This is how it starts. First, there is the annoying problem of keeping the air conditioning cranked up as the temperature in the city sits above a hundred degrees for the third straight week. Pumping cool air to the 58th floor requires a lot of energy, which means more coal or petroleum or natural gas. When those resources run out, uranium can still be stockpiled from mines in Australia, provided, of course, that the drought and heat in the south of that country don’t add up to more bushfires, and that the uranium is transported in ships purpose-built not to leak or sink. Utility companies can also consider load-shedding like they do in Pakistan and other developing countries—it might help alleviate the problem as long as the outages don’t reach the 58th floor.
Outside, the city streets will be too hot to walk on, so it’s a good idea to keep the car gassed up and ready to go. The shortest lines at the pumps are between three and four in the morning, when, coincidentally, air temperatures are also coolest. Long lines and high temperatures lead to short fuses; altercations have happened. The short-term solution has been a rise in prices at the pump, which keeps away anyone who views public transportation as an option. As long as the windows can open on the buses, people can still ride them without passing out. The windows on the 58th floor are usually closed—as if the cries can rise that high.
Bottled water is plentiful on the 58th floor, although the drought throughout the U.S. has lowered city reservoirs to critically low levels and productive agricultural areas in California and Iowa have been shrinking. Even Florida orange groves are turning brown, putting undocumented fruit pickers out of work and causing the price of morning juice to climb to crazy highs. Similar food crises are happening around the world, as desertification of grassland reduces available acreage for cattle grazing and rising sea levels contribute to waves of migration to any place that will give climate refugees a place to stand. These circumstances start to feed off each other, sparking a cycle of too many people concentrated in areas where the last remaining resources are consumed at unsustainable rates. Sooner or later, someone will have to be voted off the island. The first to go will be those who least resemble those doing the voting—that is, those most impacted by drought and starvation and the deprivations of mass migration. The voters can still afford to buy the last remaining food and water with the money they have been accumulating while denying that the rest of the world is collapsing. The voted-on are on their own.
If you are living in a tower, out of touch with the reality of the world, you might not understand that your reluctance to share means that people are dying. Your argument might be that there is only so much to go around, and of course, you need to stay alive yourself in order to do more good in the world. Or if you are in the streets, you might be considering ways to force those tower folks to share, whether they want to or not. But sooner or later, as the clamoring grows louder, you might start asking yourself how you let it come to this. If you’re not too dehydrated to think straight, you might be able to point your finger at one or two instances of gas-lighted intimations turning into insanity. And you might realize that things could have been different, if only you had known.
So what are you doing to change your life, now that you know?
Renata Golden lives at 7,000 feet with a view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When she is not working on her latest essay collection, she keeps busy hiking and birding–sometimes at the same time.
Header photo of skyline by realworkhard, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Renata Golden by David Chorlton.