Hearty greetings Dog watchers. This week’s tale was discovered in the bottom of a waterlogged canoe on the upper reaches of the Zanzibar river in North Reading. I can only assume it had some kind of religious significance.
The Solution to the Problem
On the second day of the conference, one of the Elders, old and wizened, began by outlining the extent of the problem: “If we continue polluting the world’s atmosphere at the same rate as at present, it will be effectively unbreathable within fifty years.” He paused, as a shudder ran around the audience. Half a century was a mere blip in the lifespan of most of them. “So something has to be done,” he continued, “Somehow, everyone in the whole world has got to find a way of cutting down.”
However, at this point, there was a disturbance in the hall, as one of the delegates started heckling the speaker. “What about the Amazonians?” he shouted. “Why aren’t they here?”
It was a good question. Despite the overall air of pessimism, the conference was in fact reasonably well-attended. But there were some notable absentees; for example, the North American delegation was smaller than expected, and – as the heckler had pointed out – there was no-one from Amazonia there at all. The absence of the Amazonians had been greeted with dismay, because much of the agenda of the conference was, after all, largely directed towards them. Although, on reflection, that was perhaps why no-one from the Amazon basin had bothered to make the trip.
It was a shame, because the first day of the conference had been especially constructive. Most of it had been devoted to a detailed discussion of various disease-eradication programmes, which – for once – seemed to be largely on track. Indeed, it was reported that pernicious leaf-blight had largely been eliminated from Australia, although – as one of the Elders caustically remarked – this was possibly helped by the increasingly sedentary nature of the population. This, of course, had led inevitably on to the second major topic of the day: mobility.
The fact was that, setting aside the considerable achievements of the conference attendees, some of whom had successfully travelled halfway across the world to get there, the inhabitants of settlements everywhere were becoming increasingly static. They had simply put down roots where they happened to be and stopped moving, leading to problems of in-breeding and excessive population density. In some cases, this had arisen due to obesity – this was particularly true of certain populations in North America – but mainly of course, it was caused by atmospheric pollution. At that point, it had been decided to adjourn for the evening, and the whole of the second day had been set aside for a debate on what to do about the pollution problem.
The Elder looked at the Baobab who had complained about the Amazonians and shook his head. “I wish I knew why they aren’t here,” he replied. “We tried hard to persuade them to come, but they won’t listen to us. They say that they just can’t afford to do anything about it. As far as they’re concerned, it’s just not economic.”
“But they’re the biggest forest in the whole planet!” said the Baobab. “They produce more of the pollutant than the rest of us put together! What’s the point of us doing anything to cut down? I mean, look at us!” He gestured around at his fellow spindly Baobabs. “If we cut down any more, we’ll die.”
“And what about the developing nations?” interjected a Eucalyptus from the Queensland rain forest. “It’s all very well you trumpeting a cure for bloody pernicious leaf-blight, but if we can’t expand and develop our economy, then we might as well be dead anyway.”
“We all need to reign in our habits,” said the Elder, with a slightly patronising tone that drew tut-tuts from several corners of the audience.
An Oak in the third row raised a branch. “Could I make an alternative suggestion perhaps?”
The Elder shrugged. “Is it worth hearing? Where are you from anyway? I don’t recognise your badge.”
“Eden,” replied the Oak. Immediately, the hall was engulfed in uproar.
“Silence!” shouted the Elder, “Silence!” The noise gradually abated. “Hmmm,” it said. “Eden, eh? Well, you may have precisely one minute, and then I will have you removed.”
The Oak shook its branches sadly. “Well, what is the point in talking if you are all prejudiced against me? I know that much of our work is experimental. Controversial, even. But these are desperate times – and desperate times call for desperate measures. At least do me the courtesy of hearing me out.”
The Oak paused. “What if,” it said, “What if we could find another organism that consumed the pollutant for us?”
The whole hall rocked with laughter at this. The Oak was unfazed, and continued, once the noise had died down again. “And what if it also excreted the gas that we need? What then?”
The Elder quickly interrupted at this point, before the conference descended into chaos. “Delegate from Eden!” it shouted, “You are playing games with us! I shall have you escorted from the building!”
But the Oak stood firm, and produced a tank from underneath its lower branches. In it were two strange unearthly organisms.
“Take a look at these little beauties,” it said, gesturing towards the contents of the tank. “They’re peculiar little things, aren’t they? As you can see, they’re not like us. Sort of pink, hairy and wobbly. But watch!” And the Oak proceeded to connect up the hose from a canister of the pollutant oxygen to the tank containing the two organisms. It then turned the tap on, and the whole conference gasped in astonishment.
“In case you’re wondering, they’re not about to die. The little guys just love the stuff. And in a few minutes’ time, you can come around and lift the lid, and you’ll find that it’s all gone. What’s more, what’s left is pure, completely breathable CO2.”
The hall erupted into spontaneous applause, marvelling at the strange pink creatures from Eden.
“But there are only two?” inquired the Elder.
“Well, yes,” said the Oak, “But we think we can get them to breed. And once that’s done, the world is saved.”
Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedfordshire, England, and – despite having so far visited over forty other countries – has failed to relocate any further away than the next-door county of Hertfordshire. He is married with two children and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. His work has won several prizes, shortlistings and longlistings, and he has been published in such diverse publications as Smokebox, apt and Necrotic Tissue. His website is www.jonathanpinnock.com.