We have no insurance against this risk

Nobody can take credit for inventing insurance. All cultures have found ways to protect individuals from the full cost of bad luck.

  • Farmers diversify their crops in type, location and timing to reduce their risks, but storage, trade and mutual assistance help unlucky farmers.
  • Communities diversity their work, assets and family relations to reduce their risks, but migration, sharing and collaboration help unlucky neighbors.
  • Investors diversity among liquid and illiquid assets with short-term or long-term maturities, but laws, family ties and social welfare protect the bankrupt.

Humans evolved these structures — and the rich social bonds and norms that hold them together — over millennia, with each post-event refinement bringing a little more stability to the system and prosperity to the group.

For most of the 200,000-year history of our species, Nature delivered accidents and harm, but those risks became predictable over time and thus amenable to insurance, hedging, and other means of investing a little in good times to avoid occasional, catastrophic losses.

Among those who study climate, “stationarity” implies that patterns vary within clear boundaries over time. For the past 5,000 years, climate has been stationary in terms of temperatures, precipitation and storms. That pattern has been disrupted by acute forces — hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — just as it has evolved under the influence of solar radiation and other geological processes, but those changes (small and local or large and slow, respectively) have not been strong enough to overwhelm our primitive insurances or prevent us from migrating out of harm’s way.

Welcome to non-stationarity

Anthropogenic climate change will bring unprecedented risks that will strain and occasionally break our formal and informal coping mechanisms. In October 2017, the World Meteorological Association noted that:

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016 to the highest level in 800,000 years… The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now… The rate of increase of atmospheric CO2 over the past 70 years is nearly 100 times larger than that at the end of the last ice age. As far as direct and proxy observations can tell, such abrupt changes in the atmospheric levels of CO2 have never before been seen.

The unprecedented levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) and their unnatural accumulate rate in the atmosphere mean that our species is about to experience dramatic changes in temperatures, precipitation and storms.

As a water economist, I am well aware of climate change’s impacts on the water cycle and thus on the various categories of water-related phenomena  through which climate change will arrive. Given this experience, I would order the risks in these categories, in order of highest to lowest threat to humans, as follows:

  1. Temperatures too high or too low for unprotected exposure
  2. Droughts or precipitation too long to be buffered by storage or drainage
  3. Changes or crashes in biodiversity that destroy entire food systems
  4. Wind-driven storms stronger than natural or man-made defenses
  5. Changes in sea levels and currents that alter continental ecosystems

Note that I put sea-level rise — the change most closely connected to the name of this project — as the least-threatening category of change.

There are many ways to die

Our formal and informal means of insuring ourselves against risk and disaster are going to fail many people in the decades ahead. Poor people with incompetent or corrupt governments will try to help each other, but their resources can only go so far. Rich people will be partially insulated by financial and political coping mechanisms, but additional costs will undermine markets and overwhelm bureaucracies and taxpayers. People all over the world will face the reality of uninsured losses and the uncertainty of emerging, unprecedented risks.

In 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years, Jorgen Randers (one of the original authors of The Limits to Growth) suggested that climate change would slow as humans diverted resources from consumption (and thus GHGs) to investments designed to offset climate change impacts. Although his logic is sound, I see few signs of that switch.

Bottom line: The damages from climate-change driven alterations to the water cycle will overwhelm our coping mechanisms, leading to unprecedented death, destruction and misery. It’s unlikely that anyone will have the resources to help you when you need it, so now is the time to invest in securing yourself and your community against those risks.

Death by a milli-nilli-trillion drops

This vision came after the deadline for prizes, but it’s still eligible for inclusion in the book. Please comment to improve its quality (or just praise it 🙂 — David


We knew we had to move fast when the Suisun Marsh was swallowed up and became this week’s new beachfront. Sacramento was next in line to get sucked into the Pacific. Then the old underground gold mine shafts started imploding under the pressure and spewing like Old Faithful. One, then another and another again. You could see the trail of impending doom and sinkholes coming up the hill. We had to move quickly. For weeks, I had had a false sense of security because after all, we had started out at 1800’ feet above sea level. Today, that meant we were now only 200’ above certain death. The swelling tide never ebbed. It only flowed.

I could sense their coming before anyone else heard them. I could smell them as they marched up the hill; thousands of sweaty feet, palms and nothing but exhaustion moving as one entity with deadly purpose. Their mission was to take our hill, even by force. The sound was insanity heralded by the putrescence of dying, feral humans. My exceptional sense of smell had served me well in this life, but today it was not necessarily a blessing. Suddenly, we all felt it. The reverberations of tens of thousands of feet pummeling the ground heading east and up to Cameron Park, and they were coming fast. The cacophony brought fear to life. We struggled to control our panic.

In my previous life I rescued people from general stupidity and specific homelessness. Very soon everybody would be homeless, and I knew I couldn’t save them all. I shook off my sense of responsibility and called my kids aboard. Our supplies were expected to keep the 6 of us alive for at least 12 weeks once we landed in Denver; life after that – well, I couldn’t hope for more than the generosity of a few thousand strangers and a few old friends and colleagues from Oracle. The last good engine on the Cessna was reassembled. We were gassed up and ready to soar. We only needed 130 feet to get out. Now, as I considered my assets, I felt woefully underdressed. In thirty minutes all hell is going to break loose. These people will be trapped. As we rose above the human tide, my thoughts were of our futile efforts to survive the ‘Big Swallow’. And so it goes…

We made it out of California, but what of the others? We have no way of knowing their fates without reports, and those are few and confused. I do know that we have run out of fresh food, clean water and most of our humanity. Now that Aurora has succumbed, we prepare for another evacuation. This time, they will head North to Minot, ND. Why Minot? Because Lake Sakakawea hasn’t breached its natural shoreline, silly, that’s why. Lest we not forget the Air Force silos. Not yet sure whether they represent survival or a sarcophagus. I’m not sure how I feel about 50 years underground.

I see my children and grandchildren preparing for the trek. I can only respond by dropping to my knees to pray: for reprieve but mostly forgiveness. I am old. My heart is heavy with the guilt of repeated warnings that began as far back as the Ban-the-Bra movement. Sadly, I recall every V-8 I drove, the enormous waste I created, the squandered natural resources. I can only hope that the next generation sees what we wrote on the wall.

I am deeply ashamed, but I don’t want to die just yet. Unfortunately, today is my 75th birthday – or, what we now call the Date of Expiration. I will not be joining them. “How long CAN I hold my breath?” I wonder.

Collectively, we have destroyed this planet because as a species, we are inherently selfish and greedy. There is no doubt about it — we are paying back on an old, unavoidable debt.

It’s funny that I had expected to die from a million paper cuts but now I’m going to die from a milli-nilli-trillion drops of melting ice and rising seas.


Rene Evans is a single mom, sci-fi fan, life lover, disability advocate, and non-profit president who’s armed and waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse. Raised in Silicon Valley and now housed in the Sierras, Rene has been an advocate for the under-served in El Dorado County for the past 20 years. Known for her tough love stance, she helps people re-stabilize after unfortunate events or choices land them in a residential crisis.

We have winners!

We ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund prizes for the best visions for Volume 2 of Life Plus 2 Meters. The 16 judges were Kickstarter backers, authors from Volume 1 (not submitting to Volume 2), and followers of this project.

The judges had 33 diverse and interesting visions to read and vote on, and here are the results:

Best story

  1. Daniel Gilbert for A Marsh Arab’s story
  2. Emma J. Myatt for Amplitude
  3. John Sayer for Data recovery unit – subsection culture

Best perspective

  1. Kalila Eve Morsink for Blue death
  2. Finbarr Swanton for All empires fall
  3. Ed Dolan for 2100: Hot, crowded and rich

Best by under 26 years old*

  1. Joes de Natris for Climate-charged democracy?
  2. Jack Cooper for Seventy metres and September
  3. Celia Daniels for We drown with history

Best by author from Economically Developing Country*

  1. Ignacio Carlucho for Dusk
  2. Anna Maria for Browsing pages

Winners will receive US$100 for first place, $50 for second place, and $25 for third place.

We are now moving into editing and improving all 33 visions (you may like some that did not win more than some that did, so please explore!) for publication in Volume 2, which should — if all goes well — come out in December.

Subscribe to the newsletter if you want to get updates on the project.


* These authors needed to submit evidence to be in this category.

A Marsh Arab’s story

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


My name is Faris and I am of the Ferayghāt people, one of the tribal groupings of the Maʻdān, that is the Marsh Arabs as you say, neutrally, in English. Sadly, the word Maʻdān is now often used in Iraq as a slight, aimed to inflict hurt and belittle. But I am proud of who I am, where I come from, and I will keep my memories of those former marshlands, now burnt to a crisp and virtually uninhabitable.

So much for my past: where I lived, happily and less so, throughout my childhood and as a young adult. Today, though, I “stay” in Fife, Scotland. I am a refugee, forced to leave my homeland far behind me, gone but never forgotten.

I am getting to know the local culture here, ways of living, speaking – e.g. “stay” rather than “live” – and song. I love music, and also humour – without being able to laugh at life I don’t know how I would’ve kept going through these last, painful, years. “It started up in Fife, and ended up in tears” sing an Edinburgh band, that national capital located far closer to me now than Baghdad was before my long journey. In truth, for me the tears have never been far away, whether in the lands of my birth and upbringing, or now here, in Fife.

Climate change is an important part of the story, but does not encompass the whole. Upstream dams, both in Iraq and beyond, have denied my marshlands of water. My parents told me that for many decades our homeland was drained on purpose, in a vain attempt to reclaim farmland and, later, in active persecution. But it was the ever-rising temperatures that finally killed off those marshlands, and the attempts that were made to breath new life into them. What marshland can survive the torching heat that I, myself a hardened son of the soil, was forced to flee from?

Old Bridge at Guardbridge (Credit)

My faith keeps me strong, and I constantly give thanks to Allah in my prayers for leading me to this, odd to me, place of refuge. Is it a coincidence or is divine providence that I have gone from one place of Eden to another? My homeland, you see, is known as the original Jannāt `Adni, or Garden of Eden, spoken of in the Holy Quran and also in holy books of the Jews and Christians alike. Now, the river Eden flows through the town of Guardbridge, the town I must now call home. I am still trying to do so; “it started up in Fife, and ended up in tears”, my tears that is. The Eden never leaves Fife, will I stay here forever too? Or return, like river water to the sea, to Iraq one day too?

Even amongst my tears, and my yearnings, I find this Eden here, and Eden there, coincidence funny and somehow comforting – as perhaps I am meant to do? Allah moves in unknowable ways, and I am thankful for all His blessings. Allahu Akbar.

I would never have guessed, let alone known that I would end up in Scotland. Not least since, until recently, I was unaware that such a country existed! In Iraq, people talk of England and the English, or the British, but not really Scotland or the Scots. Yet the Scots are truly a welcoming people and I have been treated with great hospitality since my arrival; hospitality is proud trait of the Ferayghāt people, and one that we mark as a sign of civility.

Scotland has had it tough in recent years, and for some of the same reasons as Iraq. In common between us, the price of our crude oil has collapsed, swamped by new supplies and discoveries made possible by new technologies, and undermined by the steady switch to electric vehicles. Scotland has also accepted many tens of thousands of climate refugees, its cities swelling with new populations even as its coastline and tidal river estuaries and “firths” invade its coastline, notably (to me!) swelling the Eden and pushing up against the gardens of the town’s most exposed “sea-view” properties. This has stretched services and further rocked the finances of the, newly independent, Scottish Government. An independent Scotland is exciting, but Scots have found that independence is very tough and – dare I say it – that they weren’t really ready for just how difficult it would be to manage their own economy. That they have pulled through is due to both their our stubborn nature – a stubbornness that I have been at the wrong end of – and determination, and also due to the people that they have welcomed to their shores, the New Scots.

Yes: us immigrants are proving our economic worth, helping to pull our adoptive country back to its feet – if I may be so bold. In so doing we help ourselves and help repay Scotland’s hospitality to us. We who are from countries like Iraq where the State has barely functioned in our lifetimes, do not readily rely on any State to provide for us – instead we provide for ourselves. Perhaps that is why so many of the new enterprises are run and owned by immigrants? I myself work for a Kuwaiti in Dundee who has set up his own company supplying offshore support vessels (boats) to the North Sea petroleum industry here (which increasingly focuses on natural gas, not oil), and for the fast-growing marine energy sector too.

Even as a New Scot there is no danger that I will deny or forget my heritage from amongst the Maʻdān. Every Friday at dhur (noon) I hear the Khutbah (sermon) amongst fellow Sunni Muslims at the newly built Guardbridge mosque and I am part of a Fife-based community of Marsh Arabs immigrants which, together, maintains our traditions in this new and strange, to us, land. I am teaching Arabic as an additional source of income – Arabic is an increasingly popular language to learn amongst Scots here, who are keen to open up to, and trade with, the world rather than just rely on their historic trade links to the south, with England. That makes me proud too. I think I will be happy too. My beautiful new bride thinks so too. A native of this land, she quoted to me a verse from another Scottish band, as follows: “For the family ; For the lives of the children that we’ve planned; Let’s get married; C’mon darlin’, please take my hand”. The wedding is next month and I cannot wait.


Daniel Gilbert has comprehensive experience as a consultant for major natural resources projects in Europe, Africa and Asia, and with regards to water, mining, petroleum (the ‘extractive industries’), and solar power. Daniel is a former Knowledge Exchange Coordinator at the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science under the auspices of UNESCO, located at the University of Dundee. He holds Masters Degrees from both Dundee and Edinburgh universities and has given natural resources sector presentations at the UN in Geneva, the World Bank in Washington DC, and at a high-level UN Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Amplitude

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


It’s hard to stay mad at Suze for long. When she comes splashing through the small waves carrying shopping bags to the bottom of the steps, late, as ever, I can’t help but smile. It’s more than her beauty that draws me in, every time; it’s her way of being, the light she seems to carry with her and her constant, sometimes infuriating, optimism.

I’m sitting at the top of the first flight of steps, and we fall into the hug that makes me feel whole again. Suze and I were best friends long before we became lovers. We were born within weeks of each other, to two equally unlucky families who ended up on low-lying land.

‘You almost didn’t make it,’ I say, into her hair.

‘I’ll always make it. Even when I have to swim,’ she says, pulling back.

I don’t remind her that the time she did have to swim she almost drowned; nearly got sucked into the strange currents that swirl below Gowan Estuaries’ grey towers. I’ve never swum it. If I miss the tides, I stay on land, in the damp swampy hut that was put there by the developers. They call it a Stayover, which makes us laugh. They make it sound like a place you’d choose to be, not a rotting hut for emergencies.

‘So what did you get?’ I peer into Suze’s bags.

‘Not a lot,’ she grins back. ‘But don’t worry; I’ve already a recipe in mind. I’m cooking you macaroni cheese, without the cheese. Or proper macaroni. And using dried milk…’

‘Sounds great,’ I say, pulling a face. ‘I’ve asked the families over for the Lotto results.’

‘I had some tokens left over so I bought an extra ticket,’ Suze said.

I nod. ‘Good. Because I gave ours to the Robinsons again.’

Suze mock punches me. ‘Seriously, Lou? You’re impossible. But funnily enough, I was going to do the same when I bought this one…’

I kiss her. ‘That’s why I love you,’ I say. ‘We’re as crazy as each other.’

She sits and produces some stale biscuits. We eat and watch the water climb the steps below us; greedy, surging water that looks like it wants to drink us in.

‘If you could go back, what would you do first?’ she asks me.

I hate this game and it always puts me in a bad mood. I sigh.

‘Go on,’ she says. ‘Humour me.’

‘I’d give our grandparents a bollocking for doing nothing to stop all this,’ I say, as I always do, gesturing at the water. ‘But then… then I think I’d take you for a drive, just because I could, to one of the old beaches somewhere, and we’d sit and watch the sunset. When we got back we’d go and surf the internet and order some stuff that would magically arrive in the post the next day, bought with real money. And then I’d open the front door and watch the stars and think how lucky I was to be alive in such an easy world.’

‘I’d buy you a proper ring and propose under a rainbow flag on a mountain, one that wasn’t off-limits to us, lower echelons of society, and-’

I cut her off. ‘Can we stop? I’m not in the mood for this game today.’ I never am, but the If game is her favourite. As an optimist, she’s a total dreamer; still believes there’s a happy ending to the crappy way of life we’re forced to live. I don’t. All of those dreams belonged to a different generation, the ones who sit, staring at the water, still in shock at what’s unfolded. At the fact that the warnings were right, all along. Unless they’re lucky enough to live in the Hill Communities.

‘Come on,’ Suze says, pulling me up. ‘Let’s go and cook and get ready for the Lotto.’

At eight, our families arrive. We sit around the Screen and watch the presenters dangle dreams in front of us, tempting us to buy into this façade every week. This week there are two houses up for grabs, two beautiful, enormous dry houses in Beacon Hill Community, worth who knows what.

‘I hope the Robinsons get it,’ I say, letting my bad mood out. Irritation has been gathering in me for the last couple of hours, as the sea has risen; the sound of the waves constant and threatening.

Suze’s mother, Anne, groans. ‘You didn’t give your ticket away again?’ she says.

‘Old Fiona Robinson isn’t going to survive much longer, here. You know that as well as me,’ I snap.

‘We’ve got an extra, this week,’ Suze says, giving me a Look.

‘Sorry, Anne,’ I mutter, staring at the screen, at the hyper-happy presenters, showing off the houses. ‘Just get on with it,’ I say, and they do.

There’s a silence as we all check our numbers.

‘Oh well,’ Suze says. ‘There’s always next week. And remember, when we win we take you all with us – those houses are big enough.’

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘Next week it’ll all change. We can leave this swamp and move to a place we won’t ever fit in because we’ll always be Lotto Residents, everyone knowing where we came from…’ I stomp through to our bedroom.

Much later, Suze climbs in next to me. We hold each other and listen to the sea and the hungry, never-ending water.

There’s a knock at our door. Suze gets up and I follow. She opens the door.

On the landing are the Robinsons. Fiona is in tears, shaking, as she hands Suze a Lotto ticket. Her husband nods at us. ‘She wants you to have it back,’ he says. ‘She told me to say it’s your future, not ours. It never was ours.’

For a second, there is silence, whilst we read the numbers. And then we are yelling, jumping up and down, hugging. The noise we make drowns out everything else, even the roaring water below us.


Emma J Myatt (@EmmaJMyatt) lives in NE Scotland, very close to the sea. She writes fiction of all kinds and thinks that using stories to make people think about their impact on the world and their lives is essential. She lives with her young family and they share with various cats, chickens and fish, all of whom have been ‘interestingly’ named by creative children. After spending time with her family, writing is her favourite thing to do and her stories are often about the sea, which provides the soundtrack to her everyday life. She hopes this story is not a prediction.