In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 6 – by Andy Silber
Capitol building (formerly Seattle City Hall)
January 20th, 2065
It’s hard to believe that in one hour I’ll be sworn in as the first Prime Minster of Cascadia. I’m certainly not a revolutionary by temperament and much more likely to be leading a county than a country. When I was elected King County Executive I thought I had the perfect job and would have been happy to retire from that position after serving for many years, but the high-levels of CO2 also forced a change in the political climate. When the great awaking of 2023 happened after the Southern Greenland ice shelf collapsed, Seattle, where I live and work, had a moment of “I told you so”. We had created climate action plans going back to the 2000s (and even followed up with some action); our electric utility boasted about emitting zero greenhouse gases (GHG) since 2005; hybrid cars sold well here, until they were replaced by electric cars; in 2023 our GHG emission per capita was less than half of the national average and on a downward trend even as our economy boomed.
But the “I told you so” moment was short. We realized that even in the Evergreen State we had a lot of work to do. I had recently been elected to the state legislature with the slogan, “No one is greener than me.” It played on my political inexperience (I had just graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in Urban Planning) and desire to deal with climate change forcefully. Once the awakening happened, everyone wanted to get on the climate bandwagon. Since I had run on a green platform and the Port of Seattle was in my precinct, I got a seat at the table. We worked on further reductions of our GHG emissions and I got money for the Port to make the changes necessary to remain functional as the sea level increased. Our plan, unlike many other ports, assumed that the Greenland ice sheet would all flow into the sea, which seemed like the worst case at the time.
Twelve years later I successfully ran for the position of Executive for King County. My platform was to greatly increase local food production. This was something that many groups, like Seattle Tilth and Sustainable Seattle, had been working towards for decades. It was already clear that the food system was highly stressed and we needed to move towards self-sufficiency. We set up programs to help local farmers get their goods into grocery stores more efficiently so they could focus on farming, not retail. Lawns were turned into gardens across the county and chicken coups were in most backyards. We even arranged to be one of the ports that received the northern bog fertilizer when that started. There were other places that needed it more, but we were closer and had a good port. If the ships couldn’t keep up with the peat harvest, the quick turn-around made it worth stopping in Seattle rather than heading all of the way to Africa. We also worked with the MariFu Company to set up kelp farms to supply a factory here. I’m particularly proud of the effort I led with local chefs and the company to improve the flavor and texture of MariFu and create a cookbook of palatable recipes. My personal favorite was stir-fried Chard and MariFu with garlic and black bean sauce.
Then the refuges stated coming. At first, most of those who came had friends and family who helped them get settled. Since the refugees were coming from the southeast, especially Florida and Louisiana, they usually found a place to call home before they got here. Even still, more came than we could easily handle, so we built camps in North Bend to house those who needed a place. We just couldn’t build proper housing fast enough. The camps had food, water, basic sanitation, medical clinics and schools. As bad as it was, the residents there told us it was better than “out there.” Requests for help from the federal government went nowhere. We were told that our situation was much better than elsewhere and to keep doing what we were doing.
We did two critical things at this time and hoped that would be sufficient. Our regional transit agency, Sound Transit, was expanding our rail system at a rate of about two miles a year. We tripled that. In addition we relaxed the zoning laws, removing any height restrictions and all parking requirements for buildings within 500 meters of a rail station. Our plan was to look more like Hong Kong, with islands of high density around rail stops and people living car free. It’s not how we envisioned Seattle when I was young, but it beat the model of Cape Town, South Africa; a beautiful city surrounded by the squalor of the Cape Flats.
When Vegas collapsed due to the lack of water, many from there headed to Seattle and Portland. Word had gotten around that we were doing relatively well and hadn’t taken our share of refuges. By then the construction boom we had unleashed started showing results and the camps didn’t get much worse. They didn’t empty out, which was our intention. All of these years later, the camps are still open and occupied. So we ended up with the density of Hong Kong plus the squalor of the Cape Flats.
Then the Great Reset happened. The dollar collapsed, the stock market closed and the federal government did nothing. We militarized the sheriff’s department to protect our borders. To enter the county, you now needed paperwork. Refuges were sent to the camp initially for processing. If they had family or friends who were willing to sponsor them or critical skills like medical or construction then their entry was expedited. If not, then there was a lottery to allow people in as space was available.
When we set up the border control, I’m guessing we had ceded from the USA in some sense. In retrospect, refusing entry to American citizens was a revolutionary act, but that wasn’t our intent. No one in DC complained and I don’t know if they even knew. Anyone caught inside without permission was ineligible for the lottery or accommodations in the camps. Given what life was like elsewhere, that was a pretty strong impetus to play by our rules. Literally, no one made a Federal case out of it (not much of a risk, since the Federal Court in Seattle didn’t meet).
At first refuges not allowed entry to King County headed south to Tacoma in Pierce County or north to Everett in Snohomish County. Very shortly both counties wanted to join us with common borders and entry requirements. We organized a common defense and refugee camp structure and easy passage and trade across the three county region. In many ways society was reminiscent of feudal Europe, with castles (Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma) guarding and supporting the surrounding rural areas.
We also started to issue our own money, which was nicknamed Seattle Script. It was basically a debit card with heavy encryption. At first it was only accepted in King County, but almost immediately it grew to be accepted across the region.
Soon after the formation of the tri-county confederation I was visited by The Emissaries. No one knows how they got on my schedule as “Bob and Jane Doe.” They wouldn’t say where they were from, but they looked and sounded American. Clearly bright and articulate and about 25-years old, but if they had a sense of humor they kept it to themselves. They looked sharp, though extraordinarily pale, in their matching uniforms. In the meeting they presented gifts. The first was a new flu vaccine, including directions on how to make more and the science behind it. The scientists at the University of Washington studied it and said that it was at least a decade ahead of state-of-the-art. Given that the flu had killed over a thousand people the previous year, this was very much appreciated. They also provided me with a radio and said that in time of crisis I could call on them for help. They said that what we were doing was critical and they wanted to help and that they would be back.
As the power in Olympia and Washington DC declined, more counties wanted to join us. We created more arrangements and we expanded the influence of the Seattle-based government. Within a year, the capitol of Washington State had moved to Seattle. The new state government was more a confederation of counties with the state supporting transportation, security and dealing with refuges. I was elected Governor by a wide margin. Refuges continued to be settled in camps until there was space for them in the urban areas. Farmers and ranchers in rural areas were supported as best we could, though there were still many raids on outlying towns.
We were pretty happy with the status quo, but then just like other counties approached King county, other states approached Washington. Following their own paths, Oregon and British Columbia had ended up in a similar place. They were more interested in ties to the local Washington than to the distant and failing one on the other side of the continent.
First conceived of in the 19th century, it took a totally collapse of the US government and a near collapse of the government in Ottawa to make the nation of Cascadia a reality. The Emissaries returned and helped negotiate a constitution for the new country. It combines the federal concept of the US constitution with the parliamentary approach familiar to Canadians. Of course, there’s no King or Queen. We’re keeping the Pomp and Circumstance to a minimum, which is fine by me.
Tomorrow I have my first official duty as Head of State. I’m going to Vancouver for the ground-breaking of a new Deuterium/Tritium fuel extraction facility. Our last shipment from the LA facility took 6 months of negotiations and a freighter full of MariFu to get 18 months’ worth of fuel. The new extraction facility design is from The Emissaries, who are having their first public appearance as representatives of “the company” that created the design. In exchange for their design and support, they get 5% of the fuel. If their projections hold out and this plant produces twice the fuel as the LA plant does, that’s very cheap. We’ll be exporting fuel to the surrounding states and provinces, which should increase our wealth and influence.
The next day I’m back in Seattle for another event. I’ll be the first official passenger of the West Seattle to Ballard monorail.
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