Nathan climbed over the railing of the old Seven Mile Bridge in Florida and there he stood, staring down at the waters below, willing himself to let go. As he paused there, strangers gathered around him, imploring him not to do it. He tried to ignore them and to concentrate on the task at hand.
“I have to do this,” he told himself. “There is no other way.”
An authoritative voice got his attention. It was that of a police officer, who had arrived on the scene and was dispersing the strangers.
“OK, move back, give him some space,” he said.
“Don’t... Don’t come any closer!” said Nathan, afraid the officer would pull him back over the railing. “I’ll let go. I will. I’ll do it.”
The officer kept a distance as he introduced himself as Officer Robert Chang. “But you can call me Bob,” he added. “Now, what in the world are you doing on the wrong side of the bridge on this beautiful day?”
Nathan scoffed. “A beautiful day! How many more beautiful days do you think we’ll have before we destroy the planet? We’re already destroying the planet; all of us, moment by moment, action by action… I can’t do it anymore.”
“Destroy the planet!”
“Nathan. My name is Nathan.”
“Nathan, this isn’t a reason to end your life. Instead of dying, why not live sustainably? Recycle. Cycle instead of drive…”
“I’ve tried all of that,” said Nathan. He turned to face the officer while still gripping the railing. He’d let go eventually. But first, why not tell someone why he had to die?
He began by telling Bob about the moment his life changed. He’d been watching the news when he’d seen a report about the speech Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg had given at the United Nations climate summit in 2019.
“Of course I’d heard all the warnings about climate change before,” said Nathan. “But it was something about her, being so young, what she said, how she said it. She made me really listen for the first time.”
That day, Nathan began to evaluate his life and make sustainable changes. “I started small — recycling more, consuming less. But then, as I read more about climate change, I made more drastic changes. But it was never enough.”
Nathan explained how he had given up his gas car for an electric car, but then read about the devastating impact electric car batteries have on the environment. “Because of the extraction of materials used to create them, the carbon emissions from manufacturing them, the toxic toxic waste from their disposal…”
So, Nathan gave up his car and walked and cycled everywhere, even to the place where he worked as a genetic engineer, twenty miles from his apartment.
He switched to a vegan diet because he’d heard it was more sustainable than a non-vegan diet. “But then I read about the environmental impact of avocados and almonds and soy, how forests are destroyed to grow crops, how much water is used in their production…”
“So you stopped eating?” said Bob, observing how emaciated Nathan was.
“I ate only food that was locally-grown and organic. It was a very restricted diet and I started to feel ill. And then I tried to use less and less water and electricity. I stopped showering. I stopped washing my clothes. I got more ill. Eventually, I lost my job. Soon I’d lose my apartment. I thought, I could become a nomad and live off the land. But after a lifetime of modern living, I don’t know how. There’s no way for me to live that doesn’t damage the environment. So, I have to die,” he concluded.
There was silence as Bob seemed to consider Nathan’s predicament and decide on a response. “I hate to tell you this, Nathan, but there’s also no way for you to die that doesn’t damage the environment.”
“What do you mean?” asked Nathan. “Everything I’m wearing is non-toxic and biodegradable. I’ll drown and then decompose naturally.”
“Not how it works, sorry,” said Bob. “By law, we have to retrieve your body and either bury or cremate it. Both methods impact the environment: burials use up precious resources like wood, steel and concrete, and cremation produces high levels of carbon emissions. I know a thing or two about climate change too.”
“Then… then I’ll have a natural burial,” said Nathan, incredulous that he hadn’t considered this.
“Not legal in Florida, sorry. And imagine the carbon footprint if we had to transport your body to another state.”
“Then I’ll come back here at night,” said Nathan, now feeling desperate. “When nobody’s here to see me.”
“Most bodies are discovered eventually. Look, Nathan, we need people like you. You’re smart, a scientist, a genetic engineer, and you’re passionate about saving the planet. Instead of dying, why not commit your life to finding a sustainable solution to climate change?”
As Bob talked, Nathan listened. He climbed back over the railing and after a few days’ rest at a psychiatric hospital, he went home and began to rebuild his life. He got his job back, and instead of focusing on living sustainably, he focused on genetically engineering a virus that would save the planet once and for all — by wiping out mankind.