Day of Change

Lawrence Holofcener

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“It’s not a flush toilet.  In fact, it has no piping, and doesn’t use any water—while your toilet at home wastes three and a half gallons of clean, fresh water with every flush!  We’d have to dig a dozen wells to accommodate flush toilets.  Instead, what goes down that ‘hole’ is mixed with kitchen waste and becomes compost for our organic vegetable gard . . .”

Richard was drowned out by groans mingled with laughter.  Herself grinning, Anne had to pull her befuddled partner from the podium. 

Speaking of food, are you saying we will have no meat, no chicken or fish?  Doesn’t’ that mean we’ll have no milk or cheese or butter or ice-cream?

“Uh, no, sir,” responded Anne.  “It will be a long time before we deplete the current yield of meat, milk and fish.  Outside the larger communities there will be pastures for raising small herds of dairy cows and sheep.  These pastures, we understand from our engineers, will be under light-weight, movable domes.  When the cows have grazed out one quadrant the dome will move to another.”

Over the laughter and ridicule, Richard stepped up.

“Another of our bright scientists is working on a special balloon fitted to the top of the dome to capture the gases—“ waiting through more laughter—“AND . . .converting it into energy—yes, for heating!”  The crowd below had no response to that but the stands did and began to applaud.   “Other scientists are working with fishermen to raise fish in fresh-water ponds.  It’s called—“ he scrabbled through his papers—“aquaculture!  But no more cattle because of the enormous requirement of land.”   Although important, he did not reiterate the gas business.

“Any more comment?” Anne asked.  “Then can we have a show of hands—“

“Just a minute,” cried Richard as he jumped to the podium.  “This is—it’s so important that I forgot it completely!   Until the day when the air is clean and the water pure, every commune and community will have what no other town or village on earth has:  air and water filters that screen out pollutants; harmful chemicals, heavy metals.  Remember the London smog of 1952 that killed 4000 and sickened 100,000.  It could easily happen—“

Come on, a gentlemen called out, that’s London. Why go to all the trouble and expense of installing filters when you live in a clean, quiet little countryside?

“The citizens of Donora, Pennsylvania lived in just such a place, 25 miles south of the steel mills of Pittsburgh.  In 1948 a cloud of pollutants came sweeping down the lovely Monongahela Valley and people died—yes!”

 How many?

“Uh—twenty, but—“   and when the drowning laughter subsided “—seven thousand others were poisoned sick.  The effluent from Industrial plants ruin streams and waterways; chemical fertilizers poison the soil, and cars, trucks, trains and planes send tons of lead and arsenic and carbon monoxide into the air.  You can’t escape those pollutants no matter where you live.  But we can, and you will.” 

Into the sobering silence jumped Anne.  “Hands up for the first Article!”

 Instantly a portion of the delegates, women mostly, shot their arms up.   Seeing the quick response of their neighbors, more hands raised.  The older men – former congressmen who probably came to see if they could still serve (and control)—were eyeing their friends to respond together, slowly raised their hands from their laps but not far.  But, they noted, it was unanimous.

Anne hit her gavel, closed her eyes and let out a great sigh of relief.  Those in the stands—the commune members especially—cheered enthusiastically.  Anne had surmised the carefully orchestrated acceptance by the politicians as simply one for the ‘greenies,’ with plenty of time for them to object and put us out of business.  She glanced at Richard whose wrinkled expression agreed with her assessment, but he made a fist.  The big one was passed.    “Thank you,” she said, smiling broadly. 


Article Two.  The Natural World.  It is our responsibility to return it to the diverse, rich and wild garden it once was before we Outsiders arrived.

“But only the lower Forty-Eight and only parts of them.  All man-made structures,” she read, “buildings, dwellings, places of worship or gatherings, monuments, roadways, some bridges and tunnels, cemeteries, railroads and airports will be removed and, if possible, their materials recycled.  As will all manufactured vehicles.  All of our embassies overseas will be abandoned or demolished and their personnel returned home.  Sea-lanes, harbors, bays, rivers, streams that we’ve altered or diverted will be allowed or helped to return to their original contours.   Oil and gas wells, iron, tin, gold and coal mines will be filled and plugged.   Underground malls, subway systems, military bunkers will be taken up and their holes filled.   

“Let’s be clear,” she had to shout over the dissenting din. “None of this will happen overnight.  Our five year time-table is flexible.  We realize this is a lot to take in.  Now we will hear your questions.”    

 As expected, the objections erupted.  Many delegates were standing, shouting. 

You have got to be kidding!  Tear down good strong buildings?

Do you know what my home cost?  How dare you!  

My house was designed by an architect—it’s won awards! 

Are you talking about destroying iconic buildings like the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center? 

What about the Statue of Liberty? 

Who’s given you the right to destroy public property?

You can’t mean the Capital and the White House? 

What about the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial? 

You would destroy the great museums all over this country? 

Take away the highways, how we going to get around?

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