Episode 49.1: The Anchorage Trials — 2036
Some people tell stories about the future hoping to be proven right. We here at The Last Chance Democracy Café tell them hoping that by doing so we will help, in some small way, to make certain that we’re proven wrong.
The Last Chance Democracy Café:
Episode 49.1: The Anchorage Trials — 2036
By Steven C. Day
Back in college, when he spent most Wednesday evenings communing with Horace, Tom and Winston over a beer at The Last Chance Democracy Café, Zach would instantly have recognized the irony of his current predicament.
Here he was, after all, in a full scale panic because he was running late for the morning session of the Global Warming Tribunal due to — get this — a foot of newly fallen snow.
But by 2036 irony was pretty much dead, along with nearly half of the species that had inhabited the earth in those earlier days. And if Zach, trudging along the best he could in the deep snow drifts, didn’t take the time to appreciate the cosmic absurdity of it all, well why would he? This was old news; long gone were the days when right wing hacks would yuk it up about global warming every time there was a bad snowstorm, as though each flake of snow was somehow Exhibit A against the scientific consensus.
People now understood all too well that global warming means climatic chaos, not some uniform pattern of increasing warmth. With much of Europe all but uninhabitable because of a mini ice age brought on by the disruption of the Gulf Stream, while at the same time most of the farmland in the lower Midwest of the United States lay abandoned due to excessive heat, drought and soil moisture loss, it wasn’t a hard concept to grasp anymore.
As one climatologist said famously, “The climate isn’t just attacking us with heat; it’s throwing every weapon it has at us.”
The boarding house that had been Zach’s home for the last five-and-a-half years was only 12 blocks from the old federal courthouse that had been renovated for use by the Tribunal. At that moment, however, the journey seemed longer than the marathon he once ran in Savannah, Georgia years earlier, back before the city was abandoned to the constant hurricanes.
Almost everyone else working with the Tribunal lived in a somewhat more upscale hotel just one block from the courthouse. None of them were likely to be late.
“Damn, I should have worn a full snowsuit,” he cursed under his breath. Enough powdered snow had worked its way up his pant legs and then down into his boots to completely saturate his woolen socks, causing a squishing sensation with every step. The wind was howling at a consistent 20-to-30 miles per hour, with gusts, as the weathermen like to say, upwards to 40 miles-per-hour crashing dead on into his face.
“Jesus, why today?” he mumbled.
This was to be a big day for Zach — the biggest of his professional life, in fact. Although he had had no idea anything exceptional was coming until 8:22 the previous evening. That’s when the phone rang. It was the Chief Magistrate.
“Zach,” he began, his voice tenser than usual. “Abebech Abebe has been taken to the hospital.”
“Oh my God. What’s wrong with her?” gasped Zach.
Abebe, the head Ethiopian legal council at the Tribunal, was acting as chief prosecuting attorney; she was a highly respected litigator, but that wasn’t the only reason she’d been selected. Given how disproportionately the death toll from climate change had fallen on the African continent to this point, it was thought proper that an African representative lead the prosecution.
“They think it’s the new flu strain.”
“That’s just awful,” said Zach softly. But it was hardly a surprising diagnosis: Influenza pandemics had been slashing their way across every nation on the planet at least once every winter for over a decade. The breakdown in public health services and basic sanitation associated with the massive population displacements had created a paradise for the breeding and spreading of disease. Tens of millions of people were dying just from the flu every year.
“So she’s out for at least a month or two,” the Chief Magistrate continued in a voice that was now entirely business-like, though with the slightest tinge of unease. “That is if she even . . .”
He didn’t finish the sentence, but Zach knew the score: Between 20-to-30 percent of people coming down with this new flu strain were dying, the young as well as the old. And it took most survivors months to recover.
“So is the hearing going to be continued until she . . .” began Zach, speaking in a cautious tone of voice.
“You know we can’t adjourn for that long. We’re already under so much pressure to wrap things up.”
“So you’ll have to do it, Zach.”
Zach felt like he’d been hit head on in the gut by a 300 pound linebacker. “But I have no time to prepare . . .”
“I know, but you’re the only one who knows the stuff well enough.”
“And you know I’m not a litigator.”
“I know, but you spent all those hours helping Abebech get ready. You’ll do fine.”
“But . . .”
“And we have to go ahead tomorrow . . . we have to get him off the stand quickly or the political pressure from his friends may become too strong.”
As scared as Zach was, he knew the Chief Magistrate was right.
“You have to do it Zach.”
And that was that.
The snow had started to let up just a little as Zach walked past the FFO (Federal Food Outlet), closed because of the storm. There was something eerie about the emptiness of the sidewalk. Normally at this time of day a large horde of would be shoppers would be standing in line, clutching their government food coupons — praying this wouldn’t be one of the weeks when the shelves were bare.
Only three blocks left to walk.
Zach had never wanted to be a lawyer. He went to college intending to go on to dental school. But Horace, Tom and Winston corrupted him, turning him into a political junkie. Then in the summer of 2006 he went to see Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. It blew him away. As he left the theater he turned to his date and said, “I know what I want to do with my life.”
Law struck him as the best way to get into the fight quickly; but later, as law school graduation approached, the idea of joining a law firm specializing in environmental law, which would mean dealing with issues like ground water contamination and mold exposure, didn’t appeal to him. He wanted to work exclusively on climate change. He wanted to help to save the world.
So he took an internship with what was then a small upstart environmental think tank called The Global Warming Institute, later becoming the group’s general council. The job sounded more important than it was, given the Institute’s size. But as it gradually grew in prestige, Zach came to be known as one of the world’s foremost experts on the legal implications of global climate change.
True to his word, he tried to save the world.
But the world proved more resistant to saving than he’d expected.
Years later, when the first international Global Warming Tribunal was established in Anchorage, Alaska, it was natural that he be chosen as its chief legal council.
It took one last hard push to climb out of the final snowdrift and up onto the landing outside of the Tribunal’s staff entrance. Before entering, Zach nervously checked his right rear pants pocket for his comb; given how late he was running, he knew he wouldn’t have much time to tidy up once inside. And considering he was about to be filmed by news crews from all over the world, running a comb through his hair a few times seemed prudent.
But as he reached into the pocket, instead of his comb, what he felt was the small leather photograph holder he always carried with him, but had never opened. Inside, according to his daughter who had sent it to him, were pictures of his three grandchildren, Christy 5, Josh 3 and Emma 6 months.
He had no actual idea of what they looked like, although the faces his imagination had painted for each were as detailed as any picture: Christy had her mother’s thick black hair, thin cheeks and delicate brown eyes; she was on the smallish side, though why Zach’s imagination had chosen this was a mystery, given that both of the child’s parents were tall and athletic. Josh, on the other hand, sported his father’s mischievous grin and the family’s largish nose, while Emma was the spitting image of the Gerber baby from the old baby food jars.
Zach had tried many times to exchange these fairytale faces for the real ones, but somehow he couldn’t. Every time he tried to open one of the packages of photographs something stopped him. He just couldn’t face them.
Everyone knew the score now on climate change; the tipping point, that moment after which the situation could no longer be salvaged, had come and gone 20 years earlier at just about the time the scientists had predicted, but it came with a particularly nasty kicker.
As the melting of the arctic permafrost kicked into overdrive, the amount of trapped carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere turned out to be much greater than many scientists had projected, sending the earth’s climate spinning out of control. The planet got hotter quicker than expected and the hotter it became the more greenhouse gases were released; the release of these additional greenhouse gases, of course, then in turn caused the earth to become even hotter.
It was a doomsday treadmill with no way off.
Already over a billion people had died from disease, starvation, violent storms and other climate related causes. And year by year more people were being displaced, more farm land was being lost, more species were dying out, more epidemics were spreading and more severe storms were occurring. Wars were already being fought for control of scarce resources and many more were sure to come.
The new scientific consensus held that by the end of the century at least 90 percent of the current human population of planet earth would disappear, with the survival of those remaining in considerable doubt.
This was the future Zach was bequeathing to his grandchildren, to Christy, Josh and Emma; this was the future human selfishness, a selfishness he had never been able to overcome, had condemned them to.
No, he couldn’t stand the thought of looking at their faces, of catching the measure of their eyes.
But as the old ocean of guilt started to rush in again, Zach stopped it cold; now wasn’t the time. There was work to be done.
As he walked through the door into the Tribunal building, the world exploded around him. “You’re late, you’re late,” a harried voice barked out. Overcoat, snow pants and snow boots were dumped haphazardly on the floor in the hall. An assistant ran a comb through his hair, another brushed the remaining snow off his suit, while a third grabbed his briefcase.
Thus unburdened, he stood for a few moments at the doorway to the courtroom, just long enough for one last deep breath, then bursting through the door he was greeted by a thousand flashes of light as the photographers jostled for position, the Chief Magistrate screaming, “Order, there will be order.”
He might as well have been a farmer screaming at pigs to stop eating from the trough. The bedlam had a life, if not a mind, of its own. Still, Zach inched forward toward his place at the council table.
This would be the first time in his life that Zach had ever served as a lawyer in a courtroom. And the first time he had ever cross-examined a witness.
And all that was being asked of him was that he conduct arguably the single most important cross-examination in human history.
And there ahead of him was his adversary, already sitting in the witness box, the famous smirk-like expression still clearly evident even at age 90.
There sat George W. Bush.
* * *
Click here for part 2 of The Anchorage Trials – 2036.
* * *
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 26 years. Contact Steven at scday(AT)buzzflash.com.
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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July 13th, 2006 at 11:20 am
Go get him, Zach. Make the three wise men proud.
July 13th, 2006 at 12:11 pm
A great piece, Steve. Both brilliant and depressing. I found myself wishing for a parallel universe: The one you’ve described above for the wingnut, Kool-aid drinkers, and a “normal” one for the rest of us.
The thought of Bush/Cheney and their gang of thugs in power for another two years means at least that long before there’s a chance that our country will at least attempt to stop the deterioration of our planet. And if they steal this year’s election, we may not even see one in 2008 which would all but ensure the accuracy of your scenario for the future.
Geeez, I think I’m going to need an early happy hour.
July 13th, 2006 at 6:37 pm
Well, this was a pleasant surpise this morning (I guess I didn’t pay attention to the date). Especially, GWB getting his comeuppance at the age of 90. I’d rather see him get it right now. But, I’m a Capricorn. We have patience. And it will happen. Meanwhile, I cheer Zach on. He really has much more to offer as an activist lawyer than a dentist. Imagine the BS he’d have had to put up with if he’d gone into any kind of medical field. But I am concerned about his kids. As you know, Steve, I just had a granddaughter last year (15 months old), and I can see why Zach feels the guilt. I look at Marvelous Maddie and my heart hurts for the world she’ll grow up in. Amazing, isn’t it, how six years can destroy a world.
July 13th, 2006 at 9:39 pm
Woo-hoo! Shrub in the witness chair! What a satisfying mental visual! When he’s 90 (if it holds true that only the good die young) I’ll be a lively 82. Much as I hate to wait for anything, I just hope to be around to see it. By then, I’ll own beachfront property in what is now a mile-high southern California mountain community, and all courtesy of GWB’s insistence that whether or not global warming is still up for debate. Oh, and his Healthy Forests “log it all you want, boys” policy will have turned our forest into a desert as well…if it doesn’t burn down first. Then we’ll get FEMAed, adding insult to injury.
Great job, as usual, Steve. A welcome surprise!
July 14th, 2006 at 12:54 am
Talk about “be careful what you wish for”! I remember I commented to the episode “I Can Still Remember Freedom” that it was too environmentally optimistic about the future. Now comes this episode, which is chilling in more ways than one!! I absolutely loved it (especially since I used to live in Anchorage and know right where the “old federal courthouse” is, though the state courthouse is where I worked) and can’t wait for the next installment!!!
July 14th, 2006 at 3:17 pm
Great one, Steve. I don’t think I can wait that long for the finish!
Go get him, Zach!