Stuck in traffic, Keith could feel his blood pressure rising. He was late for picking up his daughter, Ivy, and he was never late. It was a perfect evening to stroll around Grand Avenue and he was excited to see her and take her out for pizza and ice cream. He’d had to travel for work last weekend, so he hadn’t seen her for nearly two weeks. It felt like an eternity to Keith. He missed her.
He also detested situations he couldn’t control—like being stuck in traffic. Deep breaths, he reminded himself, I don’t have to let this get to me. I am in control of how I react to stressful situations, he repeated this mantra to himself, just like his meditation app told him, over and over.
But the freeway was like a parking lot, and he had not moved in several minutes. He had the top down on his convertible and, without air movement, it was getting hot and uncomfortable. He loosened his tie as he impatiently rechecked his phone, but it still showed traffic as red in all directions. He was annoyed that the navigation lady had not warned him of this slowdown and that there was no escape route.
Keith closed his eyes, leaned his head against the steering wheel and consciously took a deep belly breath, then exhaled to the count of four. He knew he had to do better at managing his stress; he could definitely feel something was wrong with his heart, and it scared him.
Again, he inhaled slowly and deeply. But as he started to exhale, his eyes involuntarily flew open and sheer terror caused him to hold his breath. He had the sensation that he was shooting up into space like a missile. He felt just like he was on the Disney World Epcot theme park Mission: SPACE simulator ride that his daughter loved so much. He had hated that ride then and had resolved to never subject himself to the torture again. Moments later, the sickening g-force feeling subsided and was replaced with overwhelming nausea and dizziness. He exhaled and focused on trying not to throw up.
He looked around, but there were no longer tail lights or a steering wheel in front of him. He couldn’t see a thing. It was utterly dark, and he wasn’t in his car anymore. He was standing in nothingness surrounded by darkness.
He panicked and wondered, Have I gone blind? Did I have a stroke or a heart attack? He started reciting the alphabet in an attempt to ground himself. He could recite it easily, without slurred speech, so he decided it couldn’t have been a stroke. He continued to search his mind for answers. Have I died? Am I dreaming? Did I lose consciousness? He scanned the darkness and prayed to see even a small flicker of light or a dim shadow.
He turned in circles but saw only blackness. Where am I? He waved his arms back and forth like he was an air traffic controller on a landing strip signaling a plane to land. Nothing. He felt nothing. The air around him wasn’t hot or cold, humid or dry. It was simply black and still. He dropped to his knees and started to crawl, but he couldn’t tell what he was crawling on. There seemed to be no floor beneath him. He kept creeping on all fours, hoping he would feel something, anything that would bring him to somewhere he recognized. He longed for something that made sense. He longed to see his daughter. He just wanted to know whether he was alive or not.
On he inched, feeling his way through the darkness. He was scared, and he pledged to himself that he’d live a better life if he ever got out of this place or if this bizarre nightmare ever ended. He silently repeated, Please, please, please, please, pleeeease, over and over as he crawled through the empty and dark abyss. He didn’t have a good sense of time, but he feared it would never end. Maybe this is purgatory? he wondered.
Just when he’d convinced himself that his situation would never change, it did. The blackness began to fade, and he saw a mesmerizing, bluish glow with swirls of white beneath him. The Earth! I can see the Earth? If planet Earth is below me, where in the world am I? he wondered. Or, rather where in the universe am I? he corrected himself since he clearly wasn’t “in the world.”
In the distance, he saw an enormous crowd of people standing and casually conversing with each other in dim light. The scene reminded him of observing a crowd during a theater intermission. But this group was the most beautiful, diverse assembly of people he’d ever seen. They represented every skin tone, gender, and body type and wore brightly colored clothes. He was drawn to them and the sound of their musical chatter. He felt relief simply knowing that wherever he was, he wasn’t alone. But then he thought, Now I know I must be dreaming.
Shaking his head and opening his eyes wide to wake himself, he slapped his cheek. The others were now watching him crawl towards them and laughing. They weren’t really laughing at him, but because they knew what he was going through. One by one, people had been taken to this strange place in the same way, and nearly everyone had the same reaction—attempting to slap themselves awake like he was doing. He stood up, feeling a little silly and self-conscious for still being on his hands and knees. Keith marveled at the faces he saw and kept turning in circles, trying to make sense of what he was seeing.
It seemed as though Keith was the final arrival because a group of teenagers, or young adults—Keith couldn’t exactly tell their age—started calling everyone’s attention. Although diverse in appearance, this group of youth shared a remarkably similar air of confidence.
“Listen up, Boomers and Deniers!” called out a muscly teenager who reminded Keith of a human version of a Rottweiler.
“And don’t forget Unaware and Apathetic!” called another young man.
Nodding, the first guy hollered, “I know you all want to know why you’re here. If I can get your attention, I’ll explain.” About half of the people in the noisy crowd obeyed the suggestion to quiet down until the teen roared, “Hey! I said, LISTEN UP!” With that order, the crowd hushed instantly.
“You people need some sense knocked into you. We’ve been hammering on you for decades, hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but you just had to keep ignoring us. And now, now it has come to this,” barked the Rottweiler-guy. “There is a climate crisis that needs to be solved. Everyone needs to put their differences aside and solve it. It’s like COVID-19 on steroids.”
Insulted, a lady in pearls huffed. “Some sense? I have a Ph.D. I have plenty of ‘sense’ and several degrees to prove it,” she retorted.
“Shut it, Martha!” boomed the adolescent with a deep voice that could’ve belonged to a grown man. In an instant, his nose was an inch from hers, and this woman, who was apparently named Martha, did, indeed, stop talking.
Keith stood with his arms crossed over his chest. He wasn’t impressed by these demanding adolescents who were calling them names. He looked around to see the other victims’ faces. Their expressions ranged from confusion and boredom to fear and disdain.
The Rottweiler-like one continued, “You all have been ejected from Earth because it cannot sustain your selfish, massive impacts. Your greenhouse gas emission footprints are despicable, and most of you have been actively denying climate change. ‘Climate has changed before,’ you argue, or, ‘It’s the sun.’ Some people say, ‘It’s not a bad thing.’ How dumb are you? Of course, it’s a bad thing! Will you finally think it’s a bad thing when the climate changes so quickly that your food supply cannot adapt and you are short on food? Or how about when the weather is so unstable that it is just a matter of time until there is another supercell hurricane or tornado?”
Another young leader, who had enormous teeth that reminded Keith of a horse, chimed in, “And here’s a doozy, how about when people say ‘there is no consensus’?”
At this, the dog guy dropped to his knees, laughing. That statement evidently cracked him up, because he could hardly get his response out. He sputtered, “Or… how… about… ‘models are unreliable’?”
Without missing a beat in the verbal volley, the guy Keith decided to call Seabiscuit, panted, “And Antarctica is actually gaining ice!”
Dog guy and Seabiscuit were now doubled over laughing while the crowd looked around uneasily.
In the next blink, however, both of the young men were standing tall and rigidly shouting in unison with their arms stretched out in front of them like they were choking the air, “To all of this denial we say SHAME! ON! YOOOOU!”
With each of those three words, the Ejected experienced increasing and unbearable physical pain. Some people cried out and clutched their chests, while others gasped for air and shook as though they were being electrocuted. With pleading eyes, each of the Ejected prayed for this trauma to end as they stared at the angry young men, who now had veins popping out all over their bodies. “Your actions have put the world in peril, and now it’s up to you to fix your sins,” the two young men said and, with that, they released their grip on the crowd, who let out a collective sigh.
“Now, let me just answer some FAQs,” continued the dog man, as if nothing had happened. “Yes, you all are from different parts of the world. You all are hearing me in your native language. I am universal. When you talk to others, just speak as you normally would. You will be understood as if you are speaking the same language as the person you are talking to.”
Fascinating, thought Keith. I wonder how I can tap into this technology and market it. Keith loved investing in new technologies.
But his thoughts were interrupted by the dog man, who was now demanding his attention. “Keith! Stay focused. Your greed is what got you here. You cannot market this language ‘technology.’ You are in another realm right now, remember?”
Well, I didn’t actually know I was in a different realm until you just told me now, thought Keith. But he decided it would be better not to offer a retort.
At this point, a young woman with glasses stepped forward and glared at dog man. She spoke in an even tone, “While Seth is correct in what he said, I see from your body language that you aren’t very open to it. No one likes to be shamed, accused, or called names,” she said, as she turned her head with narrowing, laser-like eyes to the dog man, apparently named Seth, so he would take the hint to calm down.
“My name is Aziza,” started the reasonable young lady. “Let me start from the beginning. We are the Defenders of the Future, and we have been living here, in the atmosphere, since 1975. The timing coincided with the publication of Columbia University professor and researcher Wallace Smith Broecker’s article that correctly predicted that rising carbon dioxide—or CO2—levels in the atmosphere would lead to unwanted ‘global warming.’1 It was clear that this scientist didn’t have the pizazz to rock the world as much as the world needed to be rocked. So, we arrived here to help spread his message that climate change is real and caused by humans. We made the awful mistake of calling it ‘global warming’ at first, which opened the door to all kinds of skepticism. We now know it should’ve been called climate change from the beginning, because the changes it causes aren’t consistent across the globe. But, overall, it’s still true that the average global temperature is rising and the Earth as a whole is warming.”
“Are you angels?” Interrupted a tiny gray-haired woman, as she pinched Seth’s muscly arm.
“You could call us that,” he replied, “but stop pinching me! Ow. Now!” The little lady sat down but continued her questioning, “Which god put you here?”
“Oh, here we go,” he said, with a clenched jaw, clearly aggravated. “Listen, I’m not going to get into a religious discussion right now. We don’t have time for that. But as far as I can tell, you can call the force that unites us anything you want to: God, Allah, Brahman, spiritually enlightened one. The universal force behind every religion is true love that is free of selfishness and greed. And, seriously, it’s time to stop fighting over how you pray, or if you pray, or meditate or whatever. Right now, we are facing whether or not our species will survive. Some people talk about ‘saving the Earth,’ but that’s extraordinarily stupid. The Earth doesn’t need saving. The Earth has been here for about 4.6 billion years and will continue to exist whether humans survive or not. The real question at hand is this: are humans smart enough to save themselves?”
Aziza nodded and acknowledged Seth as she took control of the conversation. “At this point, it’s not looking good. We’ve been trying for forty-five years to get you people on board but, so far, we have failed miserably. We thought all we had to do was show you all the objective facts about the looming environmental problems—namely biodiversity loss and climate change caused by overconsumption of fossil fuels and overpopulation—and that you humans would respond accordingly. We thought that since people were capable of logic and reason, knowing the objective facts would be enough to make you all do the right things to protect the planet—and yourselves. But we were, oh, so very and utterly wrong. What we did not realize is that solid science and objective facts are no match for selfishness, greed, and apathy.”
“How did you send us these so-called ‘objective facts’?” asked Keith, gesturing air quotes with his fingers.
“By placing enlightened people all over the world,” explained Aziza, wearily.
“I don’t buy it,” said Keith, regretting it as soon as the words left his lips, asking himself why he always needed to be such an extrovert and process his thoughts aloud.
“Buy it? BUY IT? There’s nothing to ‘buy’ here, Keith,” hollered Seth. “We are not selling you anything, Keith. We are explaining the situation of the world. We’re not asking you. We are telling you that this is the way it is.”
Keith fought the urge to reply and sat in silence.
“The climate crisis is a leadership crisis.” Seth continued, “To transform society this decade, we need transformational leadership. And you sorry souls are our leaders, I guess. The only way for you to get back to Earth with your loved ones is for you to correct the environmental crimes against humanity that you have committed and to put the planet on a positive trajectory.”
Aziza interjected to explain, “The fossil fuel industries were very effective in lobbying and casting doubt on whether the climate science was true. These greedy companies were just afraid of losing their profits, so they kept bringing up points that they knew would appeal to simple-minded, selfish, and apathetic citizens. And now, here we are today. We have about ten years to turn this situation around. All of you have either actively refuted that the climate crisis is happening or have been too apathetic to care. Some of you actively helped the bad guys, and some of you are the bad guys.”
At this remark, the crowd of Ejected couldn’t help looking around to try to figure out who the so called ‘bad guys’ were among them.
Aziza called the group’s attention again and continued, “NASA nailed it when they reported that the Earth’s average temperature has increased about two degrees Fahrenheit during the twentieth century.”2 Looking around at the group, she continued, “I see by the looks on your faces you’re wondering what the big deal is? Two degrees may sound like a small amount because, on a daily basis, it is. But it’s an unusual event in our planet’s recent history. The Earth’s climate record, which is preserved in tree rings, ice cores, and coral reefs, shows that the global average temperature should be far more stable than that and over much longer periods of time. Small changes in temperature correspond to enormous changes in the environment. For example, at the end of the last ice age, when the Northeast United States was covered by more than 3,000 feet of ice, average temperatures were only five to nine degrees Fahrenheit cooler than today.”3
The Defenders of the Future lined up and looked at each of the Ejected squarely in the eyes as they jabbed each individual in the chest declaring their personal environmental sins for everyone to hear:
“You helped roll back mileage standards to boost big oil. And you always feel the need to be right.”
“You mishandled refrigerant chemicals by dumping loads of refrigerators illegally.”
“You denied countless women education.”
“You used traditional agriculture instead of regenerative agriculture.”
“You wouldn’t build ultra-energy-efficient passive houses because it cost you more money upfront.”
“You blocked ordinances that would have required net-zero houses to be built.”
“You blocked clean energy sources.”
“You went on a crusade against clotheslines, banning them across the U.S. because you just didn’t like how they looked.”
Keith tuned out and occupied himself by watching peoples’ priceless expressions as they were publicly condemned. His thoughts were interrupted by Seth as he jabbed Keith’s chest and bellowed, “And you. You lobbied against the carbon tax,”
“So, you think climate change is actually real,” said a stupid man with the name Stanley embroidered on the top left side of his shirt. The entire assemblage of Ejecteds turned to look at him and hollered, “Yes!” in unison. Stanley looked offended that everyone had barked at him and put up his hands in his own defense.
The Defenders of the Future looked at each other and gave each other a subtle, nearly imperceptible nod. They knew that these deniers were well on their way to becoming believers. But they wanted to make sure the new believers understood the full impact of their actions, so they decided it was time to give the tours.