Un jour en la vie

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


[Click here for the English version]

Joseph s’aplatit sur le sol, et le coup porté par le Chef des Pillards le manqua. Il fit une roulade, attrapa le pistolet qu’il avait perdu plus tôt dans le combat et se retourna pour affronter le bandit. Il était toujours en train d’essayer de sortir sa hache de guerre du tronc blanchi de l’arbre more. «Rends-toi, ordure. » Le bandit lui lança un regard de haine pure et tendit la main vers le révolver à sa ceinture, mais Joseph fut plus rapide. Une détonation déchira l’air, et le Chef s’effondra. Le Cimetière fut silencieux de nouveau. Lentement, Joseph claudiqua jusqu’au corps de Neema. Il retira sa gourde de la main inerte de la femme qui l’avait mené dans cet endroit impie. « Adieu, bébé ». Sans se retourner, il enfourcha sa moto, lança le moteur et s’en alla vers le soleil couchant, laissant le Cimetière profané derrière lui.

Joseph posa son crayon et s’étira. Il adorait écrire ses histoires, mais il s’en sortait toujours avec une main endolorie. Il ferma son cahier et le mit dans son sac. Il commençait à faire chaud sous la tente, ce qui signifiait que le matin était déjà bien avance. Il était temps d’aller chercher de l’eau.

Il sortir de la tente, et ses yeux s’emplirent de larmes en réaction à la lumière brûlante. Les deux bidons standards étaient posés à l’entrée de la tente, vide. Il les attrapa et commença à marcher à travers le camp. Après quinze minutes de marche, il arriva à la queue. Mauvais signe. Si la queue s’étendait jusqu’ici, ça allait être une longue attente. Il connaissait de vue la femme devant lui. Il la salua poliment, et lui demanda si elle pouvait lui garder sa place et ses bidons le temps qu’il aille voir à l’avant jusqu’où s’étendait la queue. Elle accepta. Il vérifia rapidement que le nom de sa mère et le sien était toujours bien lisible sur les bidons, puis partit.

La queue était longue, mais droite. Le camion de distribution d’eau n’était pas présent au début de la queue. La distribution n’avait pas encore commencé, ce qui expliquait la longueur de la file. Les soldats du HCR étaient cependant déjà présents, avec leur armure et leurs armes. Ils étaient toujours là pour surveiller la distribution d’eau, et vérifier que personne ne tentait de s’attribuer plus d’eau que leur quotas.

Il rebroussa chemin le long de la file, en réfléchissant à comment il pourrait intégrer les gardes dans l’une de ses histoires. Une milice protégeant une cité avec une réserve d’eau souterraine, peut-être ? Il était arrivé là où il avait laissé ses bidons. «Le camion n’est pas encore arrivé, mama.» La femme acquiesça. Il espérait que le camion serait bientôt là. Depuis qu’il était dans le camp, il n’y avait eu que deux jours où les camions de distribution n’étaient pas venus. Ça n’avait pas été des bons jours. Il empila ses bidons et s’assit dessus. Derrière lui, la file continuait de grandir. Il se rappelait de quand il n’y avait pas besoin de camions de distribution d’eau dans le camp. Quand ils étaient arrivés avec sa mère, il y avait un puits qui fournissait l’eau au camp. On lui avait dit que le camp avait été construit ici précisément pour le puits. Puis il s’était tari.

Il avait souvent pensé que Dieu avait un étrange sens de l’humour. Ils avaient quitté leur village à côté de la mer à cause des inondations, parce qu’il y avait trop d’eau. Et maintenant ils n’avaient pas assez d’eau. Oui, un étrange sens de l’humour.

Joseph ne se rappelait pas bien du village, il était trop petit quand ils avaient dû partir. Mais il se rappelait de la mer. Même s’il avait du mal à y croire. Autant d’eau. Le Pays de la Mer était l’endroit où le Joseph dans ses histoires tentait de retourner. Un endroit loin des Terres Désolées. Au delà des barbelés qui entouraient le camp. Il y avait de l’agitation dans la file. Les camions étaient enfin arrivés.

La queue avança, lentement. Joseph empoigna ses bidons. Un peu plus d’une heure passa. Enfin, ce fut son tour. Un des gardes scanna sa puce d’identité, puis celle de sa mère. Il lui fit signe de remplir les bidons. Joseph but quelques gorgées directement au robinet. C’était toléré, et sa mère lui avait dit de toujours le faire. Il le faisait donc, consciencieusement. Puis il transporta les bidons jusqu’à l’endroit où sa mère avait installé son échoppe. Il devait lui donner les bidons pour qu’elle puisse utiliser l’eau pour cuisiner, puis il aurait le droit d’aller jouer. Peut-être qu’aujourd’hui Neema le laisserait rejoindre son groupe. Ça n’avait pas été très gentil de sa part de la tuer. Peut-être pourrait-il changer la fin de son épisode ? Peut-être qu’elle et Joseph pourrait partir en moto ensemble vers le Pays De La Mer?


Aurélien Puiseux est un écologue français. Il travaille sur le changement climatique, la biodiversité, les forêts urbaines et les ressources en eau. Il travaille actuellement chez Total.

A day in the life

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


[Cliquez ici pour la version Français]

Joseph ducked, and the Scavenger Leader’s blow missed him. He rolled, grabbed his fallen gun and turned to face the bandit. He was still trying to get his axe out of the bleached trunk of the dead tree. “It’s over, scumbag”. The bandit gave him a look of pure hatred and reached for his own gun, but Joseph was faster. A shot echoed, and the Leader fell down. The Cemetery was silent once more. Slowly, Joseph limped to the corpse of Neema. He snatched his gourd from the cold dead hand of the woman that had led him in this ungodly place. “So long, sweetheart.” Without looking back, he straddled his bike, hit the starter and rode into the sunset, leaving the desecrated Cemetery behind him.

Joseph put down his pencil and stretched his arm. He loved writing his stories, but it always left him with a sore hand. He closed his notebook and put it in his bag. It was starting to get hot under the tent, meaning the morning was already well advanced. It was time to go and get water.

He stepped out of the tent, and his eyes watered because of the harsh light. The two standard issue jerrycans were at the entrance of the tent, empty. Joseph grabbed them and started walking through the camp. After fifteen minutes, he arrived at the queue. That wasn’t good. If the queue was reaching until here, it would be a long wait. He knew from view the woman before him. He saluted her politely, and asked her if she could save his place and his jerrycans while he’d go and check the length of the queue. She agreed. He checked that his mother’s name and his were still readable on the `cans, then left.

The line was long, but straight. There was no water truck at the beginning. The distribution hadn’t begin, that explained the length of the queue. There were the usual HCR guards, though, with their armor and their guns. They were always watching the water distribution, making sure no one tried to get more water than their allowance. He walked back along the line, thinking of how he could integrate the guards into one of his stories. A militia protecting a city with an underground reserve of water, maybe?

He arrived back at his place in the line. “The truck is not there yet, mama”. The woman nodded. He hoped the truck would show up soon. There was only two days since he was in that camp when the truck had not showed up. Those had not been good days. He piled his jerrycans and sat on top of them. Behind him, the line kept on growing. He remembered when there was no need for trucks in the camp. When they had arrived with his mother, there was a well supplying water to the camp. He had been told the camp had been built there precisely because of the well. And then it had ran out.

He often thought that God had a strange sense of humor. They had left their village by the sea because of the floods, because of too much water. And now they didn’t have enough water. Yes, a strange sense of humor.

Joseph didn’t remember the village well. He was too young when they had left. He remembered the sea, though. But it seemed mythical, now. That much water. The Land By The Sea was where the Joseph in his stories tried to return. A place away from the Barren Lands. Over the barbed fence of the camp. There was a clamor in the line. The trucks had finally arrived.

The line moved on, slowly. Joseph picked up his jerrycans. An hour or so passed. At last it was his turn. A guard checked his identification, then his mother’s. He gestured him to fill the jugs. Joseph drank a few sips directly from the tap. The guards tolerated it, and his mother had told him to always do it. So he did. Then he walked back to the place where his mother had her small shop. He had to give her the jerrycan so she could use them to cook, then he would be free to go and play. Maybe this time Neema would let him join her band. It wasn’t very nice of him to have killed her. Maybe he could change the ending of his episode? Maybe Joseph and her could ride together until The Land By The Sea?


Aurélien Puiseux is a French ecologist working on climate change, biodiversity, urban forestry and water resources. He is currently employed by Total.

Deep 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


“It’s all ruined,” Peter shouted and threw his arms up in the air. His gaze was locked on the screen as he followed the images from the drone circling the fields.

“No, Dad. I’m sure they’ll be fine,” John insisted. “They just need some water.”

Peter turned to face his son while he scratched the back of his neck, stirring up his neatly combed grey hair. John was the only person on the farm who dared argue with him. Maybe it was because he had inherited that snub nose from his mother; a definite sign of stubbornness and determination.

“But why isn’t his crop looking like that?” Peter steered the drone towards the neighbouring field where long neat rows of organic cotton plants appeared on the monitor, happily stretching their fluffy heads towards the cloudless sky. John shrugged.

“Are the sensors working?” Peter asked.

“Everything’s fine. I just checked. The irrigation system was initiated last night when the moisture level in the ground dropped to three.” John pointed at a chart on the screen in front of him. “Don’t worry, Dad.”

Peter took a deep breath to calm his voice before speaking.

“Check the well. Let’s see if the pump is working.” He pointed at another screen standing on its own in a corner of the room. He could not remember the last time he had switched that on.

John got up and walked over to the small monitor that was fixed unto the turquois painted wall. It powered up almost instantaneously. Peter followed his son and joined him in front of the screen. It displayed the inside of the groundwater borehole that supplied the entire farm with water.

“See – everything’s fine.” John turned towards his father.

Peter stepped closer to the screen as if to make sure he had not missed anything.

“But it doesn’t look like anything’s coming up from the ground.”

He walked back to the main control system and requested another set of data to be made into a new report. Peter raised his eyebrows and tapped the screen once, his jaw slowly dropping as his heart started to beat faster.

“But where’s the water? Nothing’s coming out of the ground.”

He showed John the numbers on the screen.

“We need to check it out.”

***

On their way to the borehole, Peter picked up a halfway grown cabbage from their field. Its outer leaves were wilted and they folded over his hand as he held it up for inspection. Dust from the dry earth swivelled up, making him sneeze. He wiped his sticky face with his free hand, trying not to touch his sore mouth. Slowly he licked his lips in a futile effort to prevent them from cracking. The taste of earth and blood mixed on his tongue.

“They need water very soon. Otherwise we won’t be able to sell them,” he muttered.

“It’ll probably rain soon,” John suggested. Peter knew he was trying to cheer him up, so he answered in a milder tone of voice than he usually would.

“I don’t think there’s a chance of that happening, son. You know there hasn’t been any rain in this region for more than a decade.” Peter patted John on the back and felt his son’s drenched shirt cling to his hand.

“The only water around here, is the sea that keeps getting closer to us every year. Who would’ve thought; in your lifetime alone, it’s gotten two meters higher.”

The borehole was covered with a light blue aluminium lid. It had lost the shiny gloss from when it was first installed, but the scorching sun had not caused the colour to fade yet.

“Right. Let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on down there.”

Peter took out a tiny sentinel drone and opened the narrow shaft next to the borehole before slipping it in. The drone made a low buzzing sound and disappeared into the ground. They followed its flight broadcasted from Peter’s wrist-pad.

Numbers appeared at the bottom of the video transmission as the drone reached the level of the pump. Peter looked up at his son and shook his head.

“It’s his fault,” he sighed, and nodded towards their neighbour. “If he only grew something that didn’t need so much water.”

“What do you mean? What’s happened?” John asked.

“He’s pumped up so much groundwater, that the water table has been lowered. Our borehole isn’t deep enough anymore. Why do people need to wear clothes from organic cotton, anyway?”

Peter sighed, turned off the screen on his wrist-pad and instructed the tiny drone to return.

“I’m sure we can drill a deeper hole to get to the water,” John said. “Don’t you think, Dad?”

“It’ll be expensive,” Peter replied.

John shifted his feet and stuck his hands in his pocket while he squinted at his father. For the first time this morning he seemed to be unsure about the situation.

“What else can we do?” he asked.

Peter looked towards the coast where the horizon was covered in a dark blue hazy mist. A cluster of sliver coloured tanks was visible to those who had a good eyesight.

“We’ll have to get connected to the desalination plant.”

“But that’ll take months,” John exclaimed. Peter nodded slowly as he closed the lid to the borehole. A drop of sweat fell from the tip of his nose and onto the blue lid. It only took seconds for it to evaporate.

“But all the crops will be dead by then.”

“Yes, they will,” Peter said as he began walking towards the farmhouse.


Tanja Bisgaard was born in Trinidad and Tobago, raised in Brazil and Norway, and now lives in Denmark. A born globetrotter, she has studied and worked in the UK, Switzerland and Slovenia, and has travelled to even more countries. Writing climate fiction (cli-fi) lets her create attention about a topic she is passionate about. (Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash)

Jakarta’s sinking, filthy future

Roanne van Voorst looks deeper into Jakarta’s “revitalization”.

According to the politicians working in Jakarta, Indonesia’s megacity capital, this city is turning into `the place to be’. By 2018, they promise that a city known for its slums, floods and garbage will be `100% slum free, flood free and garbage free’. It will thus be clean, modern and attractive for both inhabitants and visitors, who might especially enjoy the green running tracks that will have been developed alongside formarly clogged rivers, and the seaside residential neighbourhoods in the North, where one can shop and live in style. Ideally, Jakarta’s great transformation will be complete by 2018 (when the Asia Games take place in the city), but there may be some work left to do.

As unrealistic as these announcements may seem to people who have visited Jakarta, they should by no means be considered hollow phrases. The current generation of politicians in Jakarta don’t just talk; they are actually getting things done. Everybody who has recently visited the city will have noticed that politicians, advisors and developers are making  enormous efforts to change Jakarta’s negative image. Slums have been torn down; roads have been constructed; Dutch water experts are building a 32 km-long wall to protect the Northern coast from a rising sea;  programmes have been initiated to dredge garbage from canals; parks have been created; and run-down colonial houses are being demolished and replaced by Grande Plazas.

So the problem is not that nothing happens in Jakarta. The problem is that what is happening is of no use because none of these programs address the root causes of Jakarta’s challenges. The sad fact is that Jakarta’s future is more likely to include more, larger floods, deeper poverty for slum residents, and tides of feces flowing past seaside villas. The impacts of climate changes — more rainfall and rising sea levels — might make you think of Jakarta as `the city you definitely want to avoid’ in the future.

Let me give some context to that rather gloomy vision. Jakarta’s already serious flooding problems are caused by multiple factors, of which urban mismanagament is perhaps most important. For decades, politicians have prioritized commercial developments over public services. The lack of an effective garbage collection system means that most households dump their rubbish in the rivers. Affordable housing shortages have led the city’s poor to build their houses in the river’s flood plains. Only half of households receive piped water, so everyone else pumps groundwater. The resulting land subsidence means the city is sinking by 3 to 20 cm per year — a problematic trend even before considering the additional danger of sea  levels that are rising by 6 mm per year in Jakarta Bay. Finally, remember that falling groundwater and land elevations are damaging the city’s drainage, drinking water and sewerage systems.

The current trend towards short-term, superficial solutions might seem to be improving the city’s livability, but they are merely sweeping real problems under the carpet. These problems can be solved, but solutions demand long-term political commitments to providing piped water, sewerage, and social housing.

Building a wall to protect from sea level rise will not help if the land continues to subside. Dredging canals will not protect the city from  flooding if people continue to live where the river needs to flood and dump their garbage in canals. New villas will not provide safe and glamorous lifestyles if rising rivers dump faeces and garbage on their lawns.


marijn-smuldersRoanne van Voorst is a postdoctoral researcher at the International Institute of Social Sciences, Erasmus University, The Hague, the Netherlands. In 2014 she obtained her PhD (with distinction) at the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research on responses of slum dwellers in Jakarta, Indonesia to the risks of recurrent floods and evictions. She has also done research on the social effects of climate changes in Greenland. Currently Roanne is involved in the research project ”When disaster meets conflict. Disaster response of humanitarian aid and local state and non-state institutions in different conflict scenarios”.

Addendum (8 June 2017): “Understanding the allure of big infrastructure: Jakarta’s Great Garuda Sea Wall Project

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.