Swarm is set during times of peak oil. Well, post peak oil, actually. Deeply post peak oil.
Very simply, peak oil is the theory that there is a peak at which we’ve tapped all the easily available oil reserves in the world.
After that, petroleum becomes harder to find and more expensive to extract.
You know the drill: higher gas prices, a shrinking economy, headlines about ocean wells going deeper than ever before and new, dangerous and dirty technologies like the tar sands and fracking.
We protest, we cry corporate greed, and then we drive our car to work and buy bananas at the 24-hour supermarket.
What’s the answer? I have no idea.
This is the world that I wanted to explore in Swarm. One that seems to be echoing in the news more and more since I started writing in the winter of 2009, after gas prices climbed to $1.40 a litre and the housing bubble burst in the U.S.
Things seemed crazy and, while imagining my “futuristic” collapsing city, I pulled details off the Internet.
Sandy, my main character, sees, as I did, images of mountain lions lounging around an algae-filled pool in a foreclosed house in a California suburb. She talks about the increase of stray dogs and cats, abandoned by cash-strapped owners. Morgues and funeral homes fill up with bodies their families can’t afford to claim. Police and firefighters are laid off. All true.
What amazed me at the time and still does, is that nobody in the mainstream seemed to be speaking about the role peak oil had to play. Sure, there were “radical” websites, the Transition Town movement and so-called forward thinkers (really realists) like Jeff Rubin and James Howard Kuntzler, but you didn’t hear anything on CNN or CTV.
My aim in writing Swarm was to address this truth and explore the corresponding human experience.
What would it mean to be a young person, told you could have it all, suddenly cast adrift in this historic time? In the face of sheer survival, coming down from a hundred years of the oil-fueled capitalist trip, wouldn’t we still want what we want and strive to get it? And, in a very human way, wouldn’t we desire those things we always have – love, family, community, connection – but be faced with confusion about how to live?
As the fracking debate heats up and Imperial Oil works on sinking drills deeper than ever before in the Beaufort Sea and climate change wreaks havoc on our planet, we need to talk about our future. All of us, not just the supposed “fringes,” the supposed “environmentalists.”
Swarm is currently on the Canada Reads Top 40 list in the search for the “the book that could change Canada.” There are many excellent conversations waiting to be had with all of these novels. Please vote to make this one of them so we can broaden this conversation, broadcast this truth.
Image from Truthout.org