Only the safe survive

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


“‘Premium top floor flotation apartment in weather ready development, guaranteed water tight and to withstand hyper-storm events to level 4.’ … How can we afford to rent somewhere like that?”

“How can we afford not to? We’re not moving into some down-river death trap. We’ll just have to tighten our belts.”

They both fell silent, listening to the hail bounce off the solar windows and thermo-roofing. Beth picked at her nails, tearing them off in ragged edged strips, biting at her fingertips. Joe pressed his fingers into flushed temples, rubbed at his wrinkled forehead. They both knew there was nothing left. No belt to tighten. After paying their rent to the Housing Syndicate, the Garden syndicate for food, the Environs Council for their utilities allowance and the People’s Council their Welfare Tax, they had nothing… This was not unusual — it was the same for all Sector dwellers. All wages were logged and no ‘profit’ was allowed. For people like them, there was no hope of moving to a safer area. That was for those who had been raised into the Betterment Sector — no one outside it seemed to know how to get in – and now they had outstayed their welcome in the Rescue Sector. The message had flashed up on their bulletin screen that morning…’Your temporary shelter capsule has been reallocated to new refugee status citizens. Please vacate within seven days.’

They’d heard of other refugee status citizens — Virtual Teachers and Information Analysts like themselves — who had been forced to move back to the Unsafe Zones. Someone had to live there. Sometimes they were lucky enough to find a micro-climate enclave on a small patch of good upland and they survived. Sometimes they just disappeared. Dead or just off-radar — no one seemed to know. The daily Citizen Bulletins never discussed the matter. They just bombarded their viewers with advice — health, hygiene, life enhancing tips — always ending with a reminder: ‘Never converse with Unknowns. Stay inside your capsule at all curfew times. Only the safe survive.’

Sometimes Joe felt it it was all completely futile. There was no future he could contemplate. Four plastic walls, work and friends confined to Sealed Networks, no way to move up any kind of ladder — or even sideways — unless you were already in that mysterious Citizen Betterment loop. Beth had these same thoughts but both kept their thoughts to themselves and only spoke of change. Of improvements. It was the only way they could adapt to their situation: to talk of a future. A future with happy children, looking forward to the possibilities of Ultra-drainage and reclamation, new field sites, new crops and a return of hope, of social integration: a return of trust.


Bridget Bowen renewed her love of writing when her daughter was young, completing an O.U. Diploma in Creative Writing. She was shortlisted for the ‘Olga Sinclair Short Story Competition’ in 2016 and has appeared in ‘The Yellow Room’ magazine. She lives with her husband (& a slightly mad cat) in Suffolk, where she walks and thinks and dreams and tries to make sense of the world.

Flying the not-so-friendly skies

NB: This “sample” post of 680 words explores one dimension of Life Plus 2 Meters. Many perspectives are valid!

The 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano led to the cancellation of flights in 20 countries and delays for 10 million passengers. The interruptions highlighted our dependence on moving people and things by air. The economic “loss” from 7 days of cancelled flights totalled approximately 1.7 billion USD. Thankfully, nobody was killed by high winds, low visibility or increased air pollution.

The "new normal" of Texas weather?
“New normal” weather for Dallas, Texas? Source

My girlfriend and I experienced a different kind of delay in December 2013 when Dallas airport was closed down by “unexpected” snowfall. Our trip from Vancouver to the Galapagos was saved, thankfully, by rerouting via Miami.

Air travel has a disproportionate impact on climate change because its GHG emissions occur at high altitudes, but air travel also brings disproportionate benefits to many. Most people in the developed world fly to do business, see family, and enjoy vacations. The falling cost of air travel means that many people in developing countries are joining them.

The sad news is that the delays and dangers of air travel are going to increase in the future. Although Life plus 2 Meters is unlikely to mean more volcanic eruptions, it is going to deliver similar interruptions in a different pattern. Increasing GHG concentrations are warming the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans at different rates. Changed heat patterns are affecting the rate of glacial melting and the circulation of water between the ocean’s surface and depths. Those impacts are, in turn, affecting the mighty currents that circulate water between the tropics and polar regions. Hansen et al (2016) predict — based on models, paleo-climate evidence, and extrapolation of current ocean temperatures and currents — that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) will slow and shut down in the next few decades. The AMOC — by moving water from the Caribbean to the North Atlantic — modulates temperatures and storms in the North Atlantic. We can expect, therefore, more extreme temperatures and storms without the AMOC.

Colder winters and stronger storms will force humans, activities and infrastructure into unfamiliar territory. Impacts will be felt at all levels and sectors of society as “weird weather” disrupts agriculture, tests heating and power infrastructure, stresses ecosystems, and forces people to revisit habits of work and life, but the rest of this post will focus on air travel.

Temperature extremes are going to disrupt and endanger air travel. In northern latitudes, planes will need to “de-ice” more often, airports will face more snow and ice, and softer materials — everything from rubber to human skin — will need to be protected or replaced. More, stronger storms will increase risks from lightning strikes, floods and updrafts that will make it harder for planes to maneuver, take-off, fly and land. The situation might be worse in the tropics if hurricanes and rising sea levels attack airports from above and below. (This article discusses vulnerabilities at 14 major American airports, including 5 in the tropics.)

Strained and broken equipment and systems will increase danger for passengers, so flight schedules will need to be padded to cope with delays and cancellations. These changes will add to the cost of air tickets as well as the risk of travel. Airports in poorer areas may have to shut down if adaptation is too expensive, increasing social distance and economic inequality.

People will cope in different ways. Virtual business meetings will become more common, family reunions less frequent. Deaths will increase from current levels (117 per billion journeys, better than motorcycles but worse than cars) to higher levels. Innovations in technology and best practices will reduce or perhaps even overcome these losses, but “perfect storms” of bad conditions will surprise and kill us. Runways will buckle or crumble into sinkholes, short-circuits will leave planes blind, turbulence will turn planes into roller coasters.

Liquid fossil fuels are particularly well suited for flying, so they are unlikely to be replaced by “sustainable” alternatives, but that detail is unlikely to matter to people worried about iced jets chopping through turbulence to land on a runway that may hide a fatal pothole. The future of flying is more likely to be affected by outside changes that make the skies not-as-friendly to fly.


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