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.

Death by a milli-nilli-trillion drops

This vision came after the deadline for prizes, but it’s still eligible for inclusion in the book. Please comment to improve its quality (or just praise it 🙂 — David


We knew we had to move fast when the Suisun Marsh was swallowed up and became this week’s new beachfront. Sacramento was next in line to get sucked into the Pacific. Then the old underground gold mine shafts started imploding under the pressure and spewing like Old Faithful. One, then another and another again. You could see the trail of impending doom and sinkholes coming up the hill. We had to move quickly. For weeks, I had had a false sense of security because after all, we had started out at 1800’ feet above sea level. Today, that meant we were now only 200’ above certain death. The swelling tide never ebbed. It only flowed.

I could sense their coming before anyone else heard them. I could smell them as they marched up the hill; thousands of sweaty feet, palms and nothing but exhaustion moving as one entity with deadly purpose. Their mission was to take our hill, even by force. The sound was insanity heralded by the putrescence of dying, feral humans. My exceptional sense of smell had served me well in this life, but today it was not necessarily a blessing. Suddenly, we all felt it. The reverberations of tens of thousands of feet pummeling the ground heading east and up to Cameron Park, and they were coming fast. The cacophony brought fear to life. We struggled to control our panic.

In my previous life I rescued people from general stupidity and specific homelessness. Very soon everybody would be homeless, and I knew I couldn’t save them all. I shook off my sense of responsibility and called my kids aboard. Our supplies were expected to keep the 6 of us alive for at least 12 weeks once we landed in Denver; life after that – well, I couldn’t hope for more than the generosity of a few thousand strangers and a few old friends and colleagues from Oracle. The last good engine on the Cessna was reassembled. We were gassed up and ready to soar. We only needed 130 feet to get out. Now, as I considered my assets, I felt woefully underdressed. In thirty minutes all hell is going to break loose. These people will be trapped. As we rose above the human tide, my thoughts were of our futile efforts to survive the ‘Big Swallow’. And so it goes…

We made it out of California, but what of the others? We have no way of knowing their fates without reports, and those are few and confused. I do know that we have run out of fresh food, clean water and most of our humanity. Now that Aurora has succumbed, we prepare for another evacuation. This time, they will head North to Minot, ND. Why Minot? Because Lake Sakakawea hasn’t breached its natural shoreline, silly, that’s why. Lest we not forget the Air Force silos. Not yet sure whether they represent survival or a sarcophagus. I’m not sure how I feel about 50 years underground.

I see my children and grandchildren preparing for the trek. I can only respond by dropping to my knees to pray: for reprieve but mostly forgiveness. I am old. My heart is heavy with the guilt of repeated warnings that began as far back as the Ban-the-Bra movement. Sadly, I recall every V-8 I drove, the enormous waste I created, the squandered natural resources. I can only hope that the next generation sees what we wrote on the wall.

I am deeply ashamed, but I don’t want to die just yet. Unfortunately, today is my 75th birthday – or, what we now call the Date of Expiration. I will not be joining them. “How long CAN I hold my breath?” I wonder.

Collectively, we have destroyed this planet because as a species, we are inherently selfish and greedy. There is no doubt about it — we are paying back on an old, unavoidable debt.

It’s funny that I had expected to die from a million paper cuts but now I’m going to die from a milli-nilli-trillion drops of melting ice and rising seas.


Rene Evans is a single mom, sci-fi fan, life lover, disability advocate, and non-profit president who’s armed and waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse. Raised in Silicon Valley and now housed in the Sierras, Rene has been an advocate for the under-served in El Dorado County for the past 20 years. Known for her tough love stance, she helps people re-stabilize after unfortunate events or choices land them in a residential crisis.

A Marsh Arab’s story

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


My name is Faris and I am of the Ferayghāt people, one of the tribal groupings of the Maʻdān, that is the Marsh Arabs as you say, neutrally, in English. Sadly, the word Maʻdān is now often used in Iraq as a slight, aimed to inflict hurt and belittle. But I am proud of who I am, where I come from, and I will keep my memories of those former marshlands, now burnt to a crisp and virtually uninhabitable.

So much for my past: where I lived, happily and less so, throughout my childhood and as a young adult. Today, though, I “stay” in Fife, Scotland. I am a refugee, forced to leave my homeland far behind me, gone but never forgotten.

I am getting to know the local culture here, ways of living, speaking – e.g. “stay” rather than “live” – and song. I love music, and also humour – without being able to laugh at life I don’t know how I would’ve kept going through these last, painful, years. “It started up in Fife, and ended up in tears” sing an Edinburgh band, that national capital located far closer to me now than Baghdad was before my long journey. In truth, for me the tears have never been far away, whether in the lands of my birth and upbringing, or now here, in Fife.

Climate change is an important part of the story, but does not encompass the whole. Upstream dams, both in Iraq and beyond, have denied my marshlands of water. My parents told me that for many decades our homeland was drained on purpose, in a vain attempt to reclaim farmland and, later, in active persecution. But it was the ever-rising temperatures that finally killed off those marshlands, and the attempts that were made to breath new life into them. What marshland can survive the torching heat that I, myself a hardened son of the soil, was forced to flee from?

Old Bridge at Guardbridge (Credit)

My faith keeps me strong, and I constantly give thanks to Allah in my prayers for leading me to this, odd to me, place of refuge. Is it a coincidence or is divine providence that I have gone from one place of Eden to another? My homeland, you see, is known as the original Jannāt `Adni, or Garden of Eden, spoken of in the Holy Quran and also in holy books of the Jews and Christians alike. Now, the river Eden flows through the town of Guardbridge, the town I must now call home. I am still trying to do so; “it started up in Fife, and ended up in tears”, my tears that is. The Eden never leaves Fife, will I stay here forever too? Or return, like river water to the sea, to Iraq one day too?

Even amongst my tears, and my yearnings, I find this Eden here, and Eden there, coincidence funny and somehow comforting – as perhaps I am meant to do? Allah moves in unknowable ways, and I am thankful for all His blessings. Allahu Akbar.

I would never have guessed, let alone known that I would end up in Scotland. Not least since, until recently, I was unaware that such a country existed! In Iraq, people talk of England and the English, or the British, but not really Scotland or the Scots. Yet the Scots are truly a welcoming people and I have been treated with great hospitality since my arrival; hospitality is proud trait of the Ferayghāt people, and one that we mark as a sign of civility.

Scotland has had it tough in recent years, and for some of the same reasons as Iraq. In common between us, the price of our crude oil has collapsed, swamped by new supplies and discoveries made possible by new technologies, and undermined by the steady switch to electric vehicles. Scotland has also accepted many tens of thousands of climate refugees, its cities swelling with new populations even as its coastline and tidal river estuaries and “firths” invade its coastline, notably (to me!) swelling the Eden and pushing up against the gardens of the town’s most exposed “sea-view” properties. This has stretched services and further rocked the finances of the, newly independent, Scottish Government. An independent Scotland is exciting, but Scots have found that independence is very tough and – dare I say it – that they weren’t really ready for just how difficult it would be to manage their own economy. That they have pulled through is due to both their our stubborn nature – a stubbornness that I have been at the wrong end of – and determination, and also due to the people that they have welcomed to their shores, the New Scots.

Yes: us immigrants are proving our economic worth, helping to pull our adoptive country back to its feet – if I may be so bold. In so doing we help ourselves and help repay Scotland’s hospitality to us. We who are from countries like Iraq where the State has barely functioned in our lifetimes, do not readily rely on any State to provide for us – instead we provide for ourselves. Perhaps that is why so many of the new enterprises are run and owned by immigrants? I myself work for a Kuwaiti in Dundee who has set up his own company supplying offshore support vessels (boats) to the North Sea petroleum industry here (which increasingly focuses on natural gas, not oil), and for the fast-growing marine energy sector too.

Even as a New Scot there is no danger that I will deny or forget my heritage from amongst the Maʻdān. Every Friday at dhur (noon) I hear the Khutbah (sermon) amongst fellow Sunni Muslims at the newly built Guardbridge mosque and I am part of a Fife-based community of Marsh Arabs immigrants which, together, maintains our traditions in this new and strange, to us, land. I am teaching Arabic as an additional source of income – Arabic is an increasingly popular language to learn amongst Scots here, who are keen to open up to, and trade with, the world rather than just rely on their historic trade links to the south, with England. That makes me proud too. I think I will be happy too. My beautiful new bride thinks so too. A native of this land, she quoted to me a verse from another Scottish band, as follows: “For the family ; For the lives of the children that we’ve planned; Let’s get married; C’mon darlin’, please take my hand”. The wedding is next month and I cannot wait.


Daniel Gilbert has comprehensive experience as a consultant for major natural resources projects in Europe, Africa and Asia, and with regards to water, mining, petroleum (the ‘extractive industries’), and solar power. Daniel is a former Knowledge Exchange Coordinator at the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science under the auspices of UNESCO, located at the University of Dundee. He holds Masters Degrees from both Dundee and Edinburgh universities and has given natural resources sector presentations at the UN in Geneva, the World Bank in Washington DC, and at a high-level UN Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Just before she told him no

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


She wasn’t there when it happened; she didn’t have to be. She could see it as clearly as she had in her child mind when, as a girl, her grandparents painted the picture for her, as their grandparents had done for them. The waters would advance, overtaking the beaches, the resorts, the high rises and bungalows, until the palm fronds of the last coconut tree, undulating like sea grass atop the waves, were all that remained on the surface. And so, when it happened, she was not surprised. She had carried the image of those last palm fronds in her mind for so long that she had already come to think of her homeland as submerged. Almost out of obligation, she had raised a mourning yowl to the empty universe, a pointless screech of rage, and then was done.

The news reports indicated that the archipelago was almost devoid of human life, at that point. Anyone who could get out, did, of course. Few were as fortunate as she, who had gotten out before it was necessary to obtain refugee status, before exceptions had to be made. She had come to America from Malé on a scholarship to study international relations, with a minor in geology, back when the threat of submersion was still just an idea, a terrifying future world no one dared contemplate for too long. Until they had to.

But there was that word almost, sometimes substituted with virtually. Words that suggested that not everyone had escaped, that at least one person was still there. At least one person sank with the wreckage.

But she couldn’t bear to think of that. One single life, or five, or ten, was inconceivable when every day brought news of deaths in the thousands. She could only think of the place, because the people had flung out in every imaginable direction, living and dead. The place, now, was lost.

Once, she’d had a professor who graduated from an academic program which had since lost its accreditation when his alma mater went bankrupt. He had done all of the work, earned his degree, played the tenure-track game and won, and suddenly had no academic credentials whatsoever. The foundation on which he had built his entire professional life was instantly, and through no fault of his own, undone. This was like that, amplified ten thousand times.

Her grammar school. Her pediatrician’s office. The minarets of the nearby mosque, which amplified the muezzin’s call to the Fajr. Her neighborhood. Her mother’s neighborhood, her father’s neighborhood, and so on back for thousands of years. The house of the cute boy, who sometimes rode his bike past her house after school and did tricks in her driveway, knowing she was watching from behind a corner of the drapes. The betel leaves and areca nuts. The airport hotel on Hulhule where she had her first job, as a front-desk receptionist, smiling in the faces of eco-tourists and practicing her accent. All of the places that held all of the same miniscule memories for everyone she had ever known. All of it gone. It was unthinkable, so huge was the loss. And yet, here on the other side of the world, there was not so much as a gust of wind to mark the change. Not the beating of the wings of a single Karner blue. It was entirely within her. It may as well have been a dream.

What, then, could something as frivolous, as petulant, as another person’s love be to her?


Michelle J. Fernandez is a public librarian from New York. Having spent the majority of her life at sea level, she is preoccupied with, and fascinated by, the implications climate change has for the future of humanity and the places it inhabits. Her poetry has appeared in the disability journal Wordgathering, on Albanypoets.com, and in Tonguas, the literary journal of the University of Puerto Rico. Her 2014 novella, The Pedestrians, was published in serial format by Novella-T. This passage is an excerpt from her full-length, as-yet-unpublished CliFi novel, Eminent Domain.

2100: Hot, crowded and rich

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


Climate scientists use standardized scenarios as they peer into the future. The scenarios, known as “representative concentration pathways” and “shared socioeconomic pathways,” specify trends in population, economic growth, energy use, and other variables that produce different degrees of warming, help maintain comparability among the work of research groups. But by putting everything in the form of tidy numbers, do they obscure the big picture?

Some of the most widely publicized visions of the future combine two scenarios known as RCP 8.5 and SSP5. These assume that population increases to as many as 12 billion people, nearly twice as many as today. They also stipulate no implementation of climate policies, heavy reliance on fossil fuels (especially coal), and a tripling of CO2 emissions. That would be enough to produce as much as 5 degrees C of warming by 2100, far more than the 2 degrees C, beyond which lies climate catastrophe, according to many environmentalists.

Although it is less often discussed, RCP 8.5 and SSP5 also assume a remarkable increase in economic prosperity. They project that GDP per capita in 2100, adjusted for inflation, will be five times higher in countries that are already developed today, and up to 30 times higher in those that are now less developed. This economic growth surprises some people, but it should not. After all, economic production and consumption are the source of the emissions that drive the warming. If they didn’t grow, the future climate would be cooler.

To grasp what this paradoxical future that combines environmental devastation with great economic prosperity would really look like, we need to move beyond the numbers. Let’s take a quick trip through time to visit some representative countries of the crowded, warm, and wealthy world of 2100.

We start with a stop in Iceland—the richest country in the world, with a per capita GDP of $1.5 million, stated in US dollars with 2010 purchasing power. (This and other income estimates come from a recent study by Marshall Burke and colleagues.) Yes, there is still actual ice here, if you look in the right place at the right time of year. As a tourist attraction, ice is one source of the country’s wealth. Tourism aside, Iceland has maintained strict immigration controls, as have most European countries. That leaves plenty of room for crops in its fertile fields. Food exports are another source of income. Iceland continues to get most of its energy from geothermal sources, so it bears little of the blame for the climate woes that affect many other parts of the world.

Mongolia was poor and chilly back in 2010, but in 2100, it is one of thirty-eight countries that are better off than they would have been without climate change. Its per capita GDP of 390,000 dollars makes it the seventh richest country in the world. Unlike Iceland, Mongolia has opted for an open immigration policy. Its population has increased 40-fold since 2010 and now stands at 120 million. Descendants of refugees from Pacific Islands and the Bengal Delta outnumber those of native Mongolian stock. Most people live in cities. The country’s highly mechanized agriculture, which makes Mongolia the breadbasket of Asia, requires few workers. Abundant coal and a young, skilled, and rapidly growing urban population have made Mongolia an industrial powerhouse that some compare to Japan of the late twentieth century. As we take a tour by high-speed train through verdant fields of corn and soy beans, we can’t help but wonder what Genghis Khan would think if he could return today to his once-austere homeland.

Australia, unlike Iceland and Mongolia, has been a loser from climate change, at least in relative terms. Although per capita incomes are more than double their 2010 level, they would have risen five-fold without global warming. The environment is in terrible shape. There is little open-air agriculture. Kangaroos and Koalas survive only in zoos. Nearly everyone lives in cities, which have become more compact for efficient air conditioning. Streets and cars are a thing of the past—people and freight move around in pneumatic tubes that connect everything. Fortunately, energy is abundant. There is plenty of room in the desertified countryside for solar farms, and the country is still working its way through its vast coal reserves. Mineral exports pay for food from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia. The population is stable. Australia has consistently limited immigration, although it is generous with foreign aid.

India is the world’s poorest country in 2100. Although per capita GDP has risen three-fold since 2010, it is still only $1,657. Much of that is spent on municipal air conditioning, so little is available for personal consumption. By traditional standards, India, one of the world’s hottest countries, is simply uninhabitable. There are fewer days each year when it is safe to go outside, even briefly, but with few countries willing to accept climate refugees, more than a billion people continue to live here. Whereas Sydney and Melbourne were still recognizable as cities, Indians live in more compact habitats. From the inside, they look much like ships, with crowded bunkrooms for the poor and luxury decks for the rich. Like Australia, India is self-sufficient in energy, thanks to abundant solar power and coal. There is a vibrant cultural life, but exports of music, films, and services like software development do not earn enough to pay for food imports. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid from the hyper-wealthy, unwelcoming, but guilty countries of the North.

We are back to the present now. Can we really believe what we have seen? Did the world really spurn even modest climate mitigation policies that would have left it a little less wealthy, but cooler? Did it really avoid the famines and wars that might have decimated populations and wrecked economies, leaving the planet battered but not quite as hot? These are questions that climate models alone can’t answer.


Edwin G. Dolan holds a PhD in economics from Yale University. He hastaught in the United States at Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago, George Mason University and Gettysburg College. From 1990 to 2001, he taught in Moscow, Russia. After 2001, he taught economics in Budapest, Prague, and Riga. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center and lives in Northwest Lower Michigan.