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It is apparently canon that there are animals and plants on the Earth's surface in Neo's day.

However, in the first movie, The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo that one of the things known for certain is that humans "burned the sky" in order to deny solar engery to the machines, which in turn led to the humans who survived the War being plugged into the Matrix to provide bioelectric energy to supply the machines.

If there's not enough sunlight for solar power, how can there be enough to grow plants to serve as food for animals? Low levels I can understand -- house plants, at least, thrive in conditions too dim for solar panels to produce cost-effective power -- but every surface scene we see in the trilogy is as dark as a cloudy night; light coming only from the machines. That wouldn't begin to support photosynthesis, which means all animal life would starve in, at most, a matter of a few years.

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    I'm not sure what more could be said than in my answer to the linked question. One of the panels in The Miller's Tale says that life "somehow persisted" and another suggests that wheat acquired a mutation to thrive despite the relative lack of sunlight. – Null Aug 1 '17 at 18:39
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    @void_ptr They will for a while, but eating meat produces about 10% as much meat as it consumes. Without plants, animals will starve, unavoidably. Null points out that low-light wheat was hand-waved, but that won't explain a monkey -- most monkeys don't eat grain, and they won't evolve fast enough to avoid starvation. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 1 '17 at 18:44
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    @MagikarpMaster With dozens of previous Ones (as shown by the Architect when Neo reached his office), the middle figure seems a reasonable minimum. And wildlife can't evolve in the (at most) fewer than ten years after the plants die before everything starves. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 1 '17 at 19:20
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    This is assuming that the Architect wasn't messing with Neo. Remember that the Architect had to demoralize Neo enough to realize that he can't win, but not demoralize him enough to prevent him from starting the new Zion. The human resistance is a necessary pressure valve that keeps the Matrix running. So one can make the case that the Architect was lying. And there was a time in which the Earth's entire atmosphere drastically changed yet life persisted. There is bacteria that lives in boiling tar pits. Life could have evolved from that. – Magikarp Master Aug 1 '17 at 19:28
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    The film basically ignores the obvious consequences of the humans blocking off the sunlight to defeat the machines, which would be to immediately plunge the world into an Ice Age of epic proportions. Lack of sunlight would be the least of their worries as ice sheets eventually cover vast areas of the globe and average temp dropping below zero everywhere. The oceans would gradually freeze over, also the death of all photosynthetic plants would mean the end of new oxygen production and oxygen levels would eventually diminish to below the level required to support any human or animal life. – user22478 Aug 1 '17 at 21:07
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The surface isn't unlit, just very dim. We see numerous views of the outside world in the Matrix, Animatrix and Matrix Comics and all of those portray the surface as being very gloomy rather than utterly eclipsed.

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The Matrix - Revolutions

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Animatrix - Final Flight of the Osiris

enter image description here Matrix Webcomic - Hunters and Collectors.

That being the case, robust low-light plant species such as fungi, various lichens, mosses and water-borne plants like duckweed and Sagittaria would survive just fine even with the general collapse of the ecosystem. We see in Miller's Tale that certain larger species such as ducks have survived, presumably by eating plants and insects and we even see that high-light species like wheat are able (with mutation) to live on.

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We do know, however know that there are No Flowers in the Real World

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  • It's worth pointing out that while there is heavy cloud cover that is opaque to visible light, it probably isn't opaque to the UV part of the spectrum. Also worth noting that life persists in even more inhospitable conditions, such as in the very deep parts of the ocean. To quote Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way." – Irishpanda Sep 1 '17 at 19:40
  • @Irishpanda - Except that it's not opaque. Humans can see unaided, which means that it's at least bright enough to grow low-light plants, fungi and parasitic feeders like mycoheterotrophs. Animals can survive by eating those – Valorum Sep 1 '17 at 19:52
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    True, my point is that it may not even be dim in other wavelengths. Now that I think of it, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned that something similar has already happened on this planet (well, minus the bit about fields of radioactive glass). Just ask a dinosaur. – Irishpanda Sep 1 '17 at 20:06
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From your question, I assume that you believe that Zion and the world around is the real world. The reason why there are so many inconsistencies regarding this world, for example :

  • The point you raise
  • No cataclismic climate change (nuclear winter and/or greenhouse effect)
  • The weird use of something as inefficient as human heat as an energy source
  • Neo having powers

is that it's a part of the Matrix.

Most characters of the movie believe (at least in the begining) that they are in the real world. The spectator also believes it at some point, but only because Morpheus states it as a fact during a scene where he explains the plot. On the other hand, the Architect explains that the Choosen One's purpose is to reboot the Matrix, rebooting Zion in the process. How could it be possible if Zion was out of the Matrix.

Also, the whole trilogy revolves around the Illusion of Choice. It's te innovation added to the Matrix which stabilizes the humans in it. About that, the Architect declares that the perfect world Matrix was a disaster until they added options : the humans needed to have at least the impression of having a choice.

That choice is Zion : The humans that are the most prone to contest the reality around them will be met with the choice between staying in the Matrix or escaping it. While that choice makes no difference, it makes them cope with reality : they believe they are out.

This idea become even more obvious if you take into account that the Matrix is inspired by 1984.

In this novel, the main character grows doubt regarding Big Brother and joins the clandestine opposition, spending the rest of the story fighting the wall of lies set by the government from the outside. The final twist of the novel is that the book that inspired the opposition was written by Big Brother for that exact purpose. The idea is that when you aim for control, the best way to have no opposition growing is to create and control it yourself. That way, it's an additional layer of control in which the free thinkers will live in an illusion of contestation.

The point being : Zion has not to be realistic. It has to be believable. The dialog about how chicken tastes and what the Matrix knows about it is very relevant in that regard : The characters figure chicken's taste from their experience in the Matrix and admit that they don't know for sure if it tastes the same in the real world. We can add that for as far as they know, maybe chickens don't even exist. So the fact that Zion is flawed is relevant, since they have no real world to compare.

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    There are a lot of problems with the theory that the real world / Zion is another level of the Matrix. See the points I raise against that theory here. It is far from settled as a solution to this question. – Null Aug 2 '17 at 16:07
  • @Null The Oracle lies on at least one occurence. There is no reason why she couldn't do it on others. She even states that she focuses more on saying what people need to hear than what's actually true. – ksjohn Aug 2 '17 at 16:10
  • Whether or not the Oracle lied about how Neo controlled the machines in the real world is beside the point -- there are still a lot of inconsistencies with your theory. (And she was somewhat corroborated by the Architect, who has entirely different motives.) – Null Aug 2 '17 at 16:13
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    The Matrix-within-a-Matrix fan theory has been comprehensively debunked, not least because it would have made the three films utterly pointless from a narrative perspective. – Valorum Aug 2 '17 at 16:43
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    @ksjohn - I don't feel like you're seeing it. If the Architect is capable of creating a convincing reality, then why the need for Zion in the first place? – Valorum Aug 3 '17 at 7:37

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