Overload - Page 21

Impetuously Nim called to a passing waiter, "Another bloody mary!“ He motioned to Laura Bo's empty martini glass, but she shook her bead.

"Let me ask you something." Nim kept his voice controlled, annoyed at himself for revealing his anger a moment ago. "Where would you locate any of those plants?"

"That's really not my problem. It's yours."

"But wouldn't you-or, rather, the Sequoia Club-oppose anything we proposed, no matter where we suggested putting it?"

Laura Bo didn't answer, though her mouth tightened.

“There's another factor I left out," Nim said. "Weather. Climate patterns are changing worldwide, making the energy outlook-especially electrical energy-worse. Meteorologists say we're facing twenty years of colder weather and regional droughts. We've already seen the effect of both in the mid-seventies."


There was a silence between them, punctuated by the restaurant sounds and a bum of voices from other tables. Then Laura Bo Carmichael said, "Let me be clear about something. Exactly why did you ask me here today?"

"To appeal to you-and the Sequoia Club-to look at the big picture, and then to moderate your opposition."

"Has it occurred to you that you and I are looking at two different big pictures?"

"If we are, we shouldn't be," Nim said. "We're living in the same world."

He persisted, "Let me come back to where I started. If we-Golden State Power-are blocked in everything, the result can only be catastrophic in ten years or less. Daily blackouts, long ones, will be a norm.

That means industry dislocation and massive unemployment, maybe as high as fifty percent. Cities will be in chaos. Few people realize how much we live by electricity, though they will-when they're deprived of electric power in a big way. Out in the country there'll be crop failures because of limited irrigation, resulting in food shortages, with prices going through the roof. I tell you, people will lack the means to live; they'll go hungry, there will be a bigger impact on America than the Civil War.

It will make the 1930’s depression look like a tea party. It isn't imagination, Laura. Not any of it. It's hard, cold fact. Don't you and your people care?"

Nim gulped at his bloody mary, which had arrived while he was talking.

"All right," Laura Bo said; her voice was harder, less friendly than when they started. "I've sat here through all you've had to say. Now it's my turn, and you listen carefully." She pushed her plate away, only half of the salad eaten.

"All your thinking, Nim, and that of others like you is near-term. Environmentalists, including the Sequoia Club, are looking at the long range future. And what we intend to halt, by any means, is three centuries of spoliation of this earth."

He interjected, "In some ways you've already done that."

"Nonsense! We've scarcely made a dent, and even the little we've achieved will be undone if we let ourselves be seduced by voices of expediency. Voices like yours."

:'All that I'm pleading for is moderation."

'What you call moderation I see as a step backwards. And taking it won't preserve a habitable world."

Nim said scornfully, not bothering to conceal his feelings anymore, "How habitable do you think the kind of world will be which I just described-with less and less electric power?"

"It might surprise all of us by being better than you think," Laura Bo answered calmly. "More important, we'd be moving the way civilization should-toward less waste, less opulence, a lot less greed, and a less materialistic standard of living which would be a good thing for us all."

She paused, as if weighing her words, then continued, "We've lived so long here with the notion that expansion is good, that bigger is better and more is mightier, that people are brainwashed into believing it's true. So they worship 'gross national product' and 'full employment,' overlooking the fact that both are suffocating and poisoning us. In what was once 'America the Beautiful' we've created an ugly, filthy concrete wasteland, belching ashes and acids into what used to be clean air, all the while destroying natural life-human, animal and vegetable. We've turned sparkling rivers into stinking sewers, glorious lakes into garbage dumps; now, along with the rest of the world, we're fouling the seas with chemicals and oil. All of it happens a little at a time. Then, when the spoilage is pointed out, your kind of people pleads for 'moderation' because, you say, 'This time around we won't kill many fish,' or 'We won't poison much vegetation,' or, 'We'll only destroy a little more beauty.' Well, some of us have seen it happen too long and too often to believe that canard anymore. So what we've done is dedicate ourselves to saving something of what's left. Because we think there are things in this world more important than GNP and full employment, and one of them is preserving some cleanliness and beauty, plus holding back a share of natural resources for generations not yet born, instead of squandering everything here and now. And those are the reasons the Sequoia Club will fight Tunipah, and your Devil's Gate pumped storage plant, and Fincastle geothermal. And I'll tell you something else-I think we'll win."

"I agree with some of what you've said," Nim acknowledged. "You know I do, because we've talked about it before. But the mistake you make is to stomp on every opinion that's different from yours, and set yourself up as God, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, rolled up into one. Laura, you're part of a tiny group which knows what's best for everyone -or thinks it does-and you're prepared to ignore practicalities and damn the rest of us while you have your way like spoiled children. In the end you may destroy us all."

Laura Bo Carmichael said coldly, "I don't believe we have anything more to say to each other." She beckoned their waiter. "Please bring our separate checks."


Ardythe Talbot led the way into her living room.

"I thought you'd never call," she said. "If you hadn't, in a day or two I was going to call you."

"We've had more trouble and I'm afraid it kept me busy," Nim told her.

"I suppose you heard about it."

It was early evening. Nim had driven to Ardythe's-as be put it to himself, "on the way home." This afternoon, depressed by his meeting with Laura Bo Carmichael and blaming himself for the antagonism with which it ended, he had telephoned Ardythe on impulse. Predictably, she was warm and friendly. "I've been feeling lonely," she confided, "and I'd love to see you. Please come out after work and have a drink."

But when he arrived a few minutes ago it was clear that what Ardythe had in mind was more than a drink. She had greeted him with an embrace and kiss which left no doubt of her intentions. Nim wasn't averse to what seemed likely to follow, but for a while over drinks they settled for conversation.

"Yes, I did hear what happened," Ardythe said. "Has the whole world gone mad?"

"I guess it always has been. When it's close to home you notice it more."

Today, Nim thought, Ardythe seemed greatly improved from the grim day nearly a month ago when she learned of Walter's death. Then, and at the funeral-which was the last time she and Nim had seen each other-she seemed drawn and old. In the meantime, clearly, Ardythe's vitality and attractiveness had returned. Her face, arms and legs were tanned, and the shapely outline of her body beneath a snug print dress reminded him again of the excitement they aroused in each other last time he was here. Nim remembered, years ago, coming across a book called In Praise of Older Women. Though he recalled little more about it than the title, he had a notion now of what the author must have had in mind.

"Walter always believed," Ardythe said, "that everything that happens in the world-wars, bombings, pollution, all the rest-are a necessary part of the balance of nature. Did he ever talk to you about that?"

Nim shook his head. Though he and the dead chief engineer had been friends, their talk was usually practical, seldom philosophic.

"Usually Walter kept that kind of thinking to himself," Ardythe said.

"He'd tell me, though. He used to say, 'People think human beings have control over the present and future, but we really don't.' And: 'Man's apparent free will is a delusion; human peryersity is just one more instrument of the balance of nature.' Walter believed even war and disease have a purpose in nature-to thin out populations which the earth can't support. 'Humans,' he once said, 'are like lemmings who over-multiply, then rush over a cliff to kill themselves-except that humans do it more elaborately."'

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