This popped up in the Firefox feed of stories on offer when you open a new web page. It’s something that’s been on mind for a while – “Return half the planet to nature.”
“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
– Ursula K Le Guin
No one would have believed in the first years of the twenty-first century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s – which is just as well, because they weren’t. Earth was a mess. The oceans were littered with the waste of humanity’s profligacy. The politicians argued over meaningless trivialities. Alien invaders taking control might have even been preferable to those mired down in poverty and despair. Or a nice friendly apocalypse to wipe the Earth clean. No such luck. But if there was no single catastrophe that brought the world to its knees and humanity to its senses, there were points of light and hope. There was the Dutch kid who didn’t just stick his thumb in the hole in the dyke, but set out to capture all the plastics in the seas. There were the make-do-and-menders who furnished their homes out of upcycled pallets and drinks bottles. There were the architects and engineers who stopped competing over the biggest pile of concrete and started building ‘plyscrapers’ instead: wooden towers, taller than trees that changed the urban environment forever. There were the city planners who grew up reading sci-fi stories about ‘Caves of Steel’ and arcologies and pneumatic trains. There was the migration off the land and into the cities, leaving vast swathes naturally depopulated. It never happened all at once, but change happened. People started stepping up, accepting the responsibilities that came with their rights. Meanness and ill-will still exist today, and the world still has its problems, but the environment is getting better.
So what happened? Like I said, it wasn’t any one thing that caused all this. But one big thing that happened was the UN white paper. And my grandmother was a part of that…
Andriana perched on the edge of Will’s desk and tried to resist the temptation to roll the document in her hands. It would have been tricky, because it was 150 pages, but she’d only thermally bound it thirty minutes ago, and the anxiety was building up inside her. Anne was trying to keep her head down at her desk, and failing. Anandini and Kwesi were trying to be casual by the water cooler, arguing the merits of various independent coffee shops. Odette, as ever, was running late.
Andriana tried to decide if she should knock on the Director’s door, or wait to be called in. When she’d woken that morning, she had been fired up: she would stride into the office thump the document down on her boss’s desk and demand that it be taken to the Secretary General. Since then she’d flip-flopped approximately every five minutes between this (uncharacteristically) decisive stance and something which she’d tried to convince herself was more moderate, but which might be construed by others to be wishy-washy. Every now and again the cycle was broken by a desperate need to be sick. This had not occurred, so far.
This was the big one though. If this report was accepted, with her as first author, then she could do anything. Perhaps she’d get the field assignment that she’d been angling for. Maybe promotion. Maybe…but what if it bombed? The nausea started welling up again… She ruthlessly supressed it and with a surge of confidence came back to the starting point of decisiveness. She stood up and felt the eyes of everyone in the team turn to look at her. At this point two doors opened simultaneously. Odette threw open the door form the stair well and flurried in, shrugging off her light coat and apologising for being late, juggling coat, brief case and reusable coffee-cup; at the same moment, the boss threw open her door:
“I cannot hear myself think with you all breathing so heavily outside of my door! You’d all better come in and tell me what this is all about.”
They trooped in and the Director shuffled papers around so that she could sit at the head of the six-seater table that was to one side of the room. Everyone coveted this office, with the big picture window with the amazing view. Everyone knew exactly what they would do when they moved in, what furniture they’d have. Some favoured the floor to ceiling book case that filled one wall. The book case was the embodient of the topic they were here to discuss. Roughly half the cubes were bursting with books, documents, antique CDS; the others were practically bare, with just one or two tastefully arranged knick-knacks and souvenirs. Several held autographed copies of books such as Tim Jackson’s ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ and EO Wilson’s ‘Half Earth’.
Andriana took the seat next to the Director and handed her the document. The others took their seats round the table, and Will, who’s desk was closest, brought in an extra chair. He and Kwesu shared the other end of the table.
Madura Pau, Director of the UN Agency for Global Sustainable Development looked down and took in the cover page:
White Paper on the principles required for promoting the 50:50 Earth
- Andriana Crowner
- Anandini Choudhry
- Will Ledgerwood
- Odette Marcon
- Kwesi Nwosu
- Anne Rossnitz
- Madura Pau
“I’m not sure I see how I can be an author of this document, when I’ve never seen it before and I can’t recall commissioning it. I trust this has not been distracting you from your duties.” The complete absence of threat in her voice, combined with the merest flick of a raised eyebrow was, paradoxically, one of the most threatening things any of these people had had to face.
Andriana flushed, but managed to stop herself from choking as she said “The title is pretty self-explanatory, I think. We’ve all chipped in to write a definitive case for a world where humans only live in half of it. We’ve covered some of the most pressing issues, and we’ve tried to consider what would need to be done from a technological view point to allow this. Of course this is very much a first draft, but we were hoping that you would give us some feedback. And take it to the Secretary General. When it’s been revised, of course.”
Pau’s eyes flickered to the book on the shelf and back to the document. She owed them the courtesy of taking a look, at least.
“No promises. But I will look at it. Now get back to work!”
They all trooped out again, barely having been sat down long enough to warm the chairs. Will wondered if it had even been worth bringing his chair in.
In the comfort of her office, Madura Pau picked up the document, a red pen, a block of sticky notes, and settled into an armchair.
© David Jesson, 2020
I selected this headline from a local paper last month Yellow warning Storm Barbara smashes Sussex. It may be because my ex (and much loved) mother-in-law was called Barbara that it sparked a thought, as I can see the idea giving her a good chuckle.
“What did you do?”
“What you mean, what did I do?”
Ian shook his head knowing he was being ignored. Pushing the local paper across the cafe’s table, he banged the headline, and raised his eyebrows. Burying his face into the steaming hot tea, Mikey shrugged…
“Can’t see nothing – my glasses have steamed up, innit”
Supressing a shudder, Ian knew Mikey was trying to get under his skin with that “innit”. Sure he was a bit of an old fusspot about the English language, but really. And he was certain Mikey knew full well he was trying to be serious. Pulling the paper back, he took a big slurp of his tea before reading aloud…
“Yellow warning – Storm Barbara smashes Sussex”
“Just ‘cos the storm’s been named after her, doesn’t mean it’s anything to do with me… or with her, come to that. You can be such a sucker for conspiracy theories.”
Further conversation was interrupted by the waitress delivering their breakfasts – the full works: eggs, sausages, bacon, beans, tomatoes, black pudding and fried bread. So, acknowledging he’d get nowhere with all that on the table, Ian tucked in – he was ravenous after all. He generally avoided the papers on the weekend, but after that heavy drinking session last night, the missus had kicked him out of bed and told him to get down the cafe as she wasn’t putting up with him mooning around the house nursing a hangover. Naturally, he’d called Mikey, for Mikey always had a hangover on a Saturday morning, and when they’d got to the window table, someone had left a local paper behind. Mikey being a grumpy so-and-so before his first mug of tea, Ian had flicked back to the front page – and there it was.
Barbara was Mikey’s latest bird. What had caused comment was that no-one else had been able to see her off. Mikey’s head was usually turned after a few weeks, and Ian couldn’t remember any bird lasting longer than 3 months, not ever, yet it was nearly 2 years now. It wasn’t like Mikey hadn’t expressed being ready for the next adventure, but something always seemed to happen. The missus had joked that it seemed like Barbara always managed to pull something off to change Mikey’s mind straight after he’d had a bit of a moaning session to Ian. He started to pay attention… and he’d become convinced the missus had a good point. He’d tried to say something to Mikey, but he’d done his usual and taken the mick out of Ian saying “what, you think she’s some sort of witch?” Problem was, Ian was beginning to think that might actually be the case.
This past couple of weeks, things between Mikey and Barbara had been bad. Ian overheard lots of rows when they were both at work – pretty much every break time. It had gotten so bad, the lads had asked Mikey to take his phone calls outside. And down the pub, Mikey was drinking more than usual, plus he wasn’t picking up when she called and rolled his eyes when her saw her photo flash up on his phone. Ian had also noticed him eyeing up the local birds, and flexing his flirting muscles. He’d not actually asked for any numbers, but it was clear he was doing more than making sure he still had it. Ian had seen this sort of thing before – Mikey was back on the prowl.
When he’d talked about it a few days ago, Mikey said that Barbara was working hard at “playing nice” as he called it. Cooking his favourite meals, not picking a fight, laying off the sarcasm, making an effort with the house, and even started to wear the good underwear – which only ever meant one thing. But Ian had a sense it wasn’t working.
Last night Mikey had said she’d threatened “to stop playing nice if he didn’t behave”. Lo and behold, this morning, there was this storm… It didn’t make any sense, but Ian felt it in his waters.
“You need to cut the ties with this Barbara, but be careful mate. She’s not like the other girls… there’s something about her.”
Mikey laughed and promised Ian. Yeah he called him “an old worry wort” but Ian had done what he could. Leaving his share of the bill on the table, he headed off home to the missus. But as he walked out the cafe, something caught in Mikey’s throat and he began to choke…
© Debra Carey, 2020