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Olivia was pretending to sort through the stack of papers in front of her on the podium. She didn’t want to look straight into the crowd, for fear that her nerves may get the better of her. The lights were finally dimming in the lecture hall, as a group of journalists secured last-minute strategic positions right at the front of the room. What was originally planned to be an inner circle academic symposium, had mushroomed over a period of days into a much anticipated, widely publicised press conference. Olivia had no idea that she was about to appear live on The Line.
“Over the past 3 months, me and my colleagues have been isolating, growing and studying multiple variants of this family of organisms collected from across the world. My team and I have been focusing our initial investigations on these organisms’ genetic heritage and main metabolic pathways, trying to understand how and why we are witnessing the largest and longest phytoplankton bloom ever recorded in modern times. Although this work is very far from over, we have so far come across a number of important findings. This is why we wanted to speak to you today. Some of the characteristics that a few of these variants possess, in our opinion, make them distinctly different from other species of phytoplankton known to this day. We are not talking about just one species that has mutated. We believe that we are looking at an entire family of organisms developing new and interesting adaptations to our changed oceans”
“Can the phytoplankton be harvested and used as fuel?” – a reporter shouted from the middle of the room. The question and answer session had begun.
She looked into the crowd, as the intensity of the lights all of a sudden seemed to block her vision. She smiled nervously, thanked the reporter for the question, as she took a moment to look down and away from the lights. These were exactly the type of stupid questions she was hoping to avoid, Olivia thought to herself. In a world where ecosystems were collapsing, all that the corporate-sponsored media were interested in was minimising the importance of this catastrophe, reducing it down to human terms by shifting focus away from the tragedy and towards potential business opportunities for their fossil fuel industry stakeholders.
She considered for a second simply not answering the question. It would have been an easy escape, one that she had done many times in her career. Let the scientists be scientists, let the fossil fuel tycoons be blood-thirsty capitalists. But she couldn’t hold back this time. Feeling the sweat suddenly begin to rise out of the pores on her forehead, she lowered her mouth closer to the microphone just as she made direct eye contact with the reporter: “this phytoplankton is at the moment, whether we want to accept it or not, the dominant species on this planet. It is using our marine ecosystem as its fuel, in order to grow and make more copies of itself. While I realise that, as in any crisis, there may be hidden opportunities for some of us, I’m afraid that at this point in time, we are the fuel. Our civilisation is being threatened because of our own mistakes, because of the climate breakdown that has led to yet another ecological crisis. As a scientist, my task is to understand the technical aspects of how we got here. But as a simple human, I have one answer for you: unless we stop thinking of everything on Earth as fuel for our civilisation, we will ourselves become the fuel for anything or anyone that comes next”
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books