This past Labor Day Weekend, I was half-watching the 1951 sci-fi “classic” When Worlds Collide. My dad was fully watching it, using the holiday as a fertile substrate for a nostalgic deep dive into campy science fiction movies from his youth on obscure Roku channels.
The premise is simple: scientists discover Zyra, a new planet. Yay, right? Nay. Its orbit is dangerously close to us, and its star Bellus is due to crash into Earth in a few short months, undoubtedly destroying our home in the process. The only solution, naturally, is to build a spaceship and land on Zyra as it passes us by. In case it wasn’t apparent already, the opening titles featuring biblical references to Noah and his Ark make the parallels clear. A reckoning is coming, and we best get on that boat. But the general population doesn’t believe the scientists. Bellus isn’t going to hit us. You’re crazy. They don’t want to believe. They can’t.
To get proper funding, the scientists are forced to go to business tycoon Sydney Stanton (a smoldering John Hoyt), a villainous rich man in a wheelchair, because in the 50’s, wheelchairs were a shortcut to evil.
Stanton, initially, is dubious. You just want my money! Indeed they do, Sydney, but they have good reason. The line that seals the deal, and what finally made me pay attention to this cult movie came next, from one of the bespectacled scientists: “Your money or your life?”
What’s more important? It doesn’t take Stanton long to make a decision. He follows in Blaise Pascal’s footsteps, wagering that it’s better to be safe than sorry. What good is all the money in the world if the world explodes? He can afford to fund this silly Ark even if it’s a crock, and hell, by doing so, buys himself a ticket in case it is real. Everyone else has to get on via the lottery.
Almost 70 years later after the movie was released, scientists are surely building space crafts on the sly in which to evacuate our planet, even without a star hurtling toward us. Almost 70 years later, scientists are warning us that our planet is changing, our planet is dying, and it will soon become too late to do anything about it.
Almost 70 years later, and the richest people in the world are unwilling to make Pascal’s wager, unwilling to choose their life, other people’s lives, over their money. We can (and do) get red in the face about facts, lies, conspiracies and politics, but it really comes down to YOUR MONEY or YOUR LIFE.
This is, of course, easy for me to say. I only have my life; I don’t have any money. I spent $300 I don’t have for a flight home to watch 50s sci-fi movies with my dad for Thanksgiving, only to realize I stupidly bought it for the wrong week. I discovered this after the 24-hour deadline, too late to cancel.
But it’s not too late for the wealthiest people in the world to join Stanton and Pascal in their wager.
Last week at the G7 Summit, the President of the United States was asked the following: “What do you think the world should be doing about climate change? And do you still harbor that skepticism?” In other words, “Your money or your life?”
His preference is clear: “I’m not going to lose that wealth. I’m not going lose it on dreams, on windmills — which, frankly, aren’t working too well. I’m not going to lose it.”
Money trumps life.
Unintentionally, he echoes Don Quixote’s penchant for “tilting at windmills,” as if we’re fighting imaginary enemies. Whether you believe in climate change or not, our enemies are very real. They’re each other. We’re fighting every day, arguing, even killing to see our viewpoints win out.
Everyone I talk to, Democrat, Republican, inbetween or neither, can feel that something is wrong. The planet doesn’t feel right. More and more terrible things keep happening. It feels like the apocalypse. Maybe that’s hyperbole, maybe it’s not, but colorful variations of the phrase “the world is screwed” has become a typical refrain to start and end most conversations these days.
Now, I’m not a scientist. I’m not a political analyst. I’m not a communist. I’m not a socialist. I try to be an optimist, but that gets harder every day. Indeed, I’m starting to detest all these one size fits all -ists. Maybe that makes me willfully naïve, or worse, ignorant.
I just want the world to be better. For us all to better. Because I think we can all agree that things are not okay right now.
Again, this isn’t political. It’s far more simple than that: your money or your life?
Or your child’s life? The whole purpose of humanity is to improve, to learn with each generation, so that our kids can be better and smarter than we are, and their kids can be even smarter, and so on, and so forth.
Hell, substitute “better” and “smarter” with whatever adjective you want. Richer? Stronger? The same problem applies.
Because, what if we’re wrong? What if climate change is real? What if the world is in trouble? Then our kids will never get a chance to be better, smarter, richer, stronger. So why not devote some of your wealth to combating climate change, just in case? You’ll still be rich. You might even become a hero, part of the solution. Part of history, because we’ll have a future.
Unlike in When Worlds Collide, a planet with breathable air isn’t zooming past us, a convenient solution to our litany of problems. We have to build the Ark together, we have to survive Earth together.
As all these worlds collide — Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, capitalists, socialists, and all those –ists, there’s just one question that matters.
Your money or your life?