Slowly too late

Slowly
The light enters our eyes
Slowly
The answers now too late
Lie scattered on university tables
In books
In speeches
In films
Plans are hurriedly hatched
To save what is left
Too slow
Too late


majelMajel Haugh is a writer based in Limerick city. Her work has appeared in Abridged, Limerick Literary Revival and Burning Bush 2. She was also a finalist in the Desmond O’Grady International poetry competition.

hourofwrites* This vision was submitted for the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions.

The beach that ate Silicon Valley

Jennifer LaForce has noticed that the residents and workers of Silicon Vally treat climate change like they treat homelessness — not their problem.

Silicon Valley, California. You can admire; you can hate it. Most of the world’s leading edge technology either comes from here or is made usable here. Tucked into the northern reaches of the San Francisco Bay, you will find an old quai in the tiny towns of Alviso and Milpitas [now best seen at a local park]. Here the bay is shallow: 85 percent of the water is less than 30 feet deep. Circulation depends on strong tidal action, river inflow, winds and storms. From a wildlife perspective, the salt marshes are highly productive and very valuable. When the tide is high, many fish species forage for food along the shore. Once the tide goes out, water birds feast on those unfortunate enough to get stuck.

alviso_marina_county_park_view_at_sunset

Not too long ago, the Milpitas quai was a destination. Standing on the old pilings, a little imagination takes you on unday boat rides in 1915 or even farther back to a Native American fishing for dinner.

Now there is a new kind of production on the quai. Not quite sky scrapers, new commercial buildings full of valuable equipment and more valuable ideas indicate that the recession is over and Silicon Valley is pushing at the edges of its geography yet again. Water treatment plants responsible for most of the usable water in the Bay area dot the marsh shores. Highway 237 is a critical connection between continental California and the San Francisco peninsula, connecting the states two major highways, 880 along the eastern side of the bay and 101 along the western side.

siliv
Two meters of sea level rise will inundate the Bay Area’s coastline

A sea-level rise of 2 meters has all of Milpitas and Alviso completely underwater. Highway 237 will belong to the sea creatures as will much of Highway 101.

Such a sea-level rise will inundate both developed and natural areas, cause salinity contamination of groundwater aquifers and rivers, damage ports and recreational beaches. The cost of protecting against sea-level rise is large, but often below the value of the property protected. Preventative (“Hey! Don’t build there!”) and/or defensive actions taken today can prevent large damages in the future

Numerous studies have been done and there is no need to reproduce their conclusions. What is strangely remarkable about the rise in sea-level and the corresponding results is how we, as California communities, respond to it in almost exactly the same way we respond to homelessness.

Study after study, proof after proof – If you don’t know by now that it costs less to house a homeless person than to leave them on the streets, you just don’t want to know. Between jail time and emergency room visits, it costs about $30,000 a year for a homeless person to be on the streets. Add business loss, shelter costs and the figure increases to a staggering $40,000 a year. Guess what, they could be in a home for a lot less.

Perhaps because the costs are not easily seen by an individual or because the costs are spread out over service areas, we can’t seem to respond to these facts.

Likewise the value of property threatened by sea-level rise in Silicon Valley is extremely high because of past development and getting higher every day because of new development. Around the perimeter of the Bay, existing commercial, residential, and industrial structures threatened by a two-meter sea-level rise is valued at $100 billion.

Perhaps because of the slow rate of increase of sea level or perhaps because the individual can’t see it, there is little advanced planning and an inadequate response to these facts.

I’ve worked in disabled and disadvantaged communities for 30 years. I understand emotional response. I understand bias. But I have yet to figure out why my peers cannot step beyond both when presented with undisputable fact. If we could figure this out, we could address the fact that the sea level is rising without over or under reacting. We could address homelessness and probably every other polarizing issue. For me, that’s the task to undertake.


laforceJennifer LaForce is a Business Consultant in Silicon Valley, missionary, author & traveler with the grandiose goal of understanding why we do what we do.

I don’t like these storms anymore

Ben Ruddell’s view on storms has changed, is changing and will change…

As a kid in the Midwest, the distant rolling thunder of a summer soaker was soothing, and the lightning bolts were exciting, bursting with neon light and color. Those storms were beautiful, with their sunbursts, whipping winds, and towering black clouds sweeping across the flat open land.

Those storms changed, flooding fields and towns but leaving withered crops and dry riverbeds in the summer. Those tenacious farm towns survived fifty years of depopulation, but collapsed as the groundwater ran out and the corn moved north to Canada. We followed so many others when fled the economic blight of the Midwest for greener pastures in the Mountain West. There were jobs, and the reservoirs had enough water for the dry spells.

The Southwest was so beautiful: pristine pine forests ringing towering mountains, vistas and red rocks, deserts and flowers. I never saw anything like it, and once I came I never wanted to leave. We had storms here, too, but they brought the most welcome rain to the arid hills. And rainbows- so many rainbows in these desert storms. No wonder these mountain towns are so popular. Everyone wanted to come here.

The kids felt the fear before I did. We tried to calm them when the lightning struck, but they felt a fear too deep for a parent to reach, a fear I didn’t understand. My oldest piled rocks around a tree to keep it safe from the lightning. It was cute. I thought he would grow out of it, but he didn’t; we did. Us older folks fooled ourselves with a lifetime of false experience.

When I first smelled the smoke, I felt that same fear- ominous, imminent, unavoidable. The fires were all over the summer news. A million acres here, a hundred houses there, year after year. Fort McMurray burned in Canada, but it was always far away. Still, my subconscious mind was catching on. When I caught myself hugging the kids because I was scared, I knew didn’t like storms anymore. The lightning made me jumpy, and if nobody was looking I would walk nervously to the window to check for smoke. I wrote my Congressmen about funding for the Forest Service after I read they only had money to manage a tiny fraction of the public forest in these mountains.

Every year the fires were worse than the last, and Congress finally funded the overdue thinning project out here. It was ten years of work, Billions of dollars. It was too late for us. That big, dry monsoon storm came in at the wrong time, and the lightning set the forest ablaze in a thousand fires. A hundred years of overgrown fuel went up in smoke, along with the power transmission lines and half of the town. It was all the fire service could do just to keep the highway open for evacuation.

The mountains burned, leaving a charred and sediment-choked moonscape. The power and water were out for a long time, and most of us had nothing to come back to after the evacuation. The tourists and students vanished, and with them my job. We moved back east to live with family, and figured out how to make ends meet. We survived, but things aren’t the same. I heard that a few of the mountain towns are recovering, but only rich vacationers can live there now. These fires woke middle class folks like us from our Southwestern dream.

Now, on those the terribly hot Chicago summer nights when the rain falls, I tell the kids these storms are as beautiful as I remember from my childhood, and we’re lucky to be here. But to tell the truth, I don’t like these storms anymore.


ruddellBen Ruddell Ben Ruddell is from the Midwestern U.S., works on the faculty at Northern Arizona University, and lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with his wife Jennifer and their children. This vision published in Life + 2 meters is vaguely autobiographical.

The sentencing

Annie Percik puts some perspective on the difference of two meters.

“Life plus two metres!”

A collective gasp travels around the courtroom, and the judge’s gavel comes down like the final nail in my coffin.

I hear the words but I can’t process them. There are fingers clutching painfully at my arm, and I look down into the despairing eyes of my mother.

“We’ll fight this,” she says, trying to sound confident, but failing by several degrees.

The likelihood that any appeal will go through before the worst part of the sentence is carried out is vanishingly small. And, once that part is done, there’s no going back, no matter what may be decided later.

I’m still finding it difficult to understand what’s going on. I realise I’ve stopped breathing, and I force myself to take in a strained lungful of air. Suddenly, my knees feel weak and I slump down onto the wooden bench, utterly defeated.

For a crime I didn’t commit, I have been given the heaviest sentence possible. I will have to serve a lifetime of indentured servitude, working the hardest tasks in the most inhospitable and dangerous environments. It’s no consolation that the other part of my sentence will equip me better for such work than I am now. It is not an equipping I want or will be able to endure without great suffering.

Sooner than I can imagine at this moment, I will be taken from this place and delivered to the Department of Transmogrification. There, my bones will be broken and extended, and my body stretched almost beyond its capacity, adding a full two metres to my height. Then, I will be provided with acclimatisation training, to teach me how to live and move in my new body, and how to use it to the benefit of the establishment that has forced it upon me.

I have heard tell that everything slows down when the two metres are added. Having such reach and such mass may be useful in undertaking certain types of manual labour and military tasks, but it necessarily results in a slowing of all movements and accompanying thought processes. It is not possible to utilise the familiar speed and flexibility of the human body on a grander scale.

I will no longer be able to meet the gaze of my friends and family eye to eye, even if I get the opportunity to see them at all. I will no longer even be able to relate to them on a level playing field. They will never be able to comprehend my new existence, and I will quickly forget what it is like to be one of the small and hasty beings that will soon be scurrying beneath my notice.

It may be a life sentence, but it will be the end of the life I have known up until now. The person I am now will cease to exist as surely as if I was to be executed. A new being will take up my newly assigned role in society, with different abilities, a different perspective, and different companions in my servitude.

My mind shies away from the implications of what has just happened, and I retreat into the oblivion of unconsciousness, hoping I will awake to discover it has all been a dream. More likely, I will awake to a nightmare of a new existence I will have to endure for the rest of my life.


annieAnnie Percik lives in London with her husband, Dave, where she is revising her first novel, whilst working as a University Complaints Officer. She also publishes a photo-story blog recording the adventures of her teddy bear. He is much more popular online than she is. She likes to run away from zombies in her spare time. Annie has won the weekly Hour of Writes competition four times, and been runner-up on several more occasions. Her collected entries are due to be published in two anthologies later this year.

hourofwrites* This vision was a runner up in the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions.

Coastal freshwater aquifers join the sea

Nazli Koseoglu points out that higher sea levels also mean more saltwater penetration into coastal freshwater aquifers.

Global sea level is rising at an accelerating rate in response to global warming. As temperatures increase, ice growth in winter falls behind ice melt in summer resulting shrinkage of nearly all surveyed glaciers worldwide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, decline in ice cover increases amount of freshwater lost to the oceans and has already added about eight inches to the average sea level since Industrial Revolution. The IPCC forecasts [pdf] continuation of this trend in increasing sea levels over the course of this century with 0.4 to 0.8 metre additional increase only if the zero emissions are achieved as a result of historical emissions. On the other hand a more pessimistic  realistic scenario by the World Bank predicts up to 2 metres increase in the sea level assuming global carbon emissions remain unabated. A 2-metre rise in sea levels means an extreme reshaping of coastlines, possible flooding of many low-lying and coastal cities, and severe inundation of several islands.

Next to the well-documented concern for coastal and lowland flooding risk, another yet under-reported impact of sea level rise will be on the freshwater systems. When the freshwater level drops lower than the equilibrium in coastal aquifers, saltwater with higher density, thus pressure, is allowed further in land and salinize groundwater resources. This phenomenon is defined as salt intrusion (Johnson, 2007). Moreover as the sea level goes up beyond tolerable level, the interface between ground and seawater changes and intrusion risk increases, significantly impacting local drinking water availability of coastal communities. Basement and septic system failures and detrition of marshland ecosystems fed by coastal aquifers are other further hazards of the sea level rise associated with coastal aquifers are. How the sea level rise will affect in the coastal aquifers in schematised in the figure below taken from US Geological Survey sources.

coast

Climate-related hazards threaten human-environment systems and their vulnerability increase with amplified exposure. There are wide variety of physical mitigation and social adaptation options of varying effectiveness that could be combined in dealing with reducing the pressure of sea level rise on the coastal aquifers. While physical measures are mainly barriers insulating and recharging aquifers or removing saltwater, socials measures are more about adapting behaviour such as changing or limiting withdrawal patterns from coastal aquifers. However each measure requires a definite level expertise for implementation and comes at a certain capital, operation or opportunity cost to communities at risk that are not always able to afford them [pdf]. This adds up to the immense external costs and injustices of global warming that we do not account for.

coast2

As elaborated in Chang et al. multiple factors affect the vulnerability to salt intrusion in coastal aquifers of different geological characteristics at different altitudes and sea level-groundwater dynamics has a high level of inherit uncertainty due to this complexity. The occasional mismatches in sea level rises at local and global scale also adds to the challenge of determining a rule of thumb indicator or transferable decision support tool to assess vulnerability to sea level rise and type of mitigation measure to be chosen.


nazliNazli Koseoglu is a PhD student from the School of Geosciences of University of Edinburgh, UK. Her PhD looks into the valuation and optimization of water use in Scotland to increase total social return. Prior to her current studies in environmental economics, she received MSc degree in Environmental Studies and BSc in Environmental Engineering. She thinks groundwater systems can not be considered in isolation from rest of the water systems and therefore wanted to contribute Life Plus 2 Meters project to highlight the linkages between sea level rise and groundwater dynamics.