UnSETTled

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


“Where can all this water be coming from?”

Bella Badger scrubbed desperately at the cloying, evil-smelling mud between her long, beautifully-manicured claws. They were long, strong, and flawless, without a single chip or rough edge to them, but several hours of strenuous digging and repairing of one of the deeper runs of the family’s sett had left their mark. As she inspected them closely, checking for damage, she wondered if she’d ever manage to get them properly clean, ever again.

An untidy hump of soil quivered and collapsed as her partner backed awkwardly out of his latest excavation. He shook himself, muttering and cursing as soil and rubble flew in every direction. Within seconds, Bruin’s fur was as clean as if he’d spent the last hour or more grooming himself for the annual Woodlands Ball.

“How bad is it?”

“Most of the tunnel I dug last season has fallen in. Just as well we didn’t have anything stored there yet: we’d have lost it, for certain! We won’t be able to dig in that direction for some time. We’ll have to tunnel off on the other end of the sett next time we need more living space, the ground out that way needs time to settle.”

This with a lazy flap of his tail in the direction of the collapsed passage.

“Best we go tell the cubs, sweetheart. They’ll soon be old enough to help me dig — and we’ll need an extra bedroom before long!” he added with an exaggerated wink. Bella’s pot belly was rounded with the promise of twins expected in the not-very-distant future.

***

“Where’s all this water coming from, Dad? And why does it stink so much?”

Billy hero-worshipped his father, and believed without question that Bruin knew all that could possibly be known about everything Above and Below the entrance to the complex maze of tunnels he’d carved to build the growing family’s needs.

Bruin sipped thoughtfully at his dandelion tea. Billy’s younger sister Blue put aside her favourite doll, begging her father for a solution.

“The Tall Ones are building more of their Caves not far from here,” Bruin sighed.

“We know — that is your mother and I know!” he corrected himself “… that they don’t know how to deal with their waste properly, in a way Nature intended…”

“Like we do!” Billy chirped. Bruin nodded and smiled, but it was a tired smile of resignation and reluctant agreement.

“That’s right, little one! We take what we need (and no more) from Nature, we recycle what can be recycled, and we bury our waste. Much of what we bury will break down and fertilise the soil to grow more plants for your children and theirs in the future.”

“They use untold amounts of water as if it were worth little or nothing at all, use it to send their waste Somewhere Else, for others to deal with — at least, that’s what I think is the reason they send it.” Bruin said. He was on unsteady ground here: he didn’t have any proof this was what happened to the waste products flushed away from the ugly Caves the Tall Ones preferred to live in.

“You mean, the Tall Ones don’t even know how to shit in the woods?” Billy asked, his eyes showing his horror at the thought.

“You mind your language, Billy Badger!” his mother warned him. A half-smile hovered on her lips, suggesting she wasn’t too offended by her son’s choice of phrase.

“All the same, he’s right!” Bruin said. Billy took this as a sign of his superhero’s approval: the highest compliment his young mind could envisage. His heart swelled with pride. He raised himself to sit on his haunches.

“What can we do about it, Dad? I’m big enough, I can help you dig — even if we have to move and start building a whole new sett…!”

Bruin shook his head and set down his empty mug.

“For the moment, son, all we can do what we’ve always done. We adapt ourselves and our comfortable, warm home, and carry on. In a few years from now, we may be able to work once again in tunnels and passages in that direction, but for now we change our plans, build in other directions. And yes, I believe you’re both old enough to help me build a new bedroom…”

This with a loving glance at Bella, who suddenly decided to award herself a totally unnecessary claw inspection and manicure.

“Let the Tall Ones carry on with their wasteful, inefficient ways of dealing with their stinking, polluted water and their foul-smelling wastes.” he declared.

“Our paths seldom cross, and when they do the Tall Ones always seem to come out on top — literally! For they live Above ground, in the full glare of daylight. They spend their days (and perhaps their nights?) fighting against Nature.”

“We will continue as we have always done, by Adapting to our safe, secure homes Below ground, at one with Nature and at peace with ourselves.”


Born in the Year of the Tiger, Paul McDermott’s natural curiosity combined with the deep-seated feline need to roam has meant that over the years he’s never been able to call any one place home. His wanderlust has led him from one town to another, and even from one country to another. He has always followed his instincts without question or complaint, and in true cat fashion it seems he has always landed on his feet. Paul’s debut novel, The Chapel of Her Dreams is the first volume of a planned trilogy. Other works currently seeking an outlet include a couple of plays and a WWII sub-hunt thriller… and a rock musical intended for children.

Only the safe survive

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


“‘Premium top floor flotation apartment in weather ready development, guaranteed water tight and to withstand hyper-storm events to level 4.’ … How can we afford to rent somewhere like that?”

“How can we afford not to? We’re not moving into some down-river death trap. We’ll just have to tighten our belts.”

They both fell silent, listening to the hail bounce off the solar windows and thermo-roofing. Beth picked at her nails, tearing them off in ragged edged strips, biting at her fingertips. Joe pressed his fingers into flushed temples, rubbed at his wrinkled forehead. They both knew there was nothing left. No belt to tighten. After paying their rent to the Housing Syndicate, the Garden syndicate for food, the Environs Council for their utilities allowance and the People’s Council their Welfare Tax, they had nothing… This was not unusual — it was the same for all Sector dwellers. All wages were logged and no ‘profit’ was allowed. For people like them, there was no hope of moving to a safer area. That was for those who had been raised into the Betterment Sector — no one outside it seemed to know how to get in – and now they had outstayed their welcome in the Rescue Sector. The message had flashed up on their bulletin screen that morning…’Your temporary shelter capsule has been reallocated to new refugee status citizens. Please vacate within seven days.’

They’d heard of other refugee status citizens — Virtual Teachers and Information Analysts like themselves — who had been forced to move back to the Unsafe Zones. Someone had to live there. Sometimes they were lucky enough to find a micro-climate enclave on a small patch of good upland and they survived. Sometimes they just disappeared. Dead or just off-radar — no one seemed to know. The daily Citizen Bulletins never discussed the matter. They just bombarded their viewers with advice — health, hygiene, life enhancing tips — always ending with a reminder: ‘Never converse with Unknowns. Stay inside your capsule at all curfew times. Only the safe survive.’

Sometimes Joe felt it it was all completely futile. There was no future he could contemplate. Four plastic walls, work and friends confined to Sealed Networks, no way to move up any kind of ladder — or even sideways — unless you were already in that mysterious Citizen Betterment loop. Beth had these same thoughts but both kept their thoughts to themselves and only spoke of change. Of improvements. It was the only way they could adapt to their situation: to talk of a future. A future with happy children, looking forward to the possibilities of Ultra-drainage and reclamation, new field sites, new crops and a return of hope, of social integration: a return of trust.


Bridget Bowen renewed her love of writing when her daughter was young, completing an O.U. Diploma in Creative Writing. She was shortlisted for the ‘Olga Sinclair Short Story Competition’ in 2016 and has appeared in ‘The Yellow Room’ magazine. She lives with her husband (& a slightly mad cat) in Suffolk, where she walks and thinks and dreams and tries to make sense of the world.

Wall Street predators

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


Jessica urged her customers, “Hurry up, guys. You paid a lot of money for this charter. Check your gas levels. We’re almost at the drop zone. Stay together. If you wander too far apart, you’ll be out of communication range and on your own. Remember, there’s safety in numbers. Also, you signed papers promising not to spoil any of the relics. Look, but don’t touch. ” She pointed to a tan, willowy man, “That’s Tim Trenton. He’s my right-hand man. He’ll be diving with you and protect you in the event of an emergency.”

Trenton pulled back his vest, exposing a gun and a spear. He smiled, and said in his Aussie accent, “No worries, mates, I’ve got your back.”

Patrick, Josh, and Griff were all friends from Lincoln, Nebraska, visiting New York City. They gave Jessica the thumbs up sign and waited patiently for the boat, “The Downtowner” to reach its destination.

Five minutes into the descent, Patrick said, “Can you believe this? I’ve already seen a hundred different species!”

The divers moved away from the boat at a steady clip. When they reached the maximum allowable distance, Jessica pressed a button on her control pad and instructed the men to stop their advance. “That’s far enough, enjoys the sights!”

Josh signaled for his friends to follow him. They obliged and headed to the floor of the ocean. He said, “We’re on 44th street! My great-grandfather told me stories about coming here to see musicals. Now the only show playing is “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”

His reference to a hundred year-old movie drew no replies.

They swam closer to the door of the building and read the sign, now practically worn away by the rushing waters. “Flood damage, everything must go”.

“Ha! That’s a good one,” said Tim. “It’s not like they can pump out the water, right?”

Griff was a professional photographer and planned on selling pictures of the trip on his website. He clicked away with his underwater camera, as he swam past retail stores of yesteryear like Bergman’s Deli, Styles by Rene, and a tattoo parlor.

Griff swam east on 44th street, passing landmark theatres, now buried in the sea like the lost city of Atlantis. He ventured out too far and an alarm rang in his ear. In a steady, clipped voice, he heard a man’s voice saying, ‘Return, return, return.” Griff did not return. He swam onward, away from the group. His friends were too far away to warn him of the impending danger. Tim frantically tried to reach him, but it was no use.

Griff felt a slight tug on his left leg. Thinking it was one of his friends, he said, “Hey, knock it off.” Then he felt a sharp pain that made him howl, “Ahhhhhh!!!!”

Blood filled the area outside his mask, and then inside his mask, too, and he began to lose consciousness. Tim pulled out his spear and fired at the shark, but the shot only nipped the dorsal fin. The Mako turned and set out for a second victim while Griff, missing one leg, and doomed, drifted along with the current. His trail of blood acted as a homing beacon for two other sharks in the area and they proceeded to finish off his remains, picking at him like guests choosing appetizers at a wedding.

Tim reloaded and fired again. He scored a direct hit on shark #1, stopping it cold, and the killer retreated into the depths and disappeared. His hungry friends caught Tim off guard, rising from below the Australian, each grabbing a leg and turning him into a Thanksgiving Day wishbone.

Jessica heard Tim’s cries of agony, and screamed, “What’s going on down there? Tim! Speak to me! What’s happening? Get back here, now!”

Patrick and Josh didn’t need suggestions, they needed to swim faster than the sharks and get back to the boat before they were dessert.

The sharks gave them a head start and then, as if in a competition with each other, raced towards the remaining divers.

Jessica saw the potential disaster coming from a distance. The shark’s fins poked through the choppy waters, closing in on the swimmers.

With ten feet separating them from certain death, the crew reached out to haul Patrick and Josh out of the water. Patrick went under first, lost forever. Josh extended his hand towards the boat. Jessica grabbed it and pulled with all her strength to help lift him out of the water to safety. She fell back against the railing, still holding Josh’s bloody arm. The rest of the poor man never made it on the boat. Jessica shrieked and dropped the bloody limb, where it fell, ironically, into a pail of bait. Jessica vomited, and then broke down in tears, her hands still trembling in fear.

As they returned to the dock, Jessica said to the captain, “They knew this was coming and they did nothing. They just kicked it down the curb. They knew the water was going to rise, dammit. They knew it, and didn’t do a damn thing about it until it was too late.”

The captain looked up at the tour guide and said, “And that’s why we have sharks in Manhattan.”


Richard Friedman lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and works in the criminal justice industry. His motto, “Saving the citizens of Ohio during the day and the rest of the world at night” keeps him motivated to write. His self-published novel, Escape to Canamith, was a fan favorite at the 2014 Green Festival in New York City. Last year he published The Two Worlds of Billy Callahan.

Visualizing earthly vulnerability

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


What do we imagine when we imagine environmental destruction? What images do we look at on our screens or hold in our minds? While the ways to narrate the story of humans in the age of the Anthropocene may be numerous, there seems to be a fairly small number of visual images that have consistently pervaded our cultural imaginaries of environmental destruction and become iconic. Two among them are the view of the Earth from outer space, and the image of the postapocalyptic Earth’s surface. They are a staple of science fictional films, such as for example Oblivion (2013), Wall-E (2008), or the sci-fi-documentary The Age of Stupid (2009), but also spread out throughout popular culture and political discourses much more widely. One way to approach this is see precisely science fiction as the key contemporary discourse that is not only able to articulate the situatedness of the human species within the historical, geological and cosmic timeframes, but also to speculate on the human and earthly futures. If the genre of science fiction, as Brian Aldiss argues in Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1988), is crucially about the human relationship to its environment and advanced technology, what better medium is there to address climatic disturbances brought on by the human industrialized activities, and the imagined future outcomes? The narrative of climate change is essentially a futuristic, speculative, science-fictional narrative, we could argue. In this narrative, how do the two emblems of the Earth from outer space and the postapocalyptic Earth’s surface function, how do they mediate our hopes and anxieties? Let us zoom in on these images more closely.

The iconic Blue Marble image, of the illuminated face of the Earth in space, was taken from the orbit in 1972 by the Apollo 17 crew, and would become one of the most reproduced photographs in human history. It shows the planet as a mesh of blue ocean, white cloud and brown continent, against the eerily vast, black cosmos. The Earth looks frail and isolated amidst the blackness. The context in which it was taken was the space race and the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, the underlying nuclear threat, and the burgeoning environmentalist movement. The Blue Marble quickly became a symbol for global environmentalism as the image inscribes the sense of oneness and unity of humankind in the need to save our earthly home from the engulfing, black threat, be it nuclear war or climate change. When looking for a few moments longer, the image almost as if condenses into two dimensions the enormous times of the planetary evolution and the evolution of life on Earth, from the simplest organisms to plants and animals, and speeding up through the human history finally brings us to the moment of current urgency. In this evolutionary history humans are just a blip of a split second, but ominously, a force powerful enough to bring about the ultimate destruction of themselves as well as other earthlings. The image comes to stand for the wonder of life on the one hand, and on the other, its utter contingency and vulnerability. As Kelly Oliver suggests in Philosophy After the Apollo Missions (2015), the Blue Marble makes manifest tensions between the sense that humans are the centre of the universe, and the sense we are insignificant, between the awe for and loneliness of earthlings. Let us put it this way. If Copernicus gave an early modern blow to human narcissism and dogmatic presumption by displacing the Earth from the center of the universe, the late 20th century Blue Marble unfolds this to its ecological conclusion: it tears a fatal wound by signalling the imminent threat of the obliteration of humans through their very own doing.

Suddenly, the viewer finds themselves in the middle of a desert. The ominous threat has been materialized, turning the factory farms, advanced machinery, war weapons and planes to things of the past. The evolutionary history will have unfolded itself another split second into the future and dropped us abruptly among the ruins. This future document of the postapocalyptic Earth’s surface is an image of barren, devastated land, interspersed with scattered remains and possibly few human survivors in the windy and erratic climate. Nonhuman animals commonly enter the scene, such as vultures feeding on carcases. Though apocalyptic imagery is at least as old as the Bible, the depictions of God’s Judgement Day have transformed themselves in the current context into the catastrophic aftermath of human industrial exploitation and technological devastation of the environment, of the will to master nature. This is an uncanny world, haunted yet mesmerizing, frequently showing the epitomes of human civilisation in ruins: the London Eye overshadowing the flooded metropolis, the Las Vegas casinos crumbled in the desert, or the Sydney Opera on fire, among others. The Earth’s surface will have deterritorialised itself from these human layers and structures, leaving only traces for a possible future geologist, whatever species they might be. The particular power of the postapocalyptic image, as with the Blue Marble, lies in channeling the ambiguity between the sense of human importance on the one hand, and insignificance on the other. As Clare Colebrook argues in Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Vol. 1 (2014), the postapocalyptic geological image folds the earth around human survival, while at the same time it presents the viewer with a world in which life on Earth does continue to go on, and some nonhuman species might even flourish. It gives us a glimpse of posthuman living environments, but only in the tone of elegy and mourning, registering what will have been lost. The postapocalyptic image of Earth’s surface hails to us from the future to change the course of present actions while we still can.


Fani Cettl is a scholar working at the intersection of science fiction, environmental humanities, animal studies and biopolitics. She holds a PhD from the Central European University, Budapest.

September

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


a september schoolroom.
new year, new class, new chance
to fill my empty holidays
and take a bet
on sitting in back rows
with big boys, tough boys, real boys.
leave front rows
to smart boys, small boys, queer boys,
not my boys
this september.

teacher shows us his hostages,
plants detained
for a slow summer
adaptation.

noonwraiths are pulled from cupboards,
spider plants with light-starved leaves,
all wisp and pomp,
curving like the strokes
of pale script.

out of practice, I offer twisted cheeks
to boys sitting either side,
forced, efficient smiles
that get me nothing.

we see ferns hugging windows,
fronds rubbing in their frenzy,
the limbs of parlor palms
knotting inch-by-inch
crawling to the sun.

lesson ignored, back row boys
talk tough, play rough
like acorns comparing height.
strange, to see friendship by instinct.

the teacher brings us holly leaves
that wear wax like cheap lipgloss, a shine
to hold their water in.
their spikes do not escape me.

lesson ignored, front row boys
shuffle left, duck heads,
under attack from spitballs,
no reaction but tightened mouths
and tightened shoulders.

I make the point to laugh.

eyes meet, challenge accepted.
I hit last year’s friend behind the ear,
hide borrowed straw,
and grin at new ones.


Jack Cooper is a neuroscience graduate who tries to impress his arty friends with his science, and his sciency friends with his poems. He finds inspiration in unusual prompts, British mythology, and Japanese video games.