The sun blazed down on the never-ending line of cars, baking any metal and concrete into a sizzling oven. Horns honked in a cacophonous symphony, each driver adding their voice to the discordant chorus. The smell of exhaust and burning rubber hung in the air like a thick, choking fog. Harry Brokeman checked the clock on his dash again, 9:23 AM, he was late for work again, which means he would have to spend his commuter bonus back to the company so his corporate standing wouldn’t be docked hindering a chance for a promotion.
He was up for a promotion today, and he was nervous. His interview didn’t start for another 3 hours, but he wanted to make sure he arrived way in advance. He had already been sitting in his car for 2 hours and 27 minutes at this point. 2 hours, 27 minutes. 147 minutes and he was still 3 miles away from work, which would take at least another 60 minutes at least. Each morning the crawling commute to his job left him more defeated at the end of the day. His commute slowly began to change after the city began the “City Clean, Future Green” campaign about 5 years ago. Before he would commute to work like everyone else. A sea of vehicles inching to the parking spots they would sit for 8 - 10 hours before making the journey back home. Sure traffic was an issue, but it was expected in such a large city. But when the tollroads and clean lanes opened up, he didn’t realize just how much that would extend some commuters' journeys, and shorten others.
Cities throughout the states and EU began the push their own slogans of a cleaner future, with billboards and online campaigns, with copious amounts of spending, always the same communication style: usually a billboard or an online advertisement reflecting a city slightly more advanced, a photoshopped cutout of people going about their day, a clear blue sky, and usually a wind turbine or two. Despite the minor differences, they all looked about the same and the world it was promising always just felt like a great place to be. The push to electrify started off as a trickle, then soon turned into a tidal wave in society. Harry, like so many others, believed they would be part of this great tide change, however, it seemed to be making leaps and bounds with policies and tax breaks and subsidies.
All great ideas on paper he winced as he checked the clock on the dash: 9:32 AM, however, what Harry didn’t take into account was he just didn’t have the means to capitalize on these new green and clean breaks. But one day he would, after a few months in his new role if he got the promotion, he’d be able to purchase a new 7030 series vehicle. Vehicle numbers were used to reflect each person's commitment to the climate crisis. 7030 was used to reflect to not only the purchaser, but soon it was a label to be silently, and sometimes violently, judged by passersbys, that the car utilized 70% petrol and 30% battery. This would allow him to hop into the yellow lanes, shortening his commute by at least 20 minutes.
Harry wiped the morning sweat from his brow, a normal routine in these summer months, as utilizing AC in his car would consume more petrol, which already cost about $19/gallon, which would take away from his 7030 reserved stash, so a cool breeze in the June morning heat was not a luxury he could afford. He tuned down the radio which was the normal news media propaganda that followed a pretty simple recipe he noticed after years of being fed the same story, but with different characters. The recipe was: Who was to blame for the extended climate crisis, which countries were the highest contributors to carbon released in the atmosphere, the daily extended climate catastrophe weather report, as well as new studies that proved and promised increases in energy production and a cleaner consumption.
Every day it was the same report but with different details. It began with reporting record temperatures throughout the world, then followed with usually a country that won the daily climate offender award. The one part that Harry always found frustrating was the studies of new technology and promises. It always had the same promising words but he could never see it trickle into his and others' daily lives. He noticed the words “could” “might” “should” were always carefully placed before the headline “XYZ COULD produce enough clean power to power insert city, per recent tests” or “CleanCorps might have unlocked unlimited energy which could save the extended climate crisis”. All of these sounded promising and great, but the studies seemed to stop before leaving the laboratories door to enter into society. The weather report was always the same. Floods, storms, drought, landslides, and freezing temps, lost their shock value when they became a regular media message. He smiled as he sarcastically and morbidly thought: if only I could get a series 5050 vehicle, then I’d be able to stop at least one of the floods that would kill thousands in a country I’ll never go to.
He glanced out the window, taking in the endless rows of cars stretching out in front of him and behind him. But to his sides it was different. He saw the layers and lanes made for cars with lower numbers. There was the 7030 lane which was moving and stopping sluggishly. About 3 meters higher an elevated two-lane was reserved for the 5050 series. The 5050 lanes were called the goldilocks lane by Harry and his friends, it was busy enough that cars could make the commute without the car hitting the break, but not too crowded to slow cars to a crawl. Then there were the 2080 lanes which always flowed smoothly. Not a lot of cars clogged these lanes and they could whip into town at their convenience and also head home throughout the day without worrying about delays in their day. Then there were the 0000 lanes, or "zero lanes", which only a few could afford. These were the zero petrol vehicles that not many people had the means to purchase. The lanes were something out of this world. Enclosed and air-conditioned, drawing power from the grid, which would always upset some people, but the counterpoint was that these people weren’t utilizing petrol, so they could be allowed or awarded electricity use. It was some major hypocritical bullshit, Harry knew, but he also knew it would be pretty nice rolling in that lane with a 0000 series,
but Harry’s reality was one of so many others. It was a sea of metal and misery, each driver locked in their own personal hell. AC units off, and boxes full of frustrated late drivers trying to get to work, as they were being publicly punished by the clean and green policies. No one spoke, no one made eye contact, and no one dared to break the silence that hung over the scene like a shroud.
But for now, all he could do was get ready for his interview for the promotion, so he could finally make enough to live cleaner and greener.