We drown with history

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

The Caribbean water remains piss warm despite the cool barrier of the touring party’s skin suits. Hope floats next to Envy floats next to Saul, their heads colorful specks amongst the water. Their tour guide hovers behind them, adjusting their oxygen tanks for the transition between their home marshes and the deeper waters. He stays patient while they try and adjust to the warmth.

When he dives, the party follows.

Of the three, Hope is the first to adjust to the dust and blue. Stray bubbles from the sandy base press up against her collarbone. The further she swims, the more intimately she recognizes the sweat sticking her suit to her back. It doesn’t distract her, though, from the sight of women scattered across the distant ocean floor.

They lie with their backs on the sand, faces worn away but breasts preserved, pert and tattooed with the skeletons of dead coral. The tour guide glides over them, pointing out the strays that have slipped away from the crowd. The stone of their skin is white and cracking.

Hope grimaces.

“We don’t know if they ever served a purpose,” the tour guide says through their headsets, “but they migrate with the tide. My colleagues theorize that this was some sort of mausoleum.”

Hope can’t see his eyes behind his goggles, can only notice the cant of his head. Down and to the left of his floating form, the women pile atop one another like resting crabs.

The tour guide leads them on.

The water warms past piss and becomes an unclean jacuzzi. Hope gathered bubbles around her throat like a necklace and slows each of her breaths. Envy swims ahead of her, making a game of fleeing Saul’s outstretched hands for distant, sunken upshots of land.

“We’re nearing the edge of the Grenadian reef, which means we’re close to the floating islands, the tour guide signs. We can’t board them – the plastic pieces are too unstable – but you’ll be able to see their prisms.”

Hope follows his flipping feet, spots a drowning bicycle, and carries on.

The statue that marks the edge of the Grenadian reef wears a broad, stone hat; the tour guide points it out as they draw nearer, though Hope’s gaze is hampered by muck and her companions at play. She spots the floating islands before the statue itself; their refractive plastic makes them skylights, amalgamations of color glancing off of the statue’s bowed head.

“We call her Mary,” the tour guide’s voice whispers in their ears.

Hope paddles closer, ignoring the pressure building in her chest and the drift of her party. She makes eye contact with the statue’s skull. The bleached hat has spared the bulk of Mary’s face, but the hole that is her mouth has been stuffed with a plastic bag.

Hope reaches out and removes the bag. She leaves a stream of bubbles in her wake.

Above her, the light shifts. Mary’s face melts from white to gray, purple, and green.

“How’d she get here?” Hope asks the tour guide.

“Like the rest of them did,” he replies, several heartbeats later. “When the world is drowning, the wisest are the ones who learn to drown with it.”

Celia Daniels is 22 years old and is pursuing a Masters in Literature at the University of Toledo. She’s fascinated by a burgeoning science fiction subgenre known as solarpunk. Her creative works have been published in Road Maps and Life Rafts, Magic Jar, Entropy, The Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West, and others.

Blue death

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

Some say the world will end in fire

I like the idea of a nuclear apocalypse — the sound of it. The “nuclear” clips and the “apocalypse” pops. More than that, I like the suddenness. I’d like to go quickly, in the four-mile blast radius where winds reach speeds of 158 miles per hour (and that’s just for a one-megaton bomb). Of course, a four-mile blast radius is only 50 square miles of a 200-million-square-mile Earth, but the world is small when a bomb lands on top of you. And when a bomb lands on top of you the apocalypse is stentorian and scriptural and sudden. The world ends just as it should – in fire that falls from the sky. Red death is quick.

Blue death is slower. The seas are rising: a millimeter and a half every year in the 1990s, three millimeters a year by 2000. Three and a half millimeters in 2016. A slow creep as global temperature rises and the ocean expands. And scientists expect that hurricanes will get worse too, as the decades tick by – infinitesimally more intense one season, infinitesimally more intense the next.

But a slow apocalypse is so difficult to think about. We don’t like it. I don’t like it; I hate playing the game of time. If I have children, will they have children, and will those grandchildren be born by 2100? (Climate scientists tend to make their predictions for the year 2100.) And will those grandchildren perhaps live in the Netherlands (where my grandparents lived), at some location that is currently only one meter above sea level? Because, if so, those hypothetical grandchildren would surely be subsumed by the sea – but this game is tedious and by this point I’ve lost interest in panicking.

It’s much easier to panic about the nuclear apocalypse than it is to panic about the apocalypse that is wet and blue and slow.

The heat of a hurricane

The heat energy released by a fully developed hurricane is equivalent to that of a ten-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. Not a one-megaton bomb, with its 158-mile-per-hour winds within a four-mile blast radius, but a ten­-megaton bomb, and in another 20 minutes another ten-megaton bomb, and in another 20 minutes another ten-megaton bomb. In the most impressive hurricanes – Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale – wind speeds may exceed 158 miles per hour. The amount of energy released by a hurricane is shattering. It’s apocalyptic.

If a Category 5 hurricane churns over you, then the apocalypse is quick, although not red. If you favor a fiery end, then console yourself that at least there is heat in a hurricane – thousands of billions of watts of heat, many nuclear bombs’ worth of heat. So much heat that it’s almost strange that hurricanes bring blue death.

The hate of a hurricane

There’s hate in the nuclear apocalypse. There has to be hate, because bombs are dropped by people. (Hate is indifference where there should be empathy.) There’s no hate in a hurricane.

Except that hurricanes intensify as the climate warms, and the climate is warming. The most intense of hurricanes – the Category 5 storms as well as their cousins in Category 4 – are going to become more frequent. By 2100, when my hypothetical grandchildren are growing up, the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes will have doubled. And perhaps my grandchildren will not be living in the Netherlands, after all (because perhaps the Netherlands will be underwater) and will instead inhabit a more hurricane-prone location, like Japan or Bangladesh or the Gulf of Mexico coast. And while they are growing up on the Gulf of Mexico Coast, they will have good reason to be afraid of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, because Category 4 and 5 hurricanes are exceptionally destructive. During the last century, when they only accounted for 6 percent of the storms that hit the U.S., they were responsible for 48 percent of the hurricane-induced damage.

So there is no hate in a hurricane, except that hurricanes intensify as the climate warms, and climate warms as carbon dioxide spills into the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide spills into the atmosphere because we burn coal and oil and gas, and we burn them freely. And we like to think that the apocalypse will be red and fast, so we like to think that it can’t be happening right now. After all, it’s hard to see the sea as it rises, millimeter by millimeter, and it’s hard to see the hurricanes getting worse and worse, because they only land on us one at a time. And it is very tedious to spend time considering a hot, wet, blue death.

And perhaps it’s just tedious enough that I am unmindful, and perhaps I am just unmindful enough that I am willing to be cruel to my bright-eyed hypothetical grandchildren. And perhaps, in 2100, there is hate in a hurricane after all – my ancient hate.

(Hate is indifference where there should be empathy.)

Death by water

When a hurricane hits it is certainly not the heat that kills, and nor, mostly, is it those galloping, screaming winds. Nearly seven hundred storms hit the U.S. over the past half-century; they killed two-and-a-half thousand people; and the winds killed less than a tenth of those people. Water killed nine-tenths – about 2,100 people.

When a hurricane makes landfall, it pushes before itself a wall of water called the storm surge, which can be as short as four feet or as tall as forty. Storm surges in the U.S. over the past-half century accounted for half of the deaths by water. A hurricane also brings rain, and where it rains it may flood, or the ground may collapse into a mudslide – so rainfall accounted for about three-tenths of the deaths by water. And the rest drowned in riptides, and waves, and the open ocean. It can take more than four minutes for a person to drown, and death is slow, and death is blue.

When I dream of the end of the world I dream of water.

Kalila Morsink is a university student in New York City, where she studies earth science and creative writing. When not preoccupied by blue thoughts about the future, she enjoys going hiking and purchasing patterned socks.

Seventy metres

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 honeybee’s sting
smells of banana,
a sweet call
to swarm.
Fear made us gather
in those slowing years, hordes
that fled to high places
‘til they turned to coast,
‘til hills plunged to oceans
and grass became

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.

The grass is pale on the other side

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

Krishna and his three siblings are enjoying the dimming sunlight playing in the courtyard of their dilapidated mud hut. They have skipped lunch and will hate to be called inside for dinner. Devki, mother of the four children, looks out of the window gazing through spider webs and decides against calling them inside. She smiles at her youngest daughter, Imly, who is playing in shade of the giant Babul tree. Devki’s smile quickly wanes, giving way to tears of pain and anguish. Her husband Balraam had committed suicide by hanging from that tree a few months ago. Ever since, Devki is managing herself and the children on her own. Several days in a week go by with a single meal and she has less to explain if the four children keep themselves busy in the courtyard.

Balraam owned a small farmland in Vidarbha village in Maharashtra, India. Vidarbha has suffered from water shortage for several decades. However, the situation has changed– only for the worse. The village is now among the several severely drought-affected villages across the state of Maharashtra. Balraam took a farm loan to buy seeds, fertilizers and used a small part of it to celebrate with his family the occasional few days he had some extra cash. A local weather guru Hirana had predicted a heavy monsoon and received a token of appreciation from the farmers for his promise of healthy produce. The farm was ploughed and seeds were sown. But instead of abundant rain, it barely rained at all. Balraam’s crops failed. Drenched in debt, Balraam could not bear the pain of not being able to provide for his family anymore. He followed other farmers from the neighboring villages in ending his life.

A postman, meanwhile, stops by the mud hut and hands over a letter to little Imly who quickly brings it over to her mother. Tears trickle down Devki’s face as she looks down at Imly holding the letter from her aunt Sujata – Devki’s sister. Sujata writes in the letter that she is coming to

visit them with her family and that they could stay for several days. Sujata lives far East in the state of Bihar boasting vast stretches of fertile land. Ganges – the holy Indian River and its tributaries flow through Bihar and keep the land wet.

Devki has always found happiness in Sujata’s prosperity, but for the first time she experiences a hint of jealousy. Devki writes back explaining Sujata that she is barely feeding her children and it will be impossible for her to honor the guests. Devki almost wants to ask her sister for help but stops short for the respect of her deceased husband. The children, dehydrated after playing for long return inside and sleep shortly after. Devki looks upon as another day goes by and eventually sobs herself to sleep.

Next morning, she is woken up by a knock on the door. It is Sujata and her children. Imly quickly brags to her aunt that she was the one to receive her letter from the postman. The sisters feel a little differently about the Indian Postal Service. Devki invites Sujata and children inside and offers water. Sujata looks at the brimming glass of water and starts crying. Confused, Devki asks the children to go outside and play, and holds Sujata in her arms.

Sujata informs Devki that there was a flood in Bihar from heavy rain resulting in increased discharge from the rivers. Her husband, Ranjan was swept away in the flood and their farm is inundated. The stagnant water is making people sick and several children have died of diarrhea. The only drinking water they had was floodwater and they were running out of the food rations she picked up before leaving the house. She had no option but to come to Devki to avoid the death trap. Sujata reminisces that Ranjan had once proposed to settle elsewhere during a previous “near-flood” situation but she had decided against it.

Sujata offers to work in Devki’s farm and raise their children together. Devki informs her that she sold the land to repay Balraam’s farm debt and now works in the local government office. Devki promises to talk to the babus for Sujata’s employment.

Next morning, Devki goes to work and sees a large gathering outside office. She hears people discussing adaptation strategies to deal with the simultaneous drought and flood in different parts of the country. She remembers how each year there are similar meetings but nothing ever gets done. Agitated, she returns home and along with Sujata starts making some dinner for the children. Later in the evening, the village panchayat announces that the central government has promised green light for the river-linking project. This, according to the government, will allow the surplus water in Ganges to flow through one of the rivers in Maharashtra. Devki recalls reading about this project when she was young. She, along with Sujata go to the local officer to understand how long it will take to complete the task. Rama, the officer, tired after a long day of work is not interested in taking any questions. After several minutes of trying to get away, he responds to them “Not in your lifetime, and may be in your children’s”. Sujata and Devki look at each other with welled eyes.

Nishita Sinha has a Master’s degree in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Currently, she is a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. Her research interest lies in studying resource policy implications – primarily water resources. Currently, she is involved in a project developing a market solution to deal with water shortage during extensive drought periods in South Texas. She believes the role of “invisible hand” is critical to policy issues in natural resources and should be employed more often. She can be reached at nishitasinha9@gmail.com.

Message in a Bottle

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

After saying their farewells to our chief, my tribe left the pyre, their heads bowed. But I have remained, waiting to be left alone, because Chief Tyson was more than a chief to me, he was my grandfather.

Standing on the headland, I look out across the expanse of sea, a sea dotted with islands much like our own. Islands inhabited by our enemies, who legend would have it, had once been our kith and kin. That had been just one of the stories my grandfather had told his people. And yet it was hard to believe, given the great battles and skirmishes that had taken place between their tribe and ours, in an attempt to control the seas between us.

I could barely comprehend that my grandfather was dead. Only the stench of burning flesh and the curl of smoke, rising to the sky, confirmed I was not in dream time. And with him gone, I worried for the future. Would I be able to earn the respect of the people, like he had? He’d been as wise as the spirits that protected us. His knowledge of our people and our past, had, he assured us, been passed down from his grandfather and his grandfather before that – and so on and so on. But his tales were so fantastical, that without respect for him, I was sure many of the islanders doubted their truth. But isn’t that the place of myth and legend?

The sun was beginning to set behind the island of Skiddaw now — a full orange sun, burnishing on the sea and not for the first time, I wondered what was beyond. Once, thousands of years ago, our island of Helvellyn had been a mountain and Skiddaw the same. And where the sea was now, had been dotted with beautiful, fresh-water lakes. It had been a place of peace and beauty, an escape from that other place they’d known as tar and cement.

But legend would have it, that our ancestors had conjured up a storm. A storm so otherworldly, that it had ended life as they had known it. Hungry bellies and selfish desires had harnessed what they could, no matter the outcome. They’d robbed from the land, thirsty for more and more. They didn’t understand they were mere caretakers and some say, they did not care. They had lost sight of what was important.

The more unusual stories, told tales of people being able to speak to each other across the seas, see each other on the other side of vast landscapes. Others whispered that they’d climbed up to the moon, to find the man and then flown, like birds, around the stars. Those same stars, that were just becoming visible now.

Apparently, they had been a blasé people and despite the warnings written across the skies and in the rising of the seas, they had been persuaded by the money Gods that they could have it all, so they took it. And they kept taking. The more they had, the more they wanted. A given, a truth, a right. They guzzled and consumed until it was too late.

My grandfather described storms that had rumbled until the skies had cracked, crimson with fire -– the air had gotten hotter and hotter, until our ancestors had choked for breathe. Even the wildlife had suffered. The winged life began to fall limp, plummeting to earth. Flies swarmed — flesh eating. Rank, putrid smells hung in the air and invaded nostrils. And out at sea, great tidal surges had thundered towards the land, bringing with it, the finned and swollen — their bodies diseased and left to perish on the beaches. Corals, once orange, green and brown, sea lettuce and grape, smothered, choked and bleached, as their sun faded. There was no breakers — no end to push the tide back. Great civilisations were destroyed and drowned. The world had imploded and the people with it.

The people had grown weaker, disillusioned as their bodies failed. They prepared to die and did. Only the fittest made it, taking refuge on the peaks, whilst the troughs rose higher and higher. Only a few survived long enough to populate the mountains and eek out an existence, foraging on a land that had nothing to give.

Of course, these were just stories; ancient folklore based on witchcraft and daemons and couldn’t possibly be true. Could they? I’d often asked my grandfather this very question and once, he’d taken me down to the water’s edge and made me fish one of the clear and battered containers out of the sea. ‘Where do these come from?’ He had asked, holding up the container towards the light.

We knew them as bottles and we collected and drank from them, we buried them in the ground to collect bugs for our food and we built totems with them. Where they’d come from, I hadn’t rightly cared. I’d shrugged my shoulders, ‘well they’re a gift from the sea.’

‘A gift you say.’ My grandfather had looked thoughtful, as he combed his greying beard with his fingers. ‘Well they are a gift of sorts. Look at them, littering the beaches,’ he’d motioned with his arms. ‘But their gift, is not their usefulness. Their gift is the message they bring from our forbearers.’

‘Message?’ I’d looked at him, dumbfounded. The vessel was empty, save for a mouthful of dirty water and sand.‘But there is no message’, I’d said, ‘and how could something so old, last so long anyway?’

‘Well that my son, I can’t tell you, but I do know you must guard its message, always. Guard it and pass it on to your children and beyond.’

Bending down now, I fish a similar bottle from the beach, remembering how he’d leaned over his staff that day and whispered conspiratorially, into my ear. ‘Our ancestors reaped what they had sown, so learn from it’ he’d warned. ‘Be neither blind nor deaf. Never get complacent, son, never get greedy, never go after riches and convenience and most of all, remember that we are mere caretakers of this land. When we forget that,’ he’d continued ‘it will be the beginning of our own destruction.’

Just like then, I looked at the bottle now, bemused, searching for these hidden messages and could see none. And just like then, I brought it to my ear, listening, but heard nothing. Frustrated, I kicked the dust over the last, burning embers of my grandfather and decided his warnings, were just the ramblings of an old man. Times were different now and we must adapt and change, in order to survive. We must survive, whatever the cost might be.

Karen Rollason is a qualified Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, working with clients to find solutions to their problems. She is a Lakeland lass and lover of the countryside, but lives in the South of England where the pace of life is much faster. She is chair of a writers’ circle in Kent and loves to run writing workshops, particularly in Flash Fiction. Karen is a journal writer and believes in the Healing power of writing for well being. She is the proud mother of two grown up boys.