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.

We drown with history

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 Caribbean water remains piss warm despite the cool barrier of the touring party’s skin suits. Hope floats next to Envy floats next to Saul, their heads colorful specks amongst the water. Their tour guide hovers behind them, adjusting their oxygen tanks for the transition between their home marshes and the deeper waters. He stays patient while they try and adjust to the warmth.

When he dives, the party follows.

Of the three, Hope is the first to adjust to the dust and blue. Stray bubbles from the sandy base press up against her collarbone. The further she swims, the more intimately she recognizes the sweat sticking her suit to her back. It doesn’t distract her, though, from the sight of women scattered across the distant ocean floor.

They lie with their backs on the sand, faces worn away but breasts preserved, pert and tattooed with the skeletons of dead coral. The tour guide glides over them, pointing out the strays that have slipped away from the crowd. The stone of their skin is white and cracking.

Hope grimaces.

“We don’t know if they ever served a purpose,” the tour guide says through their headsets, “but they migrate with the tide. My colleagues theorize that this was some sort of mausoleum.”

Hope can’t see his eyes behind his goggles, can only notice the cant of his head. Down and to the left of his floating form, the women pile atop one another like resting crabs.

The tour guide leads them on.

The water warms past piss and becomes an unclean jacuzzi. Hope gathered bubbles around her throat like a necklace and slows each of her breaths. Envy swims ahead of her, making a game of fleeing Saul’s outstretched hands for distant, sunken upshots of land.

“We’re nearing the edge of the Grenadian reef, which means we’re close to the floating islands, the tour guide signs. We can’t board them – the plastic pieces are too unstable – but you’ll be able to see their prisms.”

Hope follows his flipping feet, spots a drowning bicycle, and carries on.

The statue that marks the edge of the Grenadian reef wears a broad, stone hat; the tour guide points it out as they draw nearer, though Hope’s gaze is hampered by muck and her companions at play. She spots the floating islands before the statue itself; their refractive plastic makes them skylights, amalgamations of color glancing off of the statue’s bowed head.

“We call her Mary,” the tour guide’s voice whispers in their ears.

Hope paddles closer, ignoring the pressure building in her chest and the drift of her party. She makes eye contact with the statue’s skull. The bleached hat has spared the bulk of Mary’s face, but the hole that is her mouth has been stuffed with a plastic bag.

Hope reaches out and removes the bag. She leaves a stream of bubbles in her wake.

Above her, the light shifts. Mary’s face melts from white to gray, purple, and green.

“How’d she get here?” Hope asks the tour guide.

“Like the rest of them did,” he replies, several heartbeats later. “When the world is drowning, the wisest are the ones who learn to drown with it.”

Celia Daniels is 22 years old and is pursuing a Masters in Literature at the University of Toledo. She’s fascinated by a burgeoning science fiction subgenre known as solarpunk. Her creative works have been published in Road Maps and Life Rafts, Magic Jar, Entropy, The Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West, and others.

New Atlantis

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

Lost at sea-
Tides hit and run,
Slow waves maroon and hide,
Drown in depths of hunger and drought.

Cities, coastal, sink into sand-
Disappear before our eyes,
Four metres a year- two rooms high-
The earth, the sea, is already taking savage bites.

New Atlantis… lost, half drunk with drowning,
Power of skyscraper floats over Hong Kong,
The hustle and thrust of Shanghai,
Pastel exoticism of fondant Miami villas,
The glory of Sydney’s bay,
And swathes of London…
Who so-called ruled the waves, is ruled again,
St Pauls, a dome floats an island meringue
In an ocean of brown vanilla sauce,
Manhattan mythed of epic stature,
Chocolate slabs and gelatine sheets
As weak and nothing,
A global powerhouse caved in,
Encroached by white fighting crests.
Islands, pinpricks on maps, invisible once again,
Low lying places- Bangladesh to Netherlands
Mown down,
dislocation, relocation- easy-thrown words,
A Neverland of blight.

Meanwhile emperor penguins huddle watch,
Birdbrains curious at melting ice,
Their land, their home, dissolves and crumbles
Before their black bead eyes.

And humans, our very small birdbrains
Pump out Mount St Helen’s each day,
Twelve times a day, emissions vomit putrid gas
Flatten, suffocate, melt and disintegrate.

Canute understood- no-one can control the sea,
It takes no orders,
Admire it.
Respect it.
Cosset it.
Treat it right and it might take care of you.

Disregard the sea-
Care not for the swallowing of ice sheets,
a gulp of raspberry ripple ice-cream-
Blood of futures folded through it,
Sickness and sweet sticky cloy,
And we dream in futility.

Catherine Jones was a lawyer until she had her family and now works as a writer, musician and artist which is what she always wanted to be… A Londoner, who loves the city, she is based in Gloucestershire, UK, but with dual German and UK citizenship, she has always felt she is a citizen of the world, and she cares passionately about its survival. She uses her writing and art to share her vision.

The fallen staircase

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

When my family moved into this house, the previous owner jokingly said that `this is where the coast used to be’. She waited for my face to register surprise, then led me through to the living room and pointed to a map of the area as it had been at the end of the last Ice Age. She left it for me when she moved out, and I stuck it on my bedroom wall with blu-tack, despite my mum’s plea not to risk tearing the wallpaper. I never liked the wallpaper.

The house was a beautiful stone construction, at least a hundred years old and built to withstand the bitterly cold winds of East Yorkshire for at least another five hundred. I chose the bedroom at the top of the house with the view eastwards towards the North Sea, the cold stone steps from the hall an escape route to my own world. In the winter the inside of the window would develop a thin film of ice.

As a studious sixteen year old, I immediately searched for local books. I discovered that the entire plain to the east was formed from glacial deposits as the ice retreated ten thousand years ago. That is why the land is so fertile, and so flat, a continuous stretch of farmland. I would imagine huge sheets of pale blue ice towering above our house, perhaps a kilometer thick. In the past ten thousand years the coast had retreated by twelve miles. In another ten thousand years it would reach our house. That seemed a huge safety margin.

I made a friend, Ollie, and we would cycle to the coast and wander along the beaches. Month by month we witnessed the road slipping down the fragile cliffs onto the beach, then slowly disappearing into the sea. Four hundred metres inland stood a house that was more perfect than our family’s, a large bay windowed Victorian structure, with roses of every colour in the front garden, and a perfect lawn to the rear. We would climb onto the garden wall and make plans as to how we would lay out the formal garden were it ours, which flowers we would grow.

When I was twenty five, having returned from university, Ollie and I went every day to stand and stare as this large house was consumed, room by room, by the incoming tide below. There was a violent storm which lasted for two days, fierce lashing rain and wind that whipped away anything that wasn’t tied down. After this, there was no trace of the building. Two weeks later, the furthermost garden wall on which we had sat tumbled down, welcomed by the incoming sea. The house that was built to last several lifetimes was but a pile of rubble strewn across the beach. The building materials were scavenged before the sea took them.

The first time I realised how great an issue was facing us was when the power station became an island. Always heavily fortified against the incoming sea, concrete the solution to coastal erosion, I was surprised to see one winter that the sea had broken around the back of the structure. It was like the castles that we built on fresh sand, first the sea worked round the back of the mounds, then it chipped away at the base, small chunks falling from the sides. Finally, and suddenly, a single wave overwhelms what had been there and the terrain is flat again. Not even a causeway built to carry the road and railway to the power station could prevent the inevitable. Now, the remains of the power station sit eleven miles out to sea, a lit beacon the only sign that it ever existed.

Each summer the smell of the salt of the sea became stronger. Each time the wind blew from the east, the breaking waves became louder. Each year we would hear of a farmer losing their entire land to the sea. A complete village wiped off the map in the space of two years. The ruins of a thousand year old abbey swallowed in months. As a schoolboy I would have relished the dramatic fall of the huge façade, but now it seemed to predict something terrible.

And now I am thirty seven. The sea is lapping at the base of the low cliff that stands a few feet away from our front door, not a uniform straight coastline, but one of fingers of sea, insatiably seeking the softest substrate. In many ways the lagoon is beautiful, its shape constantly changing as the autumn tide rises. My heirloom, poised on the edge of a cliff above a beautiful lagoon, waits to be unloaded like rubbish into a tip. Of course, it is now completely worthless; it has been uninsurable for over a decade. Nearly everything that could be salvaged has been packed away and put into storage. What’s left is a shell cocooning vibrant wallpapers, thick, stained oak floors, why take the curtains? This is the only home I have ever known.

I haven’t even asked where we’re going. There’s a large removal van parked behind the house. The packers are now only willing to enter through the back door.

We’re lucky that the road approaches from the west, as if we had planned our own escape route. As the car pulls away for the last time I turn back, and I can just see the mighty stone staircase to my old room slip silently away, a moraine of rectangular stones.

Dave Murray writes plays, poetry and short stories. He is based in Manchester.