by Charles Bane
I hadn’t looked out the window of an airplane at our nation’s capitol since the nineteen forties. I had forgotten how beautiful the city is in the sunlight of the morning. I was met by the Secret Service, and politely escorted to a waiting car. I was driven to the Executive Office Building, and entered the White House discreetly through its underbelly. To my surprise, there was no shuffling from room to room: I was taken directly to the Oval Office. At her desk sat the President of The United States, talking quietly to two young staffers. I was prepared not to like her.
She rose and smiled. “Dr. Schiller, thank you for joining me.” She had a crisp handshake.
“I’m at your service, Madame President.”
“Let’s make ourselves comfortable.” We sat opposite one another on two small sofas by a fireplace with a coffee table between. An aide appeared and I asked for a coffee.
“I’d like to ask you something,” she said.
“Why did you change your concentration from theoretical physics to climatology?”
“Physics is a young person’s game. I wanted to feel contributory and not captured by the anti- climatic. The department at Princeton welcomed me, genuinely, without the usual politics. My name brought them fresh funding, though the university is not poor. And I don’t court the media.” The White House had noted that also.
“Your model is at odds with the IPCC’s,” she said, bluntly.
“They’re a very conservative body.”
“I think if we are aggressive, we can keep surface temperature growth in the single digits. Do you agree?”
“No. That’s long past.”
She leaned in. “I need data with absolute certainty. I need your reputation behind it.”
I paused. “In order for the planet to survive, the global economy needs to halt. However close you are able to achieve that will be the benchmark of success. If we don’t, nature will halt it for us. Surface temperatures will increase nonetheless, and I can’t guarantee that it isn’t too late. We could see within three years an increase of ten to twenty five degrees, Fahrenheit. Twenty five will be fatal.”
I reached into my valise, and placed a hard copy map on the coffee table.
“The yellow areas are uninhabitable space,” I said.” The black outlines show permanent flooding of coastal areas.”
“This is the entire eastern coast. ”
“That’s correct, and throughout the South, to Florida which is no longer a land mass. The only habitable areas are a small portion of the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska.” I pointed. “India and Australia will be lifeless. Heat, malnutrition, flooding, and disease will be the primary cause of death. Wheat, rice , corn will be critically endangered. Tundra will become the sole green oasis.”
I looked at her. “I’m very sorry to say this to you, Madame President.”
There was a knock and the President’s daughter entered, saw her mother’s stricken face and was alarmed. She sat beside her.
“You could plant your flag at the Army base in Fairbanks,” I said. “Anchorage is too near the sea. No one will be safe who lives off-base. Every soul with a will to live will find their way to Alaska, and they’ll be armed.”
She shook her head. “So, government ceases to function,” she conceded.
“Not humanity altogether,” I said. She looked up.
“As many as can be persuaded; agriculturists, community planners, disease specialists, need to be implanted in the Antarctic.That’s our best hope.”
Her eyes came alive, even fiery, and I was glad of it.
“There was no consumerism until the Industrial Revolution,” she said. It was completely in her grasp. This was a sail to inflate, any way I could.” Agribusiness could revert to the family farm,” I answered.
“I’ll be impeached.”
I sat back. “No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”