David fought the urge to sigh; that would have been a projection of weakness in the bear pit.

The man in the front row continued, “Professor Solomon–”

“Beg your pardon,” David cut him off. “I’m still seeking a position at this time.”

“‘Doctor‘ Solomon, then… you failed to mention exactly when the Beast rises and Armageddon begins.”

David allowed himself a smile as a titter went through the crowd. Mr. Frontrow raised his eyebrows, clearly feeling validated. But David had him, and the comeback was well-rehearsed.

“You’ll also notice that I forgot to magically spirit away everyone who’s willing to take my word for all of this.” The laughter was far more noticeable this time, and Frontrow’s expression became one of bemusement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not offering a prophecy, or even a prediction. It’s a vector, a computation. A very simple question to anyone who’s had even freshman logic.” Yes. There was a nice, extra kick in the gut for Frontrow, and in his uplifted mood David nearly didn’t see the girl enter, sitting at the very back. Mid-twenties, leathers and torn jeans, pink hair and an aura that screamed ‘badass’. Had he not been on a roll, David would have stammered the remainder of the address.

“That logical puzzle is simply this: the world’s universal business model is based upon unlimited growth. But it relies on resources that are naturally finite. Things. Run. Out. And whether or not you subscribe to the Peak-Oil notion that ran rampant just a few years ago, only a fervent believer in divine intervention could fail to acknowledge that that production peak has to be hit at some point.”

David stole a glance at the young woman, but didn’t miss a beat. “The gas in your tank today, is from oil discovered twenty-or-so years ago, and independently-gathered data shows that new deposits are being discovered less and less frequently. There will, there must be, a degree of scarcity that will bring industry to a halt. The thing is, the timing of that point is uncertain. It’s a moving target, and with consumption accelerating, it can only be moving forward.”

Frontrow took a final shot, and David surmised he was probably one of those “non-traditional” — read, “older” — students who like to dominate the discussion in lecture. “‘Doctor‘ Solomon,” he offered, making sure to maintain a proper level of disdain, “in true academic fashion, you offer analysis without solutions. What kind of meaningful response can be taken to ward off your new Dark Age?”

David nodded and unleashed his secret weapon, eye contact and a wry smile. “The response won’t come from industry. Industry’s notion of solutions involve technology, i.e., more consumption. It’s like trying to fornicate your way to virginity.” This time, the laughter included an outburst from Punk Chick in the back, and David knew he had shot and scored.

“Many patterns of human behavior model around the phenomenon of ‘free-riding’, wherein each individual assigns responsibility to all others, with the result that nothing changes. Positive change results when we hit that so-called ‘tipping point’ wherein enough individuals are motivated to act, and tipping points are almost always expressed as an extreme improbability.

“But we’ve managed them before: abolition of slavery, women’s voting rights, and so on. Enough people achieved their own, personal tipping points that something actually happened. I know that I’ve reached that point, and so I am not obligated to grant you that same benefit of doubt?”

David Solomon, piled high and deep, now permitted himself that sigh, but a contented one. He had them, and here came the payoff. “Sometimes you just have to gamble on humanity. We’re not yet fed-up enough. But we will be.”

The applause was heartfelt, and even Frontrow conceded an acknowledging nod.

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