The grass is pale on the other side

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


Krishna and his three siblings are enjoying the dimming sunlight playing in the courtyard of their dilapidated mud hut. They have skipped lunch and will hate to be called inside for dinner. Devki, mother of the four children, looks out of the window gazing through spider webs and decides against calling them inside. She smiles at her youngest daughter, Imly, who is playing in shade of the giant Babul tree. Devki’s smile quickly wanes, giving way to tears of pain and anguish. Her husband Balraam had committed suicide by hanging from that tree a few months ago. Ever since, Devki is managing herself and the children on her own. Several days in a week go by with a single meal and she has less to explain if the four children keep themselves busy in the courtyard.

Balraam owned a small farmland in Vidarbha village in Maharashtra, India. Vidarbha has suffered from water shortage for several decades. However, the situation has changed– only for the worse. The village is now among the several severely drought-affected villages across the state of Maharashtra. Balraam took a farm loan to buy seeds, fertilizers and used a small part of it to celebrate with his family the occasional few days he had some extra cash. A local weather guru Hirana had predicted a heavy monsoon and received a token of appreciation from the farmers for his promise of healthy produce. The farm was ploughed and seeds were sown. But instead of abundant rain, it barely rained at all. Balraam’s crops failed. Drenched in debt, Balraam could not bear the pain of not being able to provide for his family anymore. He followed other farmers from the neighboring villages in ending his life.

A postman, meanwhile, stops by the mud hut and hands over a letter to little Imly who quickly brings it over to her mother. Tears trickle down Devki’s face as she looks down at Imly holding the letter from her aunt Sujata – Devki’s sister. Sujata writes in the letter that she is coming to

visit them with her family and that they could stay for several days. Sujata lives far East in the state of Bihar boasting vast stretches of fertile land. Ganges – the holy Indian River and its tributaries flow through Bihar and keep the land wet.

Devki has always found happiness in Sujata’s prosperity, but for the first time she experiences a hint of jealousy. Devki writes back explaining Sujata that she is barely feeding her children and it will be impossible for her to honor the guests. Devki almost wants to ask her sister for help but stops short for the respect of her deceased husband. The children, dehydrated after playing for long return inside and sleep shortly after. Devki looks upon as another day goes by and eventually sobs herself to sleep.

Next morning, she is woken up by a knock on the door. It is Sujata and her children. Imly quickly brags to her aunt that she was the one to receive her letter from the postman. The sisters feel a little differently about the Indian Postal Service. Devki invites Sujata and children inside and offers water. Sujata looks at the brimming glass of water and starts crying. Confused, Devki asks the children to go outside and play, and holds Sujata in her arms.

Sujata informs Devki that there was a flood in Bihar from heavy rain resulting in increased discharge from the rivers. Her husband, Ranjan was swept away in the flood and their farm is inundated. The stagnant water is making people sick and several children have died of diarrhea. The only drinking water they had was floodwater and they were running out of the food rations she picked up before leaving the house. She had no option but to come to Devki to avoid the death trap. Sujata reminisces that Ranjan had once proposed to settle elsewhere during a previous “near-flood” situation but she had decided against it.

Sujata offers to work in Devki’s farm and raise their children together. Devki informs her that she sold the land to repay Balraam’s farm debt and now works in the local government office. Devki promises to talk to the babus for Sujata’s employment.

Next morning, Devki goes to work and sees a large gathering outside office. She hears people discussing adaptation strategies to deal with the simultaneous drought and flood in different parts of the country. She remembers how each year there are similar meetings but nothing ever gets done. Agitated, she returns home and along with Sujata starts making some dinner for the children. Later in the evening, the village panchayat announces that the central government has promised green light for the river-linking project. This, according to the government, will allow the surplus water in Ganges to flow through one of the rivers in Maharashtra. Devki recalls reading about this project when she was young. She, along with Sujata go to the local officer to understand how long it will take to complete the task. Rama, the officer, tired after a long day of work is not interested in taking any questions. After several minutes of trying to get away, he responds to them “Not in your lifetime, and may be in your children’s”. Sujata and Devki look at each other with welled eyes.


Nishita Sinha has a Master’s degree in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Currently, she is a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. Her research interest lies in studying resource policy implications – primarily water resources. Currently, she is involved in a project developing a market solution to deal with water shortage during extensive drought periods in South Texas. She believes the role of “invisible hand” is critical to policy issues in natural resources and should be employed more often. She can be reached at nishitasinha9@gmail.com.

A family farm in the future

Kai Olson-Sawyer channels a farmer’s experience in adaptation.

NB: Bill Mattson, a Minnesota farm owner-operator, sent this letter to his children when he passed along the family farm.

September 6, 2052

Dear Liz, Dean and Mary,

As I near retirement in my 74th year (not soon enough for you worrying about Dad’s old bones), I wanted to offer a brief history of Mattson Acres Farm. Although you always laugh at me when I do it, I dusted off my trusty keyboard to give you a sense of the changes that have befallen our farm over the last 40 years. While I know that Dean is wavering on farming and Mary is off to other things, I want you all, not just Liz, to understand this land’s past because it’s also our family’s past. You also know how much I love keeping records for posterity’s sake (and to tell a good story).

It starts in 2011 when your mom and I were able to save the money to buy that parcel of Nordinger’s land and make it our own after leasing it for years. Besides marrying your mom and witnessing your births, that was the proudest day of my life. Mom always said that Good Thunder was a good luck place to farm.

The first 451 acres was about split between corn and soybean. We were fairly profitable with the high commodity prices in the years before and after acquiring that land. Although prices softened later in the teens, the Big Dry really hurt.

I’m sure you all remember how stressful that time was with record-low rain and unbearable heat from 2021-2025. Those wilted fields left us just eking out an existence with terrible yields that put us in the red. Mom was wise to keep pushing us towards more crop insurance. We also decided to adjust our crop mix, which was our first step down that road.

We were hoping for rain, and eventually it arrived. Once that rain began to fall in February 2026, it never seemed to stop. At first the Big Wet was a boon and made up for the moisture loss and increased crop yields. That year was decent, but the problems were soon rising with the Cobb River. Never will I forget when the Cobb and Maple Rivers met on our land. In all, we saw a record 70 inches of rain in 2027. Over half of our crops were lost to flood and much of the rest succumbed to root rot and fungus.

sunk_tractor_usdaThe amount of water we saw on our land was staggering and something I never could have imagined. The nub of it is that we’re lucky our farm survived. With insurance, your mom’s job at the library and a little luck, we made it.

Water is always a problem, but we knew we had to act in a big way. After all those years of loading up our soil with fertilizers, baked in by the Big Dry, the torrential runoff from our fields picked up that pollution and put it right back into the rivers and groundwater. Good thing I’ve always been adamant about regularly testing our well water because in 2028 and 2029 the nitrate levels were sky high. If we weren’t aware of those toxins and fortunate to afford that reverse osmosis filtration, who knows how badly we could’ve been sickened.

Between our fouled water and the erratic weather, we knew we had to act on what Charlie at extension services called “drought and deluge.” Even though the weather is always changing, it was evident that we couldn’t count on the past for any indication of the extreme weather or precipitation that could strike. Climate change was tearing us up and we decided we were going to fight back (and hard).

Despite uncertainty, we worked with extension to come up with a solid plan. At the time we bought our final thousand acres I’d been playing with different crop mixes. I made a commitment then to see it through. Corn, yellow pea, alfalfa, soy, lentil—I tried it all and more to varying success. Continuous tinkering with the mix and rotation of the crops became so integrated into the health and well-being of our crop yields, our soil’s water and nutrient retention, and the farm’s economic viability, that it’s of the utmost importance for the farm’s resilience. Not only does this fine-tuning concern our cash crops, but it turns out that finding the right mix for our cover crops is just as essential. The diversity of crops that we produce has enabled our farm to withstand the higher temperatures, pests and the whipsaw dry and wet times we experience. Our farm has worked with Mother Nature to adapt to whatever is thrown our way.

The other major undertaking on our farm was taking the land out of production through buffers and the conservation easement in the early 2030s. It was a hard choice and a burden even with USDA grants, but preserving those 300 acres for wetlands helped clean up nitrate pollution from our water and our neighbors’ water downstream. We had the foresight to head off the federal 2041 Green Waters Act and get a handle on our pollution numbers before we had to report them, and as you know, we’ve always beat the nutrient diet standards. It was heartening when the Garcia’s joined our easement, which really started a trend around here. (We’re trendsetters!) Opening that land to duck hunting with assistance from the Waterfowl Association has been a real economic win.

All I can say is that we’ve worked hard to sustain this farm now and into the future. To keep the farm going under constantly changing conditions, we need to watch, learn, act, repeat: It never ends. That’s all we can do to deliver the best possible outcomes. I hope you keep farming to the end of the century.

Love always,
Dad


beach4_twt Kai Olson-Sawyer [email twitter] is a writer and senior research and policy analyst for GRACE Communications Foundation.

Manhattan Pirates

Luna Lovewell’s future still benefits from seaborne trade.

From nearby balconies, the men manning the guns cheered as The Stork came sailing down 7th Avenue loaded with new cargo. Children scrambled across the makeshift bridges and ropeways to follow the boat heading towards the docks over what used to be Washington Square Park. Captain Andrews was one of the few men old enough to remember what it had looked like before the floods. The lively mix of tourists, intoxicated college students, and wealthy yuppies. The blaring taxi horns, live music, and just the general hustle and bustle of life in New York city. Now it was silent except for the waves lapping against crumbling buildings and the call of gulls from overhead.

As soon as the ship was tied up, the forlorn docks sprang to life. Men who’d been desperate for work seemed to just materialize out of thin air until there was a whole horde of them helping to unload each and every box. There had once been a pretty stable trade in salvaged goods around here, but the slowly dying industry had fallen from its last leg over the past year or so. The most easily accessible parts of the city had been pretty much picked clean of everything useful, and the new cities on dry land had begun to manufacture their own goods again. So traders with no goods and no market were forced to find a new career in piracy.

“Where’d you go?” One of the boys called. Captain Andrews recognized the young Robinson boy; that face full of freckles was unmistakeable. “You go to the Mississippi Bay?” Though it was a long trip from New York, it was a popular destination for the other crews due to the booming trade between the Appalachian and Rocky cities. Trade ships were plentiful, but so were naval ships ready to blow pirates out of the water.

Andrews shook his head and grinned. “East, my boy! The settlements in the Pyrenees are producing like you wouldn’t believe!”

“Any fruit?” called out a woman from the docks. “Citrus?” A whole chorus of other women clustered around, eager to also hear the answer. They’d managed to start growing beans and a few other crops on some of the skyscraper roofs, but anything with a decent amount of Vitamin C refused to grow here. Scurvy affected nearly every family.

“Sorry, no citrus. But lots of other foodstuffs, including some fresh meat!” That got a rousing cheer from the men scrambling across the docks with heavy boxes; livestock wasn’t a common sight in NYC nowadays, and as a former fishing vessel, The Stork was one of the few ships left in the city with a refrigerated cargo hold.

Captain Andrews turned to his first mate. “Make sure it all gets accounted for,” he said. What kind of pirate would he be if the dock crew was able to steal the same goods that he’d already stolen. “And get it to market as soon as possible. I’m going home.”

“Ay, sir.” He would have liked to return to his wife too, but that’s the benefit of being captain and not first mate.

Captain Andrews made his way toward Midtown, through the markets of vendors all selling the same rusted appliances and useless knick-knacks. He stopped to chat a few times, having gotten to know most of the city’s merchants through various dealings over the years. But they lost interest in the conversation with him when they learned that the first mate would be distributing the cargo. Just as well; he had better things to do than talk to them.

Finally Captain Andrews arrived home. After nearly 2 months at sea, he was eager to stretch his legs and bolted up the concrete stairs toward the apartment. It was a posh penthouse that overlooked the flat square of water that used to be Central Park. Someone very wealthy had once owned this place, and they’d no doubt evacuated to their second home in Vail or Gstaad or some other mountain destination when the floods came. But it served well for Captain Andrews and his family.

His wife rushed to put her arms around his neck, and his daughter came toddling into the atrium shortly after. He scooped the little girl up in a hug and held them both tight. “I’ve missed you both so much.” And from his pocket, he withdrew the prize that he’d hidden even from his own crew. A perfect, fat, juicy orange that he’d taken off of the captain of the ship they’d robbed off the coast of what used to be France. Just the smell of it had nearly driven Captain Andrews mad on the way back across the Atlantic, but it was totally worth it to see both of their faces light up. “This is for you.”


Luna Lovewell (aka W.P. Kimball) writes often on reddit/writingprompts, where this piece originally appeared. She has published a collection of her stories as [Prompt Me].

A Vietnamese village’s uncertain future

Tran Thi Kim Lien reports on the threats to the communities of her childhood.

In one study in my hometown – a mountainous area in North Central Region of Vietnam, we considered Huong Lam commune – one of the vulnerable areas of climate change in Ha Tinh province. The commune is home to 6,673 people in 1,636 households with an average population density of 400 people/km2. Their main livelihood activities are agriculture, small industries, trades and services. Our study found that this commune faces risk from floods, droughts, cold and storms.

The most immediate impact of drought is a reduction and even loss in crop production (paddy rice, peanut, maize, etc.) due to inadequate and poorly distributed rainfall. Another severe impact of droughts is water shortages (Overseas Development Institute, 1997 PDF). Lower pasture production from droughts may also decrease fodder supplies. With little land available, the people cannot reduce risk through diversification (Beckman, 2011). The unusual dry conditions since the end of 2015 (allied with El Niño) have led to severe droughts around the country (IFRC, 2016).

The worst agricultural losses are from floods that arrive with typhoons. Floods destroy both standing crops (paddy rice and fruit trees) and stored food. They also increase fungal infections that destroy seeds for the next planting. Floods of 2-3 days cause serious health problems for people (in particular, the disabled and elderly) who live in poor conditions with limited food sources, polluted water sources, and poor sanitation (Few, Ahern, Matthies, & Kovats, 2004 PDF).

The author standing on a road that nearly flooded after torrential rains raised the river level by 2m.
The author standing on a road that nearly flooded after torrential rains raised river levels by 2m.

The Vietnam Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment projects that medium emissions climate change scenarios (B2) will increase annual rainfall by 2-7 percent by 2100, with less rain in the dry season and more in the rainy season. Maximum daily rainfall may double in the North Central zones (including in Ha Tinh). Typhoons can uproot crops, damage trees, and destroy housing and animal shelters (Few, Ahern, Matthies, & Kovats, 2004). Climate change will change the intensity, frequency and (un)predictability of storms. In Ha Tinh, storms that normally occur from August to October are sometimes showing up in April, causing greater damage due to their unpredictable frequency and intensity.

The people of Huong Lam will not find it easy to adapt.


Tran Thi Kim Lien [email] holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Forest Science and Management from Vietnam and Australia, respectively. After earning her first degree, she spent 13 years working in forestry and rural development in North Central Vietnam. Her Masters degree has widened her knowledge to include environmental management and climate change adaptation. She now focuses on helping local people understand their vulnerabilities and adapt to climate change.

Bacon for everyone

The future, writes Philip Ridgers, will bring some good with the bad.

It was early September 2060, and the town of Flotsam was literally in hot water. Tom Williams wiped sweat from his sunburned brow, peered down the hill at a small boat meandering among pale chimneys and mosquito swarms.

‘Poor folk,’ he said, as the boat receded.

‘Nothing to be done though,’ said Dan, his brother. He’d had the sense to wear his black cap that morning.

‘I suppose not,’ Tom replied. ‘Reckon they’ll be back?’

Dan did not bother answering. The Styles family needed to find cows if they had a hope of returning. Most of Flotsam doubted anyone within a hundred miles had come across beef in ten years.

‘Well good luck to them,’ Tom said. He wrung sweat from his brown factory sleeve and wiped his face again. If it’s this hot now, I dread midday. He thought the same thing every day.

‘I s’pose we should get to work,’ Dan said. ‘Pigs don’t kill themselves.’

They turned from the lake that had swallowed Bath a couple of decades earlier, and headed for the town slaughterhouse. Dan whistled as they walked.

‘You’re in a good mood,’ Tom said. He watched his footing, careful not to tread in the copious amount of pig dung that covered much of the town.

‘Well why not?’ Dan asked.

‘We just saw a family of four go to their likely deaths.’

‘They’ve got a chance. The professors gave them a month’s worth of insulin.’

‘Pig insulin.’

Dan shrugged. ‘It’s all we’ve got. Better than nothing, right?’

Tell that to Anne Styles, Tom thought. All three of her boys had grown resistant to porcine insulin, and their blood sugars were constantly skyrocketing.

Flotsam was primarily diabetic. Some doctors with type one diabetes had made their home in an abandoned MOD site, on the hill of what had been Lansdown in Bath. As the waters rose, someone found it amusing to call the place Flotsam. The name had stuck. They made insulin for themselves from pig pancreases, and diabetics had rushed to the area.

‘Maybe they’ll manage to get some live beef after all,’ Dan said. ‘Dr Shortwick can have the pancreases, the rest of us can eat something different for once.’

‘And the waters will recede, and everything will be fixed,’ Tom said. ‘We’ll walk down to the city centre like we did thirty years ago, when we were kids. Maybe we’ll even go for lunch at the Royal Crescent hotel cos we’ll be rich too.’

‘Sarcasm only buys you an injury,’ Dan replied.

‘All right, save that for the pigs,’ Tom said. They pushed through the doors of a makeshift barn. It was even hotter inside, and the smell was incredible. Men and women were already hard at work, herding squealing pigs into a large room.

‘Oi, Williams and Williams! You’re late,’ shouted Rick. The bald old man was in charge of butchery. Tom wondered why he bothered with a meat cleaver, his tongue could almost lash skin from bone.

‘We were seeing off the Styles,’ Dan said.

‘Grab knives, and use ‘em an extra hour past everyone else,’ Rick said.

‘Balls,’ Dan said, though not loudly enough for Rick to hear. ‘I want to get my Friday started on time.’

‘It’s only fair,’ Tom replied, picking up a long sharp knife. He joined the other workers, waiting outside the room of pigs. Someone pulled a lever, and CO2 stunned the squealing swine.

‘They get a comfier death than most of us,’ Dan said.

‘That’s cos the whole world’s gone to the pigs,’ Tom replied. ‘But they should enjoy it while it lasts.’ Like everything else, Flotsam was low on CO2.

A gong sounded. The workers moved through the doors and among the unconscious swine. Tom grabbed the hind legs of an enormous sow, dragged it onto a table with Dan’s help. He ran his knife across its throat, grimaced as blood poured copiously.

We need more aprons, he thought. He doubted his three minutes of authorised shower time would give him a chance to clean his clothes properly.

Soon, dead pigs were being hacked into their various useful parts. Dan started whistling again as he chopped.

‘You know what tonight is,’ he said.

‘Obvious statement awards night?’ Tom asked. It was the hour of power. Once a month, Flotsam’s mayor allowed residents to draw an hour’s worth of electricity from the grid for entertainment purposes.

‘What shall we enjoy?’ Dan asked.

‘I was thinking a film,’ Tom said. ‘We could invite Bella and Amanda over.’

‘It’ll cost us,’ Dan replied, chopping away. ‘Bella’s had three hypos this month. She’s almost through her glucose rations already, and looking for help.’

‘We’ll just say no,’ Tom said.

Dan laughed. ‘When have you ever resisted her smile?’

Fair point, Tom thought. ‘It’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll persuade her to see the docs, reduce her insulin dose. If she sits nice and still, she’ll be ok. I’ll do the cooking, serve up my world famous regulation bacon, sausage and cabbage.’

‘You convinced me,’ Dan said, his broad chest spattered red. ‘We should watch Toy Story.’

‘That’s almost an hour and a half long.’

‘We’ll just act the first part of it then.’

Tom grimaced. ‘Don’t you dare…’ he began, but it was too late.

You got a friend in me,’ Dan sang.

I hate that bloody song, Tom thought. Dan sang it about six times a day. However, Tom seemed to be in the minority. To his horror, other workers started singing along.

In barbershop harmony.

‘You’ve ruined it even more,’ Tom said. ‘When the hell did you find time to rehearse?’

‘Oh come on, it’s catchy,’ Dan replied. Then, he launched into the chorus. Tom tried to frown, but a smile tugged at his mouth. He had to admit, they were rather good. He hummed along in spite of himself. Before long, everyone was singing.

The heat gathered, pig entrails were everywhere, and music covered the town of Flotsam.


philipPhilip Ridgers is a piano teacher and accompanist currently living in Bath. When he’s not busy at a piano, he also enjoys writing. As a type 1 diabetic, it was a natural choice for him to centre his contribution around diabetes. You can judge him for his opinions here.

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