CHAPTER 2: THE DARKNESS GATHERS
Albert Longbun, 46, renowned Professor of Sustainology was giving his famous lecture “Sense and Sustainology in an Age of Runaway Climate Chaos Concerns” at the Lincoln Institute for Climate Control at the London School of Ecologics in London, England, UK.
This was the 27th time he had given this lecture and he was so familiar with it that he could have presented it in his sleep. In fact, that is often what he found himself doing, these days – lulled by the sound of his own voice, he could catch forty winks and enjoy a restful nap, all the while continuing to expound on sustainology and its crucial role in today’s world.
Becoming fully awake again now, he realised that the auditorium was about half full of students this evening, many of whom had the rather vacant, unfocussed expression, with mouth slightly ajar, that Longbun had come to recognise as a sign that they were completely rapt in what he was saying and hanging on his every word.
“… and it is increasingly recognized that the efficacy of sustainable development initiatives depends on widespread public identification and participation”, he was saying. “By decoupling environmental degradation and economic growth, by judicious choice-editing and the derailing of unsustainable trends, along with a shift to a safely sustainable and sustainably safe low-carbon and low-input low-output economy, we can nudge, expedite or just basically shove through sustainologically sound policies, that furthermore…”
As one part of Longbun’s capacious brain formulated the words and fed them into his speech centre to be extruded by way of larynx and mouth, rather like a butcher dropping chunks of meat into a grinder to be turned into servings of nutritious organic sausage, another part of his brain was able to scan the auditorium and inspect his audience, via the subtle neurological control of his eyeballs and neck muscles.
He could sense that many of his audience were on-message, the sort of happy, docile listeners who would probably agree with anything he said, provided it contained words like “sustainable”, “green” and “low-carbon economy” every so often. However, there were others who looked and sounded less accommodating, fixing him with quizzical stares, making notes and talking amongst themselves most rudely.
The five foot seven inch professor shuddered involuntarily, making his podium quiver. Sceptics? Hopefully there were no right-wingers or free-market fanatics in that crowd, or even – he and the podium shuddered once more – climate deniers…
Quickly he stole a glance at his Michael Mann wristwatch (a gift from Pennsylvania State University, where he had once been a guest speaker), and was relieved to note that time was almost up. All he had to do was finish his talk, get through the Q&A session and then he could escape to his comfortable Islington townhouse for the evening. Job done.
“… and by means of radical behaviour change and universal thought control, together we can accomplish the complete transcendance of world society and bring about the sunlit uplands of a sustainable global state for our children’s children’s children to the nth power, for ever and ever, amen.” He paused. “Any questions?”
Some hands went up and Longbun looked around, careful as always to select an audience member who appeared docile and unlikely to give him a hard time. He chose one young woman in spectacles at the front.
“You said – and I quote – ‘We must implement sustainable water resource allocation’ and then said ‘which means we in the western world must learn to live on a diet of hemp flour and wichety grubs’. I don’t see that it follows. Can you explain the logic behind this?”
Longbun’s brain juddered, momentarily shocked by the question, which was not the softball offering he had hoped for. But he quickly recovered his poise. “I see that you are applying the old rules of logic, which demanded that things made sense, as defined in a very narrow way”, he laughed, tolerantly. “Following the “Big Bang” of post-normal thinking, we find ourselves not so encumbered. Where we plodded before, creeping forward step by tedious logical step, bound by old-fashioned notions of things always needing to add up, now we can leap!
“Thus we can now make, with impunity, hitherto nonsensical-seeming statements like ‘The world demands green energy, therefore we must chop down the forests’ or ‘Environmental justice for all means that heavier-than-air flight should be banned forever and probably un-invented’. Or indeed that sustainable water resource allocation means that we must all live on hemp and wichety grubs. Next question.”
He pointed to a chubby, rather dim-looking young man, suddenly aware of a growing swirl of restlessness percolating through the audience. “Professor Longbun, is sustainology… is sustainology…?” The youngster appeared to be gathering his thoughts. Quickly Longbun stepped in.
“It is”, Longbun assured the audience. “Sustainology is. It exists. It is a newly established and yet authoritative mental and academic discipline, on a par with traditional and long-established academic disciplines such as eco-psychology, eco-socio-envirology, socio-eco-enviro-anthropology and media studies. In short”, he chuckled, “yes, sustainology is. Next and final question”.
Buoyed by his triumph, he pointed at a harmless-looking young woman near the back, before suddenly realising that the raised arm he was seeing did not belong to the woman but to the rather stern-visaged man sitting next to her. It was too late, however.
“Professor Longbun”, said the scowling young man. “I put it to you that this country is being despoiled by energy and climate policies that are ruinous, incompetent and incredibly damaging. The countryside is being overrun by unsightly and unreliable wind farms. Shale gas, which could provide a low-carbon alternative to coal, is being mostly ignored. In return for negligible or non-existent gains, we are seriously weakening our electric grid and about to see the lights go out. How sustainable is that, eh?”
Again, Longbun’s brain lurched and his heart began to pound, like a badger being repeatedly whacked with a croquet mallet. A sceptic. Maybe a climate denier. Maybe even – he shuddered vigorously in horror – an engineering student… Momentarily he was struck dumb with the enormity of the question. But then his brain handed him a lifeline through the fog of terror, which his reeling consciousness gratefully accepted. He forced his mouth to open and his vocal chords to vibrate.
“Firstly, I would like to parrot our government’s assurances to you that the lights will not go out. Well, for now, anyway. And I would like to add that even if they did go out, we would have nothing to fear”.
The swirling restlessness in the auditorium was becoming louder and more agitated, as the sceptical influence seemed to spread, like a bees’ nest being attacked by industrial neonicotinoids. People were talking, gesticulating, arguing, even beginning to whistle and hoot, like a phalanx of unruly steam trains that were also somehow mixed up in the bees’ nest metaphor. Longbun realised he would have to reassert control.
“I repeat”, he said, firmly and loudly, “that we would have nothing to fear. As always in these matters, we in the west must look to indigenous peoples – who are the embodiment of sustainability, of course – for our exemplars. Indigenous peoples do not fret about the lights going out. Indigenous peoples are close to the earth, and have not cruelly severed themselves from Mother Nature as we in the developed world have done, with irrelevant fluff like our electric lights and power grid, and our so-called material comforts and conveniences. They know that the absence of light is nothing to fear, that a time of darkness is a time to bond with one another and to obey the universal call of nature. Seated around the embers of a communal fire, perhaps, indigenous persons will tell instructive stories and reaffirm their connection to Mother Earth (aka Mother Nature), perhaps enjoying some sustainably and locally grown organic foodstuffs – in moderation, naturally – as they do.
“We have lost that innocent yet at the same time infinitely wise outlook, but we can re-learn from our less advanced humanoid cousins. So, let us not be afraid of the lights going out…”
WHUMP! At that moment, all the lights in the auditorium went out and pandemonium ensued.
CHAPTER 1. A SUDDEN CASE OF DEATH
CHAPTER 2. THE DARKNESS GATHERS