Use this parable as an introduction to the subject of air pollution
Once there was a beautiful little country named Malengo. On one side of Malengo, the sea spread out, providing white sandy beaches for children to run on and white-capped blue waves for children to laugh in and a wide expanse of ever-moving blue that quieted restlessness.
On the other side of Malengo, the mountains reached the sky. Their blue sides stood tall, capped by snow hats so beautiful that women copies them, making white knit hats for the children.
Malengo was a country of farmers, and the farms spread out in the valley and along the foothills, making beautiful checkered patterns of brown and yellow and green. Every farmhouse was surrounded by trees—shade trees and flowering trees and fruit trees of every kind. In between the fields and along the roads, more trees grew.
And the flowers, such beautiful flowers you have never seen. Dainty wild flowers strewed themselves
“But other people do. You could sell them to other countries and get rich.’’
“Get rich? What is rich? Why should we get it’’
The man snorted again. “You are clods,’’ he said. “Dull, backward clods. I’ll not waste any more time in such a backward country.’’ He rode off through the mountains and was never seen again.
But people were no longer happy. “We need factories. We need cities,’’ they said to each other. “We need to get rich, whatever that is.’’ So they sent a delegation through the mountains to their neighboring country to find out about cities and factories and getting rich. The delegation brought back experts, who immediately started bossing.
The experts took the farmers from their fields and se them to work building a city along the beach. House after house was built, then factory after factory. Then the experts made everyone move into the city. The children cried, for there were no trees to climb in the city. The women cried, for there were no flowers in the city. The men even cried, for they could no longer work their own fields and watch their own crops grow.
But the experts reassured them. “You will like the city. You can work in the factories. You can plant new trees and new flowers.’’ And so they did, but there weren’t as many trees and flowers.
The experts divided up the work. Some men still farmed, but now they farmed much more land. At the bidding of the experts, they cut down trees to make bigger fields to grow more crops.
The trees were used in the factories and homes for heat and energy, and black smoke began to fill the sky. The factories started turning out shoes by the thousands, and dumping leftover leather and chemicals into a river that flowed to the sea.
Other factories started making clothes, and the air soon had a perpetually sour smell.
Delegations of salesmen took the shoes and clothes through the mountains and sold them. They brought back automobiles, which were then the newest fad in the neighboring country.
Soon every family had an automobile. And every Sunday, every family got in its automobile and rove, bumper to bumper, up into the mountains over a new road the experts had said they needed, in order to get some fresh air.
Soon the trees were all gone and there was no wood to burn. “We need coal,’’ said the experts, and they began looking for coal. They found it in the foothills. They brought in huge machines that tore up the earth and took out the coal. They took the coal in the city, and as it burned in all the factories and homes, the air got blacker and blacker.
“Let’s start using electricity,’’ said the experts. So a power plant was built and power lines were stretched everywhere in the city. And air got blacker and blacker.
“Let’s build our own automobiles,’’ said the experts. So another factory was built. And the air got blacker and blacker across the shady places, and bold wild flowers captured the sunny meadows. And the people were happy, very happy, in their beautiful little country.
But one day, a stranger came to Malengo. He wore a fancy vest and a high top hat, and he rode a prancing steed.
“What a dull, backward country you have,’’ he mocked. “All you do is farm. Where are your cities and factories? Don’t you make anything?’’
“We make our own clothes and our shoes. We make butter and cheese. We make delectable pies and cakes and soups. We make our own houses.’’
“No, no! That’s not what I mean. Don’t you make buggies to go riding in?’’
“Why should we?’’ We have good strong legs. We can walk.’’
He merely snorted. “In a factory you could make hundreds of shoes in a day, or hundreds of dresses, or 50 buggies.’’
“Why should we? Everyone already has shoes and clothes, and we don’t need buggies.’’
Some days, the wind blew in from the sea, instead of out to the sea. On those days, the black air just hung over the city. People coughed and their eyes watered, but no one paid any attention.
People began coming in from the neighboring country, because Malengo was now such a prosperous country. They brought more automobiles. They built more houses and more factories.
So many people came that all the farmland was bought so people could build houses and factories on it. Now the people of Malengo had to buy all their food from the neighboring country. Food became very expensive. The air got blacker and blacker. But no one paid any attention.
Then, for three weeks straight, the wind blew in from the sea. The black air hung over the city. People wheezed and coughed, and their eyes watered. The black air got thick with grime. Dogs began to die. Old people died , too, and sick people. No one knew why. No one tried to find out why.
Finally, the wind shifted. The black air blew away. Everyone breathed deeply and smiled. A few more old people died, and a few more sick people. But no one paid any attention.
More houses were built, and more factories. The power plant had to expand. Trains were built to cross the mountains, and they made the journey many times a day. Then an airport was built and jets began flying in and out.
Again, the wind blew in from the sea, this time for 48 days. The people coughed and wheezed, and their eyes watered. Dogs died. Old people died, and sick people. Then the children began to die. But no one knew why. The black air hung like a pall, poisoning everything. Trees and flowers died, even weeds, and finally everyone died, every single person in Malengo.
Then the wind changed, blowing the black death away. But now people were afraid to go to Malengo. No one even went in to bury the dead. And so the country sat there, silent. The factories had stopped. The homes were silent. Nothing moved.
In the silence, the thick, thick silence, thing began to grow—grass and weeds and tree seeds. Once more dainty wild flowers strewed themselves across the shady places and bold wild flowers captured the sunny places. Threes burst up through cracks in the concrete. Vines began growing up walls. Bodies decayed and enriched the earth. Rabbits came, and birds, and many other animals. But still, people were afraid to go to Malengo. They didn’t know why the black death had come or when it would come again. To them Malengo was a cursed place, a place of mystery and doom, a monument of death.
* * *
It could happen, you know. Part of it has already happened. Old people and sick people have died. Dogs and cats have died. So have flowers. Someday, all of us could die. The only difference is, we know what causes the black smoke. But, do we care?