It’s a beautiful day in heaven, as all days are. Renowned scientists and mathematicians are lodged here, in a special section of paradise (and quite a few engineers have managed to infiltrate down through the eons.)
On this particular day a visitor might note several ethereal residents floating around in a cloud-speckled field of blue. This particular group includes: Eratosthenes, who measured the circumference of earth with a stick, the sun, and a deep well; Galileo Galilei, who made his own telescopes, defined the early solar system, and founded the science of mechanics; Marie Curie, (Madame, if you please); Isaac Newton; Albert Einstein; and Michael Faraday, among many others. The last is sitting on a small, comfortable cloud relating an anecdote about a nearsighted laboratory assistant and his misadventure with a visiting dignitary’s hat that he mistook for a storage vessel for spent acids.
As he approaches his punchline, the authoritative voice of Saint Peter reverberates across the sky. As the official gatekeeper and majordomo of the Kingdom, Peter carries a lot of clout.
In a roaring baritone, Peter bellows out: “All right, you people! I’ve had it with you. Some of you have been hanging around here for over a thousand years and all you do is loaf and tell jokes. Also, I haven’t seen a lot of you at heavenly choir practice lately. There are big problems down on earth, what with the planet heating up and the demand for energy outpacing its supply. If something isn’t done about it, everybody down there will die. That would give us an overload problem here that we couldn’t handle. The boss is calling for a Cosmic-Council Conclave to vote appropriations to finance expansion of our facilities. The other place, down below, will be facing a similar problem housing their share of the crowd. The boss wants several of you to form an ad hoc committee to come up with some ideas to solve earth’s problems. Some of you will probably have to go down there for a closer look. I’ll arrange travel documents and passes. Let me know what you come up with, so I can brief the boss. You know where to find me—in the little house by the pearly gates.
Newton: “It appears that master Peter is having a problem with his liver again.”
Galileo (a contentious and cranky old codger—you’d be too if you’d been interviewed by the Inquisition on their executive model rack): “the last time he got this way, we all caught…”
“Don’t use that word around here!” bellows Peter.
Galileo: “I don’t think there’s going to be a quick fix on this one.”
Marie Curie, who has a flair for organization, suggests a meeting of all several million scientists currently registered in heaven. Her organizational skills don’t include practicality.
Newton: “Marie, by the time everyone gets to speak, we’ll be well past final judgment day.” (Newton, standing in his seventeenth-century hose, velvet doublet, and pleated collar strongly resembles a figure from a deck of playing cards. Peter once suggested that he wear a linen gown like most of the other inhabitants. But Newton wouldn’t hear of it and insisted that what he’d worn on earth should be quite acceptable in the hereafter.)
“Besides, Wolfgang Pauli was telling me the other day that he was thoroughly convinced that his famous Exclusion Principle applies to heavenly beings on the astral plane as well as to the electrons in an atom. Be that so, it might be impossible to crowd all those souls into one heavenly system. Let us study the problem from our perspective and come up with a few possible solutions. The London Times should have some pertinent information. Let’s send one of the cherubs down to fetch a copy. Louis, you pay the angel for the paper and be sure to give him a tip.”
Louis de Broglie (Nobel Prize winner and legitimate pretender to the Bourbon throne of France): “Why do I always get stuck with the bill?
Faraday: “Because you owned your own castle in the middle of the Seine. Besides, you won your Nobel Prize for something you wrote in your Ph.D. dissertation—which no one else has ever done.
De Broglie: “Does that mean that I’m made of money?”
Einstein: “Why not get some input from two of our youngest members: Evariste Galois and Neils Abel. As you all know, Galois was killed in a duel at age twenty, soon after he’d created the mathematical field of group theory and before he could possibly solve the quintic equation problem that has baffled mathematicians for centuries.”
“Big deal,” mutters Galileo.
“Shut up,” whispers Curie.
“As I was about to say, before being so rudely interrupted,” continues Einstein, “Young Abel died of starvation and tuberculosis before he could win acclaim for his proof that the quintic equation couldn’t be solved by formula. These two may have a fresh outlook on the situation.”
Enrico Fermi: “No matter how you slice this loaf of bread, it’s going to involve atomic energy. I didn’t work myself to death at an early age so my achievement of nuclear fission would be junked because the corporate hyenas and their bought-and-paid-for politicians tried to exploit it for quick profit before all aspects such as waste disposal and effective safety procedures were worked out. I have an idea about deactivating radioactive waste using some of the energy released by the fission.
“By recycling just a small portion of the energy now wasted by inadequate insulation, most if not all of these troublesome radioactive isotopes could be accelerated along their normal decay paths to their final, natural, nonradioactive states, such as lead.”
Walther Nernst : “Yes, but what about the second law of thermodynamics?”
Fermi: “You and Nicholas Carnot did a fine job of defining entropy, Walther, but you have trouble applying it. The radioactive wastes won’t be restored to their original forms but will be accelerated along to their final, natural end-products: non-radioactive, non-harmful to man. What would have taken thousands of years will be achieved in minutes, days, or perhaps weeks.”
“This nontoxic trash could be placed anywhere without radiation danger to anyone. We might even be able to fill in some of the potholes in the American interstate system. Something the politicians are doing nothing about.”
Farady: “Enrico, you know it is improper to make political statements or to voice such agenda here.”
Fermi: “There can be no technical fix without first a political one, for the simple reason that the politicians control the money. And they in turn are controlled by the for-profit corporations. Unless they get their hands on it, somehow, nothing will happen.”
Curie: “The world’s two biggest polluters, China and the United States, are controlled by small, elite segments of their respective populations: in China a self-serving bureaucracy—in the United States, self-serving corporate executives.”
Galileo: “The rotten selfish bastards.” (A clap of thunder sounds.)
Authoritarian voice: “Watch your language.”
Galileo: “Sorry, boss.”
Curie: “It seems there can be no scientific fix until the dual cancers of corporate greed and political corruption are eliminated.”
Edward Jenner (the “Father of Immunology”): “Perhaps if the world went back to single-celled life-forms without the corrupt and deviant human species—he who fouls his own environment as well as those of all other lifeforms—the next time around evolution might produce a dominant form that’s more in line with reality.”
A slight rumble comes from the sky.
Newton: “It appears that ‘evolution’ is still a bad word around here.”
Fermi: “It wasn’t a very loud rumble, perhaps the word is gaining acceptance.”
Faraday: “It’s important that we establish an agenda before we go flying down to earth. We must appraise the problem before we apprise the Boss.”
Galileo: “What are we going to do about the politicians and their corporate bosses?”
Curie: “To recite our not well-established mantra, ‘If there is to be a technical fix, it must be implemented through a political fix.’”
Thomas Edison: “I wonder if Elizabeth I had any idea what a monster she was unleashing on the world when she issued the first patents of corporation to the Honorable East India Opium and Tea Company.”
Newton: “’Tis a sad state, but we must get around it.”
Nernst: “In the nineteenth century, when Mount Krakatau detonated, a lot of debris was blasted into the stratosphere. For five years much of it remained aloft, reflecting sunlight back into space. The result was some of the coolest years experienced in modern times. If we could use hydrogen bombs to trigger off a string of volcanoes along the earth’s equator, we might be able to cool down the planet until a permanent fix can be made.”
Curie: “Walther, stick to thermodynamics.”
Galileo: “To get back to my point: It won’t do a bit of good to talk to the politicians unless we offer them something. Currently, systems are so corrupt, that at least one of them has gone so far as to give the instruments of the very wealthy—that is, corporations—legal personhood. This way, when corporate executives do something criminal, they can hide behind the corporation that takes the blame, gets slapped on the wrist, and gets fined some paltry amount.”
Joseph Priestly (controversial clergyman and chemist): “I must echo Isaac’s lament, ’tis a sad affair. I was chased out of England and my house burned to the ground because I said that English coal miners should be treated with respect and their labors fairly rewarded.
“I ended up in the colonies, where I met and befriended Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. While living in the colony of Pennsylvania I performed my experiments by means of which I discovered anti-phlogiston, which most people now call oxygen, except the Germans, who call it Sauerstoff. I too agree that a technical solution won’t work until the power brokers and the politicians they own allow it. That won’t happen until the corporation can exploit it for quick profit, which of course would be done in the cheapest possible way—probably causing more economic and environmental damage than before.”
Fermi: “On a technical note, in 1956 Alvarez and Teller published a little-noticed letter in Physical Reviews describing the fusion of two deuterium atoms in the gas phase. The electrons in these atoms had been replaced by two negatively charged mesons (pions); an enormous amount of energy was released, which could probably be controlled. If the pions could be produced economically, this could be the key to almost unlimited energy. But it’s back to the politicians, as always.”
Evariste Galois: “I got killed in a stupid duel over a woman I didn’t even like. I will estimate the temperature changes on earth that will result if the planet’s tilt is changed slightly by the judicious application of hydrogen bombs so that…”
Galileo: “Nonsense. If anything, the average temperature would increase and the tilt would have to be changed every six months.”
Galois: “It was just a thought.”
Galileo: “Not a very good one.”
Ferdinand de Lesseps: “I discovered certain things about cloud formations above construction sites and how they moderated temperatures when I was building the Panama Canal. If that bastard Teddy Roosevelt [the sky rumbles again] hadn’t interfered and stirred up resistance among the indigenous people, I would have completed the canal and worked out the weather patterns. Of course, yellow fever and those gutless financiers withdrawing their support because Teddy huffed and puffed had a lot to do with my failure.”
Faraday: “I never dreamed I would say it, but we must bribe the politicians—offer them something the corporations can’t.”
Curie: “What are you talking about?”
Faraday: “You’re standing on it. Or perhaps I should say floating in it. We all know that a great many politicians never end up here; they often go to the other place, along with greedy corporate executives and lobbyist-bagmen. Let us get authority from the boss to offer key politicians access to heaven, if they play ball with us on our agenda.”
Newton: “Good! It’s settled then. First we get Peter to intercede about immigration quotas for politicians. Then some of us should go down to the hot place to get input from the pols down there. We’ll need fireproof passports and refrigerated space suits.”
All: “Yes, let’s get to it!”