Once upon a time, long, long ago, I testified before the great assembly of our land. When I describe this event to children today, it really does sound to them like a fairy tale. Once upon a time—a time before the world splintered into a million pieces and America became its current disunited states—this old woman was a young idealist who tried to persuade our mighty Congress that a monster was stalking the land.
“Did they listen to you, Auntie Rachel?” they typically ask me.
“Oh, they listened to me, but they didn’t hear me.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I thought and I thought, and I wrote and I wrote, and I put together an even better presentation,” I say patiently. “I had to somehow make that monster visible so those mighty people could see it.”
“What did it look like, Auntie Rachel?”
“It was invisible, my dear children, but we could feel its hot breath. And we could see the terrible things that it did. It could make the oceans rise. It could make the crops wilt in the fields. Still, we kept feeding this terrible beast.”
“It’s what the monster demanded. Some monsters want to devour little children. Others insist on young maidens. But this one insisted on tankers of oil and truckloads of coal. Even as it grew, it only demanded more and more.”
At this point, the children are always wide-eyed. “What did you do then?”
“I talked to those great people again. And this time I tried even harder to describe the monster.” As I slip into the past, the faces of the children become those of long-dead politicians. “I provided more detailed graphs of rising temperatures. I cited statistics on the impact of burning coal and oil and natural gas. I displayed photos of what the melting ice and the surging waters had already done. And then I showed them pictures of what the future would look like: submerged cities, drought-stricken lands, dead seas. They looked and still they didn’t see. They listened and still they didn’t hear. Great people,” I conclude, “are not always good people.”
“What did you do then?” they always ask.
“I stopped talking, my darlings. I came here to escape the monster. I came to Arcadia.”
They look disappointed. The children know their fairy tales. They expect someone—perhaps a knight in shining armor—to appear suddenly and slay the monster.
“There was no knight,” I lament. “And the monster still lives. We can feel its hot breath even now.”
Of course, my young charges don’t really understand my story. Today, in 2050, there is no Congress. There are no committee hearings. There are no intergovernmental panels or global gatherings. I might as well be telling them about Roman banquets or medieval jousts. And yet my little students always clamor for more stories of the vanished world of Washington, D.C., 2017, just as they would beg for yet another of Aesop’s fables. But they don’t quite see how these tales of long ago connect to their lives today.