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Gerard Rukenau
The Rainforest

It was windy. I felt uncomfortable and firmly clutched the ticket stub in my hand.

Bonjour, monsieur, said the customs officer with a toothless European smile. Bienvenue a` les Territoires Naturels. It was a beefy man in his fifties, evidently proud of his Frenchness. It seemed to engulf him utterly. He examined my stub. Ah, pardonnez-mois. Vous, there he made a visible effort and switched to another language, must be from the Industrial Side, then? Immediately he became hostile. I thought the lot of you steak-and-kidney fish-and-chipsters were banished from the Lands of Rainforest. I am Russian, I replied humbly, and my English is simply due to my lack of knowledge of French. They issue the ticket in whatever language you speak to them. Those people have no interest in whether youre pro or contra natura.

The guard smiled again. Vous ete russe! Napoleonic wars! And saying this, he winked at me as if it were only the two of us that knew what Napoleonic wars were really about. He handed the stub back to me and quickly scratched a strange sign in my Russian passport. By the way, he said, it must be really, really unsettling to live in a country which is in a kind of halfway house, crushed between the Green and the Industrial Sides? Yes, I said, quite so, sir. I still felt appalled at his sudden swings of temper; and so, seizing my stub and my passport, I promptly retreated.

I felt weak and shattered. It was a long three-hour journey without a single energy drink, nor a single vitamin-enhanced crunch bar. While I knew that, technically, I as an adult specimen of human race was not supposed to tire so quickly, it was my understanding that any such abrupt change of climate couldnt help but leave you feeling as hell. Besides this strange practice of installing customs points virtually in a field, surrounded by nothing but hedges, would of course leave a newcomer to Rainforest quite puzzled.

But such was not the case with me. I had just traveled to Toronto from Boston by air, and the remarkable thing that stroke me was that, when last year I undertook a similar journey from Moscow to Barcelona, the change of attitude and change of climate were quite the same.

Any fuel-propelled private transport was prohibited everywhere in the domain of Rainforest under the penalty of confiscation, so not a single moving car could be seen anywhere. True, some vehicles remained to rot heroically—those belonged to the families that didnt want to move southbound to America and were content with living as they did now, having to get everywhere by foot and bicycles. Car shells made the landscape look creepy: it was early morning, and all the living greenery was fresh with dew; all plants were moist and succulent, and the air was so remarkably clean and rich with smells that it felt as though you could eat it with a spoon—and yet here were the hulls of these once live entities, golems of metal that used to feed on petrol and exhale fumes.

For those who might read this in future, I guess I must give you some background. Were in the year 2021 now, and though the old political division remains with minor alterations, the much more powerful and influential differentiation that now guides migration is the division into the Industrial and the Green Zone. There is also one country which, because of her sheer size, belongs to both. Thats where I come from: Russia.

Everything, as you know, began with the Kyoto Treaty; when the United States refused to ratify the protocol, they in effect created a we dont care about all your environmentalist rubbish camp. And some countries were eager to join.

In 2005, American economy seriously stagnated and dollar hit an all-time low. Capital fled America, and the US defaulted on her external debt. This lead the Republican White House to reconsider their economic strategy, if indeed they had one at all, and pump yet more money into heavy industries and military—they tried to follow the recovery path once trodden by Germany in the wake of the Weimar Republic. Many countries whose economy still depended on the dollar followed suit; this was bolstered by the outcry of many prominent analysts, all of whom with suspicious unanimity concluded that stock markets—and those were devotedly bearish then—only served to undermine real economic performance. They maintained that share price fluctuations should be by and large suppressed by the state to avoid another Great Depression; and any high-tech stock market activity was discouraged since it was perceived as conducive to detrimental stock bubbles, while industries thrived and enjoyed governments full support in all their initiatives (memorably, it was then that Microsoft and Sun moved their headquarters to Brussels). Japan with her deflation, which by that time was more than a decade old, decided to revert to the old zaibatsu practices. Everywhere in United States, Mexico, Great Britain (but not Ireland), European Russia and the whole of Asia, economic fundamentalists came to power. But as it often happens, they knew not what to do with it, so they just carried on in the same vein.

Then in 2013, following the sensational and shocking WHO report on lung cancer, it dawned on most of these countries that while the grim future prophesied by Greenpeace activists had not yet come, it was certainly not very far away. On January 13th, 2014, a conference was summoned in the Palace of Versailles, France. Most presidents attended and so did several prominent development economists. I remember frail Robert Solow making a very dramatic speech which re-iterated much of what he said earlier about sustainable development: that we need to leave our children precisely as many resources as they need to be able to live not any worse than we do, and such.

But it was clear by then that his ideas were failed by the potentates of this world. It was then generally agreed that the division of the world into two zones: one high-tech and green, the other industrial and polluted to the utmost—was inevitable, and moreover irreversible. Trying to halt this process would entail an economic crisis of scale yet unseen—while the environmental crisis, it seemed, had his foot in the door already. So to allow at least some parts of the planet to heal, the world was tentatively split into the Green and the Industrial Zone. This might sound much like your old future suspense stories, but in fact there was nothing particularly dramatic about this schism; it was just that the cultures started to drift further and further apart. Though that, I guess, would have happened anyway.

While I was musing so, some passer-by snapped at me from behind: Hey you! Where dyou think youre going? I realized suddenly that Id walked right into a Catalyzed Tree Growth Area, and that was a very dangerous place to be. To help the environment cure itself, countries of the Rainforest employed certain compounds, which boosted tree growth by a factor of approximately thirty-five; before, it took a tree eighty years to grow fully, but now it was a matter of hardly more than two years. The adverse side effect of this biological breakthrough, which earned its creator a Nobel Prize, was that trees seemed to develop a rather uncanny personality of their own. They sought to get hold of as much resources as they could, and that, in turn, did nasty things to the soil and the air around them. I left the place hastily and decided to rest for some time on a nearby bench.