“This short story caught my attention for its stark climate crisis warning – tackling some of the issues which must be dealt with by Governments across the world.” – Nada Farhoud
Driving rain lashed the windows of the conference hall as La Dessalinienne blared triumphantly out of the speakers overhead. The delegates, balding and middle-aged, were ushered in by various suited attendants. Five delegates, to represent the five largest economies. After all, it was only fair that the most successful countries should be the ones to decide on the proper course of action. They were not assigned names or identities; instead, they were to be known only by their nationalities. The UK, China, Russia, India and the United States took their seats. There was no Haitian representative. A meeting with the ambassador had been scheduled, but no one seemed to know the exact date. Five men. Whatever happened in the next two hours would decide the future of the planet, and they all knew it.
The room was cavernous and wood-panelled – specially constructed for the conference. It seemed almost a waste to have only five people occupying such a titanic space. Grand pillars of carved acacia (direct from the Amazon rainforest) held up the elegantly sloped ceiling. There were no windows. No way of viewing the screaming tumult outside, in keeping with the delegates’ requests. The national flags cascaded down the walls, heady oranges, greens, hammers, sickles, yellows, democratic blues and revolutionary reds. Once seated, the men reached for their briefcases with a remarkable synchronicity. The only sound that could be heard was the rustling of paper as the delegates searched for the necessary documents. The soundproofing embedded in the walls had been activated; the storm was no longer audible.
As the nations continued to dig around in their thick leather cases, the door to the conference hall opened with an electronic chime and an expensively dressed man ambled in. “Hello, ambassadors of the G5. Greetings, all. It is my great honour and privilege to chair such a momentous meeting,” he said, beaming. The slightly stooped chairman possessed a disconcertingly mellifluous, booming voice, which startled the delegates greatly. A few dropped their papers in alarm.“The issue on the table this evening is… well, I think we all know what the issue is. What you might not be aware of is the fact that the solution has been found.” The men glanced at each other, puzzled, as the chairman reached into the interior pocket of his velvet jacket and retrieved a sleek pager. He pressed
a button and whispered into the device. A few moments later, the door slid open again and a woman entered the room. She pushed an ornate brass trolley with a silver serving dome mounted on top of it, the kind usually seen in the upmarket restaurants that the delegates frequented. “Dinner is served,” quipped India. His fellow ambassadors chuckled politely. The woman bowed her head in submission and retreated to the corner of the room.
“Gentlemen,” said the chairman, “I am presenting you with a choice.”
He strolled over to the dome and lifted it. The delegates leaned over their desks, peering at what lay underneath. It was a button; compact, red and entirely unremarkable.
“This button will end the climate crisis,” explained the chairman with a disturbing nonchalance. The diplomats cringed at the very mention of the awful, alliterative phrase.
“How so?” queried Russia, regaining his composure.
“If you choose to press this button, every CO2-emitting factory in the world will be decommissioned. Non-renewable energy sources will be terminated. Oil digs will be outlawed, gas pipelines destroyed. Vehicles that are not powered solely by electricity will be scrapped and recycled,” said the chairman, blankly. The delegates’ eyes widened. They looked down at their desks, and then each other. “All CO2 emissions will cease?” questioned China, fidgeting.
“All of them. And before you ask, it will be done. We have imprisoned all the board members of every major corporation in the world in a complex near this facility. They have had the situation explained to them, as well as the consequences of not following these instructions. They will obey.”
A cold glint passed through the chairman’s eyes momentarily. “This all, of course, depends on whether you choose to push the button. You have 90 minutes to make a decision, and it must be unanimous”
“And what happens if it isn’t?” asked the USA. The chairman smirked.
“Goodbye, gentlemen.” He turned on his heel and briskly exited. The iron door swung shut, and a dissonant note reverberated around the room. The delegates sat in silence for a few minutes. The button lay in front of them, nestled securely on its trolley. It was a magnet; the men were transfixed by it, the crimson-red curves both attracting and repulsing them in equal measure. After what seemed like centuries, the door opened slightly with a distorted chime. The delegates turned to look at the opening just as someone was shoved through it. They were clad in a bloodied grey boiler suit and had a cloth bag fixed over their head. The figure rose, slowly removing it with trembling hands.
“It can’t be,” murmured the USA. It was. Quentin Jennings, CEO of Shell, stood before them.
“That button,” he spat, hoarsely, “Is tyranny. It is fascism. A world without fossil fuels is unthinkable. Think about the economic damage! Think about the millions of people who will lose their jobs as a result of your decision. Please, gentlemen. Do not push the button.”
His face was a mess, a crooked menagerie of features strung together by a grimy goatee. “Do you understand?”
The men stroked their stubbled chins.
It was the woman. She stood, defiant, in the corner of the room, and tore off her jacket.
“Greenpeace?” scoffed Russia, examining her lurid T-shirt.
“The terrorist group,” said the UK, his high-pitched timbre betraying his fear.
“Look at the cyclone outside. Flooding, habitat destruction, tornadoes tearing Europe apart – the button is the answer. The saviour!”
The delegates considered this for a moment, before calling security and walking out of the room.
We asked our 2021 and 2020 Orwell Youth Fellows to interview our new 2022 winners and runners up. Below, 2020 winner Hugh Ludford interviews Noah Dryden-Pell about his tips for budding writers and the inspiration behind his story ‘Push the Button’. You can also read Hugh’s 2020 winning story ‘You Are What You Eat’ here.
- Where did you draw inspiration for your piece from?
The main inspiration for Push the Button was the COP26 conference in Glasgow last year; particularly the shocking incident towards the end of the event when the delegates representing China and India changed the wording of an agreement promising to ‘phase out’ the use of coal. Instead, they pledged to ‘phase down’ coal production, which jeopardised the entire deal. COP president Alok Sharma was forced to accept the change of wording. I saw this as a total disgrace. At a crucial point in the fight against the climate crisis, our leaders once again saw fit to place growth and profit before the future of our planet. For my piece, I decided to take this to its logical extreme, imagining a world where the most powerful nations are given the option to literally put an end to the climate crisis with the push of a button, yet choose not to due to their own chauvinism and greed.
- What would be your one tip for a budding writer?
My best piece of advice would be to pursue as many opportunities as possible. There are hundreds of publications and websites solely devoted to celebrating the work of young writers; it’s easier than ever to get your voice heard. However, it’s also important to make sure you’re putting yourself out there. Actively submit your work as much as possible (the Orwell Youth Prize is a great place to start!) – even if you don’t think you have a chance of winning anything, it’ll ensure that you get read and will inevitably make you a better writer.
- Aside from writing, what are your other hobbies and interests?
My main interest outside of writing is drama, particularly classical theatre. Earlier this year I had the privilege of playing Hamlet in an amateur production, which was an amazing experience (albeit pretty intense!)
Find out more about all our Orwell Youth Fellows here and buy their climate crisis zine, Axial Tilt here.
Enter the 2023 Orwell Youth Prize here.