Browsing pages

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


I still keep an old paper that I have found in my childhood. Nowadays, it is a valuable item, after all. Not many newspapers are left, magazines with colourful photos are even more scarce. When people had to run away during The Dies Vagire, they tended to keep mementos of the past, solid things like books not the so soon outdated papers. After all, they talked about trifle matters, pleasantries, advertisements and pretty pictures. They had left behind the very thing that they cut our forest down. Isn’t it ironic?

I used to flip through pages and imagine myself in that life. I liked pictures the most. After Vagire the new government, The Greenest Party, did not allow to print such useless things any longer. It was a reasonable decision, since we did not have enough trees to sustain our basic needs, we did not have enough water nor electricity to waste it on pretty pictures. They banned many other things, as damaging to environment. Most people do not mind, too busy with surviving.

I would start with imaginary breakfast – a slice of bread with chocolate spread and hazelnuts. I always tried to imagine taste of it, but I have no idea whether I was right or wrong. We don’t use the white bread, tortillas are much easier and they require less heat and ingredients. The chocolate spread was banned anyway, not so long before all cocoa products were banned. It was easier than trying to force planters to stop cutting what was left from rainforests down, to stop overexploiting the soil. Palm oil was also banned, but it didn’t save the orangutans. It is funny – the same paper contained articles about damages to the world made by cocoa and palm oil and an ad for the product that used it in spades. There was also lot of sugar in it – now the sugar is in limited supply, for our health. I cannot even imagine indulging in it every day. The last ingredient, hazelnuts, are extinct. They disappeared almost unnoticed, when plants and animals were slowly moving towards poles, to escape the heat and unpredictable weather. Not all of them managed to survive that journey. There was also milk in that spread – but now it is a rare and expensive treat. We rarely eat meat or diary. Keeping stocks required too much water and crops to make it sustainable.

Then I would proceed to dress in imaginary dresses and shoes – but not with much enthusiasm. I failed to find what was attractive in delicate dresses that were colourful but didn’t shelter from gusts of wind or handbags must have been uncomfortable to wear, not to mention that you couldn’t stuff many items inside. What was the reason for wearing jackets that ended above one’s navel? What puzzled me the most were shoes – few straps on a high heel must have been everything but easy to walk in. Then I would remember, that they didn’t need to be as protected from weather as we are. They could be looked at, we must look out.

But my favourites were pictures of the last minute holiday destinations. I love the idea of calling it last minute, because even if they didn’t mean it, it was true. I looked at pictures of snow and skiing and skating on ice – water doesn’t freeze on its own any longer. I have seen ice, but the government disapproves of it – there is no need to use it for storing vegetables and creating and keeping it is a waste of our energy. The other direction of trips was to the seaside. Beaches covered with sand, blue sea, sun setting over the horizon – they are gone now. The beaches are covered in algae and poisonous jellyfish. The sea had also changed its colour to greenish. There are no fish there, suffocated by a layer of plankton and seaweeds that kept air and sun away from the deeper parts of the water. All that was alive in sea is now dead and rotting – at least that is what our seaside smells like. Only the sun is the same, possibly because it was too far away for us to contaminate it.

I have always skipped pages about green energy. It saddened me, how hopeful they were and how badly they failed. The solar panels could not survive hails and raising cloud coverage rendered them useless in colder regions and they were easily damaged by the scorching sun in the sunny parts of the world. The wind turbines could not keep up with hurricanes and tornadoes.

Now, when I browse the pages my attention is caught by one of the adverts that says ‘The future is now’. It is wrong, I think, we are past any future. The past is now and all we have left of it is not enough.


Anna Maria is a professional student with interests in various fields, ranging from language and linguistics, through literature, history, to art and biology. She wants to use her knowledge to write stories that are entertaining enough to be educating. Raised in a surprisingly green Silesia region (inside Polish borders) she hopes that greed will not prevail over reason.

Just before she told him no

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


She wasn’t there when it happened; she didn’t have to be. She could see it as clearly as she had in her child mind when, as a girl, her grandparents painted the picture for her, as their grandparents had done for them. The waters would advance, overtaking the beaches, the resorts, the high rises and bungalows, until the palm fronds of the last coconut tree, undulating like sea grass atop the waves, were all that remained on the surface. And so, when it happened, she was not surprised. She had carried the image of those last palm fronds in her mind for so long that she had already come to think of her homeland as submerged. Almost out of obligation, she had raised a mourning yowl to the empty universe, a pointless screech of rage, and then was done.

The news reports indicated that the archipelago was almost devoid of human life, at that point. Anyone who could get out, did, of course. Few were as fortunate as she, who had gotten out before it was necessary to obtain refugee status, before exceptions had to be made. She had come to America from Malé on a scholarship to study international relations, with a minor in geology, back when the threat of submersion was still just an idea, a terrifying future world no one dared contemplate for too long. Until they had to.

But there was that word almost, sometimes substituted with virtually. Words that suggested that not everyone had escaped, that at least one person was still there. At least one person sank with the wreckage.

But she couldn’t bear to think of that. One single life, or five, or ten, was inconceivable when every day brought news of deaths in the thousands. She could only think of the place, because the people had flung out in every imaginable direction, living and dead. The place, now, was lost.

Once, she’d had a professor who graduated from an academic program which had since lost its accreditation when his alma mater went bankrupt. He had done all of the work, earned his degree, played the tenure-track game and won, and suddenly had no academic credentials whatsoever. The foundation on which he had built his entire professional life was instantly, and through no fault of his own, undone. This was like that, amplified ten thousand times.

Her grammar school. Her pediatrician’s office. The minarets of the nearby mosque, which amplified the muezzin’s call to the Fajr. Her neighborhood. Her mother’s neighborhood, her father’s neighborhood, and so on back for thousands of years. The house of the cute boy, who sometimes rode his bike past her house after school and did tricks in her driveway, knowing she was watching from behind a corner of the drapes. The betel leaves and areca nuts. The airport hotel on Hulhule where she had her first job, as a front-desk receptionist, smiling in the faces of eco-tourists and practicing her accent. All of the places that held all of the same miniscule memories for everyone she had ever known. All of it gone. It was unthinkable, so huge was the loss. And yet, here on the other side of the world, there was not so much as a gust of wind to mark the change. Not the beating of the wings of a single Karner blue. It was entirely within her. It may as well have been a dream.

What, then, could something as frivolous, as petulant, as another person’s love be to her?


Michelle J. Fernandez is a public librarian from New York. Having spent the majority of her life at sea level, she is preoccupied with, and fascinated by, the implications climate change has for the future of humanity and the places it inhabits. Her poetry has appeared in the disability journal Wordgathering, on Albanypoets.com, and in Tonguas, the literary journal of the University of Puerto Rico. Her 2014 novella, The Pedestrians, was published in serial format by Novella-T. This passage is an excerpt from her full-length, as-yet-unpublished CliFi novel, Eminent Domain.

Dusk

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 boat drifted through the forest. Sol was paying almost no attention as she was busy reading her father’s notes. For anyone else, finding their way through the countless trees and small passageways would seem impossible, but not for her. She was born and raised on these lands and so, every tree branch, every water stream, and every bird nest gave away her exact location.

Every morning she got on that boat and steered it through the currents. Her task was simple: to monitor and record data from each station. Sol had learned all this from her father. He was a great man, whose love for science was only surpassed by the love he had for his only daughter. Sol’s mom was also a scientist, but she died months after giving birth. Sol’s memories of her were only those of old photographs and repeated stories told by her father.

Sol’s parents met when they were young students, they both shared the love of science and a great ideal: to minimise the impact of climate change on earth. They dedicated their lives to this. After the big floods they relocated to the Amazonas and committed their lives to record, analyse and understand.

The lessons we will learn from the stations will be vital for future generations.” Sol could almost hear her father say. She was now following her parents’ legacy.

When her parents first arrived to the forest, they discovered an isolated tribe. Sol’s parents tried to make contact with the tribe, attempted to learn about their culture and hoped on establishing a trade agreement. Before the radio silence supplies were scarce, after, basically inexistent. However, despite their multiple attempts, trading with the tribe was nearly impossible. They blamed the white men for the floods. And they were right.

You take and take, now earth dies” said the old man in broken Portuguese.

Sol’s parents paid no attention, convinced they were helping the earth. Soon after that, Sol’s mother gave birth to Sol. Together with Sol came her mom’s sickness. In a desperate attempt, her father took Sol’s mom to the tribe, the old man did all he could but it was not enough.

“The forest kill you and girl. Come, live with forest, with earth” said the old man pointing down.

“No” Sol’s father said. His task was too important.

Break machines. Earth will heal.” said the man.

They do no harm!” Sol’s father cried. Although he was not sure about it, the engineers had said that, apart from the chopped down trees, the stations had no impact on the environment.

You have eyes, open! If eyes closed, forest will not be friend” the old man said in a last attempt.

Devastated Sol’s dad abandoned the tribe with Sol in his arms. He was even more focused now, he needed to do this for her.

Sol’s father died seventeen years after that day. Sol never found her father’s body, only the boat, drifting along as earth did with it as it pleased. Two months went missing from the logs of that year, as Sol spent most of her time crying and searching. Alone, weak and without food, she saw the old man coming.

“Sorry. He said as he dropped a bag full with supplies.”

“Thank you.”

“Come with me. Live with forest.”

“No! This is important; we can save the earth with this information.

“White man is problem.”

“You don’t understand, I want to help!”

“Your eyes are closed. Earth is dying” the old man said gravely, and sailed away.

She knew the old man was right. But she was doing all she could not to create more damage. But those stations, how could she be sure? They were installed years before Sol’s parents came to the forest. Sol never questioned how those gigantic measurement stations could get sufficient energy with those small solar panels. But she was doing the right thing, as her dad had told her. Science was right. This would help in finding a solution for climate change, and then everything would go back to normal.

Sol went back to her routine. Every day checking the stations, collecting data. The months passed, seventeen since her dad disappeared, and that day, as every month since, Sol was on her way to visit his grave. The boat was drifting as she swiftly steered it. The forest was silent. Too silent. Her head turned as she tried to listen, why were the birds not singing? Or the trees shaking as the wind passed? Nothing. Only the sound of the water as it pushed forward. It was as some kind of spell had fallen over the forest. Suddenly, a snapping sound right ahead broke the silence, her head rose, her eyes widened. It made no sound as it perforated her lung, but the pain was unbearable. She looked down, she could see more than half of it sticking out. She recognized the wood, babassu, as she used to play on that tree when she was younger. She caressed the feathers, urubu, and thought she could hear its calling from the distance. A second snap. This time the arrow hit her left shoulder. She screamed in pain, and yelled to the Forest:

“Please I am just trying to help!”

The Forest was silent.

“I am not like the white man. My faa-

Arrow number three. She touched her mouth, and saw blood on her fingers. Her legs failed and she fell on her knees. Eyes filled with tears no air in her lungs, she whispered:

“Why?”

Four. Five. Six.

The forest was silent. The boat drifted through the forest.


Ignacio Carlucho is a Doctoral researcher at the National University from Central Buenos Aires in Argentina. His main research interests are underwater robotics and reinforcement learning.

Data Recovery Unit – Subsection Culture

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


I have no tattoos. Life is not like a post-apocalypse Hollywood movie. This is not a world full of marauding, tech-savvy gangs with a penchant for body piercings and cannibalized vehicles.

Nor do I milk goats. I don’t live in some back-to-the-land Arcadian community of simple, smiling hard-working folk making yogurt and tending organic gardens.

I live in a monochrome world of sadness, defeat and resignation; filled with too many moments for reflection.

We accept the indefinite suspension of democracy. Those who have taken control in present circumstances could be worse. The government is tough and authoritarian, but who can blame them? Human rights don’t seem like such a priority so soon after billions have perished in The Extremes. Some claimed the right to do nothing as the elements grew fiercer. Our tired-sounding leaders do not seem overly corrupt or privileged. They are ruthless and abrupt in the pursuit of survival and recovery; in pursuit of “not letting us make the same mistakes over again.”

We do what we are told without much rancor or complaint; like a nation getting its head down and rebuilding after defeat in a war that it deserved to lose. But of course we are not a nation, we are the world, and the authorities rule across all the scarred and fragmented lands that still stick out above the water.

Funny really, but the proportion of people who have turned to God, or gods, remains about the same as before The Extremes. Believers suggest that the punishment, or the lessons from human hubris, are obvious and that God hopes we have learned to respect His creation through this mighty fall. I don’t know, but perhaps believers are comforted by the thought that God has received the billions of souls lost in our epic catastrophe. The Extremes certainly brought plagues and floods of what used to be called “biblical proportions.”

The religious and the non-religious alike blame people for the mess. In our mood of remorse, those who find no inspiration in the spiritual world are not of a mind to criticize those who find comfort in a divine gaze, a power who would hear their confession as miserable climate sinners.

Of course some wily and zealous cult leaders have set themselves up to forewarn us of the past, explaining that so many died for not following their particular rituals and strictures. But they remain small and predicable. Most of us who have lived through The Extremes might be quite docile, but we are also sharp witted.

Traumatized and chastened, we all more or less get along. The authorities squash any group that tries to stir things up. We all learned too late that pointing fingers at “others”, fanning fears and attributing blame for a worsening situation can distract humanity from the “central task.” Right now, our “central task” is the long slow road back to sustainable civilization. There is little point in disagreeing too much. There is not a lot left to squabble over.

I often wish I worked for the Flora and Fauna Recovery Department. Those people have interesting and heartening work. They scratch around for surviving beasts which could possibly mate, matching up unlikely animals from across the planet. On their travels they grab DNA samples from nearly extinct and recently-dead animals in case we ever achieve the technology for cloning animals in labs. They also carefully examine seed banks around the place to see which seeds might have survived The Extremes and might still germinate.

The least happy cohort work at the Steady State Population Group. Their job is to coerce the rest of us to breed at a steady rate: not too much reproduction, but also not too little – the Goldilocks birth rate. Their target is to work out ways to build the population gently to peak at about two billion. They are known as the “more sex police.”

I work in a Data Recovery Unit. Most parts of this unit are concerned with technology: mainly for essentials like agriculture, transport and communications. We have lost such a great amount of knowledge, and yet we know the basics about how far we got in electronics, chemicals and communication before The Extremes. The job is as much about trying to find knowledgeable people as it is about trying to find data and equipment. It will be quite a while before we restore the systems – the clean rooms, the pure materials – sufficient to begin such sophisticated microchip production and chemical manufacture again. The electronics that we now run use circuitry from before The Extremes: repaired, reused, and recycled. Gadgets from the times of mass consumption are patched and pimped. Software is hacked and cleverly adapted.

I belong to a small sub-section: Cultural Recovery. After the technical people breathe new life into old server farms and extract all the “productive information” we are sent in for the “non-essential” data that sprung to life when electricity was restored: the music, the films, the pictures, the stories.

We are allocated a little bit of storage space to ensure fewer social and cultural collections are lost, but we screen the stuff and decide what art and culture can be consigned to extinction.

Late at night, we sometimes sit around and watch movies from before The Extremes. People often bring in home-made wine and a few cold snacks to make an evening of it.

We watch movies set in vast traffic-bound cities. These usually involve heroes jumping onto aircraft to rush around the world in a carefree sort of way. Pleasure boats and jet skis skim over sunny seas. There are car races and stranger events where large vehicles are deliberately crashed in front of howling audiences. There were lots of car chases, usually ending in explosions as strange orange balls of fire roll skywards from vehicles or buildings.

Sometimes we watch earlier stuff. There are Hollywood epics in which Roman gladiators kill wild beasts, and wild beasts kill innocent Christians in amphitheaters of stone. We wonder to ourselves, “how did ordinary people feel at the time? Did they look forward to the spectacle?”

In recovered documentaries we witness real events from the past. Humans cut the tops off mountains and carried the ore away to refineries. They dammed valleys and strung the world with powerlines. They cleared land for farming with fields that stretched out of view over the horizon. Vast garbage tips called “landfills” flapped with plastic along with scavenging birds and children. We listen with respect to the warnings of experts who hold endangered baby animals in front of the camera, or take us under the sea to point at dying coral. The warnings of the documentary presenters were accurate of course – all dead now. You can see people believed these sincere commentators, but they looked round in confusion in the face of such dire predictions. They looked for leadership.

These sights diminish the beauty of the art we have also recovered. All the flowing music, vivid pictures and clever writing seems distorted somehow, because we were cutting the natural inspiration for all this creativity from under right our feet. Like noble utopian philosophies built on the shoulders of a slave society, all that blinkered artistic inspiration seems somehow tainted or escapist.

Sometimes one of us starts to cry. The forests and the seas look so beautiful. Colleagues usually encourage them to drink a bit more wine.

We survivors sit in this austere and shabby room, knowing our lives will never, should never, achieve the strange excitement of the TV heroes who raced through city streets and circled tropical islands in helicopters. That’s okay. We have the record. We can watch those times and wonder. What times those must have been. What thrills people experienced. What glittering palaces they built. What heights they scaled. What were they thinking?


John Sayer is a Director of Carbon Care Asia, a company that works to reduce carbon emissions and increase preparedness for climate change impacts in Asia. He lives, walks and writes in Hong Kong.

2100: Hot, crowded and rich

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


Climate scientists use standardized scenarios as they peer into the future. The scenarios, known as “representative concentration pathways” and “shared socioeconomic pathways,” specify trends in population, economic growth, energy use, and other variables that produce different degrees of warming, help maintain comparability among the work of research groups. But by putting everything in the form of tidy numbers, do they obscure the big picture?

Some of the most widely publicized visions of the future combine two scenarios known as RCP 8.5 and SSP5. These assume that population increases to as many as 12 billion people, nearly twice as many as today. They also stipulate no implementation of climate policies, heavy reliance on fossil fuels (especially coal), and a tripling of CO2 emissions. That would be enough to produce as much as 5 degrees C of warming by 2100, far more than the 2 degrees C, beyond which lies climate catastrophe, according to many environmentalists.

Although it is less often discussed, RCP 8.5 and SSP5 also assume a remarkable increase in economic prosperity. They project that GDP per capita in 2100, adjusted for inflation, will be five times higher in countries that are already developed today, and up to 30 times higher in those that are now less developed. This economic growth surprises some people, but it should not. After all, economic production and consumption are the source of the emissions that drive the warming. If they didn’t grow, the future climate would be cooler.

To grasp what this paradoxical future that combines environmental devastation with great economic prosperity would really look like, we need to move beyond the numbers. Let’s take a quick trip through time to visit some representative countries of the crowded, warm, and wealthy world of 2100.

We start with a stop in Iceland—the richest country in the world, with a per capita GDP of $1.5 million, stated in US dollars with 2010 purchasing power. (This and other income estimates come from a recent study by Marshall Burke and colleagues.) Yes, there is still actual ice here, if you look in the right place at the right time of year. As a tourist attraction, ice is one source of the country’s wealth. Tourism aside, Iceland has maintained strict immigration controls, as have most European countries. That leaves plenty of room for crops in its fertile fields. Food exports are another source of income. Iceland continues to get most of its energy from geothermal sources, so it bears little of the blame for the climate woes that affect many other parts of the world.

Mongolia was poor and chilly back in 2010, but in 2100, it is one of thirty-eight countries that are better off than they would have been without climate change. Its per capita GDP of 390,000 dollars makes it the seventh richest country in the world. Unlike Iceland, Mongolia has opted for an open immigration policy. Its population has increased 40-fold since 2010 and now stands at 120 million. Descendants of refugees from Pacific Islands and the Bengal Delta outnumber those of native Mongolian stock. Most people live in cities. The country’s highly mechanized agriculture, which makes Mongolia the breadbasket of Asia, requires few workers. Abundant coal and a young, skilled, and rapidly growing urban population have made Mongolia an industrial powerhouse that some compare to Japan of the late twentieth century. As we take a tour by high-speed train through verdant fields of corn and soy beans, we can’t help but wonder what Genghis Khan would think if he could return today to his once-austere homeland.

Australia, unlike Iceland and Mongolia, has been a loser from climate change, at least in relative terms. Although per capita incomes are more than double their 2010 level, they would have risen five-fold without global warming. The environment is in terrible shape. There is little open-air agriculture. Kangaroos and Koalas survive only in zoos. Nearly everyone lives in cities, which have become more compact for efficient air conditioning. Streets and cars are a thing of the past—people and freight move around in pneumatic tubes that connect everything. Fortunately, energy is abundant. There is plenty of room in the desertified countryside for solar farms, and the country is still working its way through its vast coal reserves. Mineral exports pay for food from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia. The population is stable. Australia has consistently limited immigration, although it is generous with foreign aid.

India is the world’s poorest country in 2100. Although per capita GDP has risen three-fold since 2010, it is still only $1,657. Much of that is spent on municipal air conditioning, so little is available for personal consumption. By traditional standards, India, one of the world’s hottest countries, is simply uninhabitable. There are fewer days each year when it is safe to go outside, even briefly, but with few countries willing to accept climate refugees, more than a billion people continue to live here. Whereas Sydney and Melbourne were still recognizable as cities, Indians live in more compact habitats. From the inside, they look much like ships, with crowded bunkrooms for the poor and luxury decks for the rich. Like Australia, India is self-sufficient in energy, thanks to abundant solar power and coal. There is a vibrant cultural life, but exports of music, films, and services like software development do not earn enough to pay for food imports. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid from the hyper-wealthy, unwelcoming, but guilty countries of the North.

We are back to the present now. Can we really believe what we have seen? Did the world really spurn even modest climate mitigation policies that would have left it a little less wealthy, but cooler? Did it really avoid the famines and wars that might have decimated populations and wrecked economies, leaving the planet battered but not quite as hot? These are questions that climate models alone can’t answer.


Edwin G. Dolan holds a PhD in economics from Yale University. He hastaught in the United States at Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago, George Mason University and Gettysburg College. From 1990 to 2001, he taught in Moscow, Russia. After 2001, he taught economics in Budapest, Prague, and Riga. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center and lives in Northwest Lower Michigan.