. I remember those bombing days of Serbia and Kosovo when everyone in this land, without exception, was a refugee under a scowling enemy sky.

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