The Politics of Fate
"One thing's for sure: it's not the greenhouse effect." The politician's face was creased with worry as he forced the light-hearted words. He seemed older in the hologram than in person, and a large 2-d line-graph in the background enclosed him within a neat, official square.
William Taylor gazed at the holo, smiling pleasantly. "Oh, really?"
"We put an end to that environmental catastrophe centuries ago with the introduction of safe nuclear energy."
"So nothing else could be causing this odd change in temperature?"
"You're the scientist, William. You tell me." Congressman John Parker leaned back in his chair, fiddling idly with a pen. "I'd like to say it was just another normal rise in temperature according to the climate cycle, but facts don't pan out. If anything, we should be on a cooling trend."
John Parker was a bright young man with a charismatic smile and a firm handshake. Having graduated near the top of his class from nothing less than Harvard, the exuberant young politician had a promising future; his amazingly rapid upward trek had already earned him a place in the House of Representatives, and though nobody had mentioned it yet, Taylor did not find it difficult to imagine an eventual Presidential nomination for Parker.
William and John had known each other since childhood, and though their higher education had taken them in different directions, their friendship had remained strong. Debating between a career in politics, music, or sciences, Taylor had eventually settled on the latter, specialized in astrophysics, and found a comfortable position in an independent laboratory.
The politician caught the subtle smile on Taylor's lips and refocused his attention. "You didn't call to hear me ramble," he said. "What's the news?"
William leaned back, his chair squeaking, and gazed around his office. Bright rays of early-morning sunlight cascaded across the cluttered room from a pair of picture windows. "Have you gone outside lately? It's been nice. Unseasonably warm."
Parker suppressed a smile. "Come on, William. I don't have all day."
"If there's one thing in this Universe we don't give enough respect, it's the sun. Why, without it, nothing could survive. The source of all heat, the magnificent giver and taker of life."
"William," the politician warned.
Taylor dragged the line graph into the holo's main picture window. "Look, Parker. Earth's average temperature has pretty much been rising for the past couple centuries, but we've only just noticed it because the effects have only recently become perceptible."
"Yeah . . . ?"
The scientist pulled another picture into the display, identifying it: "It's the sun, one hundred years ago. Now watch how the pictures change." Photos of the sun flashed across the display; Taylor continued. "Keep in mind that these are the same view, taken from the same distance and using roughly the same technology." The last image lingered eerily in mid-air.
"I don't follow."
"That's because you didn't notice the change; it was too gradual. But compare the first and last photos. Zoom in on the equatorial region."
The confusion on the politician's face grew deeper. "Taylor . . . what is this?"
"But what are all these spots? It looks like it's come down with chicken pox."
"Those are tiny sunspots, and around them are more numerous flares. That's not a coincidence; it's a proven link. And there's another proven link you might find interesting: the connection between the sun's flaring and Earth's temperature. Evidence dates back to the Little Ice Age in the late 1600s: fewer flares means a colder climate, and vice versa. Extra heat is trapped in Earth's atmosphere &mdash which would explain this new global warming has left everybody baffled.
"But that's not all," Taylor continued. "If the star continues to flare at an exponential rate, heat will continue to build exponentially. Remember the graph, Parker? If you extrapolate the points, you'll find that in about eighty more years the flaring will cause intolerable heat, which means that in about 120 years Earth's climate may be unsuitable for human habitation."
Parker stared blankly at the screen, uncharacteristically speechless. "You . . . you've got to be joking," he finally stammered.
"I kid you not."
"But . . . how? I mean, what is this, a nova event? How's it happening?"
William sighed. "It's no nova event," he said, placing his hands on his temples and closing his eyes, deep concern finally surfacing on his face. "We may have evaded the wrath of the greenhouse effect with the introduction of safe nuclear technology," he said, "but we inadvertently caused another disaster. You know what we do with all the nuclear waste?"
"Yeah. We throw it into the sun. It's nuclear anyway, right?" Sickening realization, followed by denial, slowly spread across Parker's features. "William, please tell me you're joking."
"For the past four and a half centuries we've been tossing our toxic waste into the sun. We can't use that star as our cosmic trash can without something drastic happening! The nuclear industry has changed, but the nuclear waste hasn't, and we're using this technology more than our forefathers ever imagined.
"The human population, John, is larger than it has ever been before," the scientist continued. "We've covered Earth's surface and literally overflowed onto the moon; we've put colonies throughout the solar system and sent our ships to the farthest planets. And what does it all run on? What powers each ship, each city, every form of transportation? Nuclear fission. Nuclear energy is used by the highest world power and the smallest third-world nation."
"So you're saying that this is a man-made disaster," Parker clarified, cynicism back in his voice. "I don't care how many millions of tons of waste we throw into the sun; it can't possibly be enough to even cause a hiccup in the star, much less end all life on Earth!"
"Normally, Parker, I would be inclined to agree with you. But what we're dealing with here is a combination of coincidence and stupidity. We've been dumping the nuclear waste in the same spots! &mdash the same spots, Parker, for over four hundred years: the spots that are most convenient for us. And what spots are 'most convenient'? The ones closest to the Earth. You see what I'm saying, John? It's only a tiny part of the giant star, but its location makes it dangerous. Nature has a balance here . . . we can't disrupt that balance and expect nothing to happen."
"But this much change? Enough to end all life?"
"Over half a millennium, yes! Look at the holo. If I take a map of our dumping sites, they would correspond exactly with the sunspots."
The Congressman stared at him coldly. "Do you have any evidence that what you say is true, besides several easily falsified holograms?"
"John . . ."
"What evidence do you have that this is indeed caused by nuclear waste and not by a natural phenomenon? And for that matter, what makes you so sure that this global warming is, in fact, a result of this supposed flaring when you've left so many possibilities uninvestigated on our own planet?"
William Taylor groaned. "You're in denial, John &mdash"
"No, William," the politician corrected him. "I'm telling you what you're going to have to deal with if you go public with this prematurely."
"I know. I realize I'm going to get that reaction. But this goes beyond a simple want to believe &mdash this is truth, and people will have to realize that eventually. The good news is that we still have plenty of time. If we stop the waste flow now, this shouldn't be a major problem." He paused, licked his lips. "You're a political figure, John," he said carefully. "You need to bring this up, make this an issue &mdash"
"I refuse to be your personal lobbyist!" Parker retorted. "I don't care how dedicated you are, or how close our friendship is; I can't go public on the basis of a single study."
"Proof is not a problem. In fact, the Nebula is working on that proof right now. My information is easily verified and, once published, will be widely accepted by the scientific community."
"When you have such backing contact me again, and maybe then we can talk."
William looked at him with subtle disbelief.
The politician sighed apologetically. "William, you're too idealistic. You're a scientist. Nobody's going to believe a raving scientist."
"Environmentalists are extinct. They died from lack of attention, were written off as absurd, were made ridiculous by their own predictions of doom. Taylor, nobody listens to environmentalists!"
A dark shadow crossed William Taylor's face as a cloud passed over the sun. He stared out the window, his eyes sparkling with cold fire. "I think it's time they do."
* * *
"Sunspots," said William Taylor, "are darker colored, cooler areas of the sun's photosphere. They most often appear near the solar equator in areas called active regions, and each one is normally about as big as Earth. These new sunspots, however, are appearing in only one area and are a great deal smaller."
The interviewer nodded. She was a curt, formal woman with a cool and patient voice and a hot, impatient stare. The interview was being recorded by one of the world's largest I-Vid networks for a special documentary on climate change. "And you allege that such solar activity is enough to wipe out all life on the planet?" she asked, her voice emotionless.
"Well, it has that potential," Taylor said. "With any luck, it won't progress that far." His eyes strayed toward the giant windows that served as the backdrop for their conversation, the panes of plexiglass framing the looming cityscape. The glass-and-metal skyscrapers soared valiantly skyward, crisscrossed by streets and monorails and dotted with copter stations.
"And in your article, you also state that this was caused by human activity."
"Yes. It is caused by the dumping of nuclear waste into the sun. You see," he continued, his hands working excitedly, "we use heavy elements such as uranium and plutonium in our reactors. Such elements are more difficult for the sun to fuse than the hydrogen it naturally uses as fuel. When we dump our waste onto the sun's surface, it slows the fusion process and those spots begin to cool, which explains both the size and location of these sunspots."
"Isn't it true, Dr. Taylor, that the correlation between sunspots and flares has neither been scientifically explained nor accurately calculated?"
William shifted uncomfortably. "Well, yes . . . but we know that the link exists. I had been hoping that the results from the Nebula would be of use, but since the accident . . ." He shifted again. The seats were too smooth and the cushions too gelatinous. "The correlation deals with the magnetic &mdash"
"Since you mention it, Dr. Taylor," the woman interrupted, "when the Nebula spun out of control and into the sun, it was carrying a supply of heavy elements for fuel, correct?"
"Yes, I believe so."
"Then shouldn't we have seen another sunspot at the location of the crash, if your hypothesis is indeed correct?" She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
"Well, it takes some time for these things to surface," he began awkwardly. "It's only been a matter of weeks since then. Besides, the conditions of the Nebula's destruction are drastically different from the methods used in our dumping sites. Much of the craft, I'm sure, burned up before it entered the sun, and the waste may have been dispersed. But if I were to take a map of the sun's surface and overlay a map of our waste sites, they would match exactly."
"I have a report here, issued by the National Coalition for Climate Research, which points out that not only are the sunspots to which you refer only about the size of a small town, but that the radiation emitted by the flares is so marginal that what is not dispersed is absorbed by Earth's atmosphere. It concludes by stating that the climate change is most probably a natural occurrence &mdash they cite paleoclimatological data as support." She looked up, calmly. "Do you care to respond?"
Taylor's brow corrugated. "I'm not familiar with this study," he said, "but I must disagree. Though these solar flares are small by astronomical standards, they still carry enough power to affect the Earth &mdash mainly because of their location. Furthermore, many studies have shown that global temperature should be on the decline, not on the rise as this group seems to believe. In fact, that is the reason that I began looking for a cause beyond our own planet in the first place."
"I see. And your solution to this problem is to stop the waste flow?"
"Yes. The flares will stop when the waste flow stops &mdash it's as simple as that."
"Well, perhaps not, Dr. Taylor. What would you propose to do with the hundreds of tons of nuclear waste generated each day?"
"With all due respect, that isn't exactly my field . . . but we would obviously have to consider alternate forms of energy."
"Isn't it true, Dr. Taylor, that you have been a member of the Anti-Nuclear Coalition for twenty-three years, even before your discovery of the sunspots?"
"I don't see how that is relevant."
"Do you have anything to gain from the failure of the nuclear power companies?"
"Isn't it true that you own large portions of stock in several alternative energy companies?"
She smiled pleasantly as the holographs cut to a shot of Dr. William Taylor, turning a shade of red and sputtering uncontrollably. It lingered on him for a long moment, then returned to the commentator, who said soothingly, "You see, Dr. Taylor, there have been questions as to your motives for blaming this minor climate change on the nuclear power industry."
She waited patiently, eyes glittering.
"Please," Taylor said seethed, "don't minimize this issue; this is a problem that goes beyond myself and my opinions. And your reference to this being a 'minor' climate change &mdash"
"Actually, a few questions have arisen on that point as well." She leaned forward casually, ready to deliver the fatal blow. "Is it not true that the average temperature of Earth has only risen approximately one degree in the past thousand years?"
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