Viral Implosion - chapter 15
Planet Earth was definitely ailing. The ozone “hole”, once repaired, was again open and growing. Any legacy environmental legislation that hadn’t been repealed was ignored or unenforced.
As timber was harvested by lumbar companies and individuals, trees were not replaced. In the Midwest of the United States, this left land unprotected and soil eroded. The expanse was quickly becoming the dust bowl of the 1930s. Wind storms intensified the damage. Homes were flattened, cell phone towers and power towers knocked down. Soil eroded to the point of being useless.
Nuclear power was the drug of choice since it was very low-maintenance and required very few laborers. With environmental regulations suspended, nuclear waste was simply buried. Unfortunately, the declining ecology allowed collapse of nuclear waste storage tunnels and leakage into the ground water for aging containers.
The arctic was melting. Islands in the Bering Sea disappeared. Folks living above the Arctic Circle were suffering – polar bears ran rampant looking for food; grizzlies didn’t hibernate, with little snow and warmer weather; trapping was difficult, with little snow cover for snow machine travel, and unfrozen rivers cut trappers off from game.
The Antarctic was melting as well, but this meant the land below the ice was becoming available. Still considered international territory, few people could migrate there because of a lack of transportation. And the land had not developed, due to the low temperatures, to make life sustainable.
In the Far East, Philippine, Japanese and Indonesian small islands disappeared.
Overpriced and ill-planned dam projects from before the millennium, across the United States, were showing their damage. Without a budget for management, reservoirs were left to dry up, and global warming had killed the necessity for the dams to begin with. Instead, the benefits to homes and gardens were lost and water became an expensive commodity even for drinking; irrigation was virtually priced out of existence.
With no more ecological regulation, phosphates returned to clothes detergents, nothing was recycled (unless the community supported it), and trash removal was simply incineration.
Endangered Species lists had long been obsolete. Many species disappeared, as preserves were neglected. Any animal, domestic or wild, was victim to poachers and farmers who needed the meat and were protecting their encroaching spaces. Horsemeat and dog meat became increasingly available. Predator species, often introduced by mankind to control other pests, invaded areas, wiping out their prey and adapting to new prey, which often included human beings and domestic animals.
Economically, nations no longer minted new money, only replacing old and damaged currency. Most currency was only of use within the nation which minted it. In Europe, the euro was still recognized among those member countries. Due to the size of each country, it was deemed more logical to treat the European Coalition as a single country. Barter was becoming a regular method of payment throughout the world, as goods became more valuable than exchange currency. No one bothered to report barters on their taxes, and the governments would not waste resources in chasing barters down.
Governments tended to be monarchies, dictatorships and emirates. These were backed strongly by military power.
In the United States, the government still had a presidential figurehead. Despite the ruling party controlling the courts and the press, information leaked out if only by word of mouth or low-level communications and social networks that had managed to stay independent of federal interference. When criticism of the government did arise, the senate held hearings, reminiscent of McCarthy-era hearings, accusing critics of treason, sedition, and a host of other reputation-destroying counts, ruining the person’s business and home life. People were strongly encouraged to inform on their neighbors, in return for favors such as better jobs, nicer homes, help for their children, or just meat on the table. Knowing that the press would back any accusation anyway, many thought there was little to lose by sharing a story or two, despite the fact that there may be no basis for the story. This also caused a divisiveness which kept people from banding together in protest. Controllers of e-mail servers moved any promotional or personal e-mail which criticized corporations or the government into spam folders; account holders would delete them without reading, and the issuers were none the wiser. The oligarchy was well in hand.
Society had virtually regressed around the globe. In the United States, gala balls were still held for debutantes, honorees, and any excuse one could come up with. But no more charity balls, since all possible recipients of the gate were either deceased or considered unworthy. Since international travel was no longer available, a few resorts were developed, either mountains-and-waterfalls, sun-and-ski, or golf-and-pools. Family-style resorts and historical resorts had died out, since there were no takers for the family places, and historical sites, being unmanaged for decades, were basically filled with feral people and animals; it was a dangerous undertaking to visit such places. The headquarter cities and resort areas were outfitted with a small community of service people who offered couturiers (no trade meant no imports of clothing, food or wine), caterers and servants. Competition was high among the service people, so only a few persisted, and the trade was handed down generation to generation, since there were no longer trade schools available to the general populace. Unfortunately, due to the high price of insurance and birth control, the service communities also bred young people with no future. These youth collected into street gangs, to pillage and steal and war against each other. They were left to police themselves in a way, since there were no police forces; the national guard protected the haves and drove them between sites, since walking outside of one’s home and work was perilous. Some people who could not afford mortgages and rents moved onto houseboats, often built by themselves, and camped out along river shores.
The production communities were suffering the same problem with their youth. Not all children wanted to follow in their parents’ footsteps. The mall was the equivalent of city streets, and the national guard had to be constantly watching the young people there. Pool halls, arcades, and other entertainment areas became unprofitable, since there was little spending money available. Only bowling alleys and movie theaters managed to continue, since they were usually attended by whole families. Even so, the attendance was limited, so movies were only changed monthly. The national guard rounded up any kids hanging around without parents on the streets or in the parks. A second violation meant being shipped off to the military. Parents stressed loyalty and obedience for fear of losing their children. Prisoners were often drafted as free labor, an alternative they much preferred to the corporate-owned and –run prisons. National holidays were no longer recognized as paid days off from work, but still celebrated in the advertising campaigns.
Independent communities existed like the ancient city-states. There were many variations of hierarchy, government and exchange. Some traded with other communities nearby; some were isolationist. Few were ever “raided” by the national guard, which was too occupied with protection of the money makers. Individuals who homesteaded were sometimes successful, especially if they grew their own crops. But if an area had too many homesteaders, often the meat sources ran out. Balanced nutrition was not a high priority, and many succumbed to disease. Water sources were often contaminated, and this affected both communities and homesteaders. Travel by car waned, as gas stations dried up and were not replenished.
Economics were shifting as well. Homesteading and independent communities depended heavily on the barter system, so revenue from taxes or sales did not exist. Profits for insurance or medical or dental treatments were also nonexistent, as people tried to treat their own maladies. Some communities had access to home-brewed pharmaceuticals and personnel with training in medicine to one extent or another. Veterans who managed to survive and had medic training brought the skill home. Some people, living nomadic lives after escaping an oppressive society, found homes in areas that needed their particular skills, whether it be in hunting, lumberjacking, fishing, pottery, or any other vendible skill.
Technology didn’t completely die. Some areas set up a ‘silent internet’ which leaned on IP addresses rather than http protocol. Word of these sites was only passed on person to person, by nomadic individuals. Cellular phones were becoming increasingly unreliable, since downed towers were not replaced. Satellite phones became the independents’ gold standard for communications when they were pillaged, stolen or even just discovered.
Members of production communities, facing little increase in income yet increasing prices, kept with what they had and didn’t replace anything that wasn’t necessary and broken. Television sets were tossed into dumpsters as they died and not replaced. Folks looked more to each other for entertainment.
Corporate evaluation of the market became intense and needed constant revising. DNA analysis had routed out people who would be medically expensive to hire; lack of medical support had turned such “weaknesses” as diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, HIV and many more into fatal diseases. This cut down on the size of the available labor force. Vaccinations were only affordable for upper class families and no longer required for others, so simple childhood diseases such as chicken pox and measles once again culled the herd of available labor. The SS draft had been reinstated, since other countries tried to attack the USA and its holdings in an attempt to share the wealth. This required even more soldiers, but fewer were volunteering with the threat of death imminent and the knowledge that the government considered these young people expendable. More drain on the available labor force.
‘Flourishing’ small businesses such as caterers, pet groomers and servants were also suffering from an inability to get and train new help; family members were virtually conscripted to keep the companies going.
On the other side of the coin, consumer demand had stagnated. Everyone who could afford luxuries already had everything they wanted, and merely replaced them when they broke. With research and development closed up for decades, there was “nothing new under the sun”. Attempts to develop research were stymied by the fact that for decades young people opted for business degrees instead of engineering and other sciences that appeared to have no future.
Profit margins did not grow each year, which angered stockholders who would then refuse to invest more money into the corporations.
The globe was pock marked with military skirmishes, as tribes and emirates tried to get control of others’ resources. This was not just in third-world countries. Canada and Mexico were constantly trying to expand their borders into the United States. Non-euro countries tried to annex members of the European community. Britain tried to revive its empire in an effort to replenish its isolated holdings. Russia kept trying to expand in all directions. China used most of its army to protect its own borders.
It had become impossible to develop, test nor maintain nuclear arsenals, so war was reverted to Viet-Nam style war making. There is no joy in Mudville.