Thursday, September 2, 2010


Libby Tolman won first place in June in a writing contest sponsored by "2012 and Beyond," an Upper Valley environmental group. Isabelle Dietz won second place and Clio Doyle won honorable mention. All are incoming seniors.

Libby writes: "The contest accepted essays, graphic novels, and stories, and I chose to write a story. The work had to be about the effect climate change would have in the future; the contest suggested that the work mention a specific year after 2012 but during the probable lifetime of today's teenager. Also, the work had to make specific reference to the Upper Valley.

"Ms. Alsup gave my English class the option of writing something for the contest instead of completing a different writing assignment she'd assigned. I chose to enter the contest because we don't usually get the chance to write stories in school."

In 2007 Libby was one of seven finalists in an essay competition sponsored by the New Hampshire state court system on the question of whether the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution (protection against random search and seizure ) should apply to students at school. In 2009, as a sophomore, Libby won second place in New England for an essay sponsored by the national Bill of Rights Institute for her essay on the civic value of justice.

To read the prize-winning story "2054," click "read more." It is the narrator’s duty to relate the events that happened on that small planet in that fateful year, so that his readers, no matter what their location in the space time continuum, may draw from his story what lessons they will.

Paul Thompson wasn't usually the sort to go for a walk, especially not on a July day, but that day wasn't the normal sort of day.  No, today definitely wasn't normal, he thought, pausing in front of Baker Library and looking across the green.  In his own days as an undergraduate he and his friends passed Frisbees there, but today the green was nearly empty.  The only students hurried across in groups of two or three, eager to get out of the hundred and fifteen degree heat and into the air conditioning.  Thompson sympathized with them, but something about sauna-like heat helped him think.
"Professor!" a call made its way through the humidity-heavy air. Thompson looked up, startled, at the young dark man making his way out of the doors of the library.  He'd always liked John Cross, even if his manner was a bit brash.  Thompson couldn't blame him; a man had to be brash to lose a home through a government Mandatory Relocation of Low-Lying Island Residents program and make it to an Ivy League campus emotionally intact. Besides, the young man was a veritable physics genius.
John looked concerned.   "They told me I'd find you out here. Don't you know the state warnings? In this time of summer, a man of your age outside for ten minutes risks stroke," he insisted.
"Yes, John, yes," Thompson sighed, "you have the problem set for me?"  He took the pencil-covered sheet from John's hands and examined it through bifocal glasses. "This is good work, John, good work.  With a physics mind like yours, some day you'll discover the key to oil-free society." As the last phrase left Thompson's mouth, his face contorted in an odd way.  John was surprised: the expression "key to oil-free society" was common enough, and while it often provoked looks of wry hopelessness, he'd never seen it illicit quite the mixture of smugness and concealment he'd just witnessed.  Passing the expression off as the effect of summer heat on an aging mind, he thanked the professor and made his way back to Baker, glad that the old man, too, was walking towards the air-conditioned comfort of his office.
A few minutes later, Thompson had placed John's problem set on the top of his pile of student work and was sorting through the jumble of other papers on his desk.  As his eyes fell on a sheet of paper covered with big block letters spelling AW Oil, he thought back to his conversation with John.  If there was one thing John wouldn't do, he reflected, it was discover the key to oil-free society. No, Thompson had found that just last night.  It had been a bit of an accident, really: he couldn’t sleep out of anticipation of the AW Oil letter, and he’d leafed through the physics department’s old research notes in hopes of boring himself to sleep. At about one in the morning, he’d started on a recently-deceased colleague’s notes. It was there that he found it. The use of hydrogen in a clean fuel cycle had been an active topic of research since the beginning of the 21st century, but physicists hadn't succeeded in making it efficient.  As Thompson read his colleague’s unpublished research, he realized they'd been using the wrong approach for decades; the colleague had found the answer while pursuing completely unrelated research on subatomic particles.  Thompson regretted that sharing this helpful discovery with the world would bring him little fame and even less money.  His late colleague would get all the credit; the man’s heirs, the money. Thompson was a little surprised the man hadn’t shared the information before he died, but, after all, the new strain of tick-born encephalitis often caused severe confusion in its victims before death.
Thompson wasn’t happy to find success where thousands of others had failed; rather, the accident presented him with a dilemma: an oil-free society wouldn't be good for him.  He fingered the AW Oil paper, and murmured its first few lines to himself: "Mr. Thompson, with this letter Alaskan Wilds Oil encloses its promised check of 95 million dollars for the use of the oil rights to your property in northern Canada.  We would also like to thank you for the use of your land; with peak oil nearly half a century behind us, your property is one of perhaps a dozen that still have viable, promising oil fields.  Our yearly payments will continue as long as the oil supplies remain; our technicians suspect this will continue for the better part of a decade..."  The better part of a decade.  I'll be almost a billionaire, the professor mused.  Thompson had spent the better part of his teen years working as a valet for an old millionaire, and since then he had always wanted money. The old man had left the Canadian property to Thompson in his will; at that point, it was the least valuable part of the old man's portfolio, and until Thompson discovered oil, the taxes had made his inheritance more of a burden than a gift.  He suspected that was what the old man had intended. If only the old man could see me now, Thompson thought, at the beginning of a life of wealth and ease. Wealth and ease or a saved world: that was his choice, or at least so it had appeared until Thompson’s reverie on the green. Now, he realized, there might be a way for both.
Placing the AW Oil letter down on his desk, he picked up his colleague’s research notes. It was lucky that the man had been so quirky; any normal person would have stored work in a hard-to-destroy electronic format. Thompson knew just how to destroy paper. He walked over to the fireplace, a quaint relic of the time when Hanover was cold in winter. Digging a match out of his closet, the professor struck it against the brick wall and placed the small flame against the paper. As the research fell from Thompson’s hands to the fireplace, it flared, illuminating the dimming office with its glow. Many feet above, the tiny stream of smoke leaked from a chimney into hot air.
Thompson smiled at the ashes. He knew the key to an oil-free society, and he would share it, later, after he’d earned his billion dollars. The fire would make sure no one could discover it before. Leafing through his papers, he picked up the check, and made his way through the heat to Ledyard Bank.
John Cross left Dartmouth that night to visit a friend in Canada. He was there when he got the news: a hurricane was forming in the Atlantic, one that looked to be far more powerful than the typical weekly storm. At first, it seemed the storm would avoid Dartmouth. But then it took a northern turn, and hit the campus with devastating ferocity. The Hopkins Center was the first to fall; Collis, Baker, and a dozen dorms and fraternities followed it quickly. Other buildings were flooded or partially destroyed. Death tolls were so high that The Dartmouth printed a list of survivors, rather than of fatalities. Scanning the list of names, John noted that that of his old physics professor was not among them.
The rest of the history of the planet barely serves telling. Massive methane releases flowed from the oceans; seas continued to rise; temperatures skyrocketed; no one discovered Thompson’s colleague’s world-saving ideas. Ironically, though, it wasn’t heat that ultimately did the world in. Instead, the apocalypse came from oil. Soon after Thompson died, AW Oil’s field in Canada became the only source of fuel. The company’s patriotic executives sold only to the United States, and naturally this angered Europe, Asia, and anywhere else not fortunate enough to be American. Tensions came to a climax when Russia issued an ultimatum: either AW would give oil to the Russians, or Russia would use its nuclear arsenal. A translation error made it appear that AW wouldn’t budge from its policies; and Russia released nuclear weapons on half a dozen American cities. The US used a dozen weapons in retaliation, one accidentally hit China, and from there events snowballed. A week later, the planet was a hot, charred ball of nuclear waste. No human being survived.

Perhaps the reader thinks that the tale of Paul Thompson has nothing to do with him, for he is in a different time or place. But in his own small way, is not the reader Paul Thompson? Has not he put off doing want was right for his planet, if not for money, then for comfort or ease? If the reader takes anything from this story, then, let it be this: that when it comes to saving a planet, later may be too late.

Mrasek, Volker. “A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases Is Opening in Siberia.” Spiegel Online International.N.p., 17 Apr. 2008. .

“The Weather IS Becoming More Extreme.” Center for American Progress Action Fund. N.p., 16 May 2007. .

Struck, Doug. "Climate Change Drives Disease To New Territory." The Washington Post. N.p., 5 May 2006. Web. 25 May 2010. .

“Water oxidation advance boosts potential for solar fuel.” N.p., 5 May 2006. Web. 25 May 2010. .