“Mr Jist? You’re the scientific consultant on climate change?” the young woman asked.
“The Committee will see you now. Right through that door.”
Entering the penthouse conference room, Jist was unnerved, meeting with these powerful industry leaders, since he had nothing but bad news for them. The dozen people around the big mahogany table were mostly men; there were a few women, all wearing immaculately tailored office fashions. He was suddenly self-conscious of his off-the-rack suit. And he noticed that no one asked him to sit. They looked blithely up at him with only a little more interest than if he were delivering their lunches.
They hailed from all the major obsolete-energy companies–oil, coal, fracking concerns; come together for a pan-industry strategy meeting. He was a bit surprised to see several United States Senators sitting with them, including Joe Manchin. The Senator from West Virginia was on his cell phone, half-turned to look at the monument-strewn panorama of Washington DC below. “Well now, Susan, you tell Donald I don’t have time to meet with him right now–we’ll see how things pan out in 2022.”
“Joe!” said a botoxed woman with shiny-blond hair. “You might want to end that little chat right now.” The others chuckled at that.
Manchin ended the call, then turned Jist a heavy-lidded look of vague disapproval. “Who do you work for?” he asked, emanating suspicion.
Jist blinked. “Uh–I work for this committee! I was hired to oversee the assessment. The committee asked for a frank assessment and that’s what I’ve got for you all. I’m a scientist. I have a degree from Harvard, another from MIT, and another from the Sorbonne. I won a Nobel Prize for–“
“Enough of all that eyewash,” Manchin interrupted, waving a hand dismissively.
A man Jist recognized as Lyman Frinks, the chairman of the committee, cleared his throat and said, “Let us have the summary–the short version, Mr. Jist.” Frinks had a face that looked as if it were slowly sliding into the collar of his hand made exquisitely tailored four thousand dollar silk shirt. His Texas accent was strong. “We have the report you sent over but we haven’t had time to really assess it.” He was not officially the head of a company, but he owned vast shares across the oil and gas industry, and was closely connected to Republican-controlled media sources.
Jist took a deep breath and said, “In sum, while the worst effects of climate change can be curtailed, saving perhaps a billion lives, if we act in concert right now, the greenhouse effect has only gotten more dramatic. No significant efforts to reduce carbon emissions, nor methane, and the like, have been made and many of the worst effects are now, in 2021, happening sooner than some climate scientists expected. We are seeing the melting of the permafrost with the subsequent massive release of methane. The destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and forest land generally, in uncontrolled exploitation and the climate-change-generated wildfires, along with the concatenation of effects in the oceans, all this accelerates the negative effects of climate change. The result is that extreme storms are becoming the norm, and they will only get worse. Infrastructure will be repeatedly interrupted by flooding and hurricane damage, in places that never saw it before. Droughts will be the norm-and they too will only get worse. The damage to arable land will limit food production, and there will be egregious and routine famines across the world, including in the United States, and with roads and other forms of transport under constant threat, food delivery will be harshly reduced. Supermarkets will have very little on the shelves. The price of food will skyrocket. There will be an increase of pandemics due to the northern movement of tropical mosquitoes and other–“
“A famine in the USA?” Botoxed woman interrupted. Her face was essentially frozen so he couldn’t read her expression precisely but he took it she was startled.
“Yes ma’am. Starvation will be widespread in this country, and every other country. And of course billions of people will be uprooted by unlivable conditions and will become a great mass of refugees which will radically undermine social order, leading to wars, which in turn–“
“You sure this is the short version, boy?” Manchin broke in, rolling his eyes.
“Oh yes sir. I could go on for a couple hours. Basically, global catastrophe is unavoidable now–we could have limited it a great deal if we’d started reducing carbon and methane emissions dramatically decades ago, when we were first made aware of the problem, but–“
“What a lot of hogwash!” Manchin laughed.
“Joe?” Frinks said, toying with an unlit cigar. “It’s not hogwash. He’s just confirming what our internal research has shown us. Last thirty years we’ve been aware this would happen. But we wanted to make our own plans at this meeting, across industry– but of course, sub rosa, on the quiet.”
“It’s true, what he’s saying?” Manchin said, who looked like he had heard the ineffable.
“Yes it is, Joe. So–shut up!”
Manchin sniffed. But he nodded. “Yes sir.”
Lindsay Graham chuckled but said nothing.
“But–what we going to do about it?” asked Mitch McConnell. “You going to…to…” He licked his lips. He had difficult saying it. “Reduce emissions? Go into energy, ah, alternatives?”
“Hell no!” Frinks said.
Everyone laughed at that, except Jist.
“Nope, it’s too late to do much good and anyway, it won’t matter. We’ve got our luxury bunkers, our mountaintop homes–“
Botoxed Woman looked nervously at Jist. “We shouldn’t be talking about those places here.”
“Don’t you worry about it,” said Frinks. “As I was sayin’, we’ve located the zones least likely to be damaged by climate change and most of us are building our homes under the domes and we’ve got the greenhouses–now there’s an irony–and the private high rise hydroponics and the food synthesizing 3D printers and the private distilleries. Hell, we’ll be fine! We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing! Folks are going to die, but folks die anyway. Except me, maybe–I’m getting that new rejuvenation treatment–“
“There’s a rejuvenation treatment?” Jist blurted.
“Oh yes, we kept it secret, of course. Yep I’ll be around in a hundred years lookin’ young as you!”
“But…if it’s secret…” Why are they telling me? Jist wondered. He had refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. How are they planning to keep me quiet?
He started edging toward the door.
Frinks touched a tab the table. “Hon, send in Duke and Bubba.”
The door opened behind Jist and he turned to see two big, square-jawed men– enormous steroid-pumped masses of muscle in golf shirts and tan slacks. They both had guns holstered on their hips.
“Yes, Mr Frinks?” said the one on the left.
“Duke, I like to do things expediently. You know me–ol’ Mister Get It Done. Now, take Mr. Jist here to the roof. You know that construction site next door?”
“Well I own that and it’s shut down today. Big fences around it. Toss him off the roof so he falls in that site, and we’ll cover him in concrete, okay?”
“You got it, sir.”
“Wait, what–?” Jist began.
“Sir,” said Bubba, “what if someone sees him fall?”
“Well if they report it,” Frinks said, admiring his cigar, “go get ’em and toss them off the roof there too. And of course we own the police in this town anyhow.”
The committee nodded thoughtfully at that.
Jist turned to run but the big men grabbed him. He was not a big man himself, and he was not strong, and they had no difficulty dragging him out.
When they’d gone, Frinks stuck the cigar in his mouth.
Botoxed Woman frowned. “You’re not going to light that in here are you?”
“No, no, wouldn’t do that, hon,” he said. “Why that’d be polluting the air!”
He got the laugh, all around, that he wanted.