Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Imagine for a second that Earth was surrounded by alien spacecraft who were firing radiation at the earth, radiation that causes droughts and floods, in a way designed to severely reduce the amount of food that we can produce. How is mankind going to react?

First, we get together at UN level, and within days we counter-attack with all the weapons at our disposal. A huge effort is put into adapting and deploying ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles), and there is an immediate and record-breaking production of ICBMs. We quickly find that our weapons are hopelessly outclassed, totally useless against the defences of the besieging alien fleet. The United States proudly puts its Star Wars weapons forward (“We were right all along to develop these systems. Pity the liberals blocked the development of space weaponry, and maybe we wouldn’t be in such a mess today. Still, here goes. Uncle Sam saves the day again”.) But the lasers and directed energy beams are bounced by the extra-terrestrials neatly back onto the Star Wars delivery vehicles.

Things are beginning to look serious.

The United Nations goes into negotiation mode. After an intense 24-hour session of preparatory meetings, a triumvirate of world leaders, two astronauts and a state of the art language decoding computer are stuffed into a moon rocket and blast off from Cape Kennedy, as seen on every television screen on the planet. There was an amazing moment of human solidarity, pregnant with tears and cheers, as the five brave humans leave to confront the space invaders.

Imagine their surprise when they were able to dock perfectly with the aliens. Imagine further that their computer is dematerialised , and they are addressed courteously in ever so slightly broken English (with a South American accent) by the alien commander. He listens carefully to the representations and requests of the three politicians, and in reply, explains that he was the sector sales manager of an intergalactic solar energy manufacturing corporation for this arm of the local galaxy. The owner of the corporation was an eccentric collector of galactic currencies. Expressing regrettably for the discomfort and death his rays were causing, the salesman indicated (in a way that showed that there was no point in arguing) that the radiation would continue until Earth had equipped itself fully with his company’s range of solar energy conversion products.

“Here is a catalogue, customised to your requirements. Have a look at it. Take your time. Eat, if you are hungry. Sleep, if you must. But it is imperative for you to decide while you are here. Call for me when you have made up your minds”.

The world leaders, together with the astronauts, sat down on comfortable lounge seats provided. They were amazed at the uncanny knowledge the aliens had of their home planet. The electronic brochures set out the sizes, technological data, delivery times and prices of the various items required to provide more energy than the whole earth currently used. The total area required was rather less than the size of Mauretania – spread out evenly, of course, across the whole globe. Many of the items on the list were instantly recognisable, although their efficiency far exceeded present earth technology. Their photovoltaic panels for instant, were rated as 60% efficient, double that of the best available on earth.

The earthlings quickly focussed on the bottom line. The final quote was an annual sum in the order of the total military spending on earth, to be paid for the next 100 years. In fact, it was the same sum as the actual military spending, but rounded down to the nearest simple figure, namely one trillion (that is, one million million, or 10 to the power 12) US dollars per annum. The sum was to be produced annually in a space rocket, in used notes, from all countries according to a formula computed from their size, population and prosperity.

The fact that this round figure emerged at the foot of a detailed set of estimates presented right down to the tens and units aroused suspicions in two of the politicians, leading to a two-hour wrangle in which one of them changed her position to that of accepting the accuracy of the accounts. The third politician continued to stall and argue, even proposing that they leave the ship, return to Geneva (where the UN was sitting) and prepare to “fight them on the beaches”. At this point, one of the astronauts offered to apply a gag to him, and the other two politicians seemed minded to agree. The dissenter went into a self imposed, sulky silence.

They did have a quick look at the unit cost of the products on offer. One of the astronauts was able to advise the politicians on the unit costs of photovoltaic panels on earth, having erected some on his house the previous spring. Again, they were surprised to learn that the panels on offer from the aliens came in at one third of the current earth price.

Tired, but feeling that they had made some progress, the earthlings turned to a dazzling vegetarian feast (some items being familiar, some deliciously unfamiliar), washed down with some amazingly heady and yet thought-provoking wine. Conversation flowed, so that even the politician who wanted to fight them on the beaches forgot about his sulk and joined in with a few jokes. Sleep, coloured with beautiful, mandalic dreams, overcame them before they could start worrying about the enormity of the decision they had to make the next day.

They were awoken by being electronically stripped of their bedclothes and tipped into a pleasant bath, without foam. The salesman appeared when they were dried, dressed and at breakfast (coffee and croissants).

“Have you decided?” he asked.

“Yes”, answered the two who were in agreement.

“It is important that we make the right decision, do what is the right thing”, said Mr Fighthemonthebeaches.

“He means yes” said the other two.

“As there seems to be a certain amount of doubt”, said the alien, “I will throw in a planetary-recovery system gratis”. He passed across a thin, paper-like document. They scanned the index page. It had two section headings:

1. How to restart complex ecosystems

2. Where to fertilise the oceans effectively

“We accept” said the world leaders.

They signed the documents, and after sitting the politicians down in front of a television camera to broadcast the news back to Geneva, he showed the astronauts around the ship. One was so struck with the ingenuity and incomprehensibility of the systems he was seeing, volunteered to stay on board, until the ship returned next year to pick up the currency.

The other fours returned safely to solid earth two days later, to general acclaim. Their message was simple: “We had no choice”. Some papers and news outlets provided simple graphical Pros and Cons presentations of “The Great NoChoice” (as it was dubbed). There was a strong dissenting stream of criticism of the Agreement from journalists working in papers and channels owned by Lord Mordorch, but after a few days, leaked papers showed that he was being royally bribed by global carbon corporations, and rationality prevailed.

The spacecraft disappeared, to reappear one week later with the first delivery of solar technology. They were flown down in beautiful pneumatic freight gliders, with intricate wings that unfolded when fluid was forced into an inbuilt network of tubes.

A historic period of solar technology construction followed world-wide. It soon became clear that the more people worked in erecting the traded materials, the more they conceived ways of using the power of nature to help. Unemployment and poverty quickly went out of fashion, as people of all classes, persuasions and physical appearance applied themselves to living in the light of the sun.


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