In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 3 – By Andy Silber
August 24th, 2047
ICE3 Station, Greenland
Today the ship has come to pick us up. For over two decades I’ve been here keeping the glaciers from flowing into the ocean. The press release talked about the cost and better ways to spend our resources, but we know the real reason. Once the rains came, it was hopeless. At first we only had to deal with the melting ice and refreeze whatever made it to the ground. That we could do and keep the water from lubricating the glaciers and speeding their path to the ocean. Once a year or so, a pipe would break and need to be replaced. Once the rains came, we could only turn the water to slush, which lubricated the ice and there was nothing we could do to slow the inevitable march to the sea. Now our pipes are breaking every month. It’s just a matter of years, maybe a decade, until Greenland is ice free. It actually doesn’t matter whether the ice melts or not. Once it is floating, rather than resting on land, the seas go up.
It seems like it was a lifetime ago that I was in the NOAA Corp and I told one of the researchers I was interested in glaciers. He suggested I volunteer for the Greenland Ice Dam project. I was here when the power line came in from Iceland, when the drilling started, when the fusion reactor went online. I’m the only one left from those early days. I’ve spent half of the last 20 years on this rock, 10 days on, 10 days off.
After growing up in Akron, who would have imagined I would have spent half my adult life in Greenland and the other half in Iceland. I’m not quite ready to retire, but I’ve been too busy to think about what’s next. Maybe I’ll make up for being away from my wife, Emelía, and stay home and putter in the garden. I could write a book about the history of the ice dams, in the spirit of “My Life in Kenya” by Lionel Hardcastle. Sara is in college in Rejevik and Aron is busy on his aqua farm, so it would be quiet, but not as quiet as Greenland.
When the fish stocks crashed, Iceland was one of the most impacted countries in the world. Only 1% of the country is arable, so much of the food has always come from the sea. Modern sea farming was born in Iceland, out of necessity. Aron loves tending his kelp and sea grass and harvesting the fish who live there. Fishing has become like raising cattle or sheep: tend the land; harvest the animal. One funny thing is Iceland is one of the few places where our accessible land is increasing. Rising sea levels have been compensated by melting glaciers. Of course, none of that land is suitable for farming: it’s just rock that’s scraped clean of anything resembling soil.
Maybe the ice dams have bought us enough time. Dikes have been built, people have migrated uphill or inland. The glaciologists estimate that the ice dams bought us at least five years and maybe ten. That sounds like a good investment to me. Now that the glaciers are moving.
At least a boat came to pick us up. When the MEP closed up shop, we left the Martians on Mars. The terraforming is going well, so maybe that’s for the best. Once a week they broadcast a status report and it’s the highlight of my week. I guess I connect with them, since we’re both on a barren, isolated rock. The difference is I get to go home to the “lushness” of Iceland every month. On Mars the algae is doing well, the asteroids continue to bring them water and there’s even a patch of grass thriving in Ylla. You can’t walk around without a rebreather, but they have hope. The population was 8,500 when the Ark stopped coming, now it’s 9,200. Those children are the real Martians; the ones who have never lived on Earth. They’ve even started building things that they can no longer count on getting from Earth. Raw materials will be the easy part: they’ve already sampled the meteorites from the terraforming effort and they’ve got enough metals, including rare-earth metals, to keep them busy for generations.
I can’t help but feel that the closing of MEP is part of a bigger, scarier development. The progress of civilization has been about an expanding sense of Us as opposed to Them. First it was family, then clan, village, town, city, country. The Mars Exploration Program was the ultimate realization of that: every country in the world sent people to Mars, expanding Us to including not only everyone on Earth, but also everyone on Mars. I believe that this was the pinnacle of human civilization. Since then it’s been nothing but contraction. International trade has dropped, since many ports have shut down due to the rising sea level. Travel is less common, both because of cost and fear of spreading diseases. Our focus has turned inward and it seems to become more closed every year.
The harvesting of the northern bogs for fertilizer has reduced the fires and been used to halt the desertification that was happening as rain patterns shifted and the globe heated. It’s slow going, but it has already reduced the fires enough that atmospheric CO2 levels have started to drop for the first time in about 250 years. At this rate, in 30 years we’ll be back down to 400 ppm.
Our ship is in port. All of the critical materials have been loaded on board. Most everything is being left behind. The fusion reactors have been decommissioned and we’re running just on the HVDC line from Iceland. Given my veteran status, I’ve been given the dubious honor of throwing the switch that turns everything remaining off. It’s like pulling the plug on the life-support on a loved one: it’s painful, but you know that the time has come and it’s the right thing to do. Good-bye old friend.
I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler.
I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft.
I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber