The sci-fi classic 'Soylent Green' this year celebrates its 49th anniversary. Why the big deal, as opposed to waiting for the 50th next year? Because the film is set in the year 2022. One WaPo piece, e.g.
has already explored the alleged "similarities" between the portrayed year and this one, but it's mainly all a stretch as readers can discern just from this trailer of the original 1973 film:
In fact, as I will show, the film's assorted data points, low points, and "forecasts" are a lot more apropos of the state of our nation in 100 years. Here are the main points of reference to consider:
- Soylent Green: Software engineer Rob Rhinehart’s real-life Soylent meal replacements in 2013. Soylent today is available in powder and bar form. It “meets the Food and Drug Administration’s standards for a whole raft of healthy claims," However, unlike in the movie, it's not made of any part of re-processed human corpses! (Which is what our cop hero 'Thorn' discovered at the very end.)
'Furniture': As depicted in the movie, adult females are treated as "furniture" if not attached or employed in any official capacity. They are used then re-used, and if a cohort dies or is killed (like Simonson in the film) they remain at the abode for the next owner, buyer, renter. Obviously there is no parallel to that horrific circumstance in our 2022. (Sex slavery is not exactly the same thing, though it may appear so at a superficial level, but viewing the film will dispense that.)
Technology: The technology depicted, alas, is a lot like we saw in 1973. There are no cell phones, no drones visible, and the video games available - such as shown in Simonson's elite digs - more or less are like later versions of "Pong". On the larger scale, it is evident the main power grids have collapsed - likely from excess demand so we see the electric infrastructure, what there is (mainly for the upper 0.0001%), is on its last legs, and power for the masses iffy at best. Saul has to get on his bicycle and peddle hard as a form of mechanical energy generation to keep lights on, etc. No one can travel because there aren't any means or modes of transport. All of which would be expected assuming the trajectory we're on, by 2122.
Books-education: Books no longer exist except in small, cloistered enclaves where the few remaining scholars (called "books") gather to do research and share their findings with each other. From the appearance of the landscape in which Saul and Thorn exist there also don't appear to be any kids. At least none I could see. It is as if the mere struggle to line up for daily water and "food" (Soylent varieties of "tasteless, odorless crud" in Saul's parlance) have sapped the energy from all living adults to even reproduce.
- Population: The movie forecasts NYC with a population of 40 million, or about 5 times the number density of today. That is near preposterous given there would barely be space to move, let alone live. In the film Thorn notes homicides being logged at 137 per day, and this would be expected in a city so densely populated. We know aggression is triggered by increased population density and crimes of all forms explode, especially in a setting of dwindling resources. We don't have such a condition in NYC today, thank goodness.
Apart from that the writer (Harry Harrison) and film producers, failed to envisage how land, rental prices would skyrocket - leaving the city mostly unaffordable. The greatest human numbers conceivable for the city - even by 2122? Maybe 9.5 million. More likely far less, as the exodus from urban areas that began with the Covid pandemic continues for the next 100 years.
Assisted Suicide: There is assisted suicide in the film's version of 2022, as there is in ours The difference is that it is carried out by a techie in a centralized theater kind of setting. It is assumed - and rightly so - this world is so god-awful horrific that many will choose a final escape and that is the case with Thorn's 'book', Saul. (Especially after learning the secret of Soylent Green, that it is basically reprocessed human corpses.) The process is that the person is given a robe then a nice comfy couch to lie down on while viewing a 30 minute video of scenes from the old Earth. The one where river waters and the ocean were still clear, mountains had snow, and cities weren't overrun with garbage, smog and people. By the end of the video the person is put to sleep, permanently with those visions of what the planet used to be dancing in his or her head.
- Heat/ Greenhouse effect: The elderly character, a "police book" named Saul Roth (played by Edward G. Robinson) refers at one point to a "heat wave" (in the 90s) all year round. This means we have passed the first year of no seasons (projected to be 2040, by David Suzuki) and are at the cusp of the runaway Greenhouse effect or just past it. Indeed, the rate of ocean warming, e.g.
Means that, as reported in the UK Guardian, the oceans have absorbed heat equivalent to 7 Hiroshima- scale atomic bombs, detonating each second, 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
According to the next to last IPCC report:
"Crossing the 2°C global warming level in the mid-term period (2041–2060) is very likely to occur under the very high GHG emissions scenario (SSP5-8.5), "
In that SSP5 -8.5 scenario we will see an increase of 5.7 C by 2100, which is the level expected by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - which noted two years ago that IPCC climate report understated the threat. By logical extension, this current one also does. Do the math. If the current rate of CO2 concentration increase is at 2.5 W/ m2 the CO2 concentration is increasing at 2.5 ppm/ yr.
Then add 75 yrs. projected increase to the current mean yearly value of 415 ppm. In 75 years that means an additional (2.5 ppm/ yr. x 75 yrs.) = 187.5 ppm or 415 ppm + 187.5 ppm = 602.5 ppm. But most climate scientists - such as Prof. Gunther Weller- take 600 ppm as the threshold for the runaway greenhouse effect.
The projected 75 years yields close to the year 2100, e.g. 2097. But well within the limits of uncertainty for the actual runaway Greenhouse to begin. Thus, 2122 could be the actual start. How so? Well, the fact the heat is unrelenting as depicted in the film, and also clearly all the food chains have collapsed-- which is why beef is next to impossible to find (not enough water to support cattle raising) , a head of lettuce, 2 tomatoes and a leek retail for $279 and a jar of strawberry jam can cost $150. The only form of nutrition for the billions of hoi polloi then is the stuff ("tasteless crud") produced by the Soylent Corp. - and we know where that comes from!