CHAPTER 6 OF EJECTED: Surprise Visit

Chapter 6

Surprise Visit

It had been a few hours now, and her dad still hadn’t picked her up from her mom’s house. Her mom had left for the weekend for a yoga retreat because it was Ivy’s weekend to be with her dad. Ivy stomped around the house because nothing was going her way. She thought it would be awesome to be by herself and have unlimited screen time, but technology seemed to have gone on strike. Her fingerprint I.D. wouldn’t work and her password didn’t work either. She tried the password again: DaddysG1rl!. She had to laugh. Her dad had created the password, and she secretly liked it, although she’d never admit that to him. Then she noticed that the Wi-Fi network didn’t show up. Next, her computer said it was out of hard drive space, and she couldn’t get a signal on her cell phone. 

She looked out the window and let the setting sun shine on her face. She loved that days were so long in the northern hemisphere at the end of May. It was almost 9:00 p.m., and it was still light! It was a nice evening, and it would’ve been nice to walk around Grand Avenue and get pizza and ice cream like they were supposed to tonight. Or go for a motorcycle ride. Now she was feeling bad about thinking she didn’t want to see her dad. She really did. She knew she was Daddy’s girl. She always would be. She and her dad had the same sense of humor and the same drive and determination. Although she shared many things with her mom, their relationship was just… different. Her mom was content and calm. Ivy made things happen, just like her dad. She had an adventurous spirit and wasn’t afraid to take risks.

She looked around the house at the battlefield of uncooperative electronic devices and decided that it seemed like the universe was giving her some sort of signal to use less energy or something. She made herself a sandwich and followed it with an indulgent pint of ice cream. Then she read a paperback book and went to bed.  

***

In the morning, Ivy woke up to a quiet house, so she flipped on the TV for some company. At least that still works, she thought.

A special report interrupted her program to announce that police stations were being flooded with missing persons reports. As she processed the information, her eyes widened and her jaw dropped involuntarily. Could it be that her dad was one of these people who had mysteriously disappeared? Her gut told her yes, because her dad was never late. Plus, her dad would never not call to tell her what was keeping him if he was late. He was Mr. Dependable.

Ivy called her dad’s phone for the millionth time. He still didn’t pick up, just got his stupid voicemail. Her thoughts were interrupted by a tapping sound on her window that sounded like hail hitting it. It was a beautiful morning, so it couldn’t be hail. As she went over to the second story window to examine, she witnessed pebbles hitting the window, over and over. Where were they coming from? Ivy looked around to see if it was windy, but the tree branches weren’t swaying. “Why are these rocks hitting my window?” she asked herself aloud.

 Over and over, the same rhythm. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Slight pause. Tap, tap. Again. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Pause. Tap, tap. A third time. Ivy walked away and popped some bread in the toaster. The rhythm echoed in her head. Why did that pattern seem so familiar?

 And then she recognized it. That’s how her dad knocked on her bedroom door every morning to wake her up. He said it was Morse code. He had learned Morse code as a kid and thought she should, too. Could it be that Dad is trying to communicate with me? She searched ‘Morse code’ online. Yay! The internet is working! She found a YouTube video titled “How to Learn Morse Code Alphabet in 3 Steps.”

She played the video and stopped it at the display of a Morse code chart. She learned four taps was “H.” Pauses were between letters, and the second “tap, tap” was “I.” H-I. She knocked “Hi” back on the window. Then she knocked long, short, short. Pause. Short, long. Pause. Long, short, short, spelling “dad,” and raised her shoulders as though she were asking a question. He tapped “yes” back.

“Where are you?” tapped Ivy.

No reply. Keith was at a loss to explain where he was with a few taps.

“Are you OK?” she tapped.

“Yes,” he answered.

Still in her pajamas, Ivy ran outside to find her dad. She called for him frantically, but there was no answer. She began to cry. This was really freaking her out and she wondered if she was imagining the whole thing. 

Suddenly knocking came from the picnic table. She searched for him but saw nothing. She ran over to the table and started grasping at the air to see if she could touch him. But she couldn’t. She jumped up onto the table and occupied as much space as she could to see if she could find him, crying all the while. She heard more tapping but then realized she didn’t have her Morse code cheat sheet with her, so she announced that she was grabbing it as she ran in. She returned with paper and a pen and her tablet. She said, “I’m ready, Dad.” She hoped that he hadn’t disappeared—again. 

“Can you hear me?” she called out. She was relieved to hear a series of knocks that spelled yes. Then she then started firing off questions, like Why can’t I hear or see you? His response was an unsatisfying ‘I don’t know.’ She listened to the taps and transcribed his messages for the rest of the morning, until the sun came around the house and made it too hot to be outside at the table. 

Ivy learned that people have about ten years to cut carbon emissions in half and that he couldn’t return to Earth until greenhouse gas levels were brought down to 2010 levels. Ivy wanted to ask him what he thought she and her mom—and Greta Thunberg—had been saying for the last several years, but she decided that wouldn’t be helpful, and it wouldn’t bring him back any sooner. She mostly just wanted to know how she could help secure his return. 

Ivy’s dad explained that he wanted her to use her social media influence to make adopting a sustainable lifestyle mainstream. She never dreamed her fourteen-year-old voice could influence anything, but now that she thought about it, thanks to a silly but socially relevant video of hers going viral, she now had a wildly popular YouTube channel with millions of subscribers. She’d made most of the videos rather spontaneously without a script or a lot of editing. Somehow her quirky style and messages resonated with a broad base of people. Ivy agreed to help do this, but she argued that her efforts would never be enough. 

Her dad recognized this fact and communicated that he had other plans too, and that there were thousands of what he called ‘Ejected’ people working to meet this goal as well. He assured her that the weight of the world and his return did not rest solely on her shoulders. He just wanted her to do her best. She again agreed to do whatever she could. 

Tears stinging her eyes, Ivy said, “I want to hug you, but there’s nothing to hug.” 

She felt a warmth on her cheek that she knew must have been his kiss. 

Keith tapped, ‘Bye 4 now I luv u.’ 

Ivy sat at the picnic table, stunned for a couple of minutes as she tried to process what was happening. But she quickly decided that time was of the essence, so she ran inside to get to work.

CHAPTER 5 OF EJECTED: Camaraderie

After their tours, the Ejected were all dropped—like bombs—in the same realm where they first met. They were haggard, hungry, and horrified. No one talked or could look each other in the eye. They all knew they were responsible for so many ills on Earth. Even if they weren’t directly responsible for certain actions or problems, they knew that they hadn’t done everything in their power to do the right thing for the planet or for the good of humanity.

Seth brought the Ejected together and summarized what everyone had learned on their various tours. “Human activities have already warmed the planet about 1.8 °F since the pre-industrial era, around 1850,”18 he announced. “At the current rate of warming, the Earth’s average temperature will rise another 0.9 °F and reach the maximum livable temperature increase between 2030 and 2052. Limiting the total warming requires drastic changes.” 

He looked at each of the Ejected as he explained, “You all have learned different ways to reduce our carbon dioxide equivalents—often called CO2e for short—and we need every strategy implemented in order to have a chance of survival and for you to have a chance of returning to your families. No one will be able to return to Earth until enough emissions are reduced to support you all. Also, because CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries, temperatures will continue to rise,” he continued. “As a result, even with drastic emission cuts, meeting this 2.7 °F goal likely means that the Earth will go over the 2.7 °F threshold for a time before returning to a more livable level for the longer term.19 We need to follow the Paris Climate Change Agreement’s guidelines to the full extent. That’s why we also need some removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, or other technological advancements. In short, net carbon dioxide equivalent emissions need to drop forty-five percent from their 2010 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. To keep the math simple, and to err on the side of caution, let’s say we need to cut global emissions in half.”

“What does ‘net zero’ mean?” asked the lady with the pearls. 

Keith smirked as he recalled how this lady had bragged about her brainy Ph.D. How’s that fancy Ph.D. working for you now? wondered Keith. He couldn’t help it. He loved silently picking on people he found annoying.

 “‘Net zero’ means offsetting any remaining CO2e emissions by removing CO2e from the atmosphere,” explained Aziza.

 The lady stared blankly as if no explanation had been given. Keith watched this self-proclaimed genius with amusement.

 Recognizing that this lady wasn’t tracking, Aziza continued, “Imagine a bathtub with the faucet running. To keep the tub from overflowing, you can either turn off the running water or unplug the drain, right?”

 Lady Einstein nodded.

 “Turning off the water faucet is like reducing emissions because it’s stopping the emissions at their sources. Opening the drain is like finding carbon sinks—like trees, soil, or oceans—that store the carbon and sort of “drain” them out of the atmosphere.”

The lady nodded at Aziza very slowly, which convinced Keith that she still didn’t get it.

One of the Ejected stood up and began to speak, “The world will go on, but the question is, will people? We are destroying the resources that give us life—the air, water, and land.” This man was thin, but not frail. His voice was quiet, calm, and even and his eyes were warm and wise. Just being in his presence felt like an honor. Everyone waited for him to continue, “I learned on my tour that the fossil fuels that are currently powering most aspects of the world are killing millions of people every year. And they have been for decades. Our collective lack of a reaction doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t mirror the problem that is at hand. I’ve always thought God will take care of us. But it is clear to me that we need to do our part and not stand by idly. We have a crisis on our hands, and we all need to solve this so we can go back to our families.”

 A sense of unity swept across the Ejected, and this man’s speech was met with applause.

 Another Ejected stood up and declared, “We need to turn the page on greed and apathy and look toward love and light to find generosity and concern, compassion, and commitment to all do our part.”

 A loud voice from the back chimed in with, “Community and health!”

 “We need to hold hands with our neighbors and find a way to connect with and help each other. We need to put away the blame and judgment because we all use our planet’s resources, and no one is guilt free. We just don’t know everyone’s story, so we must practice restraint in judging others.”

 Yet another of the Ejected, who was caught up in the emotion, yelled, “Because we won’t do better until we all do better!”

 One by one, the Ejected stepped up and announced how many gigatons of emissions they thought they could reduce and what percentage that would be of the total. It was clear to everyone, without even exchanging words, that there would be winners and losers in people’s jobs for the short term, but that collectively, humans would be the biggest losers if drastic changes weren’t made immediately. The path forward was clear: reduce energy needs and overall consumption of all resources and quickly transition away from fossil fuels to renewables. The big picture wasn’t complicated.

 It was a race against time to save humanity. Could these historically selfish, sorry souls actually save their species?

CHAPTER 4 OF EJECTED: The Reckoning

Although Keith was floating above the Earth, his soul was painfully heavy. His head throbbed, and his stomach churned. He was hopeless and miserable. Guilty. Lost. Banished.

He longed to be with his daughter, Ivy, who was, without question, the best part of his life. Ivy was smart, kind, honest, and hilarious. She’d told him that he was a good guy, but was working for the bad guys. How was she so insightful? 

Until Ivy had started school, Keith was her primary caregiver while his wife, Viola, continued her career in renewable energy policy. Those days with Ivy were the happiest days of my life, remembered Keith. Ivy was always raring to go around 6:30 a.m. with a full agenda of things to do that day. She pretty much called the shots, but Keith was generally OK with her plans because she had such interesting ideas. 

Together they’d collected fall leaves and learned the tree names, splashed in puddles, had picnics, gone on bike rides and hikes, and planted gardens. Every day was filled with joy, giggles, snuggles, and adventure. Being with Ivy made everything more fun. Perhaps it was how enthusiastic she was about everything and how she had entertaining commentary about everything. Keith’s sister once joked that he could rent her out since she was so much fun. Keith and Ivy shared a solid bond.

Keith thought wistfully about how he had fallen in love with his ex-wife because she was so full of love, passion, and life—like Ivy. Viola was the ultimate do-gooder, who sought out problems to fix in her community and chipped in to help solve them, often anonymously. She was selfless, mindful, present, and put the common good before her own needs.

Keith and Viola met at a rally against fossil fuels in 1988—the year the world declared that climate change was caused by humans. He thought of the days they’d spent picnicking by prairies and watching the butterflies flutter by. They’d had a quiet life filled with farmers’ markets, small gatherings with friends, home-brewed beer, and social and environmental causes that often involved music.

But when Ivy started school, Keith knew that they needed to make more money. Viola’s altruistic career in renewable energy policy at a small non-profit was low paying. He took a job working for a top oil company. Keith convinced Viola that working for “the enemy” was a good decision because, in order to change the energy industry, reform needed to start from within. Keith assured Viola that his dreams hadn’t changed. He still dreamed of a carbon-neutral, healthy world for their daughter. But he truly believed that he could have a bigger impact working from the inside. After all, he reasoned, if this big oil company, and dozens of others, are the cause of so much pollution, they could also be the solution. These companies have the power and means to change things. He imagined that he could help steer the company’s business model away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources—like wind, solar, and geothermal—because renewables are much more profitable in the long term. Mostly because with renewables, a person can think long term.

Soon after Keith started that job, he realized his ideas of getting the company to pursue renewable energy sources would need to be put on hold, because he didn’t have enough experience to be listened to yet. He decided to play the “long game,” so he could earn his co-workers’ respect to get their support. But after working with the same people for years, these oil guys and gals became his friends. His moral compass, which had previously been black and white, became completely gray. He knew these people’s spouses and kids. They had wonderful senses of humor, and they were overall nice people with good hearts. The longer he stayed in the business, the more loyal he became to his colleagues. He shied away from making the sweeping changes he’d dreamed of because he knew how unpopular both he and the changes would be.

And, he wasn’t going to lie. Keith loved the luxury. After he transitioned to being a lobbyist, he made a fine living. He grew up in apartments and mobile homes, eating cheap, highly processed food. Now he had become accustomed to having whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, however he wanted it, wherever he wanted it. 

Although he always admired Viola, who consistently took the high road and saw the best in others, their lives had drifted apart. He didn’t always see the good in people like she did. In fact, Keith reveled in laughing at people’s stupidity, and he understood the thrill of living a little outside the law. Besides their daughter, he and Viola had little in common. That’s when Viola and Keith filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences as the cause. 

But when he and his wife divorced, Ivy only got to visit him on weekends. On top of that, too many of those weekends were shortened since he often needed to fly out on Sundays in order to be in D.C. early on Monday mornings. 

Keith and his daughter grew apart. His life in the city was entirely different than her life in the suburbs, and when Ivy would come to the city to stay with him, he could tell that she didn’t feel at home there. She was more comfortable in her routine with her mom. He also knew that Ivy didn’t like his girlfriends because she never bothered learning their names. 

Salomon interrupted Keith’s thoughts and escorted him to a series of massive control panels with hundreds of labeled sliders. 

“Now, Keith,” he said, “it is your job to use these controls to figure out how to move forward. What is done is done. There is no going back. But, there is a future. That is, there is a future if you make the right choices for the planet and humanity. The sliders you see in front of you control a detailed, simulated world. The sliders aren’t actually controlling the world, so move them around as much as you’d like.”

Salomon’s slow and steady voice narrated, “Global temperatures will continue to rise for decades because of the pollution that has already been created. The question is, how much will the temperatures continue to rise—by two degrees or ten degrees? Society and environmental systems will likely adapt to a couple of degrees—but remember, the planet was only five to nine degrees Fahrenhieit colder during the last ice age. There is just no way humans and animals can evolve quickly enough to handle this radical change. We need to hold the overall temperature change within 2.7 °F. Right now, we are on course for a 7.3 °F increase within eighty years.” 16

Only eighty years? If things don’t change, Ivy won’t even have a chance to live a full life and die of old age, realized Keith. He got right to work adjusting the levers trying every alternative. He found that in a future where heat-trapping gas emissions continued to grow, frost-free growing seasons increased in the U.S. by about a month. At first, he thought this could be advantageous, but he quickly saw the drought, wildfires, and everything else he had just witnessed on his tour followed soon after. He ran different scenarios using the climate change simulator to adjust hundreds of factors—energy supplies, transportation systems, land uses, population growth, industry emissions, carbon taxes, carbon removal tactics, and more. He worked for hours without looking up or taking a break. He’d always had the ability to over-focus on projects and lose track of time, but this project was unlike anything he’d ever done. 

A clear path to “stop the bleeding”—as his Defender had said—became obvious. Implementing a large carbon tax and reinvesting that money in energy efficiency and electrification supplied by renewables would limit the global temperature to 3.2 °F.17 That’s 84% of our planetary goal of holding the temperature at 2.7 °F. It’s a no-brainer. He told Salomon, “I’m ready.”

CHAPTER 3 OF EJECTED: The Tours

Without warning, and still recovering from their physical torment, the Ejected were catapulted in different directions. Keith watched with amusement as others’ arms and legs flailed, and they all made the exact same ridiculous, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, terrified expression. He thought it was funny until he was catapulted, too. He found himself not only flailing, wide-eyed, and open-mouthed but screaming as well.

Some people were catapulted in groups, but Keith was alone with his Defender of the Future. The Defender was too angry to introduce himself or try to make small talk. Keith felt there was something familiar about his Defender but didn’t know why. 

What Keith didn’t know was that his Defender had been observing him throughout his entire life. Because of this long history, the Defender knew Keith was capable of selflessness that served the greater good. But during the last decade, when given a choice, the Defender watched Keith make self-serving choices over and over. The Defender had lost patience with Keith. He’d decided it was time for a little tough love.

The Defender looked straight ahead, struggling to concisely explain decades of injustice. He feared being long winded would allow Keith to tune out. Finally, the Defender began to speak in a direct and even tone. He turned to Keith and stared him straight in the eyes so it was impossible for Keith to look away. “Twenty-five fossil fuel producers are responsible for half of the global emissions in the past three decades,” the Defender explained, “and one hundred oil, coal, and gas companies are linked to seventy-one percent of emissions since 1988.4

“Half? Seventy-one percent?” echoed Keith. He knew fossil fuels were responsible for emissions, but he actually hadn’t realized it was that much. Keith was learning not to argue with the Defenders, so he just looked down at his feet. He was having a hard time processing what this meant and the destruction that he was a part of.

“You lobbied for nearly all of these fossil fuel companies. It’s your job to prevent further destruction now. Years ago, Georgina Gustin laid it all out in the Carbon Disclosure Project that traced the greenhouse gas emissions. More was emitted over the last three decades than during all of the previous two centuries. To be more specific, fossil fuel producers contributed 833 gigatons of CO2 equivalent in the last twenty-eight years, compared with the 820 gigatons total that was produced during the previous 237 years.5

Wow. That’s about ten times faster than the natural rate, thought Keith before sheepishly asking, “What did you mean by carbon dioxide equivalent?”

The guide answered, “There are many types of greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide makes up the largest portion, and is the most talked about, but other gases—like methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and chlorine and fluorine-containing solvents and refrigerants play a role, too. Gases like nitrous oxide are less common but about 300 times more damaging. In order to compare these gases, we need to compare apples to apples, so we use a math formula to do that to make them equal. So, if the greenhouse gas that we’re talking about isn’t actually carbon dioxide, but is lesser-talked-about methane or something, we say carbon equivalent.”

 Keith nodded, and the unnamed Defender stated flatly, “You knew lobbying for fossil fuels wasn’t right, but you did it anyway. You justified your actions by saying, ‘If I don’t do this, someone else will.’ Now you need to know the consequences of your actions.”

Bewildered, Keith asked, “How do you know so much about me? What is your name?” 

“My name is Salomon Asger Vester the third and I knew you before you were born. I knew your mother too,” replied the Defender, hoping Keith would make the connection.

“Salomon Asger Vester?” Keith whispered, “From West Denmark?”

Salomon nodded.

“You’re my grandpa?” said Keith slowly with disbelief.

Again, Salomon nodded.

“But you’re young! Mom said you lived to be 81,” exclaimed Keith.

“Age is irrelevant in the realm, son. I chose my favorite age when I arrived here,” said his grandpa.

While Keith’s head spun, his legs crumpled beneath him. The arguments he had been formulating about how developing countries were to blame evaporated. He was talking to his grandpa! Although he had never met this man before, his mom spoke of his honesty and character every day of her life. He was a legend and known for his kindness. Everyone in town who knew Keith’s grandpa had heart-warming stories to share about his integrity, helpfulness, and humility. 

As Keith stood before his grandpa, he felt ashamed that he had made a living as a lobbyist by mastering the blame game—pointing fingers, and making baseless accusations to purposefully muddy the waters and cast doubt on indisputable facts. Keith’s voice was his power, but he found himself speechless.

Keith suddenly floated above a flooded village. Although he couldn’t tell exactly what had happened, he could see that the people in the village were utterly destitute. Every house was submerged underwater, and the stench of sewage stuck to the back of his throat and made him gag. The town square was empty. People looked hungry, and their eyes were downcast. The only sounds were from children running and playing despite the filth and destruction that surrounded them.

 Salomon explained, “What you’re looking at here are the latest climate refugees. These ‘natural’ disasters are a result of our world’s changing climate. With an overall warmer world, we have more evaporation, resulting in more moisture in the atmosphere. This excess moisture makes for a very turbulent atmosphere that is ripe for unstable weather patterns, like supercell hurricanes and tornadoes. The sea level is also rising as the ice caps are melting. The ocean salinity is changing, which is changing the fish populations, and people are losing the fish they depend on to eat. Simultaneously, their crops are being washed away.

 “So, they have to move,” Keith acknowledged. “You know that moving isn’t the end of the world.” Keith wanted to add “Grandpa” at the end of that statement but didn’t. Even though this man was kin, he could tell Salomon meant to hold him at a distance. 

 “Sure, a move within your own country might not seem like a big deal, but consider the fact that skills such as herding, fishing, and farming are not going to be useful in urban areas. So, once these people move, work will be hard to find. These good people are also losing their social networks—their friends and family, their identities, and their culture,” explained Salomon.

“OK,” Keith conceded, “I see we have some refugees. But how many, really? How big of a problem could this possibly be?”

“Try about twenty-five million. And the number of climate refugees is expected to double over the next five years. It’s predicted that as many as one billion people will be displaced by climate change over the next forty years. In fact, the United Nations estimates that more people are displaced due to climate change than war.6

“Wow. That’s a lot. At least it’s not killing people, though,” said Keith attempting to make the situation not seem so dire.

 “Ha! Climate change is absolutely already killing people!” hollered Salomon, “Air pollution alone kills seven million people each year. That accounts for one in eight deaths.7 And when you factor in secondary problems caused by climate change—like heat stress, malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, vector-related illnesses, wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding—you could say there are lives being lost due to climate change. So just stop making excuses for your inaction.”

 Again, Keith wanted desperately to defend himself to alleviate his guilt. He also wanted to un-see those skinny, sickly bodies and all the poverty he’d witnessed. He closed his eyes to block the awful scene and kept them squeezed shut until Salomon told him sternly to open them. He reluctantly reopened his eyes to find that he was in a wetland, thick with mosquitoes. He swatted and ran in a pointless attempt to outrun the swarm.

“Increased rainfall and rising global temperatures are expanding the habitat and the breeding season of mosquitoes, exposing more people to diseases like dengue, chikungunya, Zika, Nipah, and Q fever,” said Salomon unfazed by the swarming mosquitoes. “These conditions also breed vector-borne diseases caused by parasites, viruses, and bacteria transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and fleas.”

Keith jumped and wildly swung his arms in a futile attempt to escape the high-pitched buzz of the mosquitoes that voraciously bit him through his clothes.

“Climate change also opens the door to communicable diseases, Keith. As human-caused climate change has taken hold over the last several decades, dozens of new infectious diseases have emerged or begun to threaten new regions, including Zika and Ebola. Cholera is also becoming more difficult to control because the warm, brackish waters and rising sea levels help spread the disease. Cholera infects about four million people each year and kills about 100,000 of them.8

The Defender paused before continuing, “Ever heard of the bubonic plague?

“Of course, spread by rats and fleas during the Middle Ages. We kicked that disease eons ago though,” Keith replied.

“Well, it wasn’t actually eradicated; it was just controlled, so it became less common. And now it’s increasing thanks to warmer springs and wetter summers, Keith.”

Keith was again speechless, and the words bubonic plague tumbled around in his brain.

“Now let’s talk about deadly bacteria called anthrax,” said the Defender. “The anthrax spores are released from soil by thawing permafrost and seem to be spreading farther as a result of stronger winds.”9

Keith thought about these huge numbers compared with the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was caused by the novel coronavirus. When the global death toll hit 20,000 people in the middle of March 2020,10 global activity had come to a near screeching halt, as people around the globe quarantined. Climate change is already causing substantial death tolls, yet there is virtually no response.

 “That’s right,” the guide said, responding to Keith’s thoughts. It freaked Keith out that his thoughts were no longer private. 

Salomon explained, “People aren’t acting collectively on climate change, although it’s changing everything. It is the basis of most of the disturbances that have been hitting the news. People see the tragedies as unrelated and keep putting Band-Aids on the consequences. Climate change needs to be addressed from every angle. Just as people chipped in to do their part with stopping COVID-19, so must humanity come together to halt the climate crisis. And it’s your job to stop the bleeding.”

Keith was holding his breath, trying to find calmness in the swarm of mosquitoes. It seemed to work! He no longer heard the insanity-producing, shrill whine of the mosquitoes. 

He opened his eyes to realize that he didn’t hear the mosquitoes because he was no longer in the wetland. He saw the world off in the distance looking like a beautiful, blue marble just like he had when he’d first arrived with the Ejected. Judging from the size of the Earth, he decided he must be in the mesosphere. An overwhelming sense of peace relaxed his body. He felt serene and connected to the universe, with no pain or discomfort. Warmth and positivity surged through him. This was the best feeling he’d ever experienced. Euphoric. Clear-headed. Dark, but utterly peaceful, he acknowledged his state and wanted to exist in it forever. 

Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last, and the smell of smoke overwhelmed him. He was on land again, but this time in a dry landscape. He turned in circles to find fires surrounding him in every direction. The heat was unbearable. He wanted to run, but there was no way out. As the fires came closer, the smell of burning flesh overtook him, and he threw up. The smoke choked him. He gasped as he prayed for air. The smoke stung his eyes, and he curled up in a little ball with his shirt and arms over his head. He knew he was powerless, and again he surrendered to the world.

With what he thought was his last breath, he was compelled to open his eyes. He was shocked to see that there were no longer fires surrounding him. Now his only thought was water. He needed water. His tongue was swollen. He looked down to see that his body looked like the skin and bones of a concentration camp prisoner. He held his bleeding nose as he staggered around in search of water.

“You are currently experiencing the effects of wildfires, dehydration, and famine caused by drought,” said Salomon, obviously upset to see another being—especially his own grandson—in such a miserable state. But he had tried for decades to teach Keith from afar and point out the moral path, but Keith was stubborn and didn’t seem to learn lessons. Salomon firmly believed there was a place for corporal punishment to make a lesson stick.  

Keith couldn’t verbally respond, so he slowly shook his head. As soon as Keith surrendered to the situation, he was ejected to hover above a mountain top. This time, Keith was too weak to even flail.

Keith looked down and saw glaciers! Oh, blessed, beautiful sight! The air was crisp and fresh. But terror replaced his elation as the glaciers avalanched down, crashing into the sea. Everywhere he looked, the glaciers slid away. He gasped and was catapulted to an Arctic region where he watched a bony polar bear swim to an ice floe and struggle to pull itself up on top of it. The starving bear looked around with no prospects of food in sight. He could feel that bear’s exhaustion, and he had an incredible urge to lie down. He would do anything to sleep. To drink. To get the smell of burning flesh out of his nose, and to have his eyes stop stinging.

That, of course, didn’t happen. Instead, he was ejected back into the mesosphere again, where he could see the lower 48 states before him like a map. A clock ticked under his view that showed the passage of years. The clock started in 2020 and went to 2100, then started over. He examined the regions one by one, starting from the top left as if he were reading a book.

 In the Northwest region, he saw reduced water supplies, the sea level rise, and increased ocean acidification that limited fishing and aquaculture. There was not enough food, and he saw signs of massive malnutrition. Erosion, caused by the flooding, threatened the utility lines and he could see that power was unreliable as the light from cities flickered on and off. Wildfires that ravished the area were followed by insect outbreaks and tree diseases, causing widespread tree die-off.11

 In the Midwest, where he lived when he wasn’t lobbying in Washington, D.C., he witnessed extreme heat, followed by torrential downpours and flooding, which devastated agriculture and caused widespread hunger. The rich, precious topsoil created by the prairies that once covered the region, slipped away into rivers. The sediment found its way to the Gulf of Mexico, where it choked out the aquatic life there. The Great Lakes were largely evaporated and choked with invasive species. The flooding disrupted transportation and cell towers.12

 Tears streamed down his face as he looked toward the Northeast, where he saw more heatwaves, followed by further heavy downpours and even higher sea levels. He witnessed towns slipping into the ocean; and infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystems collapse.13

 Hoping for a positive scene, he looked toward the majestic Southwest, only to see the bleakness extend: intolerable heat, drought, dwindling water supplies, insect outbreaks, and wildfires.14

 He couldn’t stand another minute of this. He would do anything to make this all stop. Just please make this all stop, he thought over and over. Please, please, please, please.

 Against his will, the tour continued, and he saw the Southeast’s sea level rise so much that it destroyed the region’s fishing economy and swallowed up homes and businesses at a breakneck pace. The extreme heat devastated the people’s ability to work, and the lack of clean freshwater made survival in this region difficult.15

“Make it stop!” yelled Keith as he threw himself down on the ground and wept. “Just make it stop. I can’t take this anymore! How can I make this stop?”

CHAPTER 2 EJECTED

CHAPTER 2 EJECTED

Chapter 2

Ejected

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.

Man being ejected from Earth

CHAPTER 1 The No-Show

Where is he? He’s never late. Ivy wondered. But instead of being upset that her dad hadn’t come yet to pick her up for the weekend, she decided to take the opportunity to relax. It had been a busy week, with soccer practice every night, before-school chamber orchestra practices, a piano lesson, mountains of homework, and the spring art show the previous night.  

Even though she loved hanging out with her dad, she wasn’t really looking forward to the coming weekend. She missed how things used to be with her dad before the divorce, back when it was the two of them hanging out. They’d always gone on lots of adventures together and would laugh the whole time. Her dad could make absolutely anything fun. One of her favorite things to do with her dad was to people-watch in public places. They would make up scenarios and narrate what strangers were thinking or saying. But now, there was always a girlfriend tagging along—and it usually wasn’t the same one. Ivy didn’t feel like she could be herself around any of these women, and she didn’t know why they always had to come along. Ivy thought it was obvious that none of those women were even remotely compatible with her dad. She didn’t know why her dad couldn’t see it. She was convinced that her mom and dad still belonged together; they’d just lost their connection. Everyone else told her that she was just having trouble accepting the reality of the divorce, that she was in denial. 

And lately, thought Ivy, there was the endless nit-picking. When did Dad become such a nitpicker? He would drill her on everything from mundane things like, “Did you brush your teeth?” and “Did you pack your snack?” or “How much water did you drink today?” to “Have you researched any colleges and scholarship opportunities?” I’m fourteen, Dad. Take it easy.

She found herself remembering the time he’d called from Colorado, during a skiing trip with his friends. His first question was about how much fiber I’d had that day, thought Ivy. Who asks that? Not to mention who asks their 14-year-old daughter that? I mean, how socially awkward. Like right away, too, before you talk about normal stuff like what you did that day, or what made you laugh recently? You didn’t ask me what I’d been reading, or what I found interesting? How I’d helped to make the world a better place today? If there is anything on my mind? Nope, none of that. It’s just so weird, Dad. She knew that her dad’s urge to control every detail was just his anxiety popping up, but it wasn’t fun to be around him when he was like that. Her dad just didn’t seem to be happy and it seemed he felt the need to make others feel his unhappiness too, through his constant badgering and complaining that things weren’t quite meeting his unrealistic expectations. 

 He’s never late, so he must have a pretty decent excuse, she decided. She didn’t even feel like doing Instagram, so just closed her eyes and melted into her mom’s awesome couch.