Piu's morning began with the loud buzz of the alarm clock. “Triiiiiiiing” went the round metal clock; it was 8 am. Piu sat up on the bed, spread her arms and rubbed her eyes. She said in a sleepy voice, “Why can’t I spend the Children’s Day at home?”
Piu could tell something had changed. She woke up to a sore throat and watery eyes. There was a red glow on the wall. She went up to the window and saw the haze against the background of a red sky.
“Are we on Mars?” said Piu aloud.
“No, Piu. This is our world in 2091,” replied a voice from behind. Piu turned and found an elderly woman standing at the room's entrance.
Piu looked puzzled. Seeing her like this, the woman said, “Is something bothering you?”
“Well, who are you and where am I?” asked Piu hesitantly.
“I am Greta Thunberg. You have come to the future and this is my house. Welcome, Piu!” said Thunberg.
“Ms Thunberg, I am pleased to meet you. Can you please tell me why the sky is red?” asked Piu. She wanted to open the window but Thunberg stopped her and said, “Don’t! Don’t open the window!”
“Why?” said Piu.
“The air outside is dangerous. It is not safe for us to breathe the polluted air even for 5 minutes,” explained Thunberg.
“Why is the air so polluted?” asked Piu.
“Well, emissions from our industrial units worsen the air quality and cause severe air pollution,” said Thunberg.
She took a pause and then resumed, “Now these pollutants change the direction of sunlight as they pass through the atmosphere. This phenomenon is called scattering. As a result of this, colours like blue and violet are not visible to us and the sky appears red. You must have learnt about this phenomenon in your physics class, haven’t you?”
“So, you mean to say that increased air pollution makes the sky appear redder to us?” said Piu.
“Exactly!” said Thunberg. “Also, breathing this air can make us ill. It can cause breathing problems, a burning sensation in the eyes and irritation in the skin and eyes,” she added.
“Oh my god! How do people go out then?” said Piu. “We don’t. Children and adults mostly stay home,” said Thunberg.
“What about going out for work or to schools?” asked Piu. “All our jobs have been taken over by drones, humanoids and artificial intelligence. Be it farming, driving or critical medical surgery, everything is automated. Nowadays, there is no need for humans to work in the fields and factories,” said Thunberg. She took a pause and continued, “This also means that we, humans, don't need to learn skills necessary to secure jobs. This is the reason why there are no schools anymore."
“What? That means nobody has to wake up early and sit for hours in the classroom! And no homework, unit tests or exams? Hurray! This is really exciting! Let us go to the park, Ms Thunberg!” said Piu gleefully.
“Sorry, Piu. We can’t go to the park. Stepping outside would mean risking our lives,” said Thunberg sternly. “Also, all outdoor activities are prohibited due to severe air pollution,” she added.
“I wish I could fly away like a bird,” said Piu.
“Look outside Piu. You won’t see a single bird flying across the vast sky,” said Thunberg.
“Yes, it is true! Why is that?” asked Piu.
“It's because even our birds could not survive these extreme conditions. Deforestation and rising temperatures have led to the extinction of millions of species including birds and bugs,” said Thunberg.
“What do we do then?” said Piu.
“It's November 14 or Children’s Day! Why don’t you post a status update? You have many mobile applications and social media sites on your smartphone. If you wish, you can also send greetings on Children’s Day to your friends,” replied Thunberg.
“That’s a good idea! I will do that but first I need to eat. I am hungry,” said Piu while taking hurried steps towards the fridge. She opened the fridge and saw that it was almost empty. There were just some stale vegetables and some milk. There were no fruits or fish or eggs or meat. “Why is there no food?” said Piu.
“Come on, Piu! You must already know that the world’s population is now close to 5,000 crores. In the past few decades, we have caused irreversible damage to the land. Its fertility is now beyond repair. We don't have water for irrigation either. All the aquifers have dried up and river water is no longer fit for irrigation because all our rivers, ponds and lakes are extremely polluted. In fact, there is an acute scarcity of food. Newspapers are full of reports about water riots and food riots in different parts of the world,” said Thunberg.
“I understand all of this, Miss Thunberg but I can’t eat these stale vegetables and I hate milk!” said Piu.
“Unfortunately, there is no alternative Piu. Providing food to billions is a challenge. Whatever robots and AI produce in the fields are destroyed by acid rain, which is a by-product of the polluted air. Even the robots can’t protect our crops from them. Because of this, farming also takes place in closed spaces, which means that we have fewer food options,” explained Thunberg.
“What will I eat then?” said a miffed Piu.
“Thank heavens, you were born into a prosperous family. You can simply order food online,” said Thunberg.
“Okay. Let me order fish fry, one large pizza, french fries and a cold drink,” said Piu.
However, when she tried to place an order through the phone, an automated voice replied, “We are sorry. Due to a shortage of food, we can only deliver vegetable soup. Please accept our sincere apologies and thank you for placing an order with us. Have a good day.” Then, the call got disconnected.
“Piu, I told you. Didn’t I? You can’t expect fish in highly polluted rivers,” said Thunberg.
Piu was upset and angry but before she could say anything there was a power cut and the room fell dark.
“Why is there no electricity in the house now?” said Piu in the dark.
“There are regular power cuts because we don't have enough energy to meet the electricity demand,” Thunberg replied.
“Moreover, a big chunk of the electricity we produce is reserved for robots and AI,” she added.
“See, you must know that once upon a time there were many trees on our planet. These trees trapped sunlight to make food. The energy stored in these plants gets transferred from one animal to the other through eating habits,” said Thunberg.
“Yes, I can recall our biology teacher having taught this topic in our classroom, a relic of my ancient past in 2019. The process by which energy is exchanged in the natural world is called the food chain, isn’t it?” said Piu.
“You are right, Piu. Now, this inter-connected world of the food chain was imbalanced once large tracts of forestland were lost for good. Therefore, today we have to depend on whatever little we can produce in our enclosed farms. Fortunately, robots and advanced machines have replaced human labour.”
“Wow, that sounds wonderful!” said Piu while panting in the dark. “There is one problem though. These advanced machines drain huge amounts of energy from the main electricity grid. That is why there are frequent power cuts,” said Thunberg.
“I don’t want to live like this, Miss Thunberg!” said Piu. Feeling helpless in the dark, Piu started crying. Just then there was a loud buzz. It was the alarm clock. Piu opened her eyes and found herself in her bedroom.
“Thank god, it was just a dream!” Pom was already awake. He followed Piu quietly and noticed that she did not keep the tap water running while facing the mirror. Pom interrupted her and said, “Are you ready with your speech on Children’s Day?”
“Yes, Pom. I know what to say. We have to ensure that we keep celebrating Children’s Day the way we do it now. I want this day to be celebrated with sweets, sports and lots of other fun activities in the future as well,” said Piu. “And the only way to prepare for our future is by acting in the present. We need to start saving our greenery, water bodies along with animals and birds who live on this planet with us,” added Piu before heading out to school on Children’s Day.