After gassing up, Judy parked the car and the two women went into the truck stop diner. Judy settled into a booth, and Madison went to use the restroom. It felt like a wasted opportunity to her. She could sneak off and use a phone, or she could escape. But who would she call? What was the point of escaping? She decided that her best bet was to stick with Judy and see where things went.
Returning to the booth, she saw that Judy had ordered pancakes, bacon, and coffee for her. Judy was eating eggs and bacon. “Pancakes!” Madison said. “That’s funny, because all this kind of started with pancakes.”
“My thinking precisely,” Judy said.
“So I was thinking,” Madison said, nibbling a piece of bacon. “This is the trolley problem.”
Judy raised her eyebrows but said nothing.
“The trolley problem,” Madison repeated. “From ethics. The trolley is barreling toward a bunch of people, and it’s definitely going to kill them. You can move a switch to make it go on a different track. A lot fewer people will be killed, but it’s people that were not originally in harm’s way. Do you throw the switch?”
Judy nodded. “I suppose it is like that. We are saving millions, maybe billions of lives around the world, but we are doing so at the expense of people who rely on technology to live. Those people are primarily going to be in the developed world and would largely be able to survive the coming environmental disasters. But they won’t necessarily survive without electricity.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Madison agreed. “There are people in hospitals who will not survive one night without a ventilator. Or suppose someone was in the middle of a complex surgery. They might not survive if the machines the doctors are using suddenly stop working. Or even people in elevators or airplanes when the HEMP happens. I think it’s fair to assume there are a lot of people who you will be directly responsible for killing. Maybe thousands of people. How can you think that is okay? It’s like terrorism to kill that many people at once.”
“What makes their lives more valuable than the Pacific islander who loses their life when higher sea levels cause the storm surge of the next hurricane to be catastrophic? The people who suffer most from our history of environmental negligence are those who had nothing at all to do with creating this mess,” Judy said.
“True,” Madison said. “It’s really weird for me to be arguing on this side, to be honest. I’m used to pointing out the privilege that we have and how it isn’t fair to other people in the world who don’t share in that privilege. In a way, you all are just taking my usual argument to its logical conclusion. My friends often say, ‘eat the rich,’ like it’s a joke. But this really is about sacrificing a few of the rich to save a lot of the poor.”
“You’re catching on,” Judy said.
“The people who are behind all of this—the people who funded CLP—they’re super rich, right? Multi-billionaires?” Madison asked.
“Aren’t they going to get screwed? I mean, isn’t their money basically going to disappear when the banks and markets get erased?”
Judy nodded and sipped her coffee. “It’s complicated. Obviously, they know it’s coming, so they are going to be out of those kinds of financial instruments, to the extent they can be. But of course, they couldn’t just sell all their stocks. That would have raised too many questions. So I’m sure they’ll take quite a hit.”
“And they’re okay with that?”
“It’s about our legacy, dear. Passing money to our children in an effort to preserve the wealth gap is a terrible fucking legacy. Many of these men—and they are all men, which is another issue—these men were planning on giving their money away anyway. They are trying to do some real, long-term good with it,” Judy explained.
“It’s not democratic, though. It’s a few rich, old people deciding what is best for the rest of us,” Madison said.
Judy smiled. “That’s undeniably true. Are you under the illusion that anything is democratic?”
“You mean like our government?” Madison asked.
“Most of the decisions that governments make are what a few rich, old people decide is best for themselves. Democracy is largely an illusion created to pacify the people.”
“Gross,” Madison said. “Well even if that is true, it doesn’t make it right.”
“No. No it doesn’t. Perhaps when we emerge from the darkness, and the monied elite have lost everything, your generation will be able to do better.”
“That’d be cool,” Madison said, finishing her coffee. “Seems unlikely though. People are greedy. They look out for themselves. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
“You are quoting The Who? But they’re from my generation,” Judy said.
“Your generation fucked the planet, but you did it with a good soundtrack,” Madison said.