An ill wind that blows no good

Cast your mind forward two decades and into the 2040s, what might Ireland be like by then? Let’s just hope it’s nothing at all like the hellscape vividly painted in Irish author Daniel Mooney’s new novel, which I reviewed for the Business Post in November.

LAST WEEK saw the latest round of near-apocalyptic warnings from the United Nations on the trajectory of climate change, with a “hellish” 3°C average temperature rise later this century now on the cards.

The problem with warnings about future calamities is that we find it all too easy to slough them off as just more distant thunder. As long as this future remains out of sight, it’s also out of mind.

Limerick-based author Daniel J Mooney has been to hell to reconnoitre the terrain, and the bitter fruits of his odyssey are presented in The 14th Storm, a dystopian novel set in Ireland in 2043.

Our once-green and pleasant land is no more. The first of the devastating storm seasons rolled in over the winter of 2026, and laid waste to much of the west coast. The storms returned, year after year, crushing every attempt to rebuild.

Riots, starvation and political chaos quickly followed as Ireland, largely cut off from the world, descended into a brutish new medieval era where every day is first and foremost about finding a way to survive.

The old world of broadband, central heating, foreign holidays and commuting has been scrubbed from view and consigned to a corner of the collective memory known as the Before. Our long-abandoned, half-flooded motorway network is now an ambush zone for unwary travellers.

Government of a sort does still exist in Dublin, but its influence doesn’t extend far beyond the Pale. The remains of cities such as Limerick (with its power from the still-functioning Ardnacrusha generator) and Galway function more as local fiefdoms, complete with strongmen and militias.

The most feared people in the land are the agents employed by the Department of Environmental Justice, known as Doejays. They move swiftly and purposefully through the ruined landscape in search of their prey: climate deniers. Summary justice is dispatched with a knife through the chest.

Mooney’s novel follows the travels of two Doejays, Malley and Broderick. They wade through the blood of strangers to track down their targets. The simmering anger, rage even, propels them forward.

The world of plenty is gone forever. “But it didn’t magically evaporate. It didn’t vanish,” Malley muses. “We didn’t wake up from a dream. It was taken. It was torn from us. And the people who stole it are walking among us.”

Malley is the survivor of a vicious assault and carries deep scars. She is propelled by a sense of justice and has become a ninja-like master of violence. Her Doejay partner Broderick, son of climatologists who tried in vain to raise the alarm, lusts after bloody vengeance against everyone who lied about the climate crisis.

Is it far-fetched that people who denied climate change might be hunted down like war criminals for their collusion in bringing about our collective ruin? At first I found the premise tenuous in the extreme, but within the bleak, brutal landscape Mooney has painted, it did satisfy that most human of urges: to find a scapegoat, and to make them pay.

The setting is suffocatingly local, as if the world beyond our shores had ceased to exist, appearing only in brief allusions. “Stories about people’s blood boiling in their veins by the equator, and the hordes of refugees moving like vast seas of people, seeking colder climes, seeking something more than endless misery; these must surely be exaggerations.”

Mooney’s novel nods in the direction of The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s grim classic, but finds its distinctive voice. The fight scenes (there are many) are visceral and bruising, yet oddly compelling, amid swirling dervishes of fists, knees and blades. The storm itself is portrayed as another menacing character, taunting and howling like a vengeful banshee.

Yet, for most people inhabiting this future Ireland, “there was no more energy left to give life, save for that expended on not dying every day”.

While the storyline is clunky and somewhat disjointed in places, Mooney’s characterisation of his chief protagonist, Malley, in particular, is vivid and memorable. She stayed in my mind long after I’d finished reading, as did the vision Mooney had painted of once-familiar landscapes: our own paradise lost, never to be regained.

The 14th Storm, by Daniel J Mooney; Legend Press, €13.99

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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