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.

Dusk

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 boat drifted through the forest. Sol was paying almost no attention as she was busy reading her father’s notes. For anyone else, finding their way through the countless trees and small passageways would seem impossible, but not for her. She was born and raised on these lands and so, every tree branch, every water stream, and every bird nest gave away her exact location.

Every morning she got on that boat and steered it through the currents. Her task was simple: to monitor and record data from each station. Sol had learned all this from her father. He was a great man, whose love for science was only surpassed by the love he had for his only daughter. Sol’s mom was also a scientist, but she died months after giving birth. Sol’s memories of her were only those of old photographs and repeated stories told by her father.

Sol’s parents met when they were young students, they both shared the love of science and a great ideal: to minimise the impact of climate change on earth. They dedicated their lives to this. After the big floods they relocated to the Amazonas and committed their lives to record, analyse and understand.

The lessons we will learn from the stations will be vital for future generations.” Sol could almost hear her father say. She was now following her parents’ legacy.

When her parents first arrived to the forest, they discovered an isolated tribe. Sol’s parents tried to make contact with the tribe, attempted to learn about their culture and hoped on establishing a trade agreement. Before the radio silence supplies were scarce, after, basically inexistent. However, despite their multiple attempts, trading with the tribe was nearly impossible. They blamed the white men for the floods. And they were right.

You take and take, now earth dies” said the old man in broken Portuguese.

Sol’s parents paid no attention, convinced they were helping the earth. Soon after that, Sol’s mother gave birth to Sol. Together with Sol came her mom’s sickness. In a desperate attempt, her father took Sol’s mom to the tribe, the old man did all he could but it was not enough.

“The forest kill you and girl. Come, live with forest, with earth” said the old man pointing down.

“No” Sol’s father said. His task was too important.

Break machines. Earth will heal.” said the man.

They do no harm!” Sol’s father cried. Although he was not sure about it, the engineers had said that, apart from the chopped down trees, the stations had no impact on the environment.

You have eyes, open! If eyes closed, forest will not be friend” the old man said in a last attempt.

Devastated Sol’s dad abandoned the tribe with Sol in his arms. He was even more focused now, he needed to do this for her.

Sol’s father died seventeen years after that day. Sol never found her father’s body, only the boat, drifting along as earth did with it as it pleased. Two months went missing from the logs of that year, as Sol spent most of her time crying and searching. Alone, weak and without food, she saw the old man coming.

“Sorry. He said as he dropped a bag full with supplies.”

“Thank you.”

“Come with me. Live with forest.”

“No! This is important; we can save the earth with this information.

“White man is problem.”

“You don’t understand, I want to help!”

“Your eyes are closed. Earth is dying” the old man said gravely, and sailed away.

She knew the old man was right. But she was doing all she could not to create more damage. But those stations, how could she be sure? They were installed years before Sol’s parents came to the forest. Sol never questioned how those gigantic measurement stations could get sufficient energy with those small solar panels. But she was doing the right thing, as her dad had told her. Science was right. This would help in finding a solution for climate change, and then everything would go back to normal.

Sol went back to her routine. Every day checking the stations, collecting data. The months passed, seventeen since her dad disappeared, and that day, as every month since, Sol was on her way to visit his grave. The boat was drifting as she swiftly steered it. The forest was silent. Too silent. Her head turned as she tried to listen, why were the birds not singing? Or the trees shaking as the wind passed? Nothing. Only the sound of the water as it pushed forward. It was as some kind of spell had fallen over the forest. Suddenly, a snapping sound right ahead broke the silence, her head rose, her eyes widened. It made no sound as it perforated her lung, but the pain was unbearable. She looked down, she could see more than half of it sticking out. She recognized the wood, babassu, as she used to play on that tree when she was younger. She caressed the feathers, urubu, and thought she could hear its calling from the distance. A second snap. This time the arrow hit her left shoulder. She screamed in pain, and yelled to the Forest:

“Please I am just trying to help!”

The Forest was silent.

“I am not like the white man. My faa-

Arrow number three. She touched her mouth, and saw blood on her fingers. Her legs failed and she fell on her knees. Eyes filled with tears no air in her lungs, she whispered:

“Why?”

Four. Five. Six.

The forest was silent. The boat drifted through the forest.


Ignacio Carlucho is a Doctoral researcher at the National University from Central Buenos Aires in Argentina. His main research interests are underwater robotics and reinforcement learning.

Water management should adapt NOW

Ralph Pentland says we should avoid over-reacting to climate change, as the best policy would be to do what we should be doing anyway.

At the outset, I would like to point out that my own background is in water and environmental management. I do not profess to be an expert on climate – so my few remarks will be based as much on intuition as on science.

Let’s begin with the basics – assuming the climate forecasters are somewhere near the right ballpark. The hydrologic effects of climate change could include changes in annual, seasonal and extreme precipitation, evaporation and runoff. There could also be an earlier onset of soil drying in early summer, and decreases in soil moisture availability. And in a cold climate like ours in Canada, we could experience a decrease in the ratio of snowmelt to rain, and an increase in the rate of snowmelt in spring months.

These hydrologic changes would translate into a number of water resources effects – for example, effects on drought and flood magnitude and frequency; supply reliability; demand requirements; and water quality and ecosystem habitat conditions.

Since water tends to be both an environmental and an economic integrator, these water resource effects would impact on a broad range of socio-economic activities – agriculture, forestry, hydroelectricity, industry, municipalities, recreation, shipping, and so on.

It seems to me the first step in preparing for climate change should be in identifying the areas and activities that are likely to experience the most serious negative impacts of an increasing greenhouse effect. Areas where water resources are already sensitive to climatic variability will probably be most vulnerable to the impacts of future climate change. Generally speaking, such areas have few or many of the following characteristics:

* natural water deficits
* high societal demands
* high flood risk
* dependency on reliable seasonal supply
* sensitivity to lake levels
* decreasing water quality
* dependency on hydroelectricity
* sensitive natural ecosystems

Despite lingering predictive uncertainties, the implications for water resource systems are likely to include increased stress and more frequent failures. The apparent dilemma for water planners, managers and policy makers is whether to act on incomplete information, or to wait for more solid scientific support.

My own perception is that the dilemma is in fact more apparent than real, because the directions we should be moving to prepare for climate change are identical to those we should be moving anyway. Let me illustrate by way of a few examples:

  • We should begin to seriously question the real viability and sustainability of proposed irrigation systems, and make the existing ones more water efficient, with or without climate change. Climate change may force us to do it sooner.
  • We should discourage new development on flood plains and along susceptible shorelines, with or without climate change. Increasing climate variability may convince our citizens of the wisdom of that approach sooner.
  • We should broaden our arsenal of weapons for combating water quality deterioration, with or without climate change. Climate change could induce us to do it sooner.
  • We should price water and other environmental resources in such a way as to encourage their conservation – climate change may give us the incentive to do it sooner.
  • We should do less subsidizing and more taxing of environmentally damaging activities, with or without climate change. Climate change could convince our lawmakers to do it sooner.
  • Decentralized decision making, and application of user/polluter pays approaches should be practiced to the extent possible. These principles, which make sense anyway, are coming increasingly prudent with a less predictable future.
  • Some claim that most countries have less water and environmental planning capability today than they had a few decades ago. To the extent that is correct, we should reverse that trend, with or without climate change.

Some have suggested massive capital works solutions – I disagree, with one small proviso. I would take climate change scenarios into account as a secondary design consideration for projects that we are building anyway. For example, it may be possible to design water management schemes, at little or no extra cost today, in such a way that they could be modified later, if necessary, in response to a changing climate.

I do not think we should even contemplate major capital works projects at this time just to deal with potential climate trends. For example, if it doesn’t make economic sense now to further regulate the Great Lakes, we should not consider building capital works merely in anticipation of lower water supplies a few decades away – the evidence simply does not support it.

In fact, I would contend that the danger of over-reacting with structural measures is significantly greater than the danger of under-reacting. Let me elaborate by way of an admittedly far-fetched example. What would happen if two or more northern circum-polar countries were to decide simultaneously to solve their emerging drought problems by diverting some of their north-flowing rivers southwards?

Some oceanographers speculate that such an eventuality would affect arctic salinity gradients and climate circulation patterns in such a way as to actually accelerate the drying of the North American Great Plains. Whether one accepts that thesis or not, I am sure most would agree that the uncertainty alone is sufficient cause for caution.

In summary, what I am advocating is that we learn a lot more before contemplating any drastic adaptive measures, and that in the meantime, we simply do what we should be doing anyway – but that we do it much sooner and much better.

And cost should not be a serious concern. If my examples are anywhere near representative, a “sooner and better” strategy would almost surely result in long-term net savings.


PentlandRalph Pentland served as Director of the Water Planning and Management Branch in Environment Canada for 13 years, from 1978 to 1991. In that capacity, he negotiated and administered numerous Canada-U.S. and federal-provincial water Agreements, and was the primary author of the 1987 Federal Water Policy. Since 1991, he has served as a water and environmental policy consultant in many countries, and has collaborated with numerous non-governmental and academic institutions. Over the years, Ralph has co-chaired five International Joint Commission Boards and Committees. Most recently he was a member of the Government of the Northwest Territories Team negotiating bilateral water agreements in the multi-jurisdictional Mackenzie River Basin.