Andy’s world was sliding downwards. Few civilizations survived more than a few centuries past their industrial revolutions – around 5%, the exohistorians reckoned. Orthos’ natural gas was long-since gone, its oil mosly gone except for unextractable shales. The Orthonions had fallen back on burning coal, and now permanent clouds of black soot hung over the great cities of Agim, Selia, and New Richtos, just as they had 300 years past. In the countryside harvests were a little meaner every year due to the too-quickly changing climate and the worsening floods and storms. Every few months there was some new report that the recession was worsening, followed by a new flurry of predictions by the experts that the economy would pick up in six months, or a year, or five years. Andy knew it never would.
Andy had left school in the eighth year to work alongside his father recycling old computers and phones for indium, tantalum, europium, and terbium. Nevertheless he loved to read. Andy devoured any text he could get his hands on, and his hardrive was crammed full of pirated books, but his favourites were histories, both ancient and modern, of Orthos and of alien worlds. He followed the leading newspapers of all five continents, and mentally weighed five opposing flavours of propaganda in order to form his own opinion of what was really happening in his world.
Orthos was not going to be one of the 5%. Efforts were being made, to be sure, to staunch the flow of carbon dioxide into the air and minerals out of the ground. International treaties placed strict limits on emissions, with punitive fines for over-emitters. And huge sums were spent on research into renewable energy sources. Banks of solar panels grew over the deserts like a second skin. But the rules were impossible to enforce. All over Orthos black markets had sprung up in cheaply and illegally produced fuels and metals, with many of the criminal cartels tacitly supported by governments, especially in the poorer countries. The regulators could always be counted on to record the “correct” emission levels in their reports, in return for their own share of the profits. But in Andy’s view the blame did not really lie with the poor nations, for all their corruption. Ultimately it was the multinationals who bought and sold the fuel, if you followed the supply chain to its end. These multinationals profitted from the corruption of the poor nations, yet they were based in the wealthy lands of Agim, and Selial, and it was into these countries that their profits flowed. International agreements looked pretty on paper, but in the end looking pretty was all they were good for.
Andy himself was part of it. Working in the lawless borderlands between Krel and Harator, he earned his living trading black market parts and materiels. Andy loved his world, and the knowledge of his part in its destruction was bitter to him. And yet he had two daughters. Both of them were going to finish school, rather than leaving early to work as their father had done, and afterwards he hoped to send them away to university. Illegal trade in computer parts, rare metals, and dirty fuel paid for all that. Andy loved Orthos, but he loved his family more. This was the reason that Orthos was doomed: it was a planet filled with men and women who loved their world, but who loved their families more. That was all it took to destroy a civilization.
He wondered if it was easier for those living on orphan planets, on the fringes of inhabited space, so far removed from other worlds that they believed themselves alone in the universe. They didn’t know that they were in the unlucky 95%. The losers. Nothing heroic or tragic, just a dismal statistic in an exohistory text.
No, Andy decided, the orphan planets didn’t really have it easier. They would still see their doom approaching. Their people would still live their lives, contributing in small ways to the destruction, and despite all their technology they were still powerless to make it stop.