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.

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.


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:


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.

All empires fall

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

All empires fall, and all empires fall for the same reason… Arrogant Complacency.

They rise through hunger and innovation. The Egyptians invented the war chariot, and conquered North Africa and the Middle East. Then the Mesopotamians built a better chariot, and that was it for the Pharaohs, after them came the Persians, and after them the Romans, and so on and so on; each building newer and better machines of war.

If it is true that necessity is the mother of invention, then it must be doubly true that war is its father, after all nothing says necessity quite like your neighbours attempting to part your head from your body.

“What has that got to do with climate change?” I hear you ask (I have truly excellent hearing)

Well everything. Empires grow fat the more successful they become, the people no longer hungry become lazy, delegating work to slaves, or immigrant labour, their sense of inherent supremacy over their enemies leads to complacency, and then one morning you find the Visigoths at the gates, and they aint no tourists neither.

Even when they recognise the danger, it’s either too late or they’re so inured from reality by their belief in their supremacy, (We’re number one, HoooWahh; sound familiar?) that they simply refuse to believe they can lose. Ask Louis XVI, or the Romanovs, they could tell you a thing or two about it; and the British still cannot believe the Empire is gone.

You’re still wondering what all this has to do with Global warming; Jeez calm down, I’m getting to it.

It’s a commonly held belief that man’s interference in the workings of nature leading to his ultimate demise, is unique to our time, not so. Eleven hundred years ago an entire Peruvian civilisation disappeared because of irrigation. Yes, you read that right, irrigation proved to be their undoing.

What they didn’t realise was that every time they irrigated the land, the absorbed water, as it was drawn back up through the soil brought nutrients and minerals with it; and one of those minerals was salt.

Over the course of two hundred years they salinated the land so thoroughly that they rendered it incapable of growing anything.

And how do we know this? Because it`s happening all over again, only this time in California.

We may be unique in the history of mankind, in the history of any species that has littered this planet for that matter; we can see our own demise heaving very slowly into focus, one degree at a time. But we suffer from the same paralysing sense of entitlement that bedevilled all the Empires long gone.

We complain that it’s too hard, that wind farms are ugly, that we can’t make the sacrifices. We’re too pampered, too fat, too full of ourselves; we live in a society that claims that not only is broadband a necessity, it’s a human right; y’know, like clean water, only more important.

Are we capable of learning the lessons of all those fallen civilisations? Possibly.

The most heartening sign is that China and India, the fastest growing economies in the world are ditching coal faster than you can say “Fake News” and switching to solar.

So there may be hope for us yet, though I won`t hold my breath; lucky for me I’m a good swimmer.

Finbarr Swanton was born on a bitter March morning sometime in the last century to much screaming and wailing. Though not by his mother, she slept through the whole event. Raised in the purgatory that was 20th Century Holy Catholic Ireland, he survived a primary school education at the hands of the (un)Christian brothers; just. And yes; it is true that none of the schools he attended are still places of education, though he contends that they never were in the first place, and that their closures are purely coincidence, having nothing at all to do with him. He has had too many jobs to list here. None of which; he admits, have led to a life of indolent riches. He has to date epubbed two books, a Y/A fantasy fiction novel and a collection of short stories; both of which were received with rapturous indifference… The struggle continues.

Recuerdos de la anciana sabia*

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

(* Memories of the wise old woman)

I have discovered a recording I made of my great grandmother, la anciana sabia, when she was very old and I was young. This is the one in which she described what the Central Valley of California was like before I was born.

She remembered when the two great north-south highways, one on each side of the valley, lay mostly along the valley floor. That was before flooding became so frequent that it was cheaper to move the freeways up to the foothills to carry people and freight vehicles. Off these main highways, you can still see occasional weathered signs showing the name of the town you were entering, the population, and the old elevation above sea level, before sea level rose one foot after another, and the government stopped updating the signs.

In those days, the Sierra Nevada mountains north to south were covered with trees, and there was snow every winter but less heavy rain. That was in the century when the other side of my family was carried north from Michoacán on a tide of workers to pick fruit and vegetables in the Central Valley. My Anglo and Latino ancestors ended up together near the inverted Delta formed by the San Joaquin and the Sacramento rivers. This land had been reclaimed for farming centuries ago, before rising seas made it cheaper and more sensible to return much of it to the birds and the fish. Now the salmon move most years through a great inland sea.

“When your grandmother was born, in Sacramento in the spring of 1986,” said my great grandmother, “the Sacramento River a mile from our house almost topped its banks. Even then I thought, ‘Why do they allow homes to be built in this flood plain?’” In those days, she said, hardly any dwellings were built on pilings—just a few along the Sacramento river north of the Capitol, where now great river walls protect the parts of the city nearest to the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.

In the Delta, too, only a few people lived in dwellings on pilings, people nearest the rivers and on the edge of basins that are used for growing now only in dry years. You can still see the remains of old Delta roads in a very dry year when locals travel along them instead of using their solar boats. The magical architecture of the floodplains, the houses on pilings, was just beginning to evolve. Winter floods would only occasionally fill the Yolo Bypass, the first great bypass for flood water.

In those days, people grew vast areas of crops on the west side of the valley to feed people in California and the rest of the country and the world. As it became too hot to grow food in the ground, except under solar panels, people everywhere in the country and the world began to relearn how to grow their own food, in fields or greenhouses or agridomes, wherever they live, as our family has done, so that food doesn’t have to be moved great distances. But even now, furthest north in the Central Valley, farmers grow rice, grapes for wine, and marijuana.

“Once upon a time,” said my great grandmother, “men thought they could move water to anyplace that people wanted to live and farm.” That was before, one by one, the big dams failed and earthquakes broke the great north-south aqueducts into useless fragments. In those days, she said, farms grew food for people and animals from one end of the valley to the other. Some farmers irrigated those fields to grow alfalfa to feed cattle, and the meat of cows was so cheap that everyone whose faith allowed it ate beef all the time.

But the southern Valley kept getting hotter, and it kept getting harder to grow many crops in the traditional ways, all one crop planted for miles in soil under the desert sun. It has taken decades for people to learn that even in the deserts, it is possible, with permaculture, to surround yourself with green growing things. But that requires growing many different things together.

When we take the hybridcopter and travel to cities in the southern deserts, we see the new dwelling enclaves where artificial intelligence manages systems that control temperature, clean waste water, capture any rainwater that comes through, and pull water out of the air. Near Tulare Lake, they grow agave for syrup and mezcal. Only on the east side of the valley do thirsty nut trees still grow, taking in carbon dioxide and giving shade.

La anciana sabia saw this Valley begin to be transformed in her lifetime. “People used to accumulate more things,” she said, “before all the fires and floods and dislocations. Gradually, we lost the illusion of permanence.”

Hija, it doesn’t do much good to warn people about calamities. We live our lives up close,” she said, drawing so near to me that our noses almost touched. “The BIG picture” spreading her arms wide and then pulling me closer “we mostly miss, the pending events, the unforeseen consequences.”

“ArtIntel takes care of those things,” I said, repeating the argument I had heard so often. “ArtIntel does an error-free job of reasoning everything through, anticipating every possible consequence of every possible choice.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “we programmed it to do that for us. But even without that, human beings would adapt to their own follies, then innovate their way out of any problem their shortsightedness created for them.”

“Every few centuries,” she said, “people all begin to tell each other that they, of all human beings forever, are living at the end of everything, as if they thought they deserved to suffer uniquely, to be punished by gods they do not even believe in.

“They are always mistaken.”

Jane Wagner-Tyack is a writer and former educator who follows water issues for the League of Women Voters of California. She lives in Lodi, California.