Short stories are an extremely accessible type of Ecocriticism, due to their wide audience range and availability, for example, China Miéville’s short story Covehithe was posted on the Guardian website in 2011. Miéville uses Covehithe to play on our conceptions of what we class as ‘natural’, bringing oil rigs to life whilst commenting on the militarisation of oil. As a type of speculative fiction, his writing can also be classified within the genre of the new weird.
When looking at this text through the five components of energy conscious criticism, (Depletion, Variety, Inequality, Production and Invisibility), we are able to understand that the text may have been written this in opposition of oil spills being labelled as ‘natural disasters’, as there is nothing natural about the extraction of oil.
Instead of focusing on oil depletion, Miéville looks at the depletion of the environment, at the hands of oil extraction and human invention. When approaching the oil rig site the narrator states that ‘the smell should have been sappy and muddy and of the sea’, suggesting that the overpowering smell of oil has infected the natural landscape. However, there are references made to the natural world reclaiming its landscape, such as cliff erosion causing roads to fall into the ocean, in the sense that ‘the sea’s taking it all back’. They walk past ‘tarmac so old it was becoming landscape’, which is a juxtaposing phrase. In the present day tarmac is a prevalent part of our landscapes, although, in this sense Miéville is using landscape as a way to describe and define aspects that are wholly natural, in other word, not man-made and an original part of the environment, blurring the line between the two slightly.
Miéville recreates the birthing of the oil rigs in a way which mirrors turtles hatching. The rigs move in to land to lay their eggs and then once hatched, people ‘usher the rest safely to the water, where the baby rigs has been tagged and released to scuttle below the waves’. Relating to his genre of writing, by making the familiar weird in this situation, it forces the reader to think about the idea of what is classed as natural, and what isn’t. This strange situation is also spoken about ironically in the text. Dughan’s daughter says, ‘they laid eggs, so many people said, they must have sex. There was no logic there. They were oil rigs.’ By highlighting the idea that there is no logic in oil rigs having sex to create babies, whilst juxtaposing the normality of oil rigs laying eggs, is completely absurd. This demonstrates how illogical it is that we classify oil spills as natural disaster, because for it to be natural, oil rigs have to be alive.
Conclusively, for an oil spill to be a natural disaster, oil extraction must be a natural process. By bringing the oil rigs to life in a completely nonsensical way, it brings awareness to the fact that man-made errors being labelled as natural disasters should be viewed, just as strangely as baby oil rigs hatching on a beach. This is something that needs to end, so that we can begin to take responsibility for our actions in polluting the earth. Just because oil extraction is viewed as an essential aspect of living, it doesn’t make it necessary, or indeed natural.
Pollution Solution: As a natural solution to oil spills, the Canadian company Encore3 has starting manufacturing oil clean-up kits using the milkweed fibres. The fibres can absorb more than four times the amount of oil that the polypropylene materials currently used in oil clean up can.
Miéville, China. ‘Covehithe’, 2011.
Treacy, Megan, Treehugger, 2014. Online: https://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/milkweed-could-be-natures-answer-oil-spills.html