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.

Two meters of migration

Binayak Das follows the trail of migrants to drier land.

Aminul stares at the vast land, no water, no rivers, and no boats. This is unlike his home of water and water. He has just landed in a resettlement colony stretching across arid land. He is a migrant, pushed away from his home on the southern fringes of Bangladesh by the encroaching sea. Aminul is not alone, thousands of people have turned climate migrants over the last five years. He is in Kazakhstan, a land he has never heard of.

He is in Kazakhstan because the 9th largest country in the world opened its borders to allow climate migrants to join its 20 million citizens. Some of Bangladesh’s 130 million citizens saw the need to leave their disappearing land for a safer and less-crowded space. Bangladesh’s population density of 1,120 people per km2 is far greater than Kazakhstan’s 6 people per km2. Kazakhstan welcomed those who could support its growing agricultural and energy sectors.

Aminul’s journey was quick. His degree and knowledge of the gas industry made it easy to get a visa and job.

Others were not so lucky.

Shahid, a fisherman from the Chittagong region, was also suffering climate change pangs. He didn’t have education, so he had to fight his way to higher elevations. Aminul flew to Kazakhstan in a day. Shahid turned to the trafficking networks set up 20 years earlier (during the Syrian war), trudging via boat, foot, and bus for two years to Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s new residents escaped the first threat of climate change.

Kazakhstan didn’t open its gates willingly. With the onslaught of climate change submerging low-lying countries and small islands, people tried to escape by any possible means. Voices across the globe screamed for measures to avoid catastrophe. Europe, China, India and the US worried that their densely populated countries would be overwhelmed. Other countries with conflict, economic and political migrants said they could take no more.

Under pressure from all sides, the UN launched negotiations 10 years ago to cope with climate crisis migrants. Many proposals were put forward, but most were denied by “already burdened” countries. There was a risk that migrants without options would turn borders into bloodbaths.

And then came a shocking proposal from a tiny Pacific island: “land rich” countries such as Russia, Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan could open their borders.

The first reactions from these countries was a big NO, but global and local protests made politicians reconsider. Trade-offs started to emerge as businesses and governments looked at migrants as a boon to their ailing economies and falling fertilities. Soon, they were joined by other countries seeking to combine labour and capital.

Within five years, people were moving ahead of climate change. Now Aminul and Sahidul stand, staring at a vast land without water, rivers and  boats, looking to a different future.

And then they understood the second threat of climate change.


Binayak Das started this piece in a Dhaka hotel room, finished it in Amsterdam airport, and sent it from Malang. All these places will experience life plus two meters before others. He has about 16 years experience working on water, environment, climate change and sustainable development. Binayak is a Panos journalist fellow and author of numerous books, papers and articles. His wide travels and field visits to remotest regions gives him insight into development challenges and solutions in police and practice. He is currently associated with the Water Integrity Network in Berlin.

The underpass

Joseph Cohn updates our visions of biblical floods.

The storm raged all night. The refugees trembled as the wind howled beneath the bridge. Soon the water rose. For two hours it roared through the underpass. Along the concrete walls black shapes writhed in the primordial darkness. The underpass became a vault of screams to echo the agony of the dying earth. By dawn the flooding had ended and thirty-three people had died.

In the morning the refugees climbed down to scavenge and search for the dead. They cleared the ground and sent the dead into the sea, and then they gathered to eat out of cold, dented cans. Afterward they rested against the walls and watched the world with mute eyes. Their figures faded into the gloom, until they were no more than shadows of anguish. No one spoke, and no children ran at play. The last child living beneath the bridge had died three weeks ago.

Around midday a wild-eyed man with long, tangled hair stood at the center of the underpass. From a ragged book he read to the refugees of prophets and dead kings and a time when the earth burned. But above all else he spoke of an empire called Babylon. Of how it fell at the height of glory, its towers and walls crumbling to the earth. The refugees heard him, but they did not listen.

A month later the underpass was silent and the people were gone. Whether they fled to some distant Elysian field or perished beneath the bridge was unknown. Their fates like their origins were lost, their existences forgotten. All was still but for the ocean. It loomed just beyond the bridge, gray and calm and ever shifting. A mercurial plain beneath whose surface lay the ruins of Babylon. A sepulcher fit to house all human folly.


Joseph Cohn [email] is a high school student from Southern California. Growing up close to the ocean, he has seen how all human activities —ranging from fishing to littering — can have harm our oceans.

Which endures — passports or humans?

David Zetland thinks passports will become more important. The interesting question is if they will make you more important.

The first passports were issues centuries ago, but it wasn’t until after World War I that travelers needed them to cross borders, prove their identity, and protect their rights as citizens, both domestically and abroad.

Passports allowed their holders to “pass through the port [gate]” of new diplomatic and bureaucratic walls. People without passports could not pass from their original country to another country. (Illegal crossings could only go so far before they were prevented.)

Passports are valuable precisely because they separate humans into two groups: those who may pass, and those who may not.

In many cases, people do not worry about this difference because they do not care to leave their countries of origin, but there are numerous examples of people taking dramatic risks or paying exorbitant sums when they want to leave their countries but lack the “proper paperwork.”

Humans in the not-too-distant past did not need passports to leave poor prospects for hope.

Migrants face costs of all kinds. They leave behind their families, friends, and place in the world. They are willing to bear those costs because they think the benefits of their new “home” to be worthwhile.

pportThe cost of moving has increased as passport (and visa) requirements have tightened over the past century. During World War I, refugees could flee violence for safer places. During the 1920s and later, they were trapped behind bureaucratic walls that could not be breeched without the right papers.

The entire plot of the 1942 movie, Casablanca, depends on the heroes getting the right visa, but the movie’s happy ending was denied to the millions of refugees and political prisoners (most famously, the Jews) who died (or were murdered) through government action or neglect. The situation is not much different today for the people who want to flee cruel and deadly places (North Korea, Eritrea, Syria, etc.) but lack “papers.”

Some people might think that the suffering of would-be migrants is a price worth paying to protect their own homes from being overrun and pockets emptied to help refugees, but those people (usually members of the “lucky sperm club” born with the right papers) miss the obvious middle option of allowing migration without the gold-plated protections they expect themselves. Most migrants are less interested in handouts than in safety and the opportunity to work and contribute to their adoptive communities.

Passports will become more valuable in a climate-changed world as disruptions (failed crops, miserable weather, sinking cities, violence, etc.) increase the value of moving. Refugees — human and animal — will seek to cross borders as their domestic prospects deteriorate. Some of these refugees will have more money (those fleeing record temperatures in the Persian Gulf or abandoning beachfront houses on tropical islands), but most refugees will be the poor who cannot feed or protect themselves.

The increased importance of passports will mean that those with “good passports” will be very interested in ensuring their identity is protected. People with “bad passports,” on the other hand, will be willing to pay more to get forged passports (or obtain real passports via fraud). Those forces will complement each other in driving governments to increase the security of their passports.

A few months ago, I was extremely upset when I opened the washing machine to find my passport. We were leaving to South America in a week, and there was no time to get a replacement, so I took a chance. Luckily, the damage was too small to affect the passport’s function, but I really thought a lot about how vulnerable I was without that document to “protect my rights.” No border guard, soldier or police officer is interested in my charm, blog or business card. The only thing that stood between me and deportation was a 32-page booklet.

Passport controls and identity are going to get very sophisticated, very quickly if even half the predictions of climate change come to pass (let alone the chaos that leaders create on their own!). To me, that implies that we are going to replace passports with technology that’s harder to forge or lose, such as implanted RFC chips, tattoos (yes, I’m saying it), DNA-registration, and other technologies that can pass through the wash without losing their validity.

Is this inevitable? Not exactly. Passports were put into widespread use over 100 years ago at the behest of governments that wanted to control who went where. The balance of costs and benefits has kept that system in place, but that balance could tip entirely over if enough pressure is applied. The arrival of numerous “undocumented aliens” in the US and EU (and China’s breaking documentation system) suggests that controls are fragile, just as the rise of digital currencies (and continuing attraction of gold) has shown people’s mistrust of government motives.

In the future, we may all need to scan ourselves to the authorities on a daily basis, to prove that we have the right to be where we are — or we may just need to find ways to live among a variety of people.

Will we value humans or paperwork? If your answer depends on what passport you’re holding right now, then I suggest you imagine how you’d answer that passport was gone.


dz_smDavid Zetland is an assistant professor at Leiden University College, where he teaches various classes on economics. He received his PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Davis in 2008. He blogs on water, economics and politics at aguanomics.com, has two books (The End of Abundance: economic solutions to water scarcity and Living with Water Scarcity), gives many talks to public, professional and academic audiences, and writes for popular and academic outlets. David lives in Amsterdam.