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.

A Marsh Arab’s story

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


My name is Faris and I am of the Ferayghāt people, one of the tribal groupings of the Maʻdān, that is the Marsh Arabs as you say, neutrally, in English. Sadly, the word Maʻdān is now often used in Iraq as a slight, aimed to inflict hurt and belittle. But I am proud of who I am, where I come from, and I will keep my memories of those former marshlands, now burnt to a crisp and virtually uninhabitable.

So much for my past: where I lived, happily and less so, throughout my childhood and as a young adult. Today, though, I “stay” in Fife, Scotland. I am a refugee, forced to leave my homeland far behind me, gone but never forgotten.

I am getting to know the local culture here, ways of living, speaking – e.g. “stay” rather than “live” – and song. I love music, and also humour – without being able to laugh at life I don’t know how I would’ve kept going through these last, painful, years. “It started up in Fife, and ended up in tears” sing an Edinburgh band, that national capital located far closer to me now than Baghdad was before my long journey. In truth, for me the tears have never been far away, whether in the lands of my birth and upbringing, or now here, in Fife.

Climate change is an important part of the story, but does not encompass the whole. Upstream dams, both in Iraq and beyond, have denied my marshlands of water. My parents told me that for many decades our homeland was drained on purpose, in a vain attempt to reclaim farmland and, later, in active persecution. But it was the ever-rising temperatures that finally killed off those marshlands, and the attempts that were made to breath new life into them. What marshland can survive the torching heat that I, myself a hardened son of the soil, was forced to flee from?

Old Bridge at Guardbridge (Credit)

My faith keeps me strong, and I constantly give thanks to Allah in my prayers for leading me to this, odd to me, place of refuge. Is it a coincidence or is divine providence that I have gone from one place of Eden to another? My homeland, you see, is known as the original Jannāt `Adni, or Garden of Eden, spoken of in the Holy Quran and also in holy books of the Jews and Christians alike. Now, the river Eden flows through the town of Guardbridge, the town I must now call home. I am still trying to do so; “it started up in Fife, and ended up in tears”, my tears that is. The Eden never leaves Fife, will I stay here forever too? Or return, like river water to the sea, to Iraq one day too?

Even amongst my tears, and my yearnings, I find this Eden here, and Eden there, coincidence funny and somehow comforting – as perhaps I am meant to do? Allah moves in unknowable ways, and I am thankful for all His blessings. Allahu Akbar.

I would never have guessed, let alone known that I would end up in Scotland. Not least since, until recently, I was unaware that such a country existed! In Iraq, people talk of England and the English, or the British, but not really Scotland or the Scots. Yet the Scots are truly a welcoming people and I have been treated with great hospitality since my arrival; hospitality is proud trait of the Ferayghāt people, and one that we mark as a sign of civility.

Scotland has had it tough in recent years, and for some of the same reasons as Iraq. In common between us, the price of our crude oil has collapsed, swamped by new supplies and discoveries made possible by new technologies, and undermined by the steady switch to electric vehicles. Scotland has also accepted many tens of thousands of climate refugees, its cities swelling with new populations even as its coastline and tidal river estuaries and “firths” invade its coastline, notably (to me!) swelling the Eden and pushing up against the gardens of the town’s most exposed “sea-view” properties. This has stretched services and further rocked the finances of the, newly independent, Scottish Government. An independent Scotland is exciting, but Scots have found that independence is very tough and – dare I say it – that they weren’t really ready for just how difficult it would be to manage their own economy. That they have pulled through is due to both their our stubborn nature – a stubbornness that I have been at the wrong end of – and determination, and also due to the people that they have welcomed to their shores, the New Scots.

Yes: us immigrants are proving our economic worth, helping to pull our adoptive country back to its feet – if I may be so bold. In so doing we help ourselves and help repay Scotland’s hospitality to us. We who are from countries like Iraq where the State has barely functioned in our lifetimes, do not readily rely on any State to provide for us – instead we provide for ourselves. Perhaps that is why so many of the new enterprises are run and owned by immigrants? I myself work for a Kuwaiti in Dundee who has set up his own company supplying offshore support vessels (boats) to the North Sea petroleum industry here (which increasingly focuses on natural gas, not oil), and for the fast-growing marine energy sector too.

Even as a New Scot there is no danger that I will deny or forget my heritage from amongst the Maʻdān. Every Friday at dhur (noon) I hear the Khutbah (sermon) amongst fellow Sunni Muslims at the newly built Guardbridge mosque and I am part of a Fife-based community of Marsh Arabs immigrants which, together, maintains our traditions in this new and strange, to us, land. I am teaching Arabic as an additional source of income – Arabic is an increasingly popular language to learn amongst Scots here, who are keen to open up to, and trade with, the world rather than just rely on their historic trade links to the south, with England. That makes me proud too. I think I will be happy too. My beautiful new bride thinks so too. A native of this land, she quoted to me a verse from another Scottish band, as follows: “For the family ; For the lives of the children that we’ve planned; Let’s get married; C’mon darlin’, please take my hand”. The wedding is next month and I cannot wait.


Daniel Gilbert has comprehensive experience as a consultant for major natural resources projects in Europe, Africa and Asia, and with regards to water, mining, petroleum (the ‘extractive industries’), and solar power. Daniel is a former Knowledge Exchange Coordinator at the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science under the auspices of UNESCO, located at the University of Dundee. He holds Masters Degrees from both Dundee and Edinburgh universities and has given natural resources sector presentations at the UN in Geneva, the World Bank in Washington DC, and at a high-level UN Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Browsing pages

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


I still keep an old paper that I have found in my childhood. Nowadays, it is a valuable item, after all. Not many newspapers are left, magazines with colourful photos are even more scarce. When people had to run away during The Dies Vagire, they tended to keep mementos of the past, solid things like books not the so soon outdated papers. After all, they talked about trifle matters, pleasantries, advertisements and pretty pictures. They had left behind the very thing that they cut our forest down. Isn’t it ironic?

I used to flip through pages and imagine myself in that life. I liked pictures the most. After Vagire the new government, The Greenest Party, did not allow to print such useless things any longer. It was a reasonable decision, since we did not have enough trees to sustain our basic needs, we did not have enough water nor electricity to waste it on pretty pictures. They banned many other things, as damaging to environment. Most people do not mind, too busy with surviving.

I would start with imaginary breakfast – a slice of bread with chocolate spread and hazelnuts. I always tried to imagine taste of it, but I have no idea whether I was right or wrong. We don’t use the white bread, tortillas are much easier and they require less heat and ingredients. The chocolate spread was banned anyway, not so long before all cocoa products were banned. It was easier than trying to force planters to stop cutting what was left from rainforests down, to stop overexploiting the soil. Palm oil was also banned, but it didn’t save the orangutans. It is funny – the same paper contained articles about damages to the world made by cocoa and palm oil and an ad for the product that used it in spades. There was also lot of sugar in it – now the sugar is in limited supply, for our health. I cannot even imagine indulging in it every day. The last ingredient, hazelnuts, are extinct. They disappeared almost unnoticed, when plants and animals were slowly moving towards poles, to escape the heat and unpredictable weather. Not all of them managed to survive that journey. There was also milk in that spread – but now it is a rare and expensive treat. We rarely eat meat or diary. Keeping stocks required too much water and crops to make it sustainable.

Then I would proceed to dress in imaginary dresses and shoes – but not with much enthusiasm. I failed to find what was attractive in delicate dresses that were colourful but didn’t shelter from gusts of wind or handbags must have been uncomfortable to wear, not to mention that you couldn’t stuff many items inside. What was the reason for wearing jackets that ended above one’s navel? What puzzled me the most were shoes – few straps on a high heel must have been everything but easy to walk in. Then I would remember, that they didn’t need to be as protected from weather as we are. They could be looked at, we must look out.

But my favourites were pictures of the last minute holiday destinations. I love the idea of calling it last minute, because even if they didn’t mean it, it was true. I looked at pictures of snow and skiing and skating on ice – water doesn’t freeze on its own any longer. I have seen ice, but the government disapproves of it – there is no need to use it for storing vegetables and creating and keeping it is a waste of our energy. The other direction of trips was to the seaside. Beaches covered with sand, blue sea, sun setting over the horizon – they are gone now. The beaches are covered in algae and poisonous jellyfish. The sea had also changed its colour to greenish. There are no fish there, suffocated by a layer of plankton and seaweeds that kept air and sun away from the deeper parts of the water. All that was alive in sea is now dead and rotting – at least that is what our seaside smells like. Only the sun is the same, possibly because it was too far away for us to contaminate it.

I have always skipped pages about green energy. It saddened me, how hopeful they were and how badly they failed. The solar panels could not survive hails and raising cloud coverage rendered them useless in colder regions and they were easily damaged by the scorching sun in the sunny parts of the world. The wind turbines could not keep up with hurricanes and tornadoes.

Now, when I browse the pages my attention is caught by one of the adverts that says ‘The future is now’. It is wrong, I think, we are past any future. The past is now and all we have left of it is not enough.


Anna Maria is a professional student with interests in various fields, ranging from language and linguistics, through literature, history, to art and biology. She wants to use her knowledge to write stories that are entertaining enough to be educating. Raised in a surprisingly green Silesia region (inside Polish borders) she hopes that greed will not prevail over reason.

Recuerdos de la anciana sabia*

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


(* Memories of the wise old woman)

I have discovered a recording I made of my great grandmother, la anciana sabia, when she was very old and I was young. This is the one in which she described what the Central Valley of California was like before I was born.

She remembered when the two great north-south highways, one on each side of the valley, lay mostly along the valley floor. That was before flooding became so frequent that it was cheaper to move the freeways up to the foothills to carry people and freight vehicles. Off these main highways, you can still see occasional weathered signs showing the name of the town you were entering, the population, and the old elevation above sea level, before sea level rose one foot after another, and the government stopped updating the signs.

In those days, the Sierra Nevada mountains north to south were covered with trees, and there was snow every winter but less heavy rain. That was in the century when the other side of my family was carried north from Michoacán on a tide of workers to pick fruit and vegetables in the Central Valley. My Anglo and Latino ancestors ended up together near the inverted Delta formed by the San Joaquin and the Sacramento rivers. This land had been reclaimed for farming centuries ago, before rising seas made it cheaper and more sensible to return much of it to the birds and the fish. Now the salmon move most years through a great inland sea.

“When your grandmother was born, in Sacramento in the spring of 1986,” said my great grandmother, “the Sacramento River a mile from our house almost topped its banks. Even then I thought, ‘Why do they allow homes to be built in this flood plain?’” In those days, she said, hardly any dwellings were built on pilings—just a few along the Sacramento river north of the Capitol, where now great river walls protect the parts of the city nearest to the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.

In the Delta, too, only a few people lived in dwellings on pilings, people nearest the rivers and on the edge of basins that are used for growing now only in dry years. You can still see the remains of old Delta roads in a very dry year when locals travel along them instead of using their solar boats. The magical architecture of the floodplains, the houses on pilings, was just beginning to evolve. Winter floods would only occasionally fill the Yolo Bypass, the first great bypass for flood water.

In those days, people grew vast areas of crops on the west side of the valley to feed people in California and the rest of the country and the world. As it became too hot to grow food in the ground, except under solar panels, people everywhere in the country and the world began to relearn how to grow their own food, in fields or greenhouses or agridomes, wherever they live, as our family has done, so that food doesn’t have to be moved great distances. But even now, furthest north in the Central Valley, farmers grow rice, grapes for wine, and marijuana.

“Once upon a time,” said my great grandmother, “men thought they could move water to anyplace that people wanted to live and farm.” That was before, one by one, the big dams failed and earthquakes broke the great north-south aqueducts into useless fragments. In those days, she said, farms grew food for people and animals from one end of the valley to the other. Some farmers irrigated those fields to grow alfalfa to feed cattle, and the meat of cows was so cheap that everyone whose faith allowed it ate beef all the time.

But the southern Valley kept getting hotter, and it kept getting harder to grow many crops in the traditional ways, all one crop planted for miles in soil under the desert sun. It has taken decades for people to learn that even in the deserts, it is possible, with permaculture, to surround yourself with green growing things. But that requires growing many different things together.

When we take the hybridcopter and travel to cities in the southern deserts, we see the new dwelling enclaves where artificial intelligence manages systems that control temperature, clean waste water, capture any rainwater that comes through, and pull water out of the air. Near Tulare Lake, they grow agave for syrup and mezcal. Only on the east side of the valley do thirsty nut trees still grow, taking in carbon dioxide and giving shade.

La anciana sabia saw this Valley begin to be transformed in her lifetime. “People used to accumulate more things,” she said, “before all the fires and floods and dislocations. Gradually, we lost the illusion of permanence.”

Hija, it doesn’t do much good to warn people about calamities. We live our lives up close,” she said, drawing so near to me that our noses almost touched. “The BIG picture” spreading her arms wide and then pulling me closer “we mostly miss, the pending events, the unforeseen consequences.”

“ArtIntel takes care of those things,” I said, repeating the argument I had heard so often. “ArtIntel does an error-free job of reasoning everything through, anticipating every possible consequence of every possible choice.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “we programmed it to do that for us. But even without that, human beings would adapt to their own follies, then innovate their way out of any problem their shortsightedness created for them.”

“Every few centuries,” she said, “people all begin to tell each other that they, of all human beings forever, are living at the end of everything, as if they thought they deserved to suffer uniquely, to be punished by gods they do not even believe in.

“They are always mistaken.”


Jane Wagner-Tyack is a writer and former educator who follows water issues for the League of Women Voters of California. She lives in Lodi, California.

The turtle

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


Danielle travelled the waterways of Manhattan. In the years since the waters rose, Manhattan had become the new Venice. Danielle loved the new face of the city. Negotiating the flooded streets was a tranquil experience, in comparison to before.

The majority of the faces she saw were female. The gender revolution had been and gone, after World War Three wiped out 80\% of the male population and only 20\% of women. It had always been tough for a single girl in the city; now even more so. Danielle felt like a green turtle, endlessly searching the deep blue for a mate.

She had other things to worry about, today, though. Real estate was a booming business. Certain industries still thrived, and companies needed viable properties in order to expand. A lot of the most prestigious business areas in Manhattan were now underwater, and it took a creative sales team supply that demand.

The self-driving skimmer slid into a mooring spot on her destination’s short dock. Danielle climbed out and walked down the wooden platform to the building’s main entrance, now on what used to be the second floor.

The receptionist looked up with a bright smile.

“Can I help you?”

Danielle was distracted by the floor to ceiling water tank behind the receptionist’s chair. Brightly coloured fish darted in and out between fronds of coral and tropical plants. In amongst all the activity, a pair of turtles swam slowly together, flippers almost touching.

“Yes, sorry,” Danielle said. “My name is Danielle Saracen. I have a meeting with Sam Deveraux.”

The receptionist checked a schedule on her computer, then looked up with another dazzling smile.

“Fifth floor. Room 502.”

Danielle made her way to the bank of elevators and pushed the button. Her attention was drawn back to the turtles as she waited. They looked content in their enclosed world. Danielle envied them their simple existence; every need catered for, no unknown dangers and no long years of solitude stretching ahead. They might not be free, but they were protected and looked after. It was a seductive concept.

The elevator panel beeped and the doors opened. She stepped inside, trying to focus on the meeting. She had corresponded with Sam Deveraux by email and knew the basic requirements. Small new law firm, seeking a business office that would lend credibility without breaking the bank. It was the kind of request Danielle specialised in, and she had a portfolio of options all prepared.

The elevator reached its destination, and Danielle took a moment to check her teeth in the back-wall mirror before exiting. A plaque on the wall told her which way to turn for Room 502. Danielle knocked.

A deep, male voice called out, “Come in.”

Danielle was completely thrown. At one in five globally, it wasn’t as if men were completely unheard of, but she had assumed Sam Deveraux was a woman. She threw off her surprise, drew her confidence about her like a shield, and opened the door.

As she entered, a man stood up from the table and extended his hand. He gave off an air of professionalism that made it easier for Danielle to forget his gender and focus on her purpose.

She stepped forwards and took his hand.

“Mr Deveraux.”

“Sam, please. And may I call you Danielle?”

“Yes, of course.”.

“Coffee?” He gestured at a sideboard set out with refreshments.

“Lovely, thank you,” Danielle said. “May I freshen your cup?”

There were papers scattered over the table, a plate sporting a few crumbs and a cup containing coffee dregs.

“Yes, thank you,” he replied, handing her the cup.

Once the coffee-making was completed and they were both seated at the table, Danielle laid the leather case she had brought with her between them.

“I’ve read the specification you sent through, and I think I have a few properties that might interest you.”

Sam leant forwards. “One of my friends recommended your agency and said your team came up with some really creative ideas for her company.”

“Well,” Danielle said, turning the portfolio slightly to give him a better view, “this is a good time to be looking. There are some real gems out there, which are priced very reasonably at the moment, but will likely increase in value in a few years. Let me show you.”

Once they had been through the whole of Danielle’s presentation, Sam looked up at her with a smile.

“I see my friend was right. This is very impressive work.”

Danielle felt a rush of professional pride, and smiled back. “Thank you. Do you see something you might want to move forwards with?”

“Absolutely,” Sam said, “but I’ll need to take a couple of days to think it over and reach a decision. May I take this away with me?” He gestured at the portfolio.

“Of course,” Danielle said. “Would you like to meet back here later in the week to work out the details?”

Sam looked calculating. “I was wondering if our next meeting could be at your offices. My new firm will be specialising in property law and I thought I could pitch my services to your agency.”

Danielle smile at his opportunism. “I’ll see if I can set something up and drop you an email to let you know.”

“Excellent. Thank you.” Sam extended his hand again, and Danielle shook it. “I hope this will develop into a very beneficial relationship.”

It was clear he was talking about a reciprocal working relationship, but Danielle thought she saw a glint in his eye that might speak to the possibility of something more. She might have been imagining it, but she couldn’t help thinking about the pair of turtles in the tank downstairs. Had the endless, empty ocean shrunk to the size of this conference room, and brought her lonely turtle days to an end?


Annie Percik lives in London with her husband, Dave, where she is revising her first novel, whilst working as a University Complaints Officer. She writes a blog about writing and posts short fiction on her website. She also publishes a photo-story blog recording the adventures of her teddy bear. He is much more popular online than she is. She likes to run away from zombies in her spare time.