If you clicked this article, you’re probably already familiar with Fringe, but what you might not have realized is the underlying message on climate change present throughout the show’s narrative.
Walter Bishop, the resident mad scientist of the Fringe team represents human hubris and our desire to encroach on nature’s boundaries for the betterment of society, but without the foresight or consideration for long-term consequences. Younger Walter Bishop has no problem pushing these barriers. Whatever he sets his mind to, he can accomplish and he does so in the name of inflating his ego, power, and legend.
Corporations & Industry
It’s Walter’s decisions and his encouragement of William Bell that created Massive Dynamic, a giant corporation with its fingers in every industry around the world, driving scientific progress. Does that sound familiar to any giant companies present in our reality? It should.
Like in Fringe, corporations rule our world. Among the most destructive of them, are oil companies that extract a limited supply of fossil fuels with zero consideration for the future. Their only motivations are profit and power. Their actions lead to the destruction of ocean and land habitats, as well as pollute our atmosphere, raising global temperatures. This temperature rise alters the climate and stresses global ecosystems, including those that we depend on for survival.
Walter isn’t completely irredeemable and that is the brilliance of his character. While he is motivated by power and status, he does have a heart. His most destructive action occurred through an act of kindness driven by fatherly love for Peter. It’s still motivated by self-interest but is relatable to the audience. What wouldn’t a parent do for their child? He knew the potential consequences of his actions, He knew that crossing over into the other universe to save the version of his son who didn’t succumb to his illness could break the fabric of the universe. That’s exactly what happened.
In our reality, poor decisions aren’t driven by desperate acts of love. It’s through capitalism and greed that corporations destroy the only planet we have.
The consequences of Walter’s actions plagued the alternate universe rapidly and dramatically. It caused a blight, which led to mass die-offs of crops. Entire species of animals went extinct. The air quality suffers, requiring citizens to use supplemental air to carry them through periods of low oxygen. Millions have perished in the decades after Walter’s ill-fated decision. Society has turned into a dystopia.
These environmental symptoms in this alternative universe are comparable to the effects of human-caused climate change and our burning of fossil fuels. In Fringe, the symptoms eventually start to plague the primary universe, leading to the desperate use of advanced technology to bridge both worlds in an attempt to heal them.
Most of us know that the continued use of fossil fuels will bring about deadly consequences, but most of us ignore this reality as our climate slowly falls to ruin. The alternate universe in Fringe represents the reality of the harm we cause to our environment.
The primary universe in Fringe, nearly free from the consequences, reflects our willingness as a society to turn a blind eye to these problems. In our world, we view these issues as if they exist in an alternate universe. We pretend as if there is no issue; the problem grows. In Fringe, the destruction becomes so significant in the alternate universe that it bleeds into the primary universe where nobody can ignore it. Fringe is a commentary on what happens when you ignore world-altering problems. It’s telling us about what will happen to our world if we don’t take action to prevent climate catastrophe.
What can we do?
Society can choose to do better. The average person can adopt green technologies and vote for politicians who support the environment. Corporations can choose to transition away from fossil fuels. Yeah, I don’t have much confidence that the fossil fuel industry will choose to do anything out of the kindness of their hearts. I assume they won’t. The Fringe writers probably thought this way too, which is why the final season dealt with Observer control and our Fringe team’s efforts to reset the timeline so that they never invade.
Though, Fringe isn’t entirely pessimistic about our future. It does leave us with the message that while technology can cause worldwide destruction if left in the wrong hands, it can also provide the solution and make a better world when left in the right ones. It only takes a little forward thinking, compassion, and empathy to choose to use technology to heal the world.
About the Creator
I am an atheist, liberal, humanist and skeptic. I care about the world and want to change it for the better and hopefully improve societal well-being along the way. I'm interested in science, history and mythology.