Conspiracy - Part 2
After recounting what I had witnessed I expected to be caught. I imagined living the life of a fugitive like Edward Snowden or a prisoner like Julian Assange. But what actually happened was perhaps worse: my warning went unheeded. To the extent anyone noticed, it was ridiculed as a conspiracy theory. My missive got so little traction, I even retained my job as an aide. I write again today, despite little prospect of reaching anyone, out of weakness. An inability to bear knowledge, to which I was only accidentally privy, in silence.
I was present at another (virtual) meeting primarily to ensure the connection was secure and translations to the non-English-speaking participants faithful. The conference began with a debate about what further COVID measures should be undertaken for the safety of the populace. Various suggestions from vaccine passports to renewed lockdowns were considered, before a prominent head of state, the same one who had spearheaded the pandemic’s creation, spoke up.
He told his audience even though global emissions had declined only seven percent, the COVID crisis had accomplished its mission. Many in the audience, especially those angling for increased restrictions, exchanged puzzled looks. The leader argued that while we could possibly prolong the pandemic for another year, the public was largely adapting to the new reality, and greater swaths of it were no longer afraid of the virus. More crucially, however, COVID and the measures taken in response were proof of concept — that people, recognizing a sufficient threat, would set aside petty conveniences for personal safety and society’s greater good. Most importantly, they would demand the same of their fellow citizens.
In the short term, he argued, the best course was to reward people for their civic-mindedness with some of their previous autonomy, to instill trust and undermine nay-sayers who predicted the restrictions would never end. A renewed prosperity for the vaccinated, even at the cost of increased emissions, was the correct message. The seeds must be sewn for bigger sacrifices yet to come. While the pandemic had given us a brief respite, the return to normalcy would prove unsustainable. Infinite growth on a finite planet portends only extinction.
The head of an NGO typed into his laptop, showing the amount of CO2 allocated to each of the nearly eight billion of earth’s inhabitants. It was not enough to own a car, or travel by airplane. Perhaps once every five years, a short flight could be permitted if one were especially carbon-frugal, but it was hard to imagine someone making that trade-off. Meat would be impossibly expensive on one’s carbon allowance, and if one had trouble digesting plant-based derivatives, there were customized insect-based proteins, which according to nutrition scientists, more people could tolerate.
The leader continued: We must be careful not to overestimate the popularity of these reforms — pushing them through democratic processes posed too much risk. The key was to build on existing incentives, enforced by employers, private businesses and civic-minded citizens themselves.
The NGO head clicked to present a new slide as the leader spoke. We have created a non-invasive (using ultra-violet light) blood scanner, worn comfortably (and visibly) on the wrist, showing the permitted and prohibited kinds of proteins. If your blood is compliant, you will be granted greater access to goods, services and opportunities, provided you are not associating with those whose blood is not (or, worse, who refuse to use the device at all.)
The leader continued, his voice pivoting to a more somber tone. While we believe this environment of solidarity will incentivize most, some unfortunately will not go along. While I believe, as we all do, in individual freedom, these holdouts — to put it bluntly — imperil the survival of our species. In a time of crisis, recklessness is an indulgence we cannot afford.
He clarified he was not talking about use of police or military force except as a regrettable last resort. In the instances where it is necessary, he argued, there is risk it would be recorded and used as a propaganda tool to incite more resistance. The most important measure — and he congratulated the meeting’s participants on their efforts toward this end already — is to instill, beyond any doubt, what’s at stake in the population itself. When one considers the sacrifices one, and one’s children, have made, the idea that others would selfishly undermine the project will stir in him overwhelming anger and disgust. We are counting on these feelings to dictate the appropriate response — an informed and motivated citizenry is our best weapon against ignorance and dangerous behavior.
The participants nodded, a few applauded at first and then everyone joined in. I had known already the ordeals of the past 15 months were only the beginning. But now I understood something else: The horrors would be inflicted not by jackbooted thugs, dressed in camouflage as I had envisioned, but my kindly next door neighbor, as a matter of civic duty.