Writers Respond - Kristine Ong Muslim

This month, PEN Center USA is focusing on the current administration's attempts to silence and defund scientists and federal agencies like the EPA. PEN Center USA believes that environmental safety is a fundamental human right, and we, as a first amendment organization must ensure that writers have a space to write freely. We asked writers who have constructed imagined worlds to speak to this issue. Fictional and nonfictional responses were welcome. Find the whole series here.

Kristine Ong Muslim

Climate change is not an abstraction for me. It is not another red dot on a transparent overlay on a geologic world map, not another red dot indicating where the permafrost––the most disturbing of frozen grounds to thaw––is currently melting this time. It is also not a slow-boil hodgepodge of factors that conspire to drown or torch parts of the planet we have long been deluded enough to believe we were entitled to exploit and own. I live in the Philippines, where the projected sea level rise is between 7.6 and 10.2 cm per decade, even as the rest of the world gets a little bit of slack at 3.1 cm. We get to die first ahead of everyone else in the world. Most days, I don’t know if this is a bad thing or not.

Like in many parts of the world and across numerous points in history, the economically disadvantaged ones get the shortest end of the already shortened end of the stick. Sometime around this same time period in 2016, in my birthplace of Kidapawan City, southern Philippines, thousands of farmers, who had nothing to eat after drought exacerbated by climate change destroyed their crops, blocked part of the national highway to voice their demand for rice ration. Violently dispersed by cops, some were shot and killed. Climate change could be a group of picketing rice farmers who couldn’t afford rice to eat so they had to ask the government for help and then end up getting killed. Climate change could be the desperation that would someday drive me to foist the body of a stubborn climate-change denier into an inflatable life raft. Climate change could also just as easily be the sum of all our bad decisions, with some bad decisions offset by initiatives that improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, shore up support for renewables, and lower emission levels. Are we even close—as a civilization—to achieving a deadlock between the camp of bad decisions and the counterbalancing camp? Or is this going to end in a pick-your-poison kind of affair?

The thrust behind Earth Hour is centuries too late. Also centuries too late is calling attention to Earth Hour being centuries too late. I think that defunding potentially life-saving federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is only going to ensure a steady, unrelenting hold on the power button to extinction.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry: Age of BlightButterfly DreamMeditations of a BeastBlack ArcadiaLifeboatGrim SeriesWe Bury the Landscape, and A Roomful of Machines. Her short story collection, Age of Blight, was one of the best books of 2016 according to the Chicago Review of Books, while her poetry collection, Grim Series, was included in the preliminary ballot of the Horror Writers Association’s 2012 Bram Stoker Award for Poetry and was twice nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Elgin Award. 

Her tiny tales were part of The Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions 2012 (selected by Dan Chaon) and the storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Stories of 2011. Her poems and short stories garnered multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Web (Dzanc Books), Best of the Net (Sundress Publications), and the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Dwarf Stars Award and Rhysling Award, as well as appeared in such magazines as AdbustersAsia Literary ReviewBellevue Literary ReviewBoston ReviewConfrontation MagazineContrary MagazineEllipsisExistereFolioNarrative MagazineNew Welsh ReviewSouthwordThe FreemanThe PuritanThe StateVerse Daily, and Weird Fiction Review. Her works were widely anthologized in the likes of The Doll Collection (Terrapin Books, 2016), My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry Anthology (Meerkat Press, 2015), Bestiary: the best of the inaugural demi-decade of A cappella Zoo (2013), Dadaoism (An Anthology) (Chômu Press, 2012), The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry (Aqueduct Press, 2012), Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems (Accents Publishing, 2011), and The Best of Abyss & Apex Volume One (Hadley Rille Books, 2008), among others. Her stories have also been translated into German (in Around the World in more than 80 SF Stories) and soon into Czech (in Kuřata v hadí kleci). 
Born in September 1980 in Kidapawan, a city in the Philippine province of Cotabato, Kristine Ong Muslim grew up and continues to live in a rural town in Maguindanao, southern Philippines.