The Paper Chase meets The Day After Tomorrow: Grad student Briana Ruiz frequently clashes with her economics professors about their ignorance of ecosystems – and she’s about to be vindicated.
Old-timer, Clint Branch (think Tommy Lee Jones) is driving his ’57 Chevy down a hot Texas highway. Out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning strikes the hood of his car. He cannot figure out what is going on.
Meanwhile, Briana Ruiz (strong female lead) is finishing her graduate studies in economics at the University of Texas at Austin. The dogmatic perspectives of neoclassical theory (which drives Federal Reserve and political decisions) are driving her crazy because they fail to account for their impact on ecosystem services.
Briana is different. She is an older-than-average student. She is both book smart and street smart. She verbally jousts with her economics professor from the old-boy school. Fellow students take note and often chuckle. The battle is often a toss-up.
In an early scene outside of class, a thief steals a co-ed’s purse and Briana intervenes by strategically extended her leg in a hallway. The thief tries to jump over, but is tripped up and falls to the ground just before campus police arrive. Briana is cool under pressure and hardly breaks a sweat. She smiles and waves to the thief as he is taken away.
One evening, she rescues her soon-to-be-boyfriend, Kalub Archer from three idiots in a college bar she nicknames Moe, Larry and Curley. Once again, she exerts control over a threatening situation with brains and simple leverage. Her intelligence makes her as attractive as her beauty.
As Briana and Kalub get to know each other, they find they have a lot in common. Kalub has spent three years working to rebuild Afghanistan, and is carrying some emotional baggage as a result. They are both smart, but also experienced in the real world.
Briana must decide whether to accept an offer from Parkus Corporation, a company that seems leading edge, but may be engaging in questionable environmental practices. Briana is initially seduced by the prospect of a lucrative career and the many perks it offers. For a while, she seems to drink the Kool-Aid.
With a lucrative job offer in hand, Briana goes on some fun shopping sprees with new credit cards that have come in the mail. She leases a new BMW 3-series. Lots of fun and games – life is good. Kalub isn’t so sure.
Briana’s friend Jenny Faber has her suspicions also. Briana makes a visit out to Clint’s ranch west of Austin and starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The desert-like landscape west of the 98th meridian is beginning to move east, driven by environmental degradation and biodiversity loss – with dire consequences for society at-large.
Briana and Kalub have a nasty fight. She almost crashes her car along the hillside near Austin with Kalub in the passenger seat. Briana and Kalub break up.
Briana drives to San Antonio to visit her father, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, in search of advice. Later, while jogging on the Riverwalk, Briana hears a lone troubadour singing under the Arsenal Street Bridge. Romantic – if only Kalub were with her. Then Briana sees Jenny and is confused. Slow reveal that Jenny has brought Kalub with her. Jenny leaves. Briana and Kalub hesitate, reconcile, embrace, and then start their investigation of Parkus in earnest.
Parkus derives much of its cash flow from questionable palm oil plantations that displace local natives in Brazil and Indonesia, as well as usher in global ecosystem collapse. Business as usual for many companies, based on current events.
As Briana starts to understand the truth about Parkus Corporation – aided in large measure by Kalub – she realizes the 21st century economy may have different rules than the ones baby boomers followed.
Briana continues her research and discovers a way to predict the actual timing of global ecosystem collapse, and what the early indicators will look like. Clear sky lightning storms are one. Swarms of attacking crows and cockroaches are another. Briana experiences an attack first-hand.
She publishes a bootleg copy of her un-vetted, not peer-reviewed research paper on the Internet. It doesn’t quite go viral, but lots of people are reading it and paying attention – including members of the United Nations. Members of the UN huddle and come to consensus.
The story climaxes in a series of unexpected and exciting events that bring Briana to terms with just what Parkus is and how the company’s agenda is at odds with her own. A Parkus controlled drone dive in, pursues and attempts to slice Briana into pieces in the middle of downtown Austin. She ducks and weaves, buying time until her ingenuity provides a way to disable the machine. Then, a second drone, which appears out of nowhere – this time with help from Kalub.
Briana returns the BMW to the dealership, along with the keys. She has a new perspective on life and the world around her. Then she confronts Parkus CEO Lance Albrecht with a surprise or two. The UN has banned many of the ecosystem destroying practices that Parkus has engaged in, which will devastate their cash flow. The SEC has also decided to prohibit stock buybacks, which will tank Parkus share prices.
As ecosystems degrade further, people start a run on the banks, grocery stores and gas stations. In a long line at a gas station line, Clint sees some asshole filling up IBC container that holds 300 gallons. There will not be enough gas to go around. This is too much for Clint, so he makes a statement with his long rifle.
Much of Austin is in flames, as societal structures begin to crumble. The end game is unclear, as most people flee eastward, trying to stay ahead of the encroaching desert. Briana and Kalub stay on the 98th meridian (just west of Austin) to continue her work on the mathematical link between economics and ecosystems. Clint rides his horse into the sunset like the cowboy he always was.
Screenwriter, author, film critic, research director, and TED Talk veteran at the University of Texas at San Antonio Institute for Economic Development. Writing/publishing fiction and non-fiction for film and popular press. Frequent public speaking. Regularly cited in the media. Field work in East Africa, Zambia, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. Top Secret clearance obtained in 2012. Ph.D. in Political Economy from the University of Texas.