The beach that ate Silicon Valley

Jennifer LaForce has noticed that the residents and workers of Silicon Vally treat climate change like they treat homelessness — not their problem.

Silicon Valley, California. You can admire; you can hate it. Most of the world’s leading edge technology either comes from here or is made usable here. Tucked into the northern reaches of the San Francisco Bay, you will find an old quai in the tiny towns of Alviso and Milpitas [now best seen at a local park]. Here the bay is shallow: 85 percent of the water is less than 30 feet deep. Circulation depends on strong tidal action, river inflow, winds and storms. From a wildlife perspective, the salt marshes are highly productive and very valuable. When the tide is high, many fish species forage for food along the shore. Once the tide goes out, water birds feast on those unfortunate enough to get stuck.

alviso_marina_county_park_view_at_sunset

Not too long ago, the Milpitas quai was a destination. Standing on the old pilings, a little imagination takes you on unday boat rides in 1915 or even farther back to a Native American fishing for dinner.

Now there is a new kind of production on the quai. Not quite sky scrapers, new commercial buildings full of valuable equipment and more valuable ideas indicate that the recession is over and Silicon Valley is pushing at the edges of its geography yet again. Water treatment plants responsible for most of the usable water in the Bay area dot the marsh shores. Highway 237 is a critical connection between continental California and the San Francisco peninsula, connecting the states two major highways, 880 along the eastern side of the bay and 101 along the western side.

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Two meters of sea level rise will inundate the Bay Area’s coastline

A sea-level rise of 2 meters has all of Milpitas and Alviso completely underwater. Highway 237 will belong to the sea creatures as will much of Highway 101.

Such a sea-level rise will inundate both developed and natural areas, cause salinity contamination of groundwater aquifers and rivers, damage ports and recreational beaches. The cost of protecting against sea-level rise is large, but often below the value of the property protected. Preventative (“Hey! Don’t build there!”) and/or defensive actions taken today can prevent large damages in the future

Numerous studies have been done and there is no need to reproduce their conclusions. What is strangely remarkable about the rise in sea-level and the corresponding results is how we, as California communities, respond to it in almost exactly the same way we respond to homelessness.

Study after study, proof after proof – If you don’t know by now that it costs less to house a homeless person than to leave them on the streets, you just don’t want to know. Between jail time and emergency room visits, it costs about $30,000 a year for a homeless person to be on the streets. Add business loss, shelter costs and the figure increases to a staggering $40,000 a year. Guess what, they could be in a home for a lot less.

Perhaps because the costs are not easily seen by an individual or because the costs are spread out over service areas, we can’t seem to respond to these facts.

Likewise the value of property threatened by sea-level rise in Silicon Valley is extremely high because of past development and getting higher every day because of new development. Around the perimeter of the Bay, existing commercial, residential, and industrial structures threatened by a two-meter sea-level rise is valued at $100 billion.

Perhaps because of the slow rate of increase of sea level or perhaps because the individual can’t see it, there is little advanced planning and an inadequate response to these facts.

I’ve worked in disabled and disadvantaged communities for 30 years. I understand emotional response. I understand bias. But I have yet to figure out why my peers cannot step beyond both when presented with undisputable fact. If we could figure this out, we could address the fact that the sea level is rising without over or under reacting. We could address homelessness and probably every other polarizing issue. For me, that’s the task to undertake.


laforceJennifer LaForce is a Business Consultant in Silicon Valley, missionary, author & traveler with the grandiose goal of understanding why we do what we do.

Tides will tear us apart

Emma J. Myatt writes of a future when shopping times depend on the tide.*

Dear Denise,

Congratulations! I cannot believe that by the time you get this, Zane will be fourteen weeks old. I wish there was a way to get news faster – how I miss the internet. I bet you’re an amazing mother. I bet you’re like Mum with a twist, a bit more craziness, a little less planned. You didn’t say much about the birth – not sure how the hospitals are with you but here everyone’s struggling a bit – (we now only get stories in the round-up papers at the end of the week in each town) and I’ve heard about a lack of drugs/pain relief and a total shortage of midwives.

It pisses me off that everyone saw all of this coming, and did nothing. But you know all this, no point in me ranting any more.

I want to meet Zane more than anything in the whole world. I am saving like mad but it’ll still take me years – breaks my heart to think of missing all these early months. I’ll keep doing the lotto – keep everything crossed.

Jake and I are okay. The kids are fine, working hard and hoping to get into the science projects over in the Highlands. There’s been a massive investment in the projects lately and apparently the buildings are huge towering things that you can see for miles. I’ve not been up there, just too much to do here, but I’ve seen pictures. Leo is still good at maths and chemistry, and Lexi’s a physics whizz. God knows where they get it from – not me, as you know – and Jake’s still as into farming and solid earthy stuff as he ever was. I hope they get there. It’s probably the only future I trust at the moment.

We hear stories from Aus, the ships bring papers and news but I dunno how much can be trusted and anyway, by the time they get here everything’s six weeks old. I hear it’s still hot, you are still getting plagues of insects and the fires are nuts, but at least you’re getting more rain than before. I so hope I can see it for myself one day. The latest fares are around £17,500 per person. Jake and I can pull in about half this from anything we need to sell in a good quarter, but it goes, like a finger click, to pay for life and food and everything. We’re stuck, really: if we grew our own we’d survive and not need to buy but then we’d have no money at all. Despite this I’ve managed to save. I’ve £2,000 in the bank, roughly. Jake’s got some stashed in in the farm somewhere (he won’t even tell me in case I let it slip to the gangs) but realistically it’ll be years before we make it.

I miss you so much. Life here’s good in many ways; we’re still healthy and the kids can still learn. Our part of Scotland was pretty empty before as you know so the vanishing land hasn’t had too much impact as yet. But however lucky we feel compared to some, I will never ever forgive myself for not coming with you when the fares were reasonable. I should have listened to Mum. I’ll not go there, I go there every letter and it does me no good.

Has Zane got your eyes? Is he cheeky, like you were? Does he look like his auntie Lynn at all? I bet you’ll be a great mum Denny.

You asked about the house. It’s still here. The water’s about three metres from the door at the highest tides. Last time I wrote it was four, so the rising’s happening quicker than they all said. Nobody will buy it but, amazingly, the government has been good at making flood defences. We’re getting insane storms and the house just gets engulfed by waves. We’d have washed away by now if not for the New Walls they’ve given us. Basically they’re like huge sheets of plastic that have been put up all around the house – we’ve had them about two months now (did I write that we were getting them last time?) They got dug into what was the garden at low tide and they’re higher than the roof. They’re clear, so we can see through, but it’s still like living in a goldfish bowl. If the house goes, we do get compensation but I don’t dare tell you how much – it’s practically nothing. No point moving until it goes, so we’ve stored all the important stuff in the high field in the barn, and the rest is stuff we can live without. The New Walls have doors, all water tight of course, and at high tide we can’t enter or leave. It’s so, so strange. Dad would have hated it and I’m so glad he’s not here. Mum saw a little before she went to the home, but she’s not seen it like this. She’d be heartbroken about the garden so we just don’t tell her or show her pictures.

She’s not doing too well actually Den. I don’t know how much longer she’ll be here. I’m glad you got to say goodbye properly. She has no regrets, just tells me to tell you that you did the right thing. And you did. All that space you have in Australia whilst we huddle on a shrinking rock, climbing higher with every tide, losing more land every week. Estimates say we’ve lost a tenth of the habitable land in the UK. It feels like more.

But we try to stay happy. I sound upbeat, I know. It’s a habit I’ve got into for the kids’ sakes, and it’s hard to stop it.

The truth is though, we’re terrified, Denny. Every day I wake up expecting to be wet. The sea’s come faster than they said. It seems like a dream now when I think of how it was. Every morning I look outside through the weird New Walls and see the world, whitened through sea spray, the farm a little smaller. If the house goes we’ll be moved to one of the new settlements over at Cairn o’ Mount. They’re like council estates from the early 2020s – remember the ones they built during the first housing crisis? Tiny ugly practical things with hardly any space per family. They’re free, that’s about the only bonus. We’ll get allocated one as soon as we become homeless.

Maybe the rising will stop. After all, the ice has all gone, the travel rules have prevented any further air pollution. The limit on electricity will help, as will all the chem bans. But I feel it’s all too late. Like I said, we knew this was coming. Remember the conversations we used to have about ‘doomsday’? There was a guy in the papers last week saying how he felt doomsday had already come – that day when the damage done was too bad to reverse, whatever legislation we make now. I think he’s probably right but we’ve got to hope, right?

I’ll have to go. I can feel myself getting down and I don’t want to do that… in the end I’ll just end up telling you how shit it all is, and how we’re all doomed here and I’ll say again how short sighted I was not to come with you. See? I’m off already. I’ll have to go and get this to the delivery office so it’ll catch the boat on the 12th. I’ll see it all the way, in a bag, making its way to you across all those massive oceans.

Anyway, I’m not down all the time. We keep upbeat. We can still buy whisky, when the tide’s out it’s almost like old times. Ha – do you remember when the garden first got a bit soggy and we thought it was the extra rain or a diverted spring? Then that wave, that just kept on coming? I often think of those early days, when you were still here, when it was all still media hype. I often try to call backwards in time down the years to younger versions of ourselves, to tell them to do something. Nobody would have listened, though. Everyone thought they were just crazy anarchists… crazy people who wanted to cause chaos… remember Paula, and how she stomped off to London with all those petitions? Most of what she wished for has, by necessity, been banned.

I miss all of it.

I want the world back.

I want my sister back. Come home… No, don’t ever come home, it’s not good here and it’s going to get worse. The amount of people and the amount of Hill Houses just doesn’t add up. I hope I’m dead by that time.

I said I wasn’t going to get sad. I’m sorry Den.

I love you, and I love my new nephew, and I’ll keep lottoing and get the rest of us on that boat and come and join you. I can see your farm in my mind’s eye. All that space.

Give Zane a big kiss for me, little sis.

XXXXXX

Lynn.


MyattEmma J. Myatt is a full-time writer, full-time mother, chicken keeper and tutor who also runs a holiday let/writers’ retreat. She writes in every scrap of spare time she can find and has been published on line in various places and in several anthologies. She’s currently working on an anthology of her short stories.

hourofwrites* This vision was an entry in the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions. [Apologies to Joy Devision on the title — David]

The bore is coming

Sometimes one’s retirement does not go as planned, writes Sarah Dixon in this story*

The bore is coming.

It comes, as it always has, to its peak near the autumn equinox. Experts predict that, after a summer of incessant rainfall on top of already record water levels, it will be catastrophic. Catastrophic. This is not a word that has ever been applied to the Severn Bore in all the thousands of times man has watched water surge and roll along the river’s course.

In years gone by it was a popular tourist attraction; people walked the banks and viewed the bore as it hissed and crashed its way upstream. It’s been years since anyone dared stand on the banks; not that the banks are where they were before the water rose, or we sank, depending on your perspective.

My perspective is a hillside, across the valley from my retirement home. The house was once a pleasant rural retreat; In the sticks, as my wife used to say. In the arse end of nowhere, I would counter. We bought it to retire to. In our late 50’s, good luck and good decisions left us still young enough to have our health, to be in love, and wealthy enough to enjoy our retirement.

At that time the ramshackle property, nestled in woodland several metres from the river bank, seemed an ideal place to spend our days. My wife wanted to set up a small business, growing Bonsai trees, and I was going to write the novel I’d been promising myself all these years. The kids were grown and on their own way. We had been good, responsible citizens for decades and now was the time to reap the rewards.

Then the water rose; not slowly as we’d thought but with alarming quickness. Remote sounding scientists were portending ‘tipping point’, the latest in a long line of terrifying prophecies that had failed to come true; AIDS, the Millennium Bug, Bird Flu, Zika… They shouted loud enough but the media had been using the tactics of hysteria to sell news for years. We were immune.

The Totten Iceberg in East Antarctica had never read the news, and it was indifferent to the reception its inevitable melting would receive; it didn’t do it for attention, it did it because it was ice, and when ice gets warm enough, it melts.

Within weeks the water that had run, benignly brown along the floor of the valley below us swelled with the melt water from a broad strip to a swollen, hungry torrent. A vicious snake that had swallowed something large; distended, struggling, angry.

We sat on the balcony, where we had envisaged enjoying afternoon tea, or pre-dinner drinks in the summer evenings, and watched the water become a steady stream of bloated animal corpses; not all the farmers had higher ground to take their beasts too. The turgid, turbulent water snatched up anything in its path, the weight of it enough to pull trees from the earth or gather up buildings and send them, flotsam and jetsam, on their way. It was as if the Gods were playing poo sticks, my wife noted on the day before she left.

Don’t worry, it isn’t the end of our marriage. It was just the end of our time here; We had the official warning and knew that our house would likely be swept away with the next bore. Our insurance company stated their refusal to pay; we are at fault for not having the prescience to sell before we knew there would be a disaster, it seems. I don’t know if we would have done that, even if we had known. This was our dream. If it is to sink without a trace, then we should watch it do so; the captain and his ship and all that. We couldn’t have slept at night, if we’d sold on inevitable disaster in place of a dream.

We live with my son and his wife now, it’s a squeeze but we get along. There’s no space for Bonsai trees, no quiet for writing, but there is the joy of Grandchildren. You have to make the best of what you’ve got.

My wife didn’t understand why I wanted to come and watch, she called it morbid. Her eyes brimmed with tears that only abated when I made the poor joke, ‘Don’t add to the water level, old girl.’ She’s at home.

I’ve found myself a spot, high and dry, sitting on a tree stump. I have a flask; the bitterly aromatic tea is clouding the air before me. The cup warms the chill in my hands but it doesn’t touch the ice in my guts, or overwhelm the musky dampness of falling leaves and rotting timbers. They seem appropriate for today, not the day of the dead, but the day of dying dreams.

Somewhere, out in the wide ocean, a wave has formed; larger than they ever were, swollen with melt from good old Totten and not just the tip; the whole nine yards. The wave crashes angrily to shore, the force of it loosening cliffs, stealing shale. But there is a weak point, the estuary; here the water finds a place to run.

Imagine a funnel, loyally taking the water you pour in and directing it to a single point. Now imagine throwing a bucket full of water into the funnel; imagine the force that it sprays from the end.

The water throws itself, unknowing, unfeeling, into the Severn. The estuary roils. Near Avonmouth the swell is terrifying but it is just the beginning. The bore itself forms past Sharpness when the weight of the water hits the rocks at Hock Cliff. Now the Bore has its head, and it races towards the narrowing at Langney Sands where even with the risen water level the channel is just a few hundred yards across. Crashing, hissing, vicious and unstoppable, this is nature’s lesson. We are not masters here; we are not even students. We are expendable.

It is catastrophic.

The bore is coming.


DixonSarah Dixon is a prolific writer of short stories, usually Science Fiction or Fantasy but always with a hint of wonder. After spending her life wanting to write, but never reaching her own lofty standards she read the advice ‘Finish first, edit later’ and finally made it to the end of a chapter. She hasn’t stopped since. A wife and mother of two, it was the desire to write stories that challenged the lure of video games that led her to write her first children’s novel. Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter is an action adventure for 9-12-year-olds, coming late 2016 from SilverWood books. When not writing, Sarah enjoys working with schools to engage children with creative writing including delivering her workshop about social commentary in Sci-Fi titled ‘How Aliens Changed the World.’

Addendum: Sarah’s backstory on her motivation and process of writing this vision.

hourofwrites* This vision was the winning entry in the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions.