Authors: Kudakwashe Muzira
The E Utopia Project
(Book 1 of the Planet Woes Series)
By Kudakwashe Muzira
Copyright 2016 by Kudakwashe Muzira
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without
prior written permission of the above.
of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The picture of the Earth on
the cover of this book is from NASA and the NSSDC. This image from NASA and the
NSSDC does not imply that the aforementioned endorse any part of this book.
This book is not in any way endorsed by NASA and the NSSDC.
Warning: Although this book purports to be hard
science fiction, it contains unrealistic faster-than-light travel.
To my brothers and beta readers, Tirivashe and Tapiwa
Panting, Sara Cummings walked
along the sidewalk, resisting the urge to put on her breathing machine. She
passed a couple and their four kids. The whole family stared at her, wondering
how long she would go without putting on her breathing machine. The couple
recognized Sara. The man dismissed her as an attention-seeking celebrity who
wanted to show off the power of her lungs. The woman thought Sara was doing an
experiment to determine how long a person could go without an artificial source
Oxygen had become so sparse
in the atmosphere that it was impossible to survive without oxygen masks, nasal
cannulas or breathing machines. Oxygen masks and nasal cannulas were much
cheaper and much easier to maintain than breathing machines. From the outside,
the breathing machines looked like ordinary gas masks, but they had built-in vacuum
ultraviolet laser plants that split carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen. The
oxygen was availed to the user of the machine and the carbon was dumped into
the machine’s exhaust section in the form of amorphous carbon dust.
Breathing machines had two
air bags, namely, the reservoir bag and the breather bag. Oxygen from the
vacuum ultraviolet laser chamber was pumped into the reservoir bag before it
was channeled into the breather bag. The user set the amount of time he wanted
to breathe the breather bag’s air before it was replaced with oxygen from the
reservoir bag. Most people set their machines to replace the breather bag’s gas
after every fifteen seconds. The air from the breather bag was channeled back
into the ultraviolet laser chamber. Most of the moisture in the exhaled air was
absorbed by the waste carbon dust.
Breathing machines required
lots of energy to generate the short-wavelength ultraviolet rays needed to
split carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen, necessitating users of the
machines to carry spare battery packs when they travelled. Breathing machines
had two main advantages over oxygen masks and nasal cannulas. One: unlike users
of oxygen masks and nasal cannulas, users of breathing machines didn’t have to
carry oxygen tanks. Two: users of breathing machines got their oxygen from
carbon dioxide, thereby conserving atmospheric oxygen.
Sara walked for ten more
meters before she put on her breathing machine. She could have gone for another
ten meters without the machine but she put it on because she didn’t want to keep
on using atmospheric oxygen. There was a huge oxygen deficit in the atmosphere
and people had to save all the oxygen they could.
Her white T-shirt had a life-size
picture of her face on the front and back. The law obliged everyone over the
age of twelve to have such pictures on their clothes for easy identification
when they were wearing oxygen masks and breathing machines. The government
enacted the law when criminals committed a string of robberies using breathing
machines and oxygen masks as disguises.
She wiped sweat from her
brow. The sun was scorching hot. Global average temperature had risen by seven
degrees Celsius during the last three years. Eight percent of the ice in the
Antarctica, Greenland, and mountain glaciers had melted. Sea levels had risen by
about seven meters, threatening all coastal regions.
Although she had one of the
latest versions of solar cars, she preferred to walk from work to home despite
the sun’s inclement glare. She walked because she needed the exercise and
because she hated to drive in the rush-hour traffic. She also liked to walk
because she thought more clearly when she was walking. She used the daily walk
to and from work to ransack her brains for the answer to the question that was
troubling all mankind. What had brought about the oxygen deficit and the
drastic climate changes?
Sara was the Director of the
Global Environmental Management Agency (GEMA), a United Nations arm that was established
after the dissolution of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In the
coming month she was going to address a United Nations summit on the
environmental crisis facing the world. Although this was the sixth such summit
in three years, the UN was still to come up with a viable solution to the environmental
disaster that was now known worldwide as
Her breathing machine beeped
to notify her that its exhaust section was almost full of carbon. She walked to
the nearest carbon bin and took off the breathing machine. She opened the
exhaust outlet and poured the carbon dust into the bin. There were carbon bins
in streets and public places in most countries. Municipalities collected the
carbon from the bins and packed it in sealed containers where it would not burn
and consume atmospheric oxygen.
What brought about the
oxygen deficit and climate change?
asked herself for the umpteenth time as she fastened her breathing machine.
When levels of atmospheric
oxygen started dropping sharply, scientists initially blamed combustion. But
the situation continued to deteriorate even when all countries reduced the use
of combustible fuels. Hundreds of millions of people voluntarily parked their
cars and used bicycles, buses and trains to commute to work. For the first time
in history, global sales of electric vehicles surpassed the sales of
When scientists discovered
that the decrease in the level of atmospheric oxygen was not accompanied by a
corresponding increase in the level of carbon dioxide, they realized that
combustion wasn’t the main cause of the problem. At the same time, they also discovered
that global average atmospheric pressure was decreasing, leading to the
conclusion that the air density of the atmosphere was dropping. Something was apparently
taking oxygen from the atmosphere without producing carbon dioxide. Either
oxygen was somehow leaking from the Earth’s atmosphere, or it was reacting with
something to produce a solid or liquid compound. One scientist theorized that
the Earth was losing oxygen to solar winds but the scientific community scoffed
at his theory. It was impossible for solar winds to blow away oxygen without
also blowing away nitrogen, carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases.
It was common knowledge that
the atmosphere scatters the sun’s rays, hence it was obvious to the scientific
community that the increase in temperatures was a direct result of the thinning
of the atmosphere. The thinner the atmosphere became, the easier it was for the
sun’s rays to penetrate.
As the oxygen decline
continued to baffle the world, scientists came up with several theories. One
scientist came up with a plausible theory that was universally accepted. His
name was Ronald Hitchcook, and he worked for the International Green Movement,
a non-governmental organization that championed the protection of the
environment. Doctor Ronald Hitchcook said that atmospheric oxygen could be
reacting with a component of volcanic lava. He theorized that some volcanoes
had probably exposed a powerful reducing agent that had hitherto been unexposed
to air in recorded history. If that was the case, the only solution would be to
identify the volcanoes and block their oxygen-binding lava from making contact
with atmospheric oxygen.
Scientists studied all known volcanoes
on land and found none of them to be sucking in oxygen. If such a volcano
existed, its surroundings would have the lowest oxygen content on Earth. The
intake of oxygen by the lava would create a pressure gradient that would result
in constant winds flowing into the volcano’s vent. Since the majority of the world’s
volcanoes are under the sea, all those who believed Hitchcook’s theory came to
the conclusion that the oxygen-sapping volcanoes were submarine. If the volcanoes
that were supposedly causing
were oceanic, then their lava
was reacting with oxygen dissolved in sea water, or it was reacting with the sea
water itself to produce hydrogen, which in turn reacted with atmospheric oxygen.
Located at the bottom of the ocean, such volcanoes would be difficult to find.
Even if these volcanoes were to be found, it would be impossible to block sea water
from entering their vents.
So what could be done to
replace the oxygen that the hypothetical volcanoes were taking from the
A scientist by the name John
Moyo came with a simple answer. The only solution, he said, was to decompose
naturally occurring compounds of oxygen. The simplest one to decompose would be
water, which could be easily decomposed by electrolysis. The oxygen produced
would be released into the air, and the hydrogen could be transported from
Earth by space shuttle and dumped into space. Doctor Moyo, however, argued that
decomposing huge amounts of water could negatively affect the water cycle,
resulting in undesirable climate changes. He also pointed to the obvious fact
that this method was not viable because plenty of oxygen would be used by the
rocket engines of the space shuttles that would transport hydrogen to space.
Carbon dioxide was only a tiny component of air. Therefore, decomposing huge
amounts of carbon dioxide to redress the oxygen deficit would exhaust atmospheric
carbon dioxide, resulting in the extinction of green plants which need carbon
dioxide to carry out life-giving photosynthesis.
So Doctor Moyo proposed the extraction
of oxygen from sand. Earth has an abundant supply of sand, which could be
broken down into oxygen and silicon. Since silicon is not very reactive at low
temperatures, there was no risk of silicon waste combining with atmospheric
oxygen upon exposure to air.
All countries accepted the
idea of using sand to make oxygen and they immediately began building processing
plants that reduced sand with carbon to produce silicon and carbon dioxide. The
carbon dioxide was then passed into vacuum ultraviolet laser plants similar to
the ones found in breathing machines. Because the reduction of sand with carbon
requires temperatures of up to two thousand degrees Celsius, lots of fossil
fuels had to be burnt to heat sand and coke in blast furnaces. To cater for the
oxygen consumed during this process, the exhaust gases from the blast furnaces
were also passed through vacuum ultraviolet laser plants. The UVL plants were
mostly powered by solar energy harnessed by gigantic solar panels. The sun’s
rays now reached the Earth with greater intensity than before due to the
thinning of the atmosphere, providing enough solar energy to power the UVL
plants. The generation of electricity by hydroelectric power stations had been
greatly reduced by the drought, making solar energy the world’s principal
source of electricity.
Sara clenched her jaw and
increased her pace when she entered the park. Gone were the green lawns and the
flowers that adorned the park years ago. Her heart sank when she recalled how
she played in a similar park when she was a child. Some of her fondest memories
of her childhood had their setting in the park. She knew that the park she
frequented during her childhood was just as parched as the park where she was
right now. There was no water to waste watering parks in the midst of this
devastating drought. Her eyes moved to a park bench near a dry pond. Six times
she had sat on this bench with her then boyfriend, throwing bread crumbs to
ducks. The ducks and her ex-boyfriend now seemed like figments of her
imagination. The sight of the park always jarred her nerves. In her eyes, the state
of the park symbolized the disaster that devastated the world. Like the park, the
Earth was losing its vegetation and animals. She had been an environmental
activist since high school and the sight of the Earth’s scars pained her. Most
people were now participating in rehabilitation of the environment because they
didn’t want to suffocate, starve or get roasted by the increasingly powerful
rays of the sun, but Sara did so because she loved Mother Nature.
When she got out of the park,
she came to a huge vacuum ultraviolet laser plant that covered an area equal to
a football pitch. Twenty-four hours a day, the UVL plant took in carbon dioxide
from the air and split it into carbon and oxygen, releasing the oxygen straight
into the atmosphere, leaving the carbon to be packed in sealed containers.
Eight months ago, The United
Nations, following a recommendation from the Global Environmental Management
Agency (GEMA) had passed a resolution to work towards having at least one standalone
UVL plant in every city. As head of GEMA, Sara had traveled in cities across
the world for three months, encouraging governments to comply with the UN
resolution. Most governments seemed to be complying.
Atmospheric oxygen levels
continued to fall despite all the artificial production of oxygen. In the past
five months, governments had set up dozens of standalone UVL plants and dozens more
were under construction. Although Sara had recommended the construction of the
plants, she now believed that UVL plants and sand reduction plants were not the
answer to the atmosphere’s oxygen deficit. She believed that the plants, also
known as oxygenators, could only slow the rate of the decline of the atmosphere’s
oxygen levels. To solve the problem, earthlings had to first find out where
oxygen was going. The oxygenators also provided the challenge of the disposal
of carbon and silicon waste. Mountains of silicon waste were growing and the
number of sealed containers of carbon was increasing by the day. For now, they
were dumping carbon containers in disused mine shafts. They couldn’t dump them
in the sea for fear of raising sea levels. In some parts of the world, people were
now using sealed carbon containers as bricks in dam construction.