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End – a short story

Jake put the book he had just been flicking nostalgically through down.  How things had changed he thought to himself.

He had been looking at one of those large so-called coffee table books containing few words, but many large glossy photographs.  This particular volume was called ‘Images of rural England’ and the photographs it proudly displayed showed a varied collection of lush green undulating hills, leafy woodland, peacefully intimate valleys and various idyllic villages.  The cover of this tome had seen better days, which was not surprising to Jake who knew that it was well over one hundred years old.

It was the year 2150 and Jake, his wife and young child lived, or rather survived in a solar powered habitation unit.  Inside the unit a constant temperature of 25°c was maintained, which was just as well as average daytime temperatures in that area regularly exceeded 50°C.  And during the night temperature could fall to below -30°C.

Jake’s home was located in an area which had once been featured in the book he loved to glance through.  Fingest, as the village had once been known, now formed a minuscule part of the massive desert which covered the whole of the plant’s surface.  In short the Earth’s climate had changed, radically.  Fresh water could only be extracted by means of wells which penetrated more than 2000 meters into the ground.  The ground through which the wells reached was hard arid desert and with the exception of a limited number of extremely resistant desert species there was little plant life.  The animals too had all but died out.  Finding food was becoming more and more difficult.  At least the greenhouse was still producing rice and  vegetables – until the water ran out.

Fish and aquatic mammals were nothing but a distant memory for the limited and dwindling number of humans who remained on the forlorn planet.  And now the water supply which had managed to keep Jake and a small group of others going for the last five years was drying up.  Planet Earth was dying.

It all started in the latter half of the 21st century.  Man had been exploiting his environment to the maximum and ignoring the fact that both Polar icecaps were melting.  After the oil reserves finally dried up, a new form of energy had been developed to power just about everything on earth.  The only trouble was that this new form of energy was not as friendly to the environment as the corporations had had the earth’s populous believe.  Despite the widespread adoption of alternative forms of energy the levels of harmful green house gasses had started to, not just increase, but sky-rocket.

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By 2080 the poles had disappeared completely.  No problem claimed the politicians and the corporations.  More space for towns and cities, more food can be grown.  We do not need polar icecaps they gleefully exhorted.  However some scientists noticed that the planet seemed to be orbiting closer to the sun.

Inland seas began drying up and the level of the world’s seas and oceans began falling to levels seen while the icecaps were still intact.  At this point the scientific community split into two very clear camps.  One side held that the shift in the earth’s orbit was no more than something that many planets do from time to time, and yes, they said, temperatures would rise and the climate would change, but it would be nothing that should cause undue worry.  The other camp disagreed and claimed to have evidence which proved that the planet was moving closer and closer to the sun.  No-one believed the second camp and they were labelled as crackpots.

By 2100 the levels of the earth’s oceans had dropped by thirty metres and people had stopped referring to the crackpots as such ten years before.  The planet was on the brink of catastrophe.  What had happened?  Studies showed that the melting of the icecaps had actually reduced the weight of the planet by a massive amount and this combined with the extraction of oil and other minerals had literally tipped the balance and had increased the effect of the sun’s gravitational pull on the earth.  It certainly appeared as though the planet and all the life on it was being slowly and surely dragged into a fiery grave. Several respectable planetologists stated that the new orbit would stabilize and although the climate would change drastically life could still be supported by the planet.

Jake got up and looked out of a smoked glass window.  He could see nothing but sandy coloured dust everywhere he looked. How long ago was it, he asking himself.  The announcement which he was trying to recall had come ten years previously and it had been a solemn one.  It reported that the latest studies indicated that the earth was moving towards the sun at a constant rate and that by 2170 the planet would become utterly uninhabitable, due partially to the complete absence of moisture in the atmosphere and also to the fact that all water supplies would be exhausted by this date, not to mention extreme levels of heat on the planet’s surface.  It was indeed, Jake reflected, a dire situation.

He remembered how many millions had died as a result of the evaporation of the planet’s oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.  The pointless wars that had been fought over the remaining sources of water had done nothing to postpone the inevitable, he reflected.  He knew that it had been the greenhouse effect that had started the deadly ball rolling and that the blame for the destruction of the planet, Jake knew only too well, could be laid squarely at the foot of humanity, whose greed and short-sightedness had precipitated the planet into this cataclysmic catastrophe.

‘Daddy’, cried his three-year old daughter happily, ‘It’s lunchtime’. Jake’s head dropped, he could not bear thinking about his daughter’s non-existent future.  What was he going to go?  What could anyone do?  The tears started welling up in his eyes and he turned quickly away from his child’s innocent young face.

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