“Cli-Fi” is a new genre in fiction. Here’s my first and intentionally ridiculous shot at it. If you enjoy this, please donate to Grist.org, an excellent, and often funny, news and commentary site about climate events and sustainability. I’ve become a supporter and you can, too.
The following article was discovered in a time capsule buried at an as-yet unidentified university campus in the former Western United States.
Eventually, the world became so networked and measured it was easy to observe every species on the planet in such detail that we discovered many other intelligences at work around us. We studied ourselves, and like the bees watching a returning scout’s waggle dance we eventually recognized that there are patterns of intelligence everywhere and that those patterns differ based, in part, on our measuring them. It seemed as though we were gods able to predict our future, to program events as it would be best, or from an actuarial perspective, the least risky, they turn out. We felt great, but we looked about for things and species to suspect. A tyranny of probabilistic analysis of the behavior of other species established a hierarchy of intelligences, monitoring each carefully for advancement and potential threats to humanity. We suspect the cows were the worst.
Cows everywhere stand in the same places or wander the same paths around a pasture during the day, not only lying in alignment to the magnetic North Pole, but repeating patterns of standing and walking and standing again, in the same places as each cow did previously, but at regular intervals, so it was inevitable that we recognized a time awareness, as well as a complex geometric calculus, in the bovine species.
This put the cow high on the threat list. But where exactly did they lie in the threat matrix relative to the eagle, dolphin and octopus, each ripe with evolutionary potential? Top scientists were deployed to discover the truth about the bovine threat. Of course, the early discovery through the analysis of webcams used by dairy farmers that cows walked and stood in patterns, is well known. It had been a matter of common sense in farming communities for decades, but the press picked up on it with the scientific discovery. Coming on the heels of the realization that dogs were actually smarter than and in greater control of subservient species than cats, the lens of concern shifted to the providers of our milk, cream and other dairy goods.
At first the studies focused on the repetitive patterns and the cows’ ability to course correct when obstacles were placed in their way. The cows variously stopped at the obstacle and defaulted to repeating only their pattern of shifting the orientation of their stance to the pole, walked around or leaped, usually accomplishing of the crushing of the obstacles. Rocks did stymie the bovines who took the latter course of action when blocked by a boulder, and many test subjects were put down in the field as a result. Moving cows to new pastures, the so-called “greener fields” studies of the 2029 to 2034 era, likewise produced unpredictable results. While almost all cows moved from one pasture to another adopted a new pattern, path and timeframe of the repetition, a few did not and instead recreated their previous pattern, path and timeframes despite differences in topography, obstacles and occasional EMP bursts set off by scientists to disrupt the bovine time axis, if one does exist.
We think we’re onto one thing when another sneaks up. At this point, there was clear evidence of intelligence, time-awareness and, it became obvious only after years of study that cows where constantly performing differential equations in their heads in order to keep perfect track of their longitude and latitude, we concluded they possessed the capacity to someday split the atom.
The course-correction epoch gave way to the confrontational behavior studies, in which man challenged cow, examining the cows’ reactions for signs of resistance or rebellion. It was mostly new ways to inflict death that researchers found. Cows were poked with eight-foot pikes, their heart rates, skin galvanic response and brain cells were monitored. Many of these studies, which took place at religious or corporate universities seeking to buttress the public’s concerns about the cows in order to distract everyone from the growing evidence of global warming, reported escalated brutality among the researchers, who ignored the primary evidence in the fact all cows that entered these programs were eventually killed in the programs in order to pursue reports that in the last seconds of a cow’s life it is terribly angry. Grant proposals poured in to pursue the question, if that fading anger recorded as cows were gored, bazooka’d, dropped on land mines or hauled into slaughter houses, as they provided a large sample of angry cows to measure, could at some point in the future be linked to the bovine capacity for complex mathematics?
One animal fought back. Unlike the chimps, orangutans and gorillas who allied to crush humanity in the popular science fiction series that reached its 49th installment in 2051, this bovine, given the name “Willard” by his trainer, would be the exception that proved the rule, as he was the only cow (or steer, as we follow the convention of adopting the feminine when referring collectively to mammals whose species are characterized by their relationship to the dairy industry. — Ed.) when Willard tore his trainer’s adam’s apple from his neck with his bared flattened teeth. He had been savaged with a chainsaw on the hindquarters. The researchers’ abuses where chronicled in the Congressional investigations that followed.
Meanwhile, the pasture observation movement in science reasserted itself as the terminal weather effects of global warming took hold. An astonishing phenomenon associated with the heavy fogs that blanketed the unflooded valleys of western Washington was reported just as the Willard story broke in the news. The climate was ignored by most mainstream researchers, who juiced the bovine threat to win additional funding. As the general sense of doom increased, we blamed the cows for the fog.
Heavy fogs often obscured the camera views on the farms, sometimes for minutes and often for hours. We don’t know when a new behavior started, but we are certain it accelerated as the fogs have increased in frequency and tenacity. It went unnoticed for so long and all seven films we have of early fogs shows the same behavior: The cows would move when they were unobserved. Let us be very specific: No human witness or camera has been able to see the cows move. They changed their pole orientation from their standard pattern to a new one. As heavy fogs became more frequent, we discovered through additional human analysis, that sometimes the cows switched places with one another while obscured from observation, assuming the patterns of their new “role” and carrying them on.
The cows were cagey. One could not catch them at it. Ground motion sensors failed to capture their tread against the background resonance of the busy planet. Researchers using cloaking devices to approach fog enshrouded herds were confronted by cows passively chewing, lowing and looking about, apparently disinterestedly, as teams stood by to capture no results. It became a widespread controversy, reported upon heavily before the cows died out, based on the well-worn slogan, familiar from the t-shirts, “What are they up to?” The phrase appeared as a standing banner on the news networks. There were the t-shirts worn by the on-air reporters after the fad hit the global scale. There was speculation the cows were experimenting on us. A lunatic fringe developed a theory about quantum transportation of cows by cows, perhaps not of this world, which felt to many like a plausible answer in a world that has changed so surprisingly so fast. We wanted you to know that this was one of the unsolved questions of our time, but other disasters intervened. Sorry about that.