Project Hail Mary

Page 65

He shrugged. “It’s hard to find two climatologists who agree on the color of an orange. It is, unfortunately, an inexact field. There is a lot of uncertainty and—if I’m being honest—a lot of guesswork. Climate science is in its infancy.”

“You’re not giving yourself enough credit. Out of all the experts, you’re the only one I could find whose climate-prediction models were proven true over and over again for the last twenty years.”

He nodded.

She gestured to a disorderly mass of papers on the meeting table. “I’ve been sent every kind of prediction from minor crop failures to global biosphere collapse. I want to hear what you have to say. You’ve seen the predicted solar-output numbers. What’s your take?”

“Disaster, of course,” he said. “We’re looking at extinction of many species, complete upheaval of biomes all over the world, major changes in weather patterns—”

“Humans,” Stratt said. “I want to know how this affects humans, and when. I don’t care about the mating grounds of the three-anused mud sloth or any other random biome.”

“We’re part of the ecology, Ms. Stratt. We’re not outside it. The plants we eat, the animals we ranch, the air we breathe—it’s all part of the tapestry. It’s all connected. As the biomes collapse, it’ll have a direct impact on humanity.”

“Okay, then: numbers,” Stratt said. “I want numbers. Tangible things, not vague predictions.”

He scowled at her. “Okay. Nineteen years.”

“Nineteen years?”

“You wanted a number,” he said. “There’s a number. Nineteen years.”

“Okay, what’s nineteen years?”

“That’s my estimate for when half the people currently alive will be dead. Nineteen years from now.”

The silence that followed was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Even Stratt was taken aback. Lokken and I looked to each other. I don’t know why but we did. Dimitri’s mouth fell agape.

“Half?” Stratt said. “Three point five billion people? Dead?”

“Yes,” he said. “Is that tangible enough for you?”

“How can you possibly know that?” she said.

He pursed his lips. “And just like that another climate denier is born. See how easy it is? All I have to do is tell you something you don’t want to hear.”

“Don’t patronize me, Dr. Leclerc. Just answer my questions.”

He crossed his arms. “We’re already seeing major weather-pattern disruptions.”

Lokken cleared her throat. “I heard there were tornadoes in Europe?”

“Yes,” he said. “And they’re happening more and more often. European languages didn’t even have a word for tornado until Spanish conquistadors saw them in North America. Now they’re happening in Italy, Spain, and Greece.”

He tilted his head. “Partially, it’s because of shifting weather patterns. And partially it’s because some lunatic decided to pave the Sahara Desert with black rectangles. As if a massive disruption of heat distribution near the Mediterranean Sea wouldn’t have any effects.”

Stratt rolled her eyes. “I knew there’d be weather effects. We just don’t have any other choice.”

He pressed on. “Your abuse of the Sahara aside, we’re seeing bizarre phenomena all over the world. The cyclone season is off by two months. It snowed in Vietnam last week. The jet stream is a convoluted mess changing day by day. Arctic air is being brought to places it’s never been before, and tropical air is going well north and south. It’s a maelstrom.”

“Get back to the three and a half billion dead people,” Stratt said.

“Sure,” he said. “The math of famine is actually pretty easy. Take all the calories the world creates with farming and agriculture per day, and divide by about fifteen hundred. The human population cannot be greater than that number. Not for long, anyway.”

He fiddled with a pen on the table. “I’ve run the best models I have. Crops are going to fail. The global staple crops are wheat, barley, millet, potatoes, soy, and most important: rice. All of them are pretty sensitive about temperature ranges. If your rice paddy freezes over, the rice dies. If your potato farm floods, the potatoes die. And if your wheat farm experiences ten times normal humidity, it gets fungal parasites and dies.”

He looked at Stratt again. “If only we had a stable supply of three-anused mud sloths, maybe we’d survive.”

Stratt pinched her chin. “Nineteen years isn’t enough time. It’ll take thirteen years for the Hail Mary to get to Tau Ceti, and another thirteen for any results or data to come back. We need at least twenty-six years. Twenty-seven would be better.”

He looked at her as if she’d grown another head. “What are you saying? This isn’t some optional outcome. This is happening. And there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “Humanity has been accidentally causing global warming for a century. Let’s see what we can do when we really set our minds to it.”

He drew back. “What? Are you kidding?”

“A nice blanket of greenhouse gases would buy us some time, right? It would insulate Earth like a parka and make the energy we are getting last longer. Am I wrong?”

“Wha—” he stammered. “You aren’t wrong, but the scale…and the morality of deliberately causing greenhouse-gas emissions…”

“I don’t care about morality,” Stratt said.

“She really doesn’t,” I said.

“I care about saving humanity. So get me some greenhouse effect. You’re a climatologist. Come up with something to make us last at least twenty-seven years. I’m not willing to lose half of humanity.”

Leclerc gulped.

She made a shooing motion. “Get to work!”


* * *


It takes three hours and the addition of fifty words to our shared vocabulary, but I am finally able to explain radiation—and its effects on biology—to Rocky.

“Thank,” he says in unusually low tones. Sad tones. “Now I know how my friends died.”

“Bad bad bad,” I say.

“Yes,” he chimes.

During the conversation, I learned the Blip-A has no radiation protection at all. And I know why Eridians never discovered radiation. It took a while to assemble all of this information, but here is what I know:

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