UNPAID DEBT TO THE PLANET

By William Markiewicz

President Bush made contradictory statements as he often does: Saving the planet is important but economy is also important -- a broad excuse for doing almost nothing. Bush isn’t alone; Harper follows him with very similar arguments.

Science fiction, like a modern Aesop, handles existential problems in often sarcastic parables. I remember one parody of the situation written long before Bush and Harper came in. I don’t remember the title, it was ultra short and I believe it was French. The story says that one beautiful afternoon, over the Champs Elysees with its crowded cafes, a potent voice came from the Cosmos. I quote from memory:

“Because of a tragic mistake in our experiments, a great part of the galaxy, including your planet, will cease to exist in about twenty minutes.”

One customer gets up to leave the café and the waiter says: “Sir, you didn’t pay!”

The customer says, “Why should I pay if in twenty minutes we won’t exist anyway?” Waiter: “Exist or not exist, you consumed, you have to pay.”

Client: “Don’t you see how ridiculous it is that you stop me with this nonsense? I have things to do before disappearing.”

Waiter: “That’s your problem; you have to pay.”

Client: “I wont – you can call the police.”

It took about twenty minutes for the police to get there and after that, the problem was over.

Bush and Harper echo, simultaneously, the preoccupation of the waiter and his client. The waiter was legally right and the client, humanly, was right also. Until the last moment, the humans will listen to their greed. We have no choice other than to watch helplessly. The rest belongs to God. What kind of argument is it that ‘China continues to pollute’? Should we imitate China and India or should we instead do everything we can to stop them? In the Science Fiction story they had twenty minutes for an impossible decision. In political and economic reality, a century won’t be enough. Only poisoned earth will stop humans – too late. There is no end of discussion. There are those who say we have to allow those backward, polluting countries time to catch up with us. Yes, but the planet has no more time. What else can we do but die like the waiter and his customer and everybody else? Stupid question but is there a smart answer?

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