The moon under water

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


‘Our parents didn’t work all their lives to leave us with a shrinking landmass, rampant inflation, no job prospects and utter inequality.’ George slammed his china jug down on the table, forcing the brown liquid to leap for freedom. ‘Something has to change and I can’t do it from here.’

I frowned. It had taken me days to source strawberry-pink china beer mugs and George’s revolutionary zeal was putting them at risk already. He was talking nonsense anyway. ‘Our parents didn’t work all their lives. They had nice long retirements. We’re the ones who have to work until we’re seventy-five.’

George tutted at me. ‘At least your folks left you something.’ He gestured at the Victorian bar. ‘You’ve got a pub on a hill with a large garden. You’ve got a job for life now there are so few pubs left and no more licences. You’re sitting pretty, you are.’

‘Look around you, George. I’ve got an empty pub it took a small fortune to make habitable. I’m only three miles from the sea and it’s getting closer by the hour. The Moon Under Water’s not the only water-logged thing. The village where my customers used to live is submerged. There’s no one left round here. The whole thing is doomed.’

He bent his head to one side and his huge brown eyes reminded me of my childhood Labrador, who used to sit exactly where George was now. ‘So why did you do it Elaine? Why have you given up a city career to come to the back of beyond. What’s all this fantasy George Orwell pub stuff? No music, no live sports, liver-sausage sandwiches for god’s sake. ‘

‘It’s not the back of beyond. We’re only thirty-five miles from London. We’re in the London area.’

‘I know that was one of Orwell’s bizarre criteria but you’ve stretched it a bit too far. We’re not in the London area. We’re not even in the Southend area now it’s gone under. It may have escaped your notice but there’s no large town left here now Leigh’s drowned too.’

The expression on George’s face when he knows he’s right is just so unattractive. He must know I’m worried I’ve made a terrible choice. Why is he rubbing it in? I want him gone. I had imagined us getting stuck in together, making a little utopia on what’s now the end of the earth, building something solid together. Sadly what George is good at is picking holes in what’s been done rather than doing anything himself. What George is good at is making himself feel better by trashing me.

‘Fine.’ I pick his jug up and pour it down the sink behind the bar. It’s a waste but such a little thing in comparison with a desolated country, a planet with a precarious future. ‘I think you should go back to London.’

‘Fine.’ He slides off the bar stool so quickly I know that was what he hoped I’d say. He’s been prodding me to push him away. Five minutes later he’s back downstairs with his bags. ‘Could you give me a lift to the station?’

I hesitate. It’s lunch-time there could be customers. A guy came through yesterday. He seemed to like it here. I can’t really leave the pub but I know it isn’t safe to be out there on your own. Certainly not on foot when you can’t get away from whatever’s roaming near you. Can I really care so little for someone I’ve spent five years with? ‘OK but let’s be quick.’ I find an old chalkboard and write back in twenty minutes before propping it against the door.

George looks relieved. We get in the van in silence but he’s watching me as I drive. ‘Tell me why you really came here, Elaine.’

It can’t hurt now. I don’t have to protect myself against his scorn anymore. ‘I thought I could save a bit of the old world, you know, the one where people looked out for each other. I mean I know any property near water is a nightmare now but I can’t shake off how looking at water makes me feel better.’

He snorts and shakes his head. ‘And the Moon Under Water was your childhood home.’

I nod. ‘Yes but I don’t have a romantic notion of it. I know only too well how hard it was running a pub even back when they were profitable. You had to put up with other people’s vices as much as their warmth. Mum and Dad ran it like a club, they had their rules and it didn’t matter what you did or were outside. You stuck to the rules you were part of the place.’

‘Vices yes. Remember the smoking? But why all this George Orwell stuff?’

‘The Moon Under Water was his vision of the perfect pub. Old-fashioned yes but there was something about his set of rules made me feel I could create that kind of place. I had this silly idea that people would come on daytrips for the charm of it.’

‘But we only get five litres of petrol a week. It’s not like the blokes could come on their own now it’s one car between two families.’

That rule is very precious to George. His job is coordinating the car shares. So many people had to be rehomed that he was forever recalculating who could be matched. He was right though, I hadn’t factored that in. I was running at a breath-taking loss forever coming up with silly promotions that were as much good as Canute raving at the tide. The freezer was packed with the meals I’d made but hadn’t sold.

I stop the car in the station car park. It’s almost empty. ‘Bye then. I guess you won’t be coming down for the weekend again’ I get out of the car as he does and hold out my hand. He clutches me to him, his bag swinging into my leg. We stand there, wavering in each other’s arms. I’m tempted to hold on, to undo the last hour, maybe even the last six months. He kisses the top of my head and lets me go.

‘Good luck to you Elaine. You’re an idiot but I admire you, I really do. I just can’t make myself believe it’s going to be OK.’

It isn’t going to be OK. I know that. I drive back to the pub trying to accept that nothing I do – wasting beer or trying to make a sanctuary – will make the slightest difference. There’s something bigger than us we’ve tormented too long. Now it wants to get rid of us irritants, it wants its world back.

I’m going to keep on fighting back, plant vegetables and get chickens. I can’t go back to my old lifestyle, head buried in the sand of submerged beaches. I pull into the stupidly large car park scattering a group of people huddled around the door. I tense until I recognise my only customer yesterday.

‘Are you open? Are you doing food? I brought my friends.’


As penance for her marketing career, Jacquie Wyatt now writes flash fiction and novels in deepest, darkest Kent, UK. Her poems have been published in Poetry South, Sentinel and Clear amongst many others and nominated for the Forward Prize by Structo. She is an enthusiastic contributor to Hour of Writes, always grateful for a prompt.

Social capital as adaptation capital

Daniel Hall says social capital can help make up for damaged natural capital.

Current climate change policy is aimed primarily at mitigation, to reduce the greenhouse gases causing it. Environmentalists use a sustainability argument that we should not further deplete earth’s ability to assimilate carbon capacity to the point of damaging future generations. Yet efforts have not been significant enough to come even close to sustainability in this sense.

Economics Nobel Laureate Robert Solow gives a broader definition of “sustainability” in his article, “Sustainability: An Economist’s Perspective” [pdf]. He argued that sustainability does not necessarily involve protecting a particular resource or natural way of life and that sustainability can mean not leaving future generations with a lower capacity to meet their general needs. This opens a role for adaptation in addressing climate change. People often think of the greenhouse gas problem as a pollution problem, but it can also be thought of as an extraction of the atmospheric and oceanic carbon-absorbing services of the earth. We are depleting this ‘natural capital’ to extract profits (“rents”) via market goods today. Solow said that sustainability can also be applied to the depletion of a nonrenewable resource if we properly invest the resource rents in activities conducive to economic growth and finding substitute resources.

Responsible policy involves accepting that we have already caused significant climate change and start using the rents from our depleted natural capital (the assimilative capacity) to invest in adaptation capital. We will need physical capital to rebuild and repurpose our infrastructure in adaptation to climate change. We will need human capital to solve challenges we will fail to anticipate. Finally, we will need social capital to collectively meet the challenges climate change will bring us.

Social capital is a measure of trust, cooperation, and participation in community and society. What if climate change makes where you live undesirable? If you had to relocate, who could help you move? Who would give you a place to stay outside your family when they have to move too? Who will bring you food and other necessities when the supply chains running to your house are temporarily broken? Will we engage in conflict over our reduced resources, or will we cooperate in the management of their scarcity? With rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and rising frequency and severity of disasters, our public and private sector support systems will be overwhelmed. We will need social capital to address these problems in a quick and decentralized manner.

Unfortunately, there is already insufficient investment in social capital today. People are joining organizations less and volunteering with groups less (Putnam 1995). When a large disaster like Hurricane Katrina or more recently Hurricane Matthew hits and captures media attention, we manage to pool our resources and find a way to help those most damaged. With extreme climate change these disasters will happen so frequently that we will become desensitized, then disaffected, then overwhelmed, and finally too busy saving ourselves to help others. We cannot wait to build social capital when cooperation becomes more challenging after climate change happens.

How can we reinvest in social capital? First, communities must commit to do so, and if viewing social capital as a form of adaptation capital serves as a catalyst, great. Businesses need to encourage employees to join organizations and participate in community activities. Government can provide incentives for donating time and talent as they do for charitable donations. Volunteer associations and non-profits must modernize and equip their organizations to anticipate and handle the future needs. Everyone can get to know their neighbor and help each other address problems.

Adaptation will require cooperation, and by building our cooperative capacities today, perhaps we can get closer to sustainability after severe climate change.


Daniel Hall is an Assistant Professor of Economics at High Point University in North Carolina. He serves HPU and community at large as the advisor to the Civitan Club on campus, a group known for the good works and civic duties. The Civitan Club has won many awards for service and Dr. Hall was awarded Outstanding Faculty Advisor by his students. Dr. Hall also incorporates Civitan into his research and into his teaching of a service learning course in microeconomics. He was honored as Service Learning Professor of the Year for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Look offshore, a deep subsea well to sink

Todd Jarvis proposes that undersea freshwater aquifers mean that we never need worry about water scarcity.

Water, water everywhere
Nor any drop to drink
Water, water everywhere
Look offshore, a deep subsea well to sink

Apologies to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by English poet Samuel Coleridge, but this passage is a fitting introduction to the future of water supplies as our Earth “ship” slips into uncharted waters in the wake of climate change.  Yes, desalination of sea and brackish waters will likely become ever more popular as the costs per cubic meter continue to decrease. But the real opportunity is not the sea, per se, but rather what lies below the sea.

Researchers located on the driest continent, Australia, posit that 500,000 cubic km of freshwater are stored in subsea aquifers on continental shelves around the world. “The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900.” While the Australians are famous for hosting some of the most famous water diviners in the world, this discovery is not wishful thinking, but rather the result of careful examination of offshore drilling data for oil and gas on the continental shelves across the globe.

Oil_platform_in_the_North_Sea
Source: Creative commons/Wikipedia

With so much water at our disposal as we spin towards Life plus 2 Meters (and perhaps then some), why would there be any future talk of water wars? This is where things get deep as the legal arguments for who has access and ownership for sub-seabed water is not crystal clear.  Does “groundwater” fall under the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea where countries can claim ownership to an Exclusive Economic Zone that extends 370 km offshore from its coastal baseline? Or is it possible that a variant such as the Law of the Hidden Sea might apply to deep groundwater that is hydraulically connected to the sea? Perhaps water stored in “fossil aquifers” such as offshore aquifers should be viewed as part of the common(s) heritage of humans? Or, perhaps government should step aside and let business into the world of groundwater governance much like how the US and Mexico are dealing with subsea hydrocarbons in the Gulf of Mexico by “unitizing” maritime transboundary reservoirs?

The underwater village of Atlit-Yam located offshore of Israel provides evidence that there is Life afterplus 2 Meters.  The water supply of the village of Atlit Yam was apparently based in part on groundwater. One of the oldest wells in the world, a 7,500-year-old water well, lies between 8 to 12 meters beneath sea level in the Bay of Atlit.

Samuel Coleridge once said “Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.” While climate change may be the “albatross around one’s neck”, the “commons” sense development of offshore aquifers will ultimately lead to more cooperation and wiser use of onshore water resources.


Todd Jarvis is a hydrogeologist with over 30 years of experience. Prior to joining Oregon State University with the Institute for Water & Watersheds and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, he worked for global water/wastewater engineering and groundwater engineering firms. He blogs on water at Rainbow Water Coalition and wrote Contesting Hidden Waters: Conflict Resolution for Groundwater and Aquifers. He serves as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Oregon Law School teaching Environmental Conflict Resolution and a consultant to UNESCO in their Shared Waters training program.