Climate night

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 not only happened sooner than expected, the consequences were larger than ever imagined as well. At 2 AM we finally managed to reach the first street. The water was so high that we were not able to reach any of the doors on the first floor, so we started knocking on the windows of the second floor. It was difficult to see where we were; the power was down and darkness had taken over. Everywhere around me I heard men shouting, women screaming, and children crying.’

Maya can’t stop turning. The whistling of the wind and sounds of drunken students are keeping her awake. Out of experience Maya knows the students pass by her house every Saturday. Usually they get bored after ringing the bell twice and move on to the next street in the neighbourhood. Tonight however, the students do not seem to be leaving. The ringing is replaced by knocking and the singing by shouting. Suddenly Maya remembers seeing something about a storm on the news earlier today. However, as an exchange student from Argentina, she does not really watch the Dutch news carefully, or actually any news for that matter. Out of experience she knows a change in the train timetables is the worst thing that happens during these storms. Tonight however, it seems different.

Suddenly Maya jumps out of bed. Adrenaline starts running through her body. It’s Wednesday! She runs into the hallway and sees flashlights mysteriously shining through the windows. Maya realises the knocking is not coming from the first floor, but from her windows on the second floor. After a short hesitation she decides to walk over to the window and to open the curtains. A feeling of fear takes hold of her. In front of her stands a soldier on a small boat. He urges her to open the window. After two attempts it opens slightly and when Maya steps back to open the curtains further the wind causes the window to blow out. Maya cautiously sticks her head out of the window and looks down; the ground has disappeared. There is no sign of the small porch or the recently planted flowers in the small communal garden. Instead, there is darkness and water.

`In the third house a girl opened the window. Her eyes were covered in fear. She did not speak the language and obviously was not aware of the severity of the storm. While I managed to avoid pieces of broken glass from the window, I shouted she had to come with me, because the storm had caused the dikes to break and the water was rising rapidly.’ He takes a break. He has to. Too many horrible things have happened in front of his eyes that night.

Maya is shocked. How could this be happening? How can she not have noticed the severity of the storm? The Netherlands was supposed to have the best flood protection in the world!

He continues: `She seemed in shock. I asked if she was okay and told her to come with me, there was simply no time. The water level had gone up 3 meters in only one hour and we had no idea of what was yet to come.’

Maya continues to gaze at the soldier. The boat looks almost full, the old lady from next door and her two grandchildren are already seated. Further away she hears women screaming and men shouting. The whole street is being evacuated.

He looks around. Hundreds of people are silently listening. Although it is almost thirty years after the first big storm hit, its consequences are still of enormous significance today. `Thirty years ago, no one had any idea this would be the first one of the `Big Five’: the five disastrous storms which took billions of lives. It caused an unknown global sea level rise due to which many coastal cities disappeared under water. Consequently, diseases spread and harvests failed, which led to a huge famine.’

Thirty years later Maya finds herself in a conference centre in South Germany. After the storm she was able to move to South Germany; one of the few `safe’ places in Europe: it was not swallowed by the water and there was a sufficient amount of food available. Returning to Argentina was not an option. The infrastructure, including transport routes, had been destroyed.

He looks at Maya, the girl he saved years ago. He knows she was one of many who were not fully aware of the consequences of climate change and how their behaviour contributed to that.

Maya sights, anthropogenic climate change turned out to be the major cause of the Big Five and all the disasters that followed. Back in the day she had heard of climate change, but did not really feel like it would be an issue for her. She was enjoying her studies abroad and did not feel the urge to take action herself. She looks down. She would give anything to travel back in time and alert people to take action. It would not have prevented any of the disasters, but it could have decreased its intensity.

He looks around. `Although the Big Five has destroyed our modern society, it has given us the chance to renew our system and learn to live in harmony with nature again. Today I am filled with feelings of hope and I am confident that we, if we hold on to our new way of living, never have to face such a disaster again. Today I would like to announce that, after restoring transport routes with North America and East Asia last year, we have been able to reach South America and we will start restoring transport routes to Buenos Aires soon.’

Maya feels tears glittering in her eyes; her exchange semester might finally come to an end.

Jorie Knook is a doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College and AgResearch. Her research focuses on the evaluation of advisory programs that focus on the voluntary uptake of environmental measures by farmers in both Scotland and New Zealand.

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