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Monday, May 27, 2024
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HomeCulture WarTwenty Eighty-Four

Twenty Eighty-Four

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IT WAS a bitterly cold day in April and the electric clocks should have been striking thirteen. But they were stopped, because the power had been cut again.

Winston Smith was chilled to the bone as he made his way to his flat in decrepit Miliband Mansions. With an effort, he kept his expression neutral, clamping his teeth to stop them chattering. The Party said the world was boiling, and any word or action which contradicted this might be picked up by the telescreen drones which hovered above every street, operated by the Green Guardian patrols. Then the Climate Police would swoop and you would be arrested for the ultimate transgression, the unforgivable betrayal, the most heinous offence against humanity . . . Climatecrime.

So Winston carefully averted his gaze from the motionless blades of the wind turbine that loomed 200 metres above the neighbourhood. He did not dare glance at the grimy, cracked solar panels which covered every rooftop. There had been no wind or sun for days, and any power still left in Cenbat, the district’s Central Battery Station, was being held back for Hate the Deniers Week.

As Winston slowly climbed seven flights of stairs to his flat, on each landing an enormous goblin-like face framed by pigtails gazed from a poster on the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you when you move. The caption beneath it ran: BIG MOTHER IS WATCHING YOU.

Inside the flat, a rasping voice from the telescreen on the wall was jabbering about the latest extreme weather events. There were record hurricanes in the Pacific and the polar ice caps were melting more quickly than ever. His voice rising to a shriek, the announcer said that because of the deepening climate crisis, Big Mother was urging the Zeroes – the youth wing of the Party – to track down and denounce Deniers, especially if they were their parents.

Winston – a smallish, frail figure, the meagreness of his body emphasised by the orange overalls which were the uniform of the Party – moved over to the window, hoping that the radiator that was supposed to heat the flat was warm.  As usual, it was stone cold. The tepid water from the Communal Air Source Heat Pump ten blocks away had no hope of reaching Miliband Mansions.

A kilometre away, Winston’s place of work, the Ministry of Sustainability – Minisus, in Renewablespeak – towered above the cityscape. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring 300 metres into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on the face of the building in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:


CARBON IS DEATH

NET ZERO IS LIFE

DENIAL IS MADNESS

Three other similar structures dominated the view: the Ministry of Renewables, the Ministry of Rewilding and the Ministry of Compliance. The Ministry of Compliance was the really frightening one. The building had no windows and was surrounded by a maze of barbed-wire entanglements, steel doors and hidden machine-gun nests. Inside, so it was rumoured, captured Deniers faced the tender ministrations of the Climate Police before they were vaporised.

This, Winston thought with a sort of vague distaste, this was London, chief city of Biodiversity Strip One, itself the third most populous of the provinces of Arcadia.

He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been like this. Had it really once been bustling and lively, crammed with people going freely about their business, with cars powered by petrol engines, with planes flying overhead, with a million lights shining at night, with bars and restaurants that served beer instead of soybean broth and meat instead of mashed insects? Or were the streets always, as now, full of gaunt, lethargic men and women, shuffling to the Eco Cafes for their daily allowance of protein? According to the excited telescreen announcer, cockroach and termite were on today’s menu.

Had Winston as a child once been on an outing to the countryside, seeing rolling green hills and fields, and not kilometre upon kilometre of turbines and solar farms? Had he once really seen cows grazing and birds swooping? It was no use, he could not remember. Nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright-lit tableaux occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible.

Winston was only a baby when The Great Climate War broke out in 2046. The Deniers were bloodily defeated by the Party and more than a million prisoners subsequently vanished. With food production drastically curtailed by the rigid climate laws, the population was split into Party members and so-called Prues – Persons Rated Useless Eaters. Party members were given food, work and housing, while Prues were left to fend for themselves.

In 2050 came the Covid (Variant) pandemic. Like the strain that had been experimentally unleashed on the world in 2019, it was harmless to most. But it swept through the starving, skeletal hordes of the Prues, killing 30million. The Party then declared that the population was at an acceptable level to face the climate crisis.

Winston’s flat had a small alcove where he could be out of sight of the telescreen. Mind racing, hands trembling, he sat down there, opened a table drawer and took out a penholder, a bottle of ink, and a thick, quarto-sized blank book with a red back and a marbled cover. He dipped the pen into the ink and faltered for a second. To mark the paper, to begin a diary, was the decisive act of resistance.

Steeling himself, he wrote in small clumsy letters: ‘April 4th, 2084.’ He sat back. A sense of complete helplessness had descended upon him. To begin with, he did not know with any certainty that this was 2084. After the war, the Party had declared Year Net Zero, but he had lost track of the revised calendar.

For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he writing this diary? He thought for a moment, then, reinvigorated, wrote: ‘To the future, to the unborn, to those who might one day live in freedom from lies about so-called global warming. From the age of compliance, from the age of the Climate Police, from the age of Big Mother – greetings! Know this . . . carbon is life! Net Zero is death! Denial is sanity! I hate Big Mother!’ 

Exhausted, Winston stopped writing, closed the book and put it back in the drawer. Despite his tiredness, he felt elated. It was only words, but it was a start. 


He had been so engrossed in his forbidden task that he had not noticed the telescreen drone hovering outside the window like a giant bluebottle, its powerful camera recording everything he had written. By the time he looked up, it had vanished.

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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