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.

Amplitude

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 hard to stay mad at Suze for long. When she comes splashing through the small waves carrying shopping bags to the bottom of the steps, late, as ever, I can’t help but smile. It’s more than her beauty that draws me in, every time; it’s her way of being, the light she seems to carry with her and her constant, sometimes infuriating, optimism.

I’m sitting at the top of the first flight of steps, and we fall into the hug that makes me feel whole again. Suze and I were best friends long before we became lovers. We were born within weeks of each other, to two equally unlucky families who ended up on low-lying land.

‘You almost didn’t make it,’ I say, into her hair.

‘I’ll always make it. Even when I have to swim,’ she says, pulling back.

I don’t remind her that the time she did have to swim she almost drowned; nearly got sucked into the strange currents that swirl below Gowan Estuaries’ grey towers. I’ve never swum it. If I miss the tides, I stay on land, in the damp swampy hut that was put there by the developers. They call it a Stayover, which makes us laugh. They make it sound like a place you’d choose to be, not a rotting hut for emergencies.

‘So what did you get?’ I peer into Suze’s bags.

‘Not a lot,’ she grins back. ‘But don’t worry; I’ve already a recipe in mind. I’m cooking you macaroni cheese, without the cheese. Or proper macaroni. And using dried milk…’

‘Sounds great,’ I say, pulling a face. ‘I’ve asked the families over for the Lotto results.’

‘I had some tokens left over so I bought an extra ticket,’ Suze said.

I nod. ‘Good. Because I gave ours to the Robinsons again.’

Suze mock punches me. ‘Seriously, Lou? You’re impossible. But funnily enough, I was going to do the same when I bought this one…’

I kiss her. ‘That’s why I love you,’ I say. ‘We’re as crazy as each other.’

She sits and produces some stale biscuits. We eat and watch the water climb the steps below us; greedy, surging water that looks like it wants to drink us in.

‘If you could go back, what would you do first?’ she asks me.

I hate this game and it always puts me in a bad mood. I sigh.

‘Go on,’ she says. ‘Humour me.’

‘I’d give our grandparents a bollocking for doing nothing to stop all this,’ I say, as I always do, gesturing at the water. ‘But then… then I think I’d take you for a drive, just because I could, to one of the old beaches somewhere, and we’d sit and watch the sunset. When we got back we’d go and surf the internet and order some stuff that would magically arrive in the post the next day, bought with real money. And then I’d open the front door and watch the stars and think how lucky I was to be alive in such an easy world.’

‘I’d buy you a proper ring and propose under a rainbow flag on a mountain, one that wasn’t off-limits to us, lower echelons of society, and-’

I cut her off. ‘Can we stop? I’m not in the mood for this game today.’ I never am, but the If game is her favourite. As an optimist, she’s a total dreamer; still believes there’s a happy ending to the crappy way of life we’re forced to live. I don’t. All of those dreams belonged to a different generation, the ones who sit, staring at the water, still in shock at what’s unfolded. At the fact that the warnings were right, all along. Unless they’re lucky enough to live in the Hill Communities.

‘Come on,’ Suze says, pulling me up. ‘Let’s go and cook and get ready for the Lotto.’

At eight, our families arrive. We sit around the Screen and watch the presenters dangle dreams in front of us, tempting us to buy into this façade every week. This week there are two houses up for grabs, two beautiful, enormous dry houses in Beacon Hill Community, worth who knows what.

‘I hope the Robinsons get it,’ I say, letting my bad mood out. Irritation has been gathering in me for the last couple of hours, as the sea has risen; the sound of the waves constant and threatening.

Suze’s mother, Anne, groans. ‘You didn’t give your ticket away again?’ she says.

‘Old Fiona Robinson isn’t going to survive much longer, here. You know that as well as me,’ I snap.

‘We’ve got an extra, this week,’ Suze says, giving me a Look.

‘Sorry, Anne,’ I mutter, staring at the screen, at the hyper-happy presenters, showing off the houses. ‘Just get on with it,’ I say, and they do.

There’s a silence as we all check our numbers.

‘Oh well,’ Suze says. ‘There’s always next week. And remember, when we win we take you all with us – those houses are big enough.’

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘Next week it’ll all change. We can leave this swamp and move to a place we won’t ever fit in because we’ll always be Lotto Residents, everyone knowing where we came from…’ I stomp through to our bedroom.

Much later, Suze climbs in next to me. We hold each other and listen to the sea and the hungry, never-ending water.

There’s a knock at our door. Suze gets up and I follow. She opens the door.

On the landing are the Robinsons. Fiona is in tears, shaking, as she hands Suze a Lotto ticket. Her husband nods at us. ‘She wants you to have it back,’ he says. ‘She told me to say it’s your future, not ours. It never was ours.’

For a second, there is silence, whilst we read the numbers. And then we are yelling, jumping up and down, hugging. The noise we make drowns out everything else, even the roaring water below us.


Emma J Myatt (@EmmaJMyatt) lives in NE Scotland, very close to the sea. She writes fiction of all kinds and thinks that using stories to make people think about their impact on the world and their lives is essential. She lives with her young family and they share with various cats, chickens and fish, all of whom have been ‘interestingly’ named by creative children. After spending time with her family, writing is her favourite thing to do and her stories are often about the sea, which provides the soundtrack to her everyday life. She hopes this story is not a prediction.

Prologue

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


March 13, 4:36 P.M. 2192
Sabratha port
Zawiya District, Libya.

The chaos was glorious. Harsh calls and barking dogs, shrieking children, and the staccato coughing of old and dying automobiles created a cacophony to assault the senses. Heat shimmered off the stone and earthwork construction and the metal roofing shone with the light of a thousand suns. The man was walking through a busy market district towards the red-tinged sea just visible over horizon of people before him. Airships glittered menacingly in the distance as they hovered in place, swaying slowly to a faint breeze. Sails were furled and anchor chains building thin bridges to touch the coastline. From a distance the number of ships at anchor created a spider’s web across the horizon, the ships seeming trapped within it. The algae blooms in the ocean, active in the afternoon sun, reflected red light back into space covering everything in a sickening red hue. The algae was not the only thing catalysed by the sun, he thought, grimacing at the stench of human waste.

It was packed, thousands jostled on the street, few stopped to frequent the small number stalls and reed mats sparsely adorned with pottery and stone carvings. The drought had hit people hardest here, a hyperbolic reflection of the food shortages on the Eurasian continent. The small number of United Nations depos that remained provided water, nutritional supplements and basic medical care. There were never enough for the masses of people arriving each day. Desperate eyes clawing from sunken faces searching for a salvation that wasn’t there, bodies pushing listlessly ever onwards towards the harbour’s port, if it could be called such. Below an elegantly angled brow the man’s obsidian eyes scanned across the crowd, never resting on a single space more than a few seconds. He was tall, his dark skin standing out less among the pale Libyans then it would have before the drought two decades ago, as millions of Africans from the sub Sahara and the North had fled towards the coast of the mediterranean sea.

He gazed glossed passed the masses, most of them were already dead, he thought. It was unthinkable that this many people faced extinction, unthinkable that only two decades ago the region had been in a process of economic and technological recovery at a scale not seen since the renaissance. But then the drought had surprised even the most pessimistic of predictions. Climate change had long since been accepted, mitigation was occurring worldwide. Things had been looking up for the first time in fifty years. Then two decades ago average temperatures soared globally, in the sub-Sahara above what even solar panels and batteries could tolerate. People retreated to their houses coming out at night. Electrical appliances simply could not keep up with ambient temperatures. The cooled greenhouses seen as the savior of a society facing climate change became useless. Global food production dropped by forty six percent in the span of three years. Population growth kept increasing, at least for the first few years. The man grimaced, there was a silver lining to it all of course. People were willing to give up everything to get somewhere – anywhere – with food. The methane-filled airships could travel light and fast at low altitudes avoiding most radar technologies and difficult to spot from even European space surveillance systems. Resilient to damage and relatively safe, he felt comfortable flying them and had been acting as a squadron captain in his own rag tag air force, that happened to transport climate refugees.

Moving with a calm indomitable lope he passed through the crowd easing aside those to slow to move yet never losing pace. Dressed in a black bedouin robe with a white sash he did not stand out, yet he received looks from those he passed, his stride bespoke a calm confidence few could afford or justify in such times of hardship. Exiting the main thoroughfare he moved into the long afternoon shadows of a side street. Walking quickly now he moved past old and crumbling houses, his curved narrow nose turned up to avoid the stench of the open gutters beneath him, which had long ago begun to to be used to dispose all forms of waste, as local infrastructure deteriorated. As sounds from the Sabratha streets began to fade he came finally to his destination.

He stopped at a small seedy bar that looked like any other house in the alley, save the faded plastic chairs and chipped tables. Sitting down he stretched his legs, looking around, waiting. Not ten seconds later a woman emerged from within the dark confines of the interior which consisted of two stools and a table held up by concrete cinder blocks. The quiet hum of a generator, which powered the small fridge in the back, whispered out onto the street as the sandblasted glass door swung open, joining the murmur of the now distant main road.

The door swung shut, the soft clap loud in the ambient stillness. The woman approached him slowly, from his blind spot. “You’re late Akilian,” she said with a soft confidence given away only by a tapping foot. He didn’t look over his shoulder. After a few seconds of tense silence she moved to his side and sat down. He could see her now. She was dressed in full niqab, her cold blue eyes visible through a small slit. She was always dressed like this, Akilian didn’t need or want to know more. Initial attempts he had made to gather information on her origins had led him to a hotel in Tripoli, from where with the help of a few small bribes he learnt her departure to Milan. From there; nothing, so Akilian had resigned himself to operating in the dark. Not that he minded.

Clearing her throat and looking past his shoulder into the alleyway she asked“Why the delay?” Akilian sighed and leaned back, the plastic in his chair creaking in protest. “We have had a lot of casualties, four of my airships took fire and were lost over the Aegean sea. No shipments were recovered” He paused looking back at the latticework of anchor chains and ships visible in the dusking sky, “I thought the new route would be safer, you assured me there would be no patrols.” She shook her head slowly, shoulders taught with concealed anger, “It was never a guarantee, there have been food shortages even in the very north, they are becoming more vigilant.” She leaned forward, blue eyes capturing Akilian in a cold iron vice, “these shipments need to be made or we will have complete devastation here, we need to reroute again, why not South Africa?” He paused slowly at this, in disbelief. South Africa had been shooting ships on sight for the last dozen years, they must really be getting desperate. They had another two hundred million people to get to somewhere with food, and no safe harbor. “If we attempt South Africa we will lose half our ships” he said slowly. “If we attempt a Mediterranean landing we will lose half our ships.” He stood up slowly, “come to me when you find a route that does not kill those we are trying to save” The woman said nothing as he walked away, but reached for her temple and tapped once, stopping the video recording. There would be much to discuss back home, as others of the movement were significantly more ambitious in their plans to solve the Southern Hemisphere Crisis, and far more dangerous.


Robert Hoekman is a Tanzanian grown data journalist and moonlighting wildlife photographer of Italian and Dutch stock, currently living in the Netherlands. He have a strong interest in the creative aspects of content production as well as the analytics-driven methods and strategies that can proliferate it. He currently works as a Data Journalist and Storyteller for the Red Cross, at 510 GLobal as well as moonlighting as a consultant, writer, and photographer on various projects.

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.