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

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.

Climate night

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 not only happened sooner than expected, the consequences were larger than ever imagined as well. At 2 AM we finally managed to reach the first street. The water was so high that we were not able to reach any of the doors on the first floor, so we started knocking on the windows of the second floor. It was difficult to see where we were; the power was down and darkness had taken over. Everywhere around me I heard men shouting, women screaming, and children crying.’

Maya can’t stop turning. The whistling of the wind and sounds of drunken students are keeping her awake. Out of experience Maya knows the students pass by her house every Saturday. Usually they get bored after ringing the bell twice and move on to the next street in the neighbourhood. Tonight however, the students do not seem to be leaving. The ringing is replaced by knocking and the singing by shouting. Suddenly Maya remembers seeing something about a storm on the news earlier today. However, as an exchange student from Argentina, she does not really watch the Dutch news carefully, or actually any news for that matter. Out of experience she knows a change in the train timetables is the worst thing that happens during these storms. Tonight however, it seems different.

Suddenly Maya jumps out of bed. Adrenaline starts running through her body. It’s Wednesday! She runs into the hallway and sees flashlights mysteriously shining through the windows. Maya realises the knocking is not coming from the first floor, but from her windows on the second floor. After a short hesitation she decides to walk over to the window and to open the curtains. A feeling of fear takes hold of her. In front of her stands a soldier on a small boat. He urges her to open the window. After two attempts it opens slightly and when Maya steps back to open the curtains further the wind causes the window to blow out. Maya cautiously sticks her head out of the window and looks down; the ground has disappeared. There is no sign of the small porch or the recently planted flowers in the small communal garden. Instead, there is darkness and water.

`In the third house a girl opened the window. Her eyes were covered in fear. She did not speak the language and obviously was not aware of the severity of the storm. While I managed to avoid pieces of broken glass from the window, I shouted she had to come with me, because the storm had caused the dikes to break and the water was rising rapidly.’ He takes a break. He has to. Too many horrible things have happened in front of his eyes that night.

Maya is shocked. How could this be happening? How can she not have noticed the severity of the storm? The Netherlands was supposed to have the best flood protection in the world!

He continues: `She seemed in shock. I asked if she was okay and told her to come with me, there was simply no time. The water level had gone up 3 meters in only one hour and we had no idea of what was yet to come.’

Maya continues to gaze at the soldier. The boat looks almost full, the old lady from next door and her two grandchildren are already seated. Further away she hears women screaming and men shouting. The whole street is being evacuated.

He looks around. Hundreds of people are silently listening. Although it is almost thirty years after the first big storm hit, its consequences are still of enormous significance today. `Thirty years ago, no one had any idea this would be the first one of the `Big Five’: the five disastrous storms which took billions of lives. It caused an unknown global sea level rise due to which many coastal cities disappeared under water. Consequently, diseases spread and harvests failed, which led to a huge famine.’

Thirty years later Maya finds herself in a conference centre in South Germany. After the storm she was able to move to South Germany; one of the few `safe’ places in Europe: it was not swallowed by the water and there was a sufficient amount of food available. Returning to Argentina was not an option. The infrastructure, including transport routes, had been destroyed.

He looks at Maya, the girl he saved years ago. He knows she was one of many who were not fully aware of the consequences of climate change and how their behaviour contributed to that.

Maya sights, anthropogenic climate change turned out to be the major cause of the Big Five and all the disasters that followed. Back in the day she had heard of climate change, but did not really feel like it would be an issue for her. She was enjoying her studies abroad and did not feel the urge to take action herself. She looks down. She would give anything to travel back in time and alert people to take action. It would not have prevented any of the disasters, but it could have decreased its intensity.

He looks around. `Although the Big Five has destroyed our modern society, it has given us the chance to renew our system and learn to live in harmony with nature again. Today I am filled with feelings of hope and I am confident that we, if we hold on to our new way of living, never have to face such a disaster again. Today I would like to announce that, after restoring transport routes with North America and East Asia last year, we have been able to reach South America and we will start restoring transport routes to Buenos Aires soon.’

Maya feels tears glittering in her eyes; her exchange semester might finally come to an end.

Jorie Knook is a doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College and AgResearch. Her research focuses on the evaluation of advisory programs that focus on the voluntary uptake of environmental measures by farmers in both Scotland and New Zealand.

Joy in the Sundarbans*

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

The sea was playing with Joy, gently lifting him, picking him up, and dropping him. Drops of water fell into his mouth. How sweet was the taste… the water trickled into his parched throat and Joy seemed to leap up as do the fast disappearing Gangetic porpoises, nose in the air, arms spread.

A sudden loud crashing sound awoke him with a start. His little eight year old body shook in fear and he cried out ‘Ma!’

His mother awoke and said, it must be part of the embankment that had breached. ‘It’s been raining so hard for the last one week, it’s a wonder the embankment did not break earlier.’ Below, the waters noisily gurgled, greedily throwing fierce small waves against the low bamboo ladder that led up to their home. Joy heard the rustle of the plastic sheets that made his mother’s bed on the floor.

Joy shouted in the dark ‘Ma, I’m scared.’

His mother made some comforting sounds and asked him to come to her. The rains raged overhead and their fragile shelter shook. Looking at the empty bed beside him, he asked his mother when will his father return. And he knew from her silence that she did not know, or could not surmise.

Joy jumped to his feet as a sharp white lightening struck. At once, he felt his way in the dark to his mother. The second plank on the floor was loose and through the crack he could see the rising waters below, reaching for him. Terrified, he launched himself on his mother over the next two planks. He remembered his father had pulled out the two rotten planks from the wreck of their old home, disgustedly commenting that the wood was fit only for firewood and would not last them even a week. And yet, his father never changed the planks in the next three years.

His mother pulled him close, above them the rain sounded louder than the waters below.

Joy tried to swallow his own spit, but his dry throat hurt. He remembered seeing about an inch or so of of drinking water in the bucket. Joy reluctantly asked his mother for water. His mother tightened her hold on him. Then rocked him and whispered, ‘as soon as the rain stops I will fetch water.’ Neither of them admitted that the rain did not look like letting up. Ever. He knew his mother could not go through the knee-high muddy water in the dark to fetch drinking water. As the rains came and came he hated seeing her trudge through sea water just to fetch drinking water.

As it is, theirs was the only shelter by the embankment, the rest of the village had fled to the new Flood House built on pillars. Joy had once sneaked in there and was surprised to even see a water pump on the first floor.

Joy could never understand why his father had built a rickety precarious shelter beside the embankment, at the very edge of the village. He remembered no one had come to help his father as he built the ramshackle shelter on bamboo stilts for fear of the rising water. He remembered seeing his mother weeping. And then one morning, Joy learnt that his father was gone.

Now Joy’s eyes grew heavy, but every time he tried to sleep, his dry throat hurt. Joy must have drifted off when he heard the clatter of the pans where his mother stored the water downstairs, below their sleeping space. His mother softly called up ‘I will go and fetch some water for you’. Joy tried to protest but his tongue seemed to have thickened and stuck to the roof of his mouth. He lay flat and from the corner of the broken plank watched his mother go down into the darkness below their shelter. He heard her splash into the water. The waters had risen to her waist. He saw her struggle against the wind by the light of the zigzagging lightening. Then the darkness and the earsplitting sounds of the roaring sea, enveloped her. And for a long time the darkness remained. He was frightened for his mother.

If only he was big enough to fetch the water himself.

Joy did not know how much time had lapsed, but just when he felt there was no hope and his mother was lost forever, he saw a forking lightening that brought his mother in focus with a bucket. Soon, he felt his mother cup water into his mouth. Bliss!

Joy swallowed some more water and hoarsely asked ‘Ma why don’t we go and stay on the Roy house porch? Their house is so high the water won’t reach them ever.’

His mother pulled her wet sari around her to stay warm but the raging winds sent in fingers of cool through the gaps between the wooden planks and plastic sheets. She softly muttered, ‘we can’t go to the Roys. Your father… he stole from them…’

Joy felt a hollow fear in the pit of his stomach. But in a fit of bravado said, ‘They will let you and I stay in a corner… Ma we can’t stay here.’

As if the elements heard him, a sudden wind howled in through the planks of wood and carried away the overhead plastic sheet. The shelter creaked and shook. Joy pulled his mother up and shouted above the wind to run. As they clambered down the ladder a high wave of water roared above them and crashed on them.

When they reached the Roys, they turned to see their home floating away. The sea that had till then been some distance away, now seemed to pursue them. The first fingers of sea water lapped around the newest climate refugees ankles.

* One of the first areas to go under water in India is predicted to be the Sunderbans region of the Bay of Bengal.

Keya Dutt has written crime stories (with one novel and many short stories), translated Bengali to English, and has several publications of literary criticism. She is drawn to the issues of climate change and environmental devastations through the work of her husband, Ronodeb Paul, who has made a documentary on climate change in the Sunderbans.