Once upon a time, a long time ago, in another dimension where whole worlds can be built in a singular city, there was one such world on a magnificent volcanic mountain.
The mountain was home to a vast number of humans of diverse skin colors, languages and cultures. The top of the mountain was covered in an ancient glacier that sparkled in the sunlight and was truly amazing to behold in all its glorious colors at dawn and dusk.
Just below the line of the glaciers, there was a community of mansions. These were the homes of the very, very rich. They were lit day and night, and filled with all sorts of technological gadgets. TV, Computers, Internet, yes, sure, but so much more. The houses themselves were smart, with artificial intelligence that would cater to every need of the human inhabitants. All — or at least most — of the other humans on that mountain dreamed of living in those mansions.
Below the community of mansions was a group of neighborhoods, tied together by a system of roads, phone lines and a free market economy. (Well, they called it a free market economy. There are other tales to be told about that!) These neighborhoods were filled with homes that used a great deal of the natural resources of the mountain. They were built with a mixture of natural and modern materials. They followed, more or less, a strict code for building quality, type and usage based on their location and population. Like the mansions, they had many mechanical and computerized gadgets to make life easier: dishwashers, washing machines, computers, and more.
Further down the mountain there was more wilderness, and the neighborhoods tended to be clustered in small areas. The humans who lived in these neighborhoods did not always have lights in their home. In fact, many didn’t even have running water, and some had to walk long distances to reach a rivulet of fresh glacial melt water or a hand pump with treated water provided by the wealthier neighborhoods above. These neighborhoods were built from materials in the environment around them. Many had no building codes at all. Some of the neighborhoods were densely packed with people who lived in extreme poverty, with little access to the basic resources needed to maintain life. They still had some electronic goods, though, because this is the nature of trickle down economy. The people on the bottom spend money to buy the throw away goodies of those further up, and thus happiness can find its way into even the darkest slum. Nearly everyone had a tv set to let them imagine for a moment each day what it would be like to live an easier life, and of course they had mobile phones, because how else would they do business so that their money could cycle through to the rest of the people on the mountain?
Near the bottom of the mountain was a series of lakes, with islands of humanity on their banks. Some of these neighborhoods were quite luxurious indeed, like the mansions near the top of the mountain. These were mostly owned by people whose families lived up there at the top. The rest of the neighborhoods were a mix of middle and poor. A few were so remote that no human from outside had visited them in historic memory.
Now, this mountain economy was based not on gold or silver or petroleum, for it was a volcano at its heart. Long ago, the humans who lived there had learned how to use the molten magma from inside the mountain to generate electricity, to run their gadgets, to make new materials, and to create the technological wonders they all enjoyed. (Well, not all. Stop distracting me. I’m telling a story.)
The magma was pumped up from inside the mountain and captured in special tanks. It was run through different machinery to generate electricity, passed through high tech systems that separated the elements inside to make all manner of modern materials. The neighborhoods around the lava industry sites were difficult places to live, choked with smoke, jagged rock, and other refuse from the processes of the refinement and use of the magma. There were many safety mechanisms to keep the lava from burning through tanks and pipes of the refineries and factories, but there were frequent accidents and spills. The people who worked in those lava industry jobs were also prone to health problems and short lives, and even their children suffered greatly from the effects of their work.
The people who lived at the top of the mountain owned all the magma, and were in charge — directly or indirectly — of all the lava industry refineries and factories. They were the ones who chose where new magma pumps should be built, and which communities should get new lava industry jobs. Many of the people in the lower parts of the mountain were thrilled at the opportunity to get those new jobs, because they brought money to their communities that they could spend on more of the things that the people higher up the mountain enjoyed. Other people fought against the lava industry coming into their communities. They knew that the money was not enough to give them the sort of life that those nearest the mansions enjoyed, and they also knew the cost to their communities in terms of health and lives. Some had even noticed what terrible things happened to the non-human inhabitants of the mountain wherever the lava industry set up shop.
Forests burned. Deer and wolves were killed. There were no more mountain lions left. When ash would billow from a smoke stack for a few days, an entire year’s food crop could be wiped out in one go. Sometimes, an ash covering would destroy an entire species of wildflower such that it never bloomed again.
Over a couple of centuries, the people became completely dependent on the lava industry for every part of their lives. At the same time, the negative effects of working with lava became more and more pronounced. The smoke from the factories choked neighborhoods all up and down the mountain. Spills, some minor and others quite large, started fires that engulfed entire communities. Eventually, nearly every neighborhood on the mountain was at least partially aflame, and all of them had some level of residue of volcanic pollution.
Eventually, they noticed that the heat from the fires was even melting the glacier at the top of the mountain. The people who lived in the mansions had to build concrete rivers to funnel this extra flow of water down and away from their homes. At the same time, they had to add various new features to their homes to filter out the smoke from the fires below and to protect their buildings from the flames.
In the midst of this fire crisis, unease increased at nearly all levels of the mountain.
The people near the top had many issues on their mind. They worried about the quality of the air that they were breathing. They worried about the glacial waters that poured down from the cement rivers and undermined their homes. They worried about the fact that all the high paying factory jobs had moved down the mountain where labor and safety codes were nonexistent or less strictly enforced. They worried about the inequality between the richest and the poorest among those on their level. They worried about education. They worried about debt.
The people who lived in the next layer down were worried about their homes and their health. The fires were consuming their neighborhoods and many people could no longer work in paid jobs because they had to spend all their hours fighting fires. Nearly everyone was getting sick from overwork, stress, and pollution. They also worried about the houses from the level above them that sometimes slid down the hill when cement-river-guided glacial melt went underground and turned the ground up there to mush. Oh, and the quality of the water. That was bad, too. They had to worry about what was in it — trash from the cement rivers, pollution from lava refineries, sewage from higher up the mountain. They worried, too, about having enough clean water to fight the fires.
At the bottom of the mountain, the people worried about pollution, of course. It all rolled down hill, not so much in a trickle but in a gush. And worst of all was the water that was now pouring downwards every day, filling the lakes with grey goo that at up the land and swamped their homes.
This is a true story, as true as can be. Tonight you will dream well, my little sweet pea. And tomorrow I shall tell you a special tale indeed. The tale of the Fruitvale up in the clouds…