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Updated: 2 days 3 hours ago

Imagine 2200: Submissions are now open for our climate fiction contest

Tue, 03/14/2023 - 00:00

Grist is excited to announce our third-annual climate fiction short story contest, Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors. 

Imagine 2200 is an invitation to writers from all over the globe to imagine a future in which solutions to the climate crisis flourish and help bring about radical improvements to our world. We dare you to dream anew. [Get Imagine updates: Sign up for our email list]

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Submissions for our 2023/2024 contest are now open. We’re looking for stories of 3,000 to 5,000 words that envision the next 180 years of climate progress — roughly seven generations – imagining intersectional worlds of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. 

Submit your story now

A great Imagine story showcases creative climate solutions, particularly through narratives that center the communities most impacted by the climate crisis, and that envision what a truly green, equitable, and decolonized society could look like. We celebrate fiction rooted in hope, justice, and cultural authenticity, and aim to amplify voices that have been, and continue to be, affected by systems of oppression.

Learn more

There is no cost to enter. Submissions close June 13, 2023, 11:59 p.m. U.S. Pacific Time.

The winning writer will be awarded $3,000, with the second- and third-place winners receiving $2,000 and $1,000, respectively. An additional nine finalists will each receive $300. All winners and finalists will have their story published in an immersive collection on Grist’s website. 

Stories will be judged by a panel of literary experts, including acclaimed authors Paolo Bacigalupi, Nalo Hopkinson, and Sam J. Miller.

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Imagine 2200 was inspired and informed by literary movements like Afrofuturism and Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, disabled, queer, and feminist  futurisms, along with hopepunk and solarpunk. We hope writers of all genres look to these movements for inspiration, and we urge writers within these communities to submit stories. 

We also invite you to bring climate fiction and the principles of Imagine 2200 into other genres. Write a climate mystery or comedy. If you love steamy romance, thread a climate story through that titillating enemies-to-lovers arc. Climate connects to every part of life — all sorts of stories can be climate stories. 

So dream big — envision a world where we prioritize our well-being, work to mend our communities, and lead lives that celebrate our humanity. We can’t wait to read what you come up with.

Submit your story now Frequently Asked Questions

Below, we’ve answered some FAQs to explain the concepts that drive this project. If you’re ready to start writing, you can find our submissions portal here.

And if you’d like to get in touch or have additional questions, you can reach us at imaginefiction [at]

Writing your story

Q. Can I submit a story longer than 5,000 words?

A. We’re excited that you’re excited, but the submission guidelines are not flexible. Stories need to be between 3,000 and 5,000 words. 

Q. Does my story need to be set in the year 2200?

A. Nope! We’d be just as happy to see your visions of amazing, just, and decolonized worlds in 2136 or 2098. We just want to encourage writers to think well beyond our present moment and with a sense of expansive possibility.  

Q. Can my story include supernatural or fantastical elements?

A. Sure! Of course, like everything in your story, it should serve a purpose. We’re open to magical realism, spiritual elements, and supernatural twists, especially where they’re culturally significant. 

Q. TBH, I’m not that hopeful about the future of the planet. Can my story be grimdark and apocalyptic?

A. We get it. The world can seem pretty dark these days. That’s why it’s so important to make space for visions of a future worth fighting for. We firmly believe in the power of imagination to help set our compass toward a better world. We’re not saying you need to feign optimism, but bear in mind that hope is one of the core elements we’ll be reading for. And hope takes many forms. We know that achieving a clean, green, and just future will require the sustained efforts of many people, some conflict, and a whole lot of adaptation. We invite you to show those aspects in your story as well.   

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Submitting your story

Q. Is there a cost to enter the contest?

A. Zero dollars!

Q. Who can submit? Are there any restrictions on age, geography, etc.?

A. Writers must be at least 18 years old to submit to Imagine 2200. The contest is open to folks anywhere in the world, except where participation is prohibited or restricted by applicable law. Stories do need to be written in English. 

Q. Can a submission have more than one author?

A. We do accept co-authored stories. Only one of the co-authors should submit the story — the submission form will offer a way to list the other co-author(s). If we select a co-authored story for publication, all authors will be credited and prize money will be divided between them.

Q. Do authors keep the rights to their stories?

A. Yes, authors maintain the copyright and ownership of their stories. Grist will have the right to publish and distribute your story on our site and with partners. We also ask for 12 months of exclusive rights to publish your story in a print anthology (like our Afterglow anthology). If a story is republished elsewhere after the contest, we simply ask for a credit line indicating that the work first appeared in Grist’s Imagine 2200 collection. See all the information about rights and licensing in our full official rules.

Q. OK, I’m in! How do I submit a story, and how can I help spread the word?

A. Woo-hoo! For more complete guidelines and criteria, head to our submissions portal here. If you’d like to help get the word out or have a question we haven’t answered, drop us a note at imaginefiction [at] We can’t wait to read your story!

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Q. How can I learn more about Imagine and cli-fi at Grist?

A. Check out our About page for more information and to see past contest winners and collections. Or sign up for our email list to get updates on Imagine contests and publications.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Imagine 2200: Submissions are now open for our climate fiction contest on Mar 14, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Biden approves Willow oil project in Alaska despite campaign pledge

Mon, 03/13/2023 - 08:58

Since taking office, the Biden administration has faced intense cross-pressure regarding the Willow Project, a ConocoPhillips venture that would open up an immense swath of public land on Alaska’s North Slope to new oil drilling. While Alaska politicians and oil industry figures have vigorously lobbied the administration to approve the project — particularly in the wake of the energy crisis stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — progressives, environmental groups, and some Alaska Native communities have strenuously opposed it.

On Monday, the administration tried to placate both sides. The Bureau of Land Management announced its final approval of the project, clearing the way for ConocoPhillips to start drilling over the next few years. At the same time, the Department of the Interior said that it will restrict future drilling in other parts of Alaska as well as ban offshore oil drilling in a swath of Arctic Ocean waters.

The most recent Bureau of Land Management estimates suggest that Willow could produce some 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years, generating as much as $17 billion in revenue for Alaska and the federal government. Its projected economic impact has helped the project garner nearly universal support from elected officials in Alaska at the state and federal level, as well as the endorsement of some Alaska Native communities. Dan Sullivan, one of the state’s Republican senators, has also claimed that Willow could help counter “the dictator in Moscow” by reducing global reliance on Russian oil.

The project’s potential productivity has triggered the opposite response in environmentalist circles, with the Democrat-aligned think tank the Center for American Progress declaring Willow a “carbon disaster” when it called on the president to reject the project last year. As a candidate, Biden said that if he were elected there would be “no new drilling on federal lands, period.” The approval of the Willow Project marks the first time the president has broken this promise without being forced to by Congress or federal courts.

According to the government’s own estimate, Willow could result in the release of more than 249 million tons of carbon dioxide over three decades, after all the oil is drilled and burned — the equivalent of adding around 2 million cars to the road each year. Furthermore, an investigation published by Grist in October suggested that rapid permafrost thaw in the region could create little-understood safety risks if drilling continues as planned. Already last spring, a monthlong natural gas leak caused by Conoco’s nearby drilling led to hundreds of evacuations and panic in the Alaska Native village of Nuiqsut.

ConocoPhillips has been pursuing Willow since at least 2015, when the company’s engineers made a major oil discovery on leases that the company had owned for more than a decade. The Trump administration tried to force the project through the approval process in late 2020, but a federal court ruling kicked the decision back to the incoming Biden administration the following year. Biden’s Bureau of Land Management pushed forward a scaled-down version of the project last month, suggesting Conoco should be allowed to drill at three of its five proposed well pads on the site.

Meanwhile, the announcement from the Interior Department would protect an enormous swath of Alaska wilderness from future development, creating what one official described to the New York Times as a “firewall” against future drilling projects of Willow’s scale. In a press release on Sunday, Interior said it is drafting a rule that will prohibit oil drilling on more than half of the 23 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve, which is the location of the Willow Project and the largest single swath of public land in the U.S. The announcement also promised to protect 3 million acres of offshore waters on the Beaufort Sea.

In a statement, the Department said the rule was intended to “ensure this important habitat for whales, seals, polar bears, as well as for subsistence purposes, will be protected in perpetuity from extractive development.” It also said the new safeguards are “responding to Alaska Native communities who have relied on the land, water, and wildlife to support their way of life.”

Climate groups do not appear appeased by the proposed safeguards, arguing that new protections don’t make up for the damage the Biden administration will cause by approving Willow. Kristin Monsell, an attorney for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the New York Times on Sunday that the split decision was “insulting.”

“Protecting one area of the Arctic so you can destroy another doesn’t make sense,” she said, “and it won’t help the people and wildlife who will be upended by the Willow project.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Biden approves Willow oil project in Alaska despite campaign pledge on Mar 13, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Rich countries export twice as much plastic waste to the developing world as previously thought

Mon, 03/13/2023 - 07:14

High-income countries have long sent their waste abroad to be thrown away or recycled — and an independent team of experts says they’re inundating the developing world with much more plastic than previously estimated.

According to a new analysis published last week, United Nations data on the global waste trade fails to account for “hidden” plastics in textiles, contaminated paper bales, and other categories, leading to a dramatic, 1.8-million-metric-ton annual underestimate of the amount of plastic that makes its way from the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States to poor countries. The authors highlight the public health and environmental risks that plastic exports pose in the developing world, where importers often dump or incinerate an unmanageable glut of plastic waste.

“Toxic chemicals from these plastics are poisoning communities,” said Therese Karlsson, a science and technical adviser for the nonprofit International Pollutant Elimination Network, or IPEN. IPEN helped coordinate the analysis along with an international team of researchers from Sweden, Turkey, and the U.S.

Many estimates of the scale of the plastic waste trade make use of a U.N. database that tracks different types of products through a “harmonized commodity description and coding system,” which assigns each product category a code starting with the letters HS. HS 3915 — “waste, parings, and scrap” of plastics — is often assumed by researchers and policymakers to describe the total volume of plastic that’s traded globally. But the new analysis argues this is only “the tip of the plastic waste iceberg,” since HS 3915 misses large quantities of plastic that are included in other product categories.

Discarded clothing, for example, may be tracked as HS 5505 and not counted as plastic waste, even though 60 to 70 percent of all textiles are made of some kind of plastic. And another category called HS 6309 — used clothing and accessories — is assumed by the U.N. to be reused or recycled and is therefore not considered waste at all, even though an estimated 40 percent of these exported clothes are deemed unsalvageable and end up dumped in landfills.

Plastic contamination in paper bales — the huge stacks of unsorted paper that are shipped abroad to be recycled — also tends to be overlooked in estimates of the international plastic waste trade, even though these bales may contain 5 to 30 percent plastic that must be removed and discarded.

Accounting for plastic from just these two product categories increases plastic waste exports from all the regions analyzed by as much as 1.8 million metric tons per year — 1.3 million from paper bales and half a million from textiles. That’s more than double the plastic that’s counted when only plastic “waste, parings, and scrap” are analyzed.

Additional product categories like electronics and rubber add even more to the global plastic waste trade, although Karlsson said a lack of data makes it hard to quantify their exact contribution. All this plastic strains developing countries’ waste management infrastructure, leading to large quantities of plastic waste ending up in dumps, landfills, or incinerators. Burning this waste causes hazardous air pollution for nearby communities, and dumps and landfills can leach chemicals like PCBs — a group of compounds that can cause cancer in humans — into soil and water supplies.

More than 10,000 chemicals are used in the production of plastic, and one-fourth of them have been flagged by researchers for their toxicity and potential to build up in the environment and in people’s bodies. The report calls for greater transparency from plastic and petrochemical industries about the chemicals they put in their plastic products, and for regulators to require them to use fewer, nontoxic chemicals.

Karlsson also called for a total ban on the global plastic waste trade, along with enforceable limits on the amount of plastics the world makes in the first place. “Regardless of what way we’re handling plastic waste, we need to decrease the amount of plastics that we generate,” she told Grist, “because the amount of plastic waste being produced today will never be sustainable.”

Without aggressive action to phase down plastic production, the world is on track to have produced a cumulative 26 billion metric tons of plastic waste by 2050, most of which will be incinerated, dumped, or sent to landfills.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Rich countries export twice as much plastic waste to the developing world as previously thought on Mar 13, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

In the once-cool forests of the Pacific Northwest, heat poses a new threat

Sun, 03/12/2023 - 05:00

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In the days after a record-breaking heat wave baked the Pacific Northwest in 2021, state and federal foresters heard reports of damaged and dying trees across Oregon and Washington. Willamette Valley Christmas tree farmers had lost up to 60 percent of their popular noble firs, while caretakers at Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum said Douglas firs, their state tree, dropped more needles than ever seen before. Timber plantations reported massive losses among their youngest trees, with some losing nearly all of that year’s plantings.

The damage was obvious even to those who weren’t tasked with looking for it. Drivers, homeowners, and tree experts alike called or sent photos of damaged redcedars, hemlocks, and spruce, particularly in coastal forests. Swaths of the landscape were so scorched it looked like a wildfire had torn through.

Some farmers and homeowners had tried to prepare, dumping water on their orchards and yards before and during the heat wave. Many lost branches, leaves, and entire trees anyway. “There’s a misconception out there that a lot of people have that, if things are just watered enough, they can get through these events,” said Chris Still, an Oregon State University tree ecologist and expert in tree heat physiology. “But the heat spells we’re talking about, like the heat dome, are so intense that I don’t think that’s really a tenable assumption anymore.”

Simply watering trees during extreme heat makes intuitive and practical sense, but that idea is based largely on knowledge about droughts. After all, nearly all of the research on climate-related stress in trees has focused only on the impact of insufficient water. But it turns out that trees respond quite differently to extreme heat versus prolonged drought. Still’s own research, including a new study on the heat dome, is part of a growing body of work focused on untangling the effects of both conditions. Given that extreme heat and drought are both becoming more common and intense — and won’t always coincide — foresters and tree farmers will need tools to prepare for each.

The thread human-caused global warming poses to the Northwest’s forests was evident long before the 2021 heat dome: Oregon and Washington’s most common conifer species are all dying in alarming numbers, many because of drought. Starting in 2015, state foresters began warning that western hemlocks, a particularly drought-sensitive species common to the Coast Range and Cascades, were succumbing to pests and fungi that infested the already-stressed trees. More recently, foresters have seen widespread die-offs of western redcedar and Douglas firs. Aerial surveys in 2022 documented what foresters have dubbed “firmageddon” — the sudden death of 1.2 million acres of “true firs” (which include grand and noble firs, but not Douglas firs), mostly in Oregon.

“All of our trees are drought-stressed,” Oregon state entomologist Christine Buhl told High Country News last July. “They can’t protect themselves against other agents” in their weakened state. Even common pests and native parasites that don’t normally kill trees are now proving lethal.

When the 2021 heat wave hit, foresters weren’t certain what new chaos it might bring. Drought affects tree stems and the structures that move water and nutrients around, but heat destroys needles and leaves. When those tender green structures heat up — and they often reach temperatures far higher than the air around them — they lose water fast. The tissues inside them fall apart, and they turn red or brown as their chlorophyll breaks down.

“Just like our skin, when (sun exposure) rips those cells apart and we have blisters and sunburn, it does the same exact thing to those needles and leaves,” said Danny DePinte, a forest health specialist who flies annual aerial surveys for the U.S. Forest Service in Washington and Oregon. The 2021 heat dome offered a rare glimpse of the results on a large scale: When DePinte flew over the region later that year, he saw whole landscapes of trees scorched on their south and west-facing sides, where temperatures would have been hottest. The worst damage occurred on southern slopes with prolonged exposure and in coastal forests that are adapted to far cooler temperatures.

DePinte’s survey found that at least 229,000 acres of forest had been damaged by the heat wave — a figure state researchers say only begins to capture the total area damaged, which was likely much larger. Research like Still’s, which drew in part on DePinte’s data, has made it clear that heat stress causes more immediate and acute damage than drought. Its long-term impacts are far less understood, though, because events like the 2021 heat dome are still unusual.

On his 2022 survey flights, DePinte found that the most obvious damage seems to have been temporary: Damaged areas are mostly green again with new growth. Further research, by Still’s team and others, will investigate possible lingering health effects, including whether the trees become more susceptible to pests, disease and death.

Researchers will also consider how foresters and tree farmers could respond, as extreme heat waves become more common. Adaptations might include planting certain species together to shade more vulnerable trees, determining which native trees are most tolerant to extreme heat, and planting species on farms or after wildfires that are already adapted to hotter conditions farther south.

“We need to be smart about what trees we’re planting so that we have forests in the same places,” DePinte said. “We’ve got to think hundreds of years into the future: What is this area gonna look like? And then plan accordingly.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In the once-cool forests of the Pacific Northwest, heat poses a new threat on Mar 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Fighting drought, potato farmers in northern Minnesota overdrew their water permits by tens of millions of gallons

Sat, 03/11/2023 - 06:00

This story was originally published by the Star Tribune.

During the 2021 drought, nearly 800 Minnesota farmers with high-capacity wells pumped 6.5 billion more gallons of water than their permits allowed, state records show.

Farms on land owned or operated by R.D. Offutt Co., a potato-growing giant that has become one of the biggest water users in the state, were responsible for 23 percent of the excessive pumping.

“That’s quite a bit of overuse,” said Randall Doneen, a section manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We’re trying to get people back into compliance.”

The overpumping in 2021 put more stress on already depleted aquifers, lakes, and streams and raised the risk that neighboring wells would run dry.

A Star Tribune review of water permit data reported each year to the DNR found more than three of four water users who violated their permits were agricultural irrigators. But they are unlikely to face fines or other consequences because of laws that the DNR says are too lenient. Many irrigators may not even have to pay for the extra water they used, based on the tiered fee system the state charges heavy users.

In some cases, farmers needed to go over their permits to keep their crops alive, said Jake Wildman, president of the Irrigators Association of Minnesota.

“Nobody wants to have to pump as much we did,” Wildman said. “We all understand rules and regulations are there for a reason. We all want to follow them. I truly believe we did the best we could with the tools we had and climate we were given.”

The permit violations on R.D. Offutt farms is particularly concerning to neighbors and water quality advocates, because many of them are located in the Pineland Sands region of central Minnesota. The same sandy porous soil that makes the land attractive for growing potatoes also makes it vulnerable to pollution.

When too much water is drawn from the ground for crops, it allows pollutants to seep into the soil, potentially contaminating drinking water.

Based in Fargo and founded 60 years ago, R.D. Offutt is one of the largest potato growing operations in the world. Much of their produce is cut into French fries, and the company is a major supplier to McDonalds restaurants.

It rapidly expanded in Minnesota in the past two decades. Many forests and timberlands in the Pineland Sands area, which covers parts of Hubbard, Wadena, Cass, and Becker counties, were cleared and turned into irrigated cropland.

By 2018, the company’s growth concerned DNR officials to the point that the agency stopped approving its well permit applications. The DNR said a comprehensive study was needed to find out whether increased water use was drying up lakes and streams, or hurting water quality in wells in the region. R.D. Offutt had dozens of pending well applications at the time.

Rather than fund the study, the company reached a deal with the DNR that withdrew all but five permit applications. The DNR asked lawmakers to fund the study. They did not, and it was never done.

By 2021, R.D. Offutt was the registered landowner or agent of more than 650 high-capacity well permits in the state. Together, those farms pumped 22 billion gallons of water — about 2.5 billion more than was used by the entire city of Minneapolis’ water treatment plant, which serves about 500,000 people.

The overuse was a result of just how bad the 2021 drought was, R.D. Offutt spokeswoman Jennifer Maleitzke said. It was the state’s most severe dry spell since at least 1988.

“Without measurable rainfall, farmers like us relied on irrigation to make sure crops across the state survived and there were no disruptions to the food supply chain,” she said.

In the years before the drought, R.D. Offutt farms complied with their permits. Less than 1 percent of the company’s permit holders went over their limit in 2020 and 2019.

“Every single growing season is different,” Maleitzke said. “We take our responsibility seriously to preserve the water supply in Minnesota, and we’ve made significant investments during our 60 years of farming potatoes to do just that.”

The overuse shows how irrigators and high-capacity water users face few repercussions if they violate a permit, said Mike Tauber, who lives in the Pineland Sands region in Backus, Minn., and has helped organize petitions demanding in-depth water quality studies.

“They’re thumbing their nose at the agencies,” Tauber said.

Everyone with a permit to draw more than 1 million gallons of water a year is required to report how much water they use. But that reporting is largely done on the honor system. There are no compliance checks.

The city of Blaine opened three new wells and pumped millions of gallons in 2021 and 2022 without getting permits. The DNR learned about it only after 141 nearby private well owners complained about running dry.

Blaine, too, likely won’t face any fines. Lawmakers have given the DNR few ways to penalize anyone that violates the permits.

The DNR could issue an “administrative penalty” ranging up to $20,000, depending on the severity of the breach. But the fine would be forgiven as soon as the user comes into compliance, Doneen said.

The DNR only typically issues a penalty in the most egregious cases, Doneen said. He doesn’t except any fines to be issued for farmers who overpumped during the drought.

But dry spells are precisely when the state should be more aggressive in protecting water supplies, said Carrie Jennings, research and policy director at the St. Paul-based Freshwater Society.

“That’s the critical time when you would want to do it,” she said.

DNR administrators have asked lawmakers in each of the last two years to allow them to increase the fines they can impose on permit violations. A bill in the House would let the agency fine up to $40,000. The agency also would get more discretion over whether fines are forgiven.

“The tools we have aren’t what we need,” said Bob Meier, assistant DNR commissioner.

Permit holders that exceeded the limits would still need to pay the same tiered water-use rates as everyone else. All permit holders pay $140 a year to pump up to 50 million gallons of water. They’re charged $3.50 for every million gallons after that. The price rises again after 100 million.

The average R.D. Offutt permit that was violated had a limit of 43 million gallons in 2021. Those that went over, but still pumped less than 50 million gallons, wouldn’t have to pay any more than the $140 minimum. The users that exceeded the permits did so by an average of 10 million gallons. If they were only permitted to pump 43 million gallons, those users would need to pay an extra $10.50 — roughly the cost of a Big Mac with large fries.

This story was shared with permission through the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an editorially independent reporting network based at the University of Missouri.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Fighting drought, potato farmers in northern Minnesota overdrew their water permits by tens of millions of gallons on Mar 11, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Ohio politicians found guilty in $60 million utilities bribery scandal

Fri, 03/10/2023 - 15:27

FBI agents arrested one of Ohio’s most recognizable politicians, then-state House of Representatives Speaker Larry Householder, in connection with a $60 million bribery scheme nearly three years ago. The 80-page criminal complaint against him and four collaborators reads like a John Grisham thriller. According to the complaint, Householder and the others controlled a slush fund that received millions of dollars from three utility companies in the state. Householder used this money to help elect like-minded legislators. In exchange, he helped pass House Bill 6, a bailout law that halved the amount of renewable power utilities were required to buy, eliminated energy efficiency measures, and provided billions of dollars to utilities that owned nuclear and coal power plants in the state. It was a classic pay-to-play scheme.

Yesterday, a federal jury largely affirmed those allegations, finding Householder and ex-Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges guilty of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise involving bribery and money laundering. The two men face up to 20 years in prison and will be sentenced in the coming months. 

“Larry Householder illegally sold the statehouse, and thus he ultimately betrayed the great people of Ohio he was elected to serve,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Kenneth Parker in a press release.

Borges and Householder plan to appeal the verdict. “This is just step one,” Householder told reporters after the verdict. “Stay tuned.”

The bribery scandal in Ohio is an extreme instance of a common practice of utilities wielding behind-the-scenes influence on state legislatures — often to soften renewable energy standards and subsidize the rising costs of operating old, polluting power plants. In 2020, a utility in Illinois admitted to bribing the state house speaker, and a power company in Arizona acknowledged it donated millions of dollars to dark-money groups — 501(c)(4) nonprofits that are allowed to pay for political advertising without revealing the source of the money — in an attempt to get utility-friendly candidates elected to a commission that sets electricity rates for the state. 

“You don’t have to look far to see that the FirstEnergy scandal is part of a broader trend,” Dave Anderson, communications and policy manager of the nonprofit watchdog organization Energy and Policy Institute, told Grist in an email.

The Ohio corruption scandal began with a 2008 renewable energy law. The Ohio legislature, following in the footsteps of other states across the country, passed that law mandating wind and solar projects and creating programs to help residents and businesses use less energy. As these efforts materialized across the state, the utilities that primarily relied on nuclear and fossil fuel power began to see their profits dwindle. In response, they began lobbying the legislature and spending lavishly on allied politicians’ election campaigns. 

Some of those efforts succeeded, and the legislature repealed the renewable energy mandate in 2014. But relief came too late for one of the utilities, FirstEnergy, which found itself in the red. Simultaneously, Householder was considering returning to the state House (he had previously served in the early 2000s) and was looking for cash to mount a successful campaign as well as help like-minded politicians to run for office. After Householder was elected, his team set up a dark money group, and FirstEnergy began funneling money to it.  

What FirstEnergy and other utilities allegedly got in return was a $1.3 billion bailout. Soon after Householder took charge of the speaker’s podium in 2019, he proposed House Bill 6. It was touted as an effort to improve air quality, but it mostly included bailouts for coal and nuclear power. At the same time, it scaled back energy efficiency measures and added bureaucratic hurdles to prevent the growth of wind power. The bill was eventually signed into law. An independent analysis found that it would cost Ohioans $2 billion in excess utility bills and $7 billion in healthcare costs (due to worsening pollution) over nine years. 

Despite Householder’s 2020 arrest and widespread knowledge of the scandal, only parts of House Bill 6 have since been repealed. The ratepayer-funded bailout of two coal plants — which could eventually cost as much as $1.7 billion — still remains in effect, and the state’s energy efficiency requirements have not been restored. 

There are still additional loose ends in the scandal. During the course of Householder’s trial, FirstEnergy admitted to bribing Sam Randazzo, the former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. (Neither Randazzo nor FirstEnergy employees have been charged with any wrongdoing, and Randazzo has maintained his innocence.) The Ohio state attorney general has also filed a civil lawsuit against Householder and others seeking damages for the scandal. Separately, the attorney general has filed a complaint against Householder for using campaign funds for his legal defense.

“The convictions provide new momentum for the ongoing federal criminal investigation into utility corruption in Ohio,” said Anderson with the Energy and Policy Institute. “Hopefully, the Department of Justice will follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Ohio politicians found guilty in $60 million utilities bribery scandal on Mar 10, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

The fight to define ‘green hydrogen’ could determine America’s emissions future

Fri, 03/10/2023 - 03:45

With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, a decades-long effort to get a major climate package through Congress is over. But the work of ensuring this unprecedented bundle of funding for clean energy actually leads to reduced emissions is just beginning. 

A decision with profound implications for that goal now lies with the Treasury Department, which must settle a debate over the best way of crafting a tax credit designed to advance the production of clean hydrogen. Scientists and climate advocates warn that without rigorous guidelines dictating who is eligible for the subsidy, the government could spend billions propping up hydrogen production facilities with enormous carbon footprints, wiping out many of the other climate gains catalyzed by the legislation. 

“Absent strong rules, we could increase emissions by half a gigaton over the lifetime of the credit,” Rachel Fakhry, a senior climate and clean energy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Grist. “The current emissions of the power sector is 1.5 gigatons. So this is completely contrary to U.S. climate goals. The stakes are extremely high.”

Such concerns came up repeatedly during a public comment period that ended in December. But the hydrogen industry, oil companies like Chevron and BP that are investing in the technology, and even a few renewable energy groups argued otherwise. They flooded the Treasury with comments insisting that arduous rules will undermine U.S. climate goals — by killing this nascent clean technology before it can even get started. 

Onerous rules would “devastate the economics” of green hydrogen, David Reuter, chief communications officer for the energy company NextEra, told Grist in an email. They would shut down investment in the industry, “effectively making it dead on arrival.”

Building a domestic clean hydrogen industry is a key part of the Biden administration’s climate strategy. The fuel has the potential to replace oil, gas, and coal in a range of applications, from aviation to industrial processes like steelmaking and chemical manufacturing. Most importantly, it does not emit carbon when it’s used. 

The dispute over the tax credit comes down to the unusual business of producing hydrogen. Current supplies are made by reforming natural gas, which releases greenhouse gasses. The tax credit is designed to reduce the cost of a carbon-free method that requires only electricity, water, and a machine called an electrolyzer. Producers can earn up to $3 per kilogram of hydrogen they produce this way. The tax credit has no cap, and could pay out more than $100 billion over the next decade. 

The question for the Treasury is how to measure the emissions from the electricity used. About 60 percent of U.S. electricity still comes from fossil fuels. Plug your hydrogen plant into the grid pretty much anywhere in the country today, and it could result in higher emissions than the conventional production method that uses natural gas.

Late last year, a prominent energy modeling group at Princeton University circulated new research showing that hydrogen producers could all but eliminate this emissions impact by following three principles. These are the rigorous rules that the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups want the Treasury to adopt. 

The Hybrit pilot plant in Lulea, Sweden has started producing lower-carbon steel using green hydrogen. Steffen Trumpf/picture alliance via Getty Images

First, producers must contract with new renewable energy resources like wind and solar farms or geothermal power plants, ensuring that enough new clean electricity comes onto the grid to cover the hydrogen plant’s demand. Second, these resources must feed into the same regional grid that the hydrogen plant uses, with no transmission bottlenecks between them. And third, hydrogen producers must match their operations with these renewable energy resources on an hourly basis. That means if they buy power from, say, a solar farm, they have to shut down when the sun goes down.

That hourly matching concept is giving hydrogen producers the biggest headache. “Grid-tied electrolyzers are most economic when operating as close to 100 percent as possible,” said Reuter. “A clean hydrogen project may have to curtail its electrolyzer if renewables are not available at these granular time periods. Curtailment leads to long idle times and higher costs.”

Instead, NextEra and others in the industry urge the government to accept a scenario in which they buy enough renewable energy to cover their electricity usage on an annual basis. That means a hydrogen plant could run ‘round the clock for a year, total up its energy usage, and buy an equivalent amount of solar or wind power. Reuter cited an analysis by the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie which found that such a scheme could bring enough renewable power onto the grid to cancel out the dirty production and result in net zero-emissions hydrogen. 

Wilson Ricks, who led the Princeton study, noted that Wood Mackenzie made several different assumptions that led to that conclusion. For one, the authors didn’t include clean electricity subsidies from the Inflation Reduction Act, “which leads to significantly higher total costs for both annual and hourly matching,” he said. It will be up to the Treasury to parse these differences.

The stakes of eschewing any one of the three principles are not just about emissions or project costs. Fakhry said that if hydrogen producers increase demand for electricity when renewable resources are unavailable, they will undoubtedly cause natural gas and coal-fired power plants to ramp up. That could worsen air pollution and drive up the cost of electricity. It also creates a reputational risk for the budding industry — it will be much harder to make the case for using green hydrogen if there’s uncertainty about how clean it actually is.

Right now, some self-described green hydrogen producers are flocking to areas like upstate New York, where existing hydropower is cheap, and Florida, where solar energy is abundant. But if the Treasury agrees that hydrogen production must be powered by new, clean resources at all times to earn the tax credit, those projects wouldn’t just lose the ability to claim the credit — they would lose credibility.

Criticisms of the approach NextEra and others propose are not new, nor are they unique to hydrogen. Many companies that claim they are “powered by 100 percent renewable energy,” are likely doing some form of annual matching. But there’s a growing consensus that this claim is misleading. In 2020, technology giant Google came to the conclusion that it needed to match its energy usage with clean sources on a 24/7 basis to fully eliminate its carbon footprint. At the time, there weren’t really any products or systems set up to facilitate this. But the landscape has changed dramatically since then, said Maud Texier, director of clean energy and carbon development at Google. Businesses have sprung up to help companies track their consumption on a granular basis, and renewable energy markets have created hourly products.

“We see a whole value chain and ecosystem developing around this 24/7 solution,” she said. “Today for new entrants, there’s many more tools for them to get started.”

Google still has a ways to go to achieve its goal. But many other companies, nonprofits, and even governments have signed on to the concept. A United Nations-sponsored initiative includes more than 100 signatories. In 2021, the Biden administration set a goal for at least 50 percent of the power consumed by government buildings to be emissions-free on a 24/7 basis by 2030. 

“The market is heading in this direction,” said Fakhry. “The tools are here and can scale really fast where they’re not. And the Treasury imposing anything short of that is contrary to momentum in the market.”

Read Next How a new subsidy for ‘green hydrogen’ could set off a carbon bomb

The argument that hourly matching would destroy the economics for green hydrogen also doesn’t entirely stand up to scrutiny. Seven hydrogen and renewable energy companies filed joint comments to the Treasury arguing that the approach is technologically and economically feasible. One of them, Electric Hydrogen, is developing electrolyzers designed to shut on and off to match renewable energy availability. Raffi Garabedian, the company’s CEO, acknowledged that today’s electrolyzers are so expensive that it does make it harder to square a project’s finances if they operate intermittently. But he said some hydrogen developers are combining wind and solar contracts, allowing them to operate a lot closer to 24/7.

“You’re still shutting off every day, but that helps the economics,” he said. “But it’s not possible, nor is it the right thing to do to run hydrogen production at all hours of the day. I’ll just say that really bluntly.”

Garabedian and others pointed a hydrogen plant under development in Texas, a joint project by the energy corporation AES and the chemical company Air Products. Rather than plugging into the grid, the companies plan to build wind and solar farms to supply the plant directly. A representative for AES confirmed that the plant “will ramp up and down with the availability of renewable energy generation.”

Another project under development in Mississippi by the company Hy Stor is taking a similar approach, combining wind and solar to power its plant. It will use underground caverns to store hydrogen so that it can provide a steady supply to customers when the plant’s operations slow or halt.

It’s true that rigorous rules would significantly skew the geography of clean hydrogen. Daniel Esposito, a senior policy analyst at the think tank Energy Innovation, said he expects to see more developers head to wind belt states like Texas and New Mexico. To him, this would be a positive outcome, because industries in those areas, like ammonia production and major trucking routes, are great candidates to become clean hydrogen customers. “There’s a lot of great uses there that don’t have a lot of great alternative solutions,” he said.

Whatever Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and her department decide will shape the future of the nation’s clean hydrogen industry for years to come — and by extension, the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act. For Esposito, the decision turns on a single question. 

“Are we aiming for building up the industry, emissions be damned? Or building up the industry at a slower pace, with the emissions in check from the start? We just want to make sure that everybody writing the rules knows the implications.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The fight to define ‘green hydrogen’ could determine America’s emissions future on Mar 10, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

How a small business in Arizona is helping decarbonize concrete

Fri, 03/10/2023 - 03:30

Block-Lite is a small concrete manufacturer in an industrial corridor of Flagstaff, Arizona. The third-generation family business makes bricks and other masonry materials for retaining walls, driveways, and landscaping projects. The company was already a local leader in sustainability — in 2020, it became the first manufacturer in Flagstaff to power its operations with on-site solar panels. But now it’s doing something much more ambitious.

On Tuesday, Block-Lite announced a pioneering collaboration with climate tech startups Aircapture and CarbonBuilt to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stash it in concrete blocks. The companies estimate the project will reduce the carbon footprint of Block-Lite’s products by 70 percent, creating a model they hope could reshape the industry.

Concrete creates an enormous problem for the climate. It’s one of the literal building blocks of society, and it has been growing more carbon intensive each year. Most of that carbon doesn’t come from manufacturing concrete, but from the production of its main ingredient, cement. Cement production is responsible for some 10 percent of industrial carbon emissions in the U.S. 

CarbonBuilt has developed a solution that addresses the issue in two distinct ways. First, the company found a proprietary way to replace cement with a mix of inexpensive, locally-sourced industrial waste materials. CEO Rahul Shendure told Grist they include common byproducts of coal plants, steelmaking, and chemical production that would, for the most part, otherwise be destined for landfills. The company’s second feat is the way its equipment hardens that slurry into concrete blocks — by curing it with carbon dioxide. That’s where Aircapture comes in. The company will build one of its machines which extract carbon dioxide from the ambient air directly on Block-Lite’s site. 

“Our technology is pretty flexible in where we source CO2 from,” said Shendure. “The thing that’s different about this project in particular is that we’re sourcing the carbon dioxide from direct air capture technology.”

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It’s an idea that a handful of other companies are pursuing. In February, a similar partnership between another direct air capture company called Heirloom and concrete startup CarbonCure demonstrated its process for the first time. This also isn’t CarbonBuilt’s first project — the company is retrofitting a concrete plant in Alabama called Blair Block. In that case, the CO2 will come from burning biomass in a boiler.

The Flagstaff project is breaking ground, in part, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Four Corners Carbon Coalition, a group of local governments throughout the Southwest that pool resources to finance projects that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The coalition was born of the realization that communities with ambitious goals to become carbon neutral will likely need to invest in such solutions, many of which are still embryonic. 

“If one local government tries to do this on their own, it’s gonna be extremely costly and time intensive, and we don’t have the technical expertise,” Susie Strife, the sustainability director for Boulder County, Colorado, a founding member of the coalition, said in an interview with Grist last year. “We’re trying to aggregate resources and create a sort of a local government platform for carbon dioxide removal.”

Read Next Why Boulder County and Flagstaff are enlisting cities to suck carbon out of the atmosphere

In addition to that funding, Shendure said the company plans to sell carbon credits for the CO2 that Aircapture’s equipment pulls out of the atmosphere, as well as for the carbon reductions from using less cement. “We’ve got a letter of intent from a buyer and that’s going to be critical to this project,” he said. “There’s a lot of companies right now that are paying premium credit prices for emerging technologies so that we get more of these out there in the real world.”

Block-Lite did not respond to Grist’s inquiry, but in a press release, the company suggested that the new concrete products would be no costlier than its current offerings. “All too often sustainable building materials require a trade off between cost and performance, but what is unique about this project is that there’s no ‘green premium.’” Block-Lite said. “We’re going to be able to produce on-spec, ultra-low carbon blocks at price parity with traditional blocks which should speed adoption and impact.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How a small business in Arizona is helping decarbonize concrete on Mar 10, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

How Washington raised $300 million for climate action from polluters 

Thu, 03/09/2023 - 03:45

A new effort to tackle climate change in Washington state just got a boost of cash. On Tuesday, the state announced the results of its first “cap-and-invest” auction. It raised an estimated $300 million from polluting companies to fund projects such as building clean energy, reducing emissions from buildings and transportation, and adapting to the effects of rising global temperatures.

Washington has set a goal to cut its carbon emissions 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. In that effort, the state is putting a statewide limit on carbon emissions that gradually lowers over time. Under the cap-and-invest system, businesses buy “allowances” for the greenhouse gases they emit. But these permits will become more expensive over time — both an incentive to cut emissions and a method of raising money to address climate change.

In Washington’s first auction, held last week, the permits sold out, averaging about $49 per ton of carbon dioxide. The price was nearly double that of the most recent cap-and-trade auction held by California and Quebec, where the average was $28 per ton

“The auction price is potentially higher because Washington’s program requires stronger climate pollution cuts than anywhere else in the country,” said Kelly Hall, the Washington director for the regional nonprofit Climate Solutions. “There is strong competition for these allowances.”

Washington’s auctions, which will take place four times a year, are projected to raise nearly $1 billion annually. At least 35 percent of the revenue is slated to go toward projects that benefit communities historically and disproportionately impacted by pollution. By the end of April, once the budgeting process is ironed out, the state will begin the process of setting up these various climate initiatives, said David Mendoza, the director of public engagement and policy at The Nature Conservancy in Washington.

The state’s cap-and-invest system, which began in January, follows in the footsteps of several state and regional cap-and-trade systems — with a few key changes. It relies less on carbon offsets and is also designed to address some equity concerns around cap-and-trade. In California, for example, studies have shown that pollution in Black and Latino communities actually increased in the years since that state’s cap-and-trade program began.

Washington’s system takes the novel approach of pairing cap-and-trade with a regulatory air quality program intended to crack down on large and small sources of pollution in the hardest-hit areas. While the state is still figuring out the details, last week, its Department of Ecology announced that it had identified 16 communities where it plans to concentrate efforts to improve air quality. South Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane made the list, as did some rural areas.

Cap-and-trade programs are now up and running in more than a dozen U.S. states, including Oregon and a regional program in the Northeast. Still, the approach remains controversial. Washington’s program has gathered criticism for giving some large emitters, such as petroleum refineries and paper mills, a free pass. While these polluters can buy allowances at little or no cost for the next dozen years, they are still covered under the program’s declining cap on emissions.

The state is currently looking into linking up its cap-and-trade program with California and Quebec, which have already joined markets. In Washington, there’s a requirement that they can only link the markets if the state determines that it won’t result in a “negative impact on overburdened communities in either jurisdiction,” Mendoza said. 

After researching the potential benefits — and consequences — of linking the programs, the state is expected to issue a recommendation on whether to join California’s market by the end of summer.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How Washington raised $300 million for climate action from polluters  on Mar 9, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

An unexpected source of methane? Your local sewage plant.

Thu, 03/09/2023 - 03:30

Wastewater treatment plants are typically overlooked when it comes to reducing greenhouse gasses, but new research from Princeton University reveals the plants emit twice as much methane as previously thought.

Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas and the treatment plants should be part of any plan to reduce emissions, according to the study released last week. 

“Wastewater treatment plants are a major source of greenhouse gasses in cities and we need to start treating them like that,” said Mark Zondlo, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton and one of the authors of the research.

Published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, the report is the largest conducted on methane pollution from wastewater treatment plants in the United States. The scientists examined 63 facilities in California and the East Coast. Their research showed that methane from these facilities exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates by the equivalent of 5.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. 

Scientists use carbon dioxide equivalence as a metric to standardize the emissions of many different types of greenhouse gasses. The previous estimate for emissions by wastewater treatment plants was 6.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. The new study calculates that current emissions are now 11.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. 

“We have more than a million miles of sewers in the U.S., filled with rich organic matter that may be causing methane emissions, but we have very little understanding of their scope,” said Z. Jason Ren, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, another co-author. 

While methane has long been a concern for scientists and environmentalists it is only recently that governments have focused on curbing the greenhouse gas. Cutting methane emissions as quickly as possible can drastically reduce the rate at which the planet heats up. 

The biggest culprit for methane emissions in wastewater treatment is a domed container used near the end of the process called an anaerobic digester. The digester contains small microbes, like bacteria, that can function without oxygen and help break down the harmful microbes in our waste. While this process produces methane naturally, in the past scientists underestimated the leaks in these supposedly airtight containers, an oversight that resulted in inaccurate emission counts.

The guidelines in use by the EPA were developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization within the United Nations that publishes reports on climate change every few years. But those IPCC guidelines failed to account for wide variations in emissions from plant to plant. The Princeton researchers discovered the most consistent factor in discovering high emissions was the use of an anaerobic digester. 

“We know urbanization is going to increase, we know centralized treatment [of waste] will increase, definitely in the US, but especially in the world. So let’s try and find a way to do this right, that’s a win for the water and a win for the air,” said Zondlo.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline An unexpected source of methane? Your local sewage plant. on Mar 9, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

How disaster relief leaves Kentucky’s landslide victims behind

Wed, 03/08/2023 - 03:45

This story was published in collaboration with The Bitter Southerner and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.


Well past midnight on July 28, 2022, 12-year-old Kaleigh Baker tiptoed into her mom’s room and rustled her awake. “Mommy, the house shook,” Kaleigh said.

Linda Baker, still groggy, heard only the air conditioner’s whirr. She told Kaleigh it was probably just thunder. Kaleigh crept back upstairs. Minutes later, Linda heard a deluge of water. From the back door, she saw rain pounding down on a wall of mud almost 8 feet tall that had slammed against their home’s vinyl siding. Linda recognized the disaster: another landslide.

Linda raced to round up Kaleigh, 16-year-old son Ian, and the dogs. By 2:30 a.m., they’d thrown essentials into bags and fled toward Hazard, the county seat roughly 10 miles away. But the North Fork of the Kentucky River had flooded the road like a burst pipe. Water swept over the hood of the car and pushed the vehicle toward the river raging below.

Linda floored her car in reverse and, once clear, slowly retreated. Before they lost cell service, Kaleigh texted a friend, “I think I’m going to die tonight.”



Over a year earlier, another landslide had landed at the Bakers’ back door in the middle of the night, threatening to knock the house off its foundation.

The landslide was stabilized by private contractors in the summer of 2022, but unprecedented flash flooding across eastern Kentucky on the morning of July 28 triggered the property’s second slide. While flooding is Kentucky’s most frequent and costly natural disaster, landslides — typically triggered by rainfall — follow close behind.

The narrow valleys and steep ridgelines of eastern Kentucky, dotted by private homes and businesses, are prime real estate for slips and slides. Landslide damage to roads, infrastructure, and buildings costs the state up to $20 million annually. The conservative estimate doesn’t include indirect costs such as road closures, utility interruption, and decreasing property values. Climate change is becoming a prime culprit, bringing more frequent and intense rainstorms to the Southeast, triggering more floods and more landslides.

Across the region, at least 43 people died as a result of the five-day flooding event, during which 14 to 16 inches of rain fell over eastern Kentucky. “We’ve had a lot more rainfall in the last seven years than I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Matthew Wireman, judge executive for Magoffin County, near Perry County, where the Bakers live. “It’s like the Amazon rainforest up here.”

Some of the hardest-hit areas saw more than 10 inches of rain during the 24-hour period from July 27 to July 28, when the Bakers’ slide occurred. By November, the region had received more than $160 million in federal grants, loans, and flood insurance. But the Bakers, who’d almost lost their home for a second time in two years, would see very little of that assistance.



Because standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover “earth movement” — mudslides, mudflows, floods, earthquakes, or landslides — the Bakers’ insurance agent, State Farm, denied the family coverage in 2021 and 2022.

While mudflows and floods can be covered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, insurance for mudslides and landslides remains elusive. The only way to insure against landslides is through a little-known policy called “Difference in Conditions,” sold by a surplus line insurer and typically purchased by business owners.

Bill Haneberg, Kentucky’s state geologist and director of the Kentucky Geological Survey, said one of the problems with landslide insurance is the function of all insurance: It’s communal. Car insurance works because a bunch of safe drivers have to buy it, funding the payout when unsafe drivers have a wreck. For landslide insurance to work, it would need to be sold to a lot of people who are very unlikely to see a landslide impact their home or business.

“The likelihood of an insurance product that’s meaningful for people living in landslide-prone areas is in the distant future,” said Jeff Keaton, geologist at the environmental consulting firm WSP USA.

In theory, landslides could be insured like earthquakes, a separate hazard insurance that exists because engineers created earthquake-resistant structures and building codes. But there is no basis for measuring the performance of buildings exposed to landslides, so insurers can’t forecast losses.

“If you give me a ZIP code, in a couple mouse clicks I can tell you the level of earthquake hazard,” Keaton said. “We need that for landslides.”



After the 2021 landslide, Linda Baker appealed to Kentucky’s Abandoned Mine Lands office, citing an old coal mine perched about 150 yards above the house, and to her congressional representative, Hal Rogers, a Republican serving his 21st term. Both denied the family assistance. While FEMA doesn’t typically cover landslides, the agency provided $34,000 for home damages to the Bakers in 2021.

In 2022, FEMA viewed the Bakers’ damages twice, in person and on FaceTime, but denied the family assistance, stating that the Bakers had “received all eligible assistance for this type of loss,” which included $2,700 for food, temporary housing, and repairs.

They appealed immediately, but, as of late January, they had yet to hear back.

The last option for the Bakers is Small Business Administration loans. In 2021, they borrowed roughly $69,000 and took out a second mortgage. In 2022, they borrowed $25,000, narrowly avoiding a third mortgage. They’d bought their house just three years earlier for $136,000. Today, the loans have nearly eclipsed their mortgage.

Counties also struggle to fund repairs. In December, Matthew Wireman, the Magoffin County judge executive, was pinching pennies to make payroll after trying to fix four years’ worth of landslides:

A 2021 study found more than 1,000 landslides in Magoffin alone, a county with the highest unemployment rate in the state.

“I’d just like to see the funding [for landslides] a lot quicker,” Wireman said. “Taxpayers are having to pay for all of this upfront, and it’s a burden on our citizens.”

Hoping to ease the burden, the Kentucky Geological Survey began mapping landslides across the eastern half of the state. New data — free, publicly available maps of landslide susceptibility across five counties — was released this summer, right after the July floods. Haneberg’s January report discovered 1,000 new landslides and debris flows in areas most affected by the July floods.

“We wanted to make sure that information was available, because we knew there’d be a lot of landslides,” Bill Haneberg said.



Last summer, when the second landslide hit their house, the Bakers lived with relatives for more than 10 days. They lost electricity for a week, and water for two. Neighbors donated heavy equipment for the initial cleanup so they could re-enter their home.

For weeks, plywood covered the window where Ian slept. The Small Business Administration told the Bakers it was swamped for requests for assistance. Today, the mountain behind the Bakers’ house has been half-sheared of forest. A bare limestone wall guards the family’s back door like a small quarry, its ledge lined with thin saplings.

The Bakers once considered a relocation program available through the Small Business Administration, but Linda said that it would be challenging to relocate because it’s already so difficult to find a house in eastern Kentucky. Linda’s husband, Randy, has considered London, a larger town about an hour west, but they don’t want to move before Ian finishes high school, where he loves playing in the band.

“As long as this holds, we’re going to stay,” said Linda Baker. “We’ve got too much money in it. Nobody’s going to buy it for what we’ve got into it. We’re pretty well stuck.”

This story was written by Austyn Gaffney and illustrated by Martha Park. It was edited by Rachel Priest with assistance from Teresa Chin, John Thomason, David Wallis, and Dave Whitling. Megan Merrigan and Angelica Arinze handled promotion. Jason Castro handled development. Copy edits by Lisa Axelberg.

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This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How disaster relief leaves Kentucky’s landslide victims behind on Mar 8, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Biden administration pledges $25 million to bring bison back to tribal lands

Wed, 03/08/2023 - 03:30

The United States government is redoubling its efforts to restore bison populations to Native American lands.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland released an order last week establishing a six-member federal working group on American bison restoration. The group, which will be composed of representatives from five federal agencies and one tribal leader, is charged with creating a “shared stewardship plan” by the end of the year to increase bison populations on lands managed by the federal government and tribal nations.

“The American bison is inextricably intertwined with Indigenous culture, grassland ecology, and American history,” Haaland said in a statement. Her agency also announced some $25 million from President Joe Biden’s landmark climate spending bill for bison conservation. Among other projects, the money will support native plant restoration and prescribed burns — controlled fires that are lit intentionally to make landscapes more resistant to runaway wildfires.

Haaland’s order is part of a century-long effort to bring bison back from the brink of extinction. Before European colonizers arrived in North America, bison numbered in the tens of millions, but they were decimated in the 1800s by hunting and a U.S. policy of extermination designed to deprive tribes of a critical food source. One American colonel is said to have told his troops in 1867: “Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”

Bisons’ near-extinction also degraded grassland ecosystems, contributing to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s — an environmental catastrophe in which severe dust storms swept across the southern plains and caused widespread crop failure. Conservation efforts since then have helped grow bison numbers from a low of less than 500, but their population in the wild is still only a tiny fraction of the roughly 60 million it once was. In its announcement of the new restoration plan, the Interior Department said bison remain “functionally extinct.” 

To bring more bison back, the Interior Department’s order calls for conservation based on the best available science as well as Indigenous knowledge and management techniques. It’s one of several recent actions from the Biden administration to prioritize Indigenous culture and expertise, including new consultation requirements for federal agencies whose policies could impact tribes. At a summit last fall, the Biden administration announced new guidelines for federal agencies to recognize and include Indigenous knowledge in their research and decision-making, as well as new efforts to revitalize Native languages.

The bison initiative could cause a clash with lawmakers in places like Montana, where Republicans — supported by ranchers — have opposed calls for bison restoration. Tribal members, however, have cheered the Interior Department’s efforts. “The buffalo has just as long a connection to Indigenous people as we have to it,” Troy Heinert, director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, told the Associated Press. “They are not just a number or a commodity; this is returning a relative to its rightful place.”

Environmental advocates also applauded the initiative as a climate solution: By stomping the soil with their hooves, bison help push native grasses’ seeds into the ground, breaking up the soil to make way for new growth. Their manure also serves as a natural fertilizer, fostering healthy grasslands that sequester carbon dioxide.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Biden administration pledges $25 million to bring bison back to tribal lands on Mar 8, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

A gas utility’s astroturf campaign threatens Oregon’s first electrification ordinance

Tue, 03/07/2023 - 03:45

Last month, Eugene became the first city in Oregon to pass an ordinance requiring new residential buildings to be fossil fuel-free. But the policy may never go into effect — not if the natural gas industry gets its way.

Ever since the electrification ordinance passed, a group funded by Oregon’s largest gas utility has been busy collecting petition signatures from Eugene residents in an attempt to rescind it. The group bears the hallmarks of astroturfing — when corporate interests create the illusion of  grassroots support for their side of a political debate. If the group can collect 6,460 signatures by March 9 — which it says it already has — the ordinance can be moved to a ballot referendum for the public to vote on this November, effectively stopping its scheduled implementation this summer and potentially canceling it for good.

Environmental advocates say the petition represents a cynical new strategy from the fossil fuel industry to not only preempt, but overturn electrification ordinances nationwide.

“They’re thinking that if they can roll back climate policy in progressive, dark green Eugene, then they can do it anywhere,” Dylan Plummer, a senior campaign representative for the nonprofit Sierra Club, told Grist. “Our coalition is ready to fight and do whatever it takes … to show that our city supports climate justice and a transition off of fossil fuels.”

Eugene, with a population of roughly 175,000, is just one of more than 90 cities and counties across the United States that have adopted policies to electrify their residential, commercial, or municipal buildings, often as part of an effort to meet emissions reduction targets. Natural gas appliances contribute to climate change — both at the point of combustion in people’s homes and through the extensive leakage of unburned fuel from pipelines, storage facilities, and the appliances themselves.

Gas-powered appliances also come with heavy health risks. Stoves that run on gas, for example, leak cancer-causing benzene, as well as pollutants that contribute to respiratory problems, including nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. Widely reported research published last December found that more than 1 in 10 cases of childhood asthma in the United States can be attributed to the use of gas stoves.

Eugene city councilors discussed these issues at length during a special meeting on February 6 — and for many months before then. Under pressure to take concrete action to advance the city’s climate goals, including halving citywide fossil fuel use by 2030, compared to a 2010 baseline, the council eventually passed a policy 5-3 that would require new homes less than four stories high to be built without natural gas hookups.

“We’re building the city that we want to see in the future,” Councilor Lyndsie Leech told her colleagues at the time. The ordinance was signed by Eugene’s mayor shortly after it passed, and city councilors expected it to go into effect in June.

The opposition, however, has been fierce and well-organized. 

More than 1 in 10 cases of childhood asthma in the United States can be attributed to the use of gas stoves. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Many gas utilities nationwide have tried to stop local governments from phasing out fossil fuels in buildings by advocating for so-called preemption laws, state-level policies that take away city and county councils’ authority to mandate building electrification. Others have filed lawsuits challenging statewide climate plans that would require them to reduce their emissions. But environmental advocates say the pushback in Eugene has been particularly zealous. A petition committee called Eugene Residents for Energy Choice is currently collecting thousands of signatures in an effort to walk back the City Council’s already-approved electrification ordinance.

“It’s a very, very aggressive campaign,” said Anne Pernick, a community manager at the environmental nonprofit, which advocates for building electrification in communities nationwide. “We’ve seen state preemptions and local lawsuits … but I can’t find another example of what’s happening in Eugene to overturn something that has passed.”

Eugene Residents for Energy Choice is taking advantage of a petition process that allows ordinances passed by the City Council to be put up for a vote by the public. If a petitioner can collect signatures from 6,460 Eugene residents within 30 days of an ordinance being signed by the mayor, that ordinance can be placed on a ballot referendum and sent to voters on the next election day, so long as it’s more than 90 days away.

Until the election, the ordinance in question can’t be implemented. That means a successful petition would prevent Eugene’s building electrification policy from going into effect this June, as currently planned. Rather, it would be put off at least until the next election in November — and potentially canceled altogether, if voters reject the ballot measure then.

Eugene Residents for Energy Choice says it’s already surpassed the 6,460-signature threshold and is looking to collect even more, as petitioners often do in case some signatures are illegible or deemed invalid by the county clerk’s office. “We have collected nearly 10,000 signatures, and we need your help to gather more before the March 9 deadline!” the group said in an email sent to its mailing list on February 28.

Eugene Residents for Energy Choice describes itself as a “group of local Eugene residents” who are simply trying to put building electrification on the ballot — to “give Eugene residents a voice in this important matter.” But the group appears to be funded in large part by NW Natural, a gas-only utility serving parts of Oregon and Washington with a long history advocating against building electrification. Public records show that NW Natural contributed more than $51,400 to the petition committee just four days after Eugene city councilors passed the electrification policy, followed by another $600,000 less than a week later.

A view of Eugene, Oregon, whose population is roughly 175,000. Getty Images

Before then, a similar group called Eugene for Energy Choice — whose website URL now redirects to that of Eugene Residents for Energy Choice — was distributing pamphlets around Eugene with NW Natural’s branding on them, calling itself “a concerned group of workers and organizations” that wanted Eugene residents to “have their say” on building electrification. The other organizations were three building trade unions and two lobbying groups, one for hop growers and one for Oregon’s restaurant and hotel industries.

Environmental advocates say Eugene Residents for Energy Choice, which touts the benefits of natural gas, is a “front group” for NW Natural and its allies, designed to create the illusion of organic grassroots opposition to building electrification. Screenshots provided by the Breach Collective, a Eugene-based climate justice nonprofit, show that a private campaign management services organization, which claimed to be working with NW Natural, spent much of February hiring full- and part-time workers to gather petition signatures in Eugene for up to $35 an hour. 

“They’ve just blanketed the city with canvassers, collecting signatures and employing deceptive talking points,” said Plummer, with the Sierra Club. He said he’s seen them at anti-electrification protests outside city hall, too. “A couple of us approached them and said, ‘What’s your deal, are you guys just really into natural gas or what?’ And they said, ‘No, no, no, we’re just paid.’”

The campaign management services company did not respond to Grist’s request for comment, and neither did Eugene Residents for Energy Choice. NW Natural confirmed that it hired the campaign services company to attend a public hearing outside Eugene City Hall, but it said the company’s employees were there to “help direct traffic.” The utility also acknowledged its financial contributions to Eugene Residents for Energy Choice, but it described the group as “a separate entity that has independent decision-making authority.” 

Although environmental groups have described the petition as a “first-in-the-nation attempt by the gas industry to roll back local climate policy,” Pernick said it’s nothing new for utilities to pull out all the stops to oppose building electrification. There’s a common “playbook,” she said, with messaging that implies residents could have their gas-powered stoves and heating systems taken away from them at a moment’s notice. 

“It can get really illogical,” Pernick told Grist, as if “people are coming to rip out your gas appliances tomorrow.” Most electrification ordinances so far, including Eugene’s, only affect new construction.

Other common talking points hold that natural gas is a necessary part of a climate-safe energy mix, even though it’s a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change. They also say that building electrification will foist burdensome costs onto ratepayers, strain the electric grid, and make the energy system less reliable. With support from trade groups, including the American Gas Association and the American Public Gas Association, gas utilities trot out these arguments whenever natural gas is under threat. 

NW natural is no exception; with more than one-third of its estimated gas connections in Eugene and other jurisdictions that are considering electrification policies, the utility has been vocal about the supposed pitfalls of electrification. Recently, it’s come under increased scrutiny for what critics have called “deceptive marketing practices.” In 2022, lawmakers and environmental organizations called on Oregon’s attorney general to investigate the utility for spending thousands of dollars distributing natural gas-related coloring books to the state’s public schools. And in January, students in Portland planned to protest a NW Natural-sponsored teacher training on natural gas and hydrogen, calling it part of a “broader misinformation campaign” about natural gas. (The training was canceled at the last minute.)

Eugene students protested NW Natural and the ballot petition to reverse city council’s electrification ordinance on March 3, 2023. Courtesy of the Breach Collective

Separately, NW Natural made national headlines this winter for hiring a consultant to give expert testimony during a public hearing in Multnomah County, which overlaps with Portland, over the health hazards of gas stoves. The consultant downplayed the science linking air pollution from gas stoves to respiratory problems in children.

Now, environmental advocates say NW Natural is using Eugene Residents for Energy Choice to whip up controversy over the policy to electrify residential buildings. Pamphlets from the group’s predecessor described the City Council’s ordinance as “‘forced electrification’ — a ban on choice,” and multi-page newspaper ads from the group have touted so-called renewable natural gas as a climate-friendly alternative to “costly” electrification requirements. Independent analyses show that it’s almost always cheaper for homeowners when houses are built with electric appliances rather than gas ones.

Eugene Residents for Energy Choice claims on its website that 70 percent of Eugene voters oppose building electrification, based on a 2021 poll paid for by NW Natural. “[W]e believe all Eugene residents should have a voice in choosing what energy system is right for them,” the group’s website reads. A separate poll of Oregon voters conducted by the public policy opinion firm FM3 Research suggests at least 56 percent of Oregon voters support “transitioning from using natural gas in buildings and replacing it with clean, renewable electricity.” 

Plummer, with the Sierra Club, thinks Eugene Residents for Energy Choice will almost certainly succeed in moving the City Council’s electrification ordinance to the ballot this November. But his organization, along with several others that supported the ordinance, aims to counter the petition committee with its own public education campaign.

Their efforts include an appeal to the Eugene city attorney requesting changes to the proposed ballot measure so that it more clearly communicates how building electrification is needed to meet Eugene’s goal of halving fossil fuel use by 2030. Hundreds of Eugene students also organized a school strike last Friday, when they marched onto the streets of downtown to demonstrate youth support for the electrification ordinance.

“Our priority is cutting through NW Natural’s misinformation and educating voters about what is going to be on the ballot this fall,” Plummer told Grist. Citing Eugene’s historically progressive and environmental bent, he said, “We’re very confident that if Eugene voters are presented with accurate information, they will vote overwhelmingly to support this ordinance.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A gas utility’s astroturf campaign threatens Oregon’s first electrification ordinance on Mar 7, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

An Alabama clean water fund discriminated against Black communities, complaint alleges

Tue, 03/07/2023 - 03:30

A civil rights complaint filed with the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday accuses the state of Alabama of mismanaging funds that should have gone to fix long-standing sewage issues for predominantly Black communities in both urban and rural pockets of the state. 

The Center of Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Southern Poverty Law Center, accuse the Alabama government of withholding federal funds distributed though a state program intended to address clean water issues for Black residents. 

The complaint alleges the Alabama Department of Environmental Management purposefully set up rules that stopped any applicant trying to get funds from Alabama’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Historically, Black Alabamans have comprised the majority of people who are forced to live with raw sewage and without proper plumbing. 

The rules that blocked access included: a cumbersome points system, a refusal to consider financial need, a limited amount of loan forgiveness, and a lack of alternative financing options. In contrast, neighboring states like Florida and Georgia offer low interest loan options and Virginia has a fund which offers grants to residents to replace their septic systems. 

One of the factors in the lack of viable sewage systems is the soil, which is composed of clay and drains water very slowly, which makes it difficult to build and maintain sewage systems. In poorer communities, septic systems are expensive to obtain and many homeowners have “straight pipes,” pipes that flush waste directly from the home through a PVC pipe to an area nearby, sometimes just a few yards from the home. In an area of the country where conditions are already difficult to achieve basic sanitary conditions, climate change will almost certainly make it worse

Catherine Coleman Flowers knows this issue deeply after 20 years of advocating for her community. She founded the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and wrote a book called Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret. (She was also named to the 2020 Grist 50 list of emerging climate leaders.) 

Septic systems in this part of the country must contend with many factors, including the soil and the high water table, which makes them prone to damage. “[Septic systems] are failing as well and people just can’t afford to fix them,” said Flowers. 

Residents are also dealing with the threats to their health due to sewage exposure, like hookworm, which one 2017 study found was present in one-third of residents in Lowndes County in Alabama’s Black Belt. Fixing the issue would address issues of disparities in health and sanitation, as well as eliminate a problem that has plagued Alabamans for decades.  

“People that are on the lower end of the economic spectrum tend to be people of color and if we could get this resolved I think that it will not only solve the problem for communities of color but it will also solve the problems for all homeowners that are living with onsite septic systems,” said Flowers.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline An Alabama clean water fund discriminated against Black communities, complaint alleges on Mar 7, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

UN reaches historic agreement to protect the world’s oceans

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 13:41

The 193 countries of the United Nations have agreed on a first-of-its-kind treaty to protect the biodiversity of the world’s oceans — a massive step toward a goal decades in the making. The agreement, which was reached at U.N. headquarters in New York over the weekend, still needs to be formally adopted by the intergovernmental organization and ratified by its individual member countries. 

For more than a century, oceans have served as a de facto dumping ground for industrializing nations. Wealthy countries like the United States, which cast their plastic and other trash into the sea, rely on the ocean to suck up vast quantities of carbon emissions while plumbing its depths for seafood and offshore fossil fuels. As a result, oceans have grown progressively warmer, more acidic, and more polluted, which has jeopardized the extensive marine ecosystems that used to thrive below the surface. The U.N. began talks to adopt a legal framework to protect the ocean in 2004, but disagreements over which parts of the ocean should be protected, how wealthy and developing nations share marine resources, and how fossil fuel companies should navigate more stringent marine environmental regulations delayed agreement until now. 

“Our ocean has been under pressure for decades,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday, urging members to come to an agreement. “We can no longer ignore the ocean emergency.”

The “high seas” — a classification that begins 200 nautical miles off of the coast of most nations — are not controlled by any one country. A patchwork of laws and agreements govern those waters, and they are aimed at regulating shipping, fishing, and other human activities. The treaty, if ratified, will establish a new set of rules on the high seas aimed at protecting marine species and the balance of its ecosystems.

The agreement would instate a new group within the U.N. in charge of managing ocean conservation and require detailed environmental impact assessments for all new activities on the high seas, including tourism. The treaty would also create areas within the ocean that are protected from human activity. Establishing marine sanctuaries where ocean species, some of which haven’t even been discovered by humans yet, can flourish undisturbed is key to the U.N.’s pledge last year to conserve 30 percent of the planet’s land and water by 2030. 

“The high seas are especially vulnerable to climate change,” Doug McCauley, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Grist last March. “They’re impacted by changes in ocean temperature, ocean warming, and ocean acidification. These protected areas could at least create a little bit of breathing room for species in the face of this climate threat.”

The health of the high seas is intrinsically linked to human health and well-being. Roughly half of the oxygen we breathe is made by microscopic plants that live in the ocean. Billions of people around the world rely on the ocean for food. And, more long term, marine species could supply scientists with genetic material that could help treat diseases. (Which countries get to benefit from these yet-undiscovered scientific advancements was one of the issues that held up negotiations in prior efforts to achieve an international agreement on oceans.) The agreement on Saturday marks a historic step toward shielding the ocean, and humans, from climate change, pollution, and other 21st-century threats.

“There’s a load of evidence on how we can restore ocean health,” Will McCallum, head of oceans at the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace U.K., told Grist last year. “The ocean has a remarkable capacity to rebound.” 

Joseph Winters contributed reporting to this story. 

Editor’s note: Greenpeace is an advertiser with Grist. Advertisers have no role in Grist’s editorial decisions.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline UN reaches historic agreement to protect the world’s oceans on Mar 6, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Sámi demonstrators end mass protests against illegal wind farm

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 09:53

On Friday, Indigenous Sámi youth were joined by nearly 2,000 demonstrators at Norway’s royal palace, bringing an end to a peaceful standoff over an illegal wind energy complex built in traditional Sámi lands, known as Sápmi, which stretch from Norway through northern Sweden into Finland and Russia. The nine-day protest in Norway’s capital city of Oslo saw the occupation of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, and the shut down of 10 ministries by human rights campaigners.

“It’s madness that our youth have to take these steps because the government is not doing its job,” said Beaska Niillas, a Sámi politician and member of the Sámi Parliament of Norway. “This is not just an issue for the Sámi. Human rights are important for all.”

In October of 2021, Sámi reindeer herders secured a legal victory when Norway’s Supreme Court voted unanimously that the $1.3 billion Fosen wind farm violated the protected cultural rights of the Sámi people by infringing on their reindeer grazing lands.

On February 23, exactly 500 days after the Supreme Court’s verdict, the Norwegian Sámi Association’s Youth Committee (NSR) began occupying the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in protest of the Norwegian government’s inaction on the ruling. Demonstrators were eventually removed from the building by police, but were joined by Young Friends of the Earth Norway, a Norwegian youth environmental organization, Greenpeace, Greta Thunberg and other human rights defenders to shut down the nation’s ministries. During the week of actions, approximately 30 protestors were arrested and 90 people removed from ministry entrances. Police have yet to issue fines.

“It was painful to see our sisters and brothers being carried away by the police, it was painful to see how little the government would listen and how long the protests had to go on before there was a hint of a response,” said Anja Thonhuagen, a Sámi fashion designer who was removed by police after chaining herself to the Ministry of Climate and Environment. “It felt so unfair. We are being forced to move by the police, the long arm of the law, while the state of Norway is allowed to continue its crime and are not moving the windmills.”

“The unity and communication skills our youth demonstrated this week has impressed all of Sápmi,” said Sara Marielle Guap Beaska, an activist and Sámi culture bearer who attended the actions. “The people in Oslo responded to that, and their support impressed me a lot.”

On Thursday, the Minister of Petroleum and Energy delivered an official apology to Sámi reindeer herders from Fosen.

“The licensing decisions entail a violation of human rights, because they will have a significant negative effect on the opportunity for the Sámi people from Fosen to cultivate their culture,” said Minister Terje Aasland in an email. “The reindeer-herding Sámi at Fosen have been in a demanding and unclear situation for a long time. I’m sorry for that.”

However, Beaska Niillas says the situation is far from over. “A call from Petroleum and Energy Minister Terje Aasland offering a satisfactory solution that ends the ongoing human rights violation to the reindeer owners from Fosen would be a good place to start.”

Seventy-nine year-old Eirik Myrhaug also attended the demonstrations last week and said he found himself in a familiar situation. Myrhaug participated in demonstrations during the Álta Conflict – a four year action in opposition of a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Álttáeatnu River in Sámi homelands in northern Norway.

“Back then I could not have imagined that 43 years later, Sámi youth would still have to chain themselves to the Norwegian government in the name of preserving our right to land and water,” said Myrhaug. “They are questioning an economic system that does not include nature in the calculations.”

Last week, Statkraft, a co-owner of the Fosen project, reported record profits. “High energy prices and solid value creation from Statkraft’s market operations contributed to a very good 2022 result,” said CEO Christian Rynning-Tønnesen in E24, a Norwegian business outlet. When asked about the demonstrations in Oslo, Rynning-Tønnesen said he hoped the Fosen wind project could continue without interruption. 

Minister Aasland says the Ministry’s next steps will be to open dialogue with Sámi representatives and reindeer herders, gather experts, and conduct land study plans this month in order to take action. “The goal of the ministry’s process is to secure a solution where the operation of the wind turbines can be maintained while the reindeer herders’ rights are safeguarded,” said Aasland’s office in an email. “Whether this is possible will be clarified through the ongoing process.”

“It’s shameful for Norway,” said Beaska Niillas. “Governments still have a colonial mindset. They want more and more and literally walk over dead bodies to get what they want. This simply cannot go on.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Sámi demonstrators end mass protests against illegal wind farm on Mar 6, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Imagine 2200: Ocean Bikies Take Cyclone Season

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 03:45

Imagine 2200, Grist’s climate fiction initiative, publishes stories that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, imagining intersectional worlds of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. This short story is part of our Imagine 2200 Editors’ Picks collection.

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The Stingray fangs along down the coast, long brown rat-tail streaming behind him and thrashing like a whip in the wind. The rest of his short hair is sun-bleached and wild. He rides heavy astride his jet ski. The sun gleams off its shiny black carapace. The ocean glimmers like hot silver around him, and its refracted light dances across his face. Dark goggles protect his eyes from the glare of the sun, and from the wind. 

His bare feet rest on the pegs on the front of the ski, while his hands grip the hangar handlebars of his chopper-style ski, arms stretched out straight and wide to control the touchy throttles. Tanned and tattooed with huge knotty knuckles, his meaty hands are scarred from years of fighting blow-ins, posers and colonisers for the waves. With one hand steadying his handlebars, he unzips his rashie with the other to let some fresh air in; his hairy chest is covered in thick black tattoos. From a distance, his once-dark rashie looks like acid-washed denim, so mottled is it from years of sun and salt. The shoulders of the rashie are studded with hardwood spikes carved by his people, and shark teeth are sewn in patterns down the arms. His long dark pants are made of salvaged quick-dry fabric.

He reaches up and peels back the throttle and the ski revs and growls between his thighs. His club’s patch is stitched on the back of his rashie: on a black background, a white stingray with a mean face and menacing tail rendered in the local Goori art style. Their unique dot designs border the patch. The stingray was once the sacred totem of the olden day Goori warriors from the area who lived here before the ocean colonised the land. Their training temple, long underwater where the old industrial zone used to be, is full of rusting artifacts — weight sets and gym equipment and sparring spaces marked out like ceremony grounds. Sometimes the Stingrays’ new prospects do their initiation dives down there to see what ancient fitness apparatuses they can reclaim to bring power to them in their new lives. This is not just an aesthetic exercise. The chosen identities of the modern day Stingrays honor their olden day stingray ancestors.  

Mirroring the creature depicted on his back, the Stingray’s face and neck are covered in white zinc, and the tops of his hands and feet are slathered in it too. Beneath his goggles, his eyes are outlined in thick black liner that covers them all the way down to the sockets. Like exaggerated eyelashes, squiggly lines extend from above and below each of his bright blue eyes, radiating out like the lashes of a demented doll. Dangerous eyes for a dangerous man. With his ghostly face and thick black eye paint, a design unique to him, this huge beast of a Stingray is quickly recognised from vast distances. For his face paint, this particular Ocean Bikie had taken inspiration from the singer of an old deathpunk band that once existed in the world before the oceans rose. 

Read another Imagine Editors’ Pick Sweet Water From Salt

Like all Ocean Bikies in the area, Stingrays or not, our man Lenny here was patched in after having completed a years-long apprenticeship. He’d been apprenticed to his aunty. That was many years ago. When his aunty felt he was ready to be patched in, Lenny did his initiation dive in the old heavy metal dive bar beneath the faded pink hotel that pokes up just above sea level near the headland. All prospects must do their dive in a sacred site to begin their aesthetic differentiation within the group’s cultural identity. This is when they take their names and decide their face markings and tattoos. The only rule is that they must find names and designs that no living Bikie uses and make them their own. And they must do the dive without oxygen or snorkels.

This hotel is now Lenny’s main camp. The hotel’s once-pink paint is so bleached out it’s almost white, and the building is riddled with barnacles and rust marks climbing up the walls. Only the very top floor of the hotel remains above sea level, as well as a rooftop area where Lenny grows food and yarndi in pot planters. 

There are still thousands of albums down in the heavy metal bar, packed in boxes in a metal locker. Every now and then a CD escapes, shaken from its slumber by the tides, and Lenny dries it out. Then, when the sun has been strong enough to charge the batteries in his salvaged CD player, he blares the music from the rooftop, heavy metal screaming across the water.  

Now that he is closer to home, Lenny spies his people at the basalt rocks. These black rocks are all slick with spray — apart from one rock painted bright green with webbed feet, white eyes, and a pink smiling mouth. Nobody knows who is responsible but this frog is always freshly painted. It always has been this way; this is Minjungbal country, the place of the frog people. On the face of another large rock close to the frog, white block letters declare:


“Yewww!” Lenny calls out the ancient surf salutation to the other Stingrays, who return the greeting. He leans hard to the right, knee touching the water, and he pulls up sharp in front of them. Soon another Stingray arrives, then another, and another. Each one who joins them is greeted this way, and each returns the greeting in kind. 

The Stingrays are dressed similarly to each other, with matching patches on their rashies, which are so faded and stretchy they look like denim jackets. Their white zinc gives them all uniformly frightful faces, but each of the Stingrays’ black face designs are unique. One Stingray has corpse paint in the style of the old Norse black metal bands; one face is painted like a grinning skull, another is like the Crimson Ghost, and another like the Phantom of the Opera. Together they’re an arresting sight — and you’d likely avoid them if you weren’t from around here.

Soon the whole gang is gathered together, bobbing on the water on their skis.

“So,” says Lenny, “Anyone seen anything worth yarning about?”

“Seen a bunch of boat people sniffing around further up the coast. Doubt they’ll be brave enough to come down here though,” says Kristy, his second in charge.

“They wouldn’t wanna try it!” 

They all rock their skis back and forth in the water and whoop and cheer.

“We ran into your old girl too, Lenny. She’ll be here this arvo.”

Lenny nods. “Right, what about southside?”

“There’s a mob of them Gumbaynggirr surfers coming on a big boat. Just the usual crew, I think. They’ll be here in about an hour or so.”

“Okay then. What needs doing now?”

“We just gotta make sure the headland is solid while we wait for the other mob.”

The Stingrays tie their bikes together with stretch-cord, drop their anchors, then dive into the water and race each other to the headland.

The ocean is calm today, but it will soon become a raging, seething force of wind and water. A few big cyclonic cells are expected off the coast in the coming days. The start of this year’s cyclone season coincides with a full moon and the summer solstice, which means it will be a king tide — but the cyclonic forces mean this will be a much bigger swell than usual. 

This is ceremony time for the community, whether they surf monster waves or not. Those who don’t surf big — whether they are too old or too young or not fit enough for the incoming swell — will make their annual inland pilgrimage to the mountains, taking the rivers south and west to wait cyclone season out. Those who do surf big will stay.

The ocean is calm today, but it will soon become a raging, seething force of wind and water.

Anything not under shelter or strapped down to solid foundations will be washed away or damaged, so there’s plenty of work to do to prepare. Regardless of where they’ll spend the coming week, the whole Goori community is out and about on the waterways preparing for the carnage, gathering nets and packing up the oyster farms, pulling apart floating islands and fish traps, packing away their workshops and camps, and taking everything that isn’t strapped down to bedrock to bring inland with them to shelter and make repairs. The people of the community enjoy the calm day while they can. Soon they’ll either be testing their strength against the gnarliest waves on the planet, or otherwise they’ll be holed up in the mountain shelter for days, maybe weeks, all packed in tightly against the meat of other people. 

The Stingrays reach the groyne, which is a structure of multicolored plastic scraps cemented together by shellfish. The Stingrays walk its length, testing the ground with their feet to ensure that every part of this inorganic outcrop is locked on tight like lego. They test the places nearest the waterline, and underneath it, and so on until they must dive down deeper to test the underwater foundation’s structure. The plastic is brightest closer to the surface, fading more and more the deeper down you go until you reach real basalt rock, which formed the original groyne. The Stingrays emerge, breathe in, and then dive down again. 

* * *

A long time ago, the Stingrays’ ingenious ancestors grew the foundations of the plastic groyne upon the original bedrock. These ancestors had been inspired by the engineering of Ngemba people and other cousins who pioneered ancient stone fish trap technology. The ancestors grew corals and barnacles around waste materials to cement the plastics to the bedrock, and every year they grew the groyne taller, locking new material to the foundations of the old. The oceans continued to rise and so did the groyne. Successive generations refined their technique over hundreds of years, though the basic technique is still used to this day. And so the headland’s break wall rises as the waterline does, ensuring this ancient surf break that was world-famous in old times pumps out waves that are just as epic as they were back then.

Certain everything is solid and locked in, the Stingrays swim back to their skis and watch and wait.

“Ere la,” Kristy shouts out, eyes trained on the horizon. “Mob from down south coming through!”

“Bring ’em over, but make sure they’re only the ones who have the treaty with us.”

Two Stingrays ride up to the big boat and escort it back to the group.

“Yewwww!” the Stingrays shout on the boat’s approach. 

“Yewwwwwww!” the crowded boat replies. Stencilled over the watercraft is a huge stylized symbol of a wave, an ancient surf cult symbol. The people on the boat all have the symbol somewhere on their person too, whether painted or sewn onto clothes, or tattooed on their arms. 

The call flies back and forth between the groups for the next few minutes, and the air is ringing with the time-honoured friendship call: yew-yeww-yewww-yewwww-yewwwww-yewwwwww-yewwwwwww-yewwwwwwww!

“Otis you maddog!” Lenny calls out to his cousin who is leaning on the front railing of the boat. “There’s a few more of youse this season.”

“This is the only place that can still handle the waves, cuz,” says Otis.

“What, no good down your way?”

“Nah, she’s not far off from turning into a bay.”

Lenny shudders at the thought of one of his favourite childhood surf spots becoming a flat and soupy place.

“Your old people were onto it, I reckon,” Otis says.

Everybody nods and raises their hands in the horns in silent thanks to those smart old people.

“Right,” says Lenny. “Looks like you’ve brought a few blow-ins along. They’ll need to get the lowdown then sign onto the treaty.”

“No worries cuz,” Otis says. “You got any updates on your end?”

“Nah, not that I can think of. You?”

“Nah, but let us know if you think of anything and we can yarn it out.”

“Youse’ll be the first to know,’ says Lenny. ‘What offerings did you bring?”

“Not much, I’m sorry — mainly seeds and sprouts. We found a big old seed bank washed up in the rockpools. We’ve already started seedlings from many of them so we know they’re good to go.” He hands Lenny a large cloth packet wrapped in plastic. “We brought youse five of each seed, though we have no idea what they all are.”

Lenny’s eyes light up as he reaches for the packet. “Nice one cuzzie!” He secures the package in his waterproof pannier on the back of his ski. “We’ve been needing new veggies more than anything, so fingers crossed.”

Kristy says, “While the kids are out in the mountains I’ll get them to scavenge some pots and fill ‘em up with soil. Once they’re back we can start the seedlings on the high-rise roofs.” 

Lenny says to the Gumbaynggirr Gooris: “Most of our people are heading inland so youse mob can make camp in any of the high-rises. Same deal as last time. Use whatever’s there, just leave everything as clean and tied up as you found it. Now, Kristy here will give you the lowdown.”

Kristy eyeballs the strangers. “Right, listen up you new mob! Youse better all be careful out there because we don’t want you dying on our country. We’ve had enough deaths here from tourists not listening to locals, and this goes back centuries, so we don’t want to have to mourn you and look after your remains. I know you’re all strong swimmers and that you’ve been doing this all your lives, but these cyclones coming in are predicted to be gnarlier than ever.”

Lenny says, “Like previous years, most waves will be surfable for around a kilometer. You’ll need to be very fit and fast to drop into these monsters from out the back there.” He points to the stretch of water behind the groyne. “You’ll get plenty of breaks between waves cos we take turns towing each other in.”

“Those old colonizers were dumb, huh? They built those big buildings too close to the water.”

“Now, see those big crumbling buildings there?” Kristy points to the ruins standing in the shallowest water. “They’re good for camping in when it’s calm but they’re mad dangerous when you surf this front run. You need to have good eyes to judge how fast to go, and you need to be fit enough to hit that speed, otherwise you’ll end up as a blood and meat mural painted on the front of one of the buildings.”

One of the young Gumbaynggirr kids spits on the water. “Those old colonizers were dumb, huh? They built those big buildings too close to the water.”

Everybody laughs, and Kristy says, “True. They’d be more use to us inland these days. But they couldn’t resist having better views than everyone else back then.”

Once the Stingrays are satisfied the newcomers have the lay of the land, they show them around to their new camps. The sun sets behind the mountains, painting the sky nuclear orange and hot plastic pink. The colors reflect darkly on the ocean. 

“Not coming?” Kristy asks Lenny.

“She’ll be here soon. I’ll wait.”

Lenny watches Kristy burn off, her mass of black curls bouncing behind her. At the eastern horizon, an almost full moon swims out from under the ocean and rises like a ball of pale light into the pinkening sky around it. The tide is so high it’s almost covering the top floor of the pink hotel; the paint almost looks pink again in this light. The sky turns lurid mauve, then darker violet, then deep blue. Across the way, the sun dives below the mountains. As the night sets in Lenny swaps his thin rashie for a thicker neoprene jacket, and waits with his hands tucked into his armpits for warmth.

* * *

From the north, finally, slowly, a flame comes forth from the darkness. The closer the fire comes toward Lenny, the more defined the floating camp becomes as the lantern throws its light around. The old driver is bent over the wheel. A swarm of smaller kayaks and canoes trail behind the main rig, attached to it with ropes. 

“That you?” Lenny calls out.

“Who else would it be?” she calls across the water.

“The Blacksmith of the North arriveth!” He salutes her with the horns and she returns in kind. “Took ya long enough. I’m freezing my booras off here.”

“Yeah, yeah. You try towing this shit all the way down here in this decrepit body of mine.” 

Lenny rides up to the Blacksmith’s rig, straps his bike to it and climbs aboard. They hug, and Lenny says, “Well you better let me drive then, if you’re gonna carry on like that.”

The Blacksmith yawns. “If you say so.” She throws her hood off her thick grey dreadlocks.

“Why aren’t any of your kids helping out?” he asks.

She stretches her arms. “Cos if I start letting them take control I’ll never get any back.”

“Fair enough.”

Lenny sits at the steering wheel and guides the floating workshop toward his camp. The drag of the vessels behind the rig is strong. 

“I swear this thing gets heavier and heavier every year.” 

“You know I never throw anything out. And I just keep finding things.”

He looks around. Three surfboards are strapped to the ceiling: a small fish, a bigger shortboard, and his old mini-mal that he gave her when she stopped riding the shorter boards. The bottom halves of the walls are lined with drawers and cupboards, each one labelled with different types of plastics. All of her tools hang from hooks on the walls: mallets, moulds, shapers, chisels — and a blowtorch. At the back of the boat, in the open, is her smelter with its big steel sink and a smaller basin for tempering. She has everything she needs to melt scrap plastic and turn it into tools, weapons, floaties, boats, bricks, blocks, containers, or anything else you could imagine. Lenny stops the houseboat and drops anchor.

“I’m starving,” she says. “Have you eaten?”

“Not yet. I’ve been waiting for you.” 

“Good. Kayden,” she yells out to the darkness behind the rig. “Let’s get a feed going mate.” 

A kid paddles out of the darkness in an old green kayak. Its ripped-up side has been patched over with molten yellow plastic. The kid stops a little way out from the rig, just inside the lamplight, threads a hook through a worm and dips a hand line into the water. The Blacksmith takes two rods from the poles in the back of the boat and hands one to Lenny. 

Soon, Kayden’s line straightens, and they reel the line in hand over hand, and pull up a great big slapping tailor. The Blacksmith rummages through one of her cupboards for a frying pan and lobs it over to Kayden. The kid scales the fish over the water, guts and fillets it, flops it onto the frypan and throws the innards back into the water, then paddles over and ties their kayak to the main rig. They take a banksia cone from their supplies, smear it with lighter fluid, and place it on the pile of sand in the bottom of their kayak. One flick of a lighter over the cone and a flame leaps out and covers it, dancing. 

Read another Imagine Editors’ Pick Starlight Is Kinda Bright

The meat cooks quickly over the high heat. Kayden flips the fish onto a plate and passes it up to the rig, then climbs aboard. The Blacksmith sprinkles it with saltbush and the older two tuck in. The hot flesh flakes apart in their fingers as they eat. They pass the rest to Kayden.

The Blacksmith gestures to them. “This is Kayden, my oldest kid. They’re Darumbal. First cyclone season for this one so this’ll be the beginning of their initiation. I was hoping you mob could take them on after this. They need to be around more exciting people, not a slow old thing like me. You taking any prospects neph?”

“Could do. But I’ve never sponsored anyone before.”

“Well speaking as your old sponsor, I reckon you two are a good match. Kayden’s a bit of a thief, and pretty good at it I might add! They’re absolutely useless at blacksmithing, but they’ve got a talent for picking locks, cracking old safes, you name it.” She musses up Kayden’s dirty blonde hair. “I’m gonna miss this one, but it’s about time they learnt some warrior ways.”

“How many kids you looking after now?’ Lenny asks her.

“I’ve got nine others at the moment. Just teaching ‘em the basics, you know? And they keep this old girl safe from all those pieces of shit out there who wouldn’t think twice about robbing a respected old lady.”

“Since when did you become a lady, and when did people start respecting you?”

She slaps his arm and Kayden laughs. The kid has cheeky eyes and they keep glancing at Lenny’s ski tied to the side of the boat.

“You like this one mate?” Lenny gestures to it.

Kayden nods.  

“We’ll have to get you one of your own, once you’re patched in, huh?”

The Blacksmith laughs. “You’ll have to go raid some rich boat people for a nice ski like that. That’s how Lenny got this one here.”

Lenny nods and says to Kayden, “Your aunty here, when she was younger, she speared a big yacht once. She ever tell you that?”

Kayden shakes their head.

“Yep, I woulda been about your age I reckon. Bunch of loud, rich people sailed right into our waters, sniffing around for god knows what. They’d come in way too close for our liking. Maybe they thought their shiny toys would grant them safe passage in our waters, or their money would win us over. Ha! Anyway, your aunty here rode up to them and told ‘em to fuck off, and you know what they did? They ignored her and dropped their anchor and cast their lines instead.”

“Cheeky cunts,” the Blacksmith says. 

“So anyway, she rides back to camp, and without a word to any of us, she gets her harpoon, and rides straight back up to them, and launches her spear fair into the side of their shiny white yacht. Tore a huge chunk out of it! They all shit themselves, especially when they spotted the rest of us riding over for a look. And off they went and never came back.”

“Colonizers and capitalists, thinking they can buy us and our waters,” says the Blacksmith. 

“I shit myself too, just quietly,” says Lenny. “I’d just been nommed, wasn’t even patched in yet, and here’s my fucken sponsor going up and spearing invaders. I thought twice about talking cheeky round her after that.”  

“That certainly never stopped you from being a smart-arse.” She points at Lenny’s ski with pursed lips. “And you forgot to mention the best part of this, as far as you were concerned anyway.” 

Lenny smirks and nods at the Blacksmith to continue. 

“See, Kayden,” she says, “while those boat people were busy carrying on about their yacht, leaning over the side to check out the damage, a certain young prospect had snuck into their cargo hold and made off with this very nice ski you’re admiring here.”

“Whatever we can carry with us is ours.”

The Blacksmith and Lenny laugh, and Kayden looks at Lenny in a new light. 

“Oh well, what do we say about private property anyway?” asks the Blacksmith.

Kayden pipes up: “All property is theft.” 

“That might be right,” says Lenny, “but what’s the exception to that rule?”

Kayden answers, “Whatever we can carry with us is ours.” 

Lenny nods. “So that ski is all I truly own.” 

They finish eating and wash their hands off in the water.

“Right Kayden.” Lenny claps his hands together. “You can hang with me and learn the ropes. See how ya go, whether we think you’ll fit in here. We’ve still got a bit of preparation to do for the swell, then you can go inland with the others til the cyclones have passed through. Your aunty will probably piss off up north again after she’s finished scabbing through the rubbish. That the plan?” He nods to her.

She nods back. “This might be my last season surfing though, my nephew. I’m getting far too old for this.”

“I thought you were only as old as you felt? That’s what you always say.”

She looks out to the dark sea; a slight breeze blows into the boat. “True, but these bastards are getting wilder and wilder each year, and I’m really starting to feel it.” 

* * *

As the cyclones approach the coast, the swell builds and rises. Kayden helps the Stingrays prepare, then they are sent inland to Bilambil with the rest of the community. Soon, wild winds whistle through the area and the water rises and whips in response. Waves break off the groyne and form perfect barrels that roll on for hundreds of meters before dissolving onto the shore. 

On the first surfing day, the Blacksmith and the Stingrays head out to surf together again for the first time since last cyclone season. 

“This’ll be my last season,” she reminds Lenny. 

“You better make it a good one, then,” he says.

Lenny doubles the Blacksmith in on his ski. They each hold a board under their arms — he, his shortboard, and she, her mini mal. Lenny steers with his free arm, and she holds onto him with hers. They ride up to the high-rise closest to the break and hop off. Lenny lashes his ski to a sturdy wall divider in the middle of the building, then padlocks it tight with a chain against theft from wind and water and people. The two paddle over to the tow-in area on their boards and join their Stingray and Gumbaynggirr families, who cheer the Blacksmith as she approaches, happy to see their beloved elder back. 

As the cyclones come ever closer, the swell rises, and the visibility becomes poorer as the rain starts, moving through the air this way and that.

To stop overcrowding, and to make sure all eyes can stay alert for any danger, only six surfers at a time are towed out. Elders and other leaders are taken in the first cohort. The Blacksmith and the Bikie are towed in together, out past the colorful headland, out past the reefs the community has made, and zipping over a massive swell to the entry point. The two initiate the lineup as four others join in behind them. The Blacksmith takes off on the first wave and the others watch her and wait their turn. Next it is Lenny’s turn; as soon as he drops in, two more replacement surfers are towed into the end of the lineup. Each surfer rides a perfect, glassy barrel for almost a kilometer before the momentum slows and fizzes out beneath their boards, and they paddle to the waiting Stingrays at the shore, who then take them back, two at a time, to the main tow-in area, where they wait to get back into the lineup. And they all go on like this without a hitch for some three dozen surfers brazen enough to brave these waves — which are growing bigger and faster with each set. As the cyclones come ever closer, the swell rises, and the visibility becomes poorer as the rain starts, moving through the air this way and that.

At the end of the third run-through the Blacksmith is up again. She’s tired from the last three waves, but exhilarated, and she paddles out in front of the next incoming swell until she’s caught its sweet spot, and she stands up on her board as the bulge of the water sharpens into a wave. In no time at all the face of the wave is twice her height, and it curls down behind her body as its power thrusts her forward. The Blacksmith leans down into her forward leg to get up enough speed to keep up with the force of the wave. She splays her toes and grips the waxy deck for dear life. This is not the biggest wave that the Blacksmith has ever surfed, but it’s propelling her faster than she’s ever gone, faster than she can control, and now she’s coming up to the line of high-rises. Because of this face-tearing speed she’s going, she’s far overshot where she wanted to end up.

Two huge buildings loom; she is approaching them too fast. She’d like to pull up and miss the first building entirely, but there’s no point bailing on this wave because the next wave will just pick her up and slam her into one of the buildings anyway, and if she’s in the water at the mercy of these monsters she’ll have no control over where she ends up. Best to stay on the board and ride it as hard as she can so she has more control over where she goes. To miss both buildings she’ll have to go faster than humanly possible. She’s in good shape but she’s not as fit as she used to be — as she needs to be — to get clear. She must try to slide right between the buildings. She will have to look sharp and keep adjusting her speed to make it.

If she keeps this speed up, she will hit the second building. The Blacksmith carves up the face of the wave, and slices back down and around to cut back on some distance. But she is still going too fast. She cuts back again, then leans hard on her back leg to drag the board against the barrelling wave. She’s almost where she needs to be — but that second building is still too close. She rips down hard into her front leg, then releases her foot and flicks her tail, and jumps up the wave, using the speed of the wave to push off and get enough air. She spins and lands back on the wave a few meters ahead of where she was about to crash. 

The wave breaks over the first building. The Blacksmith canes it through the gap between the buildings before the wave breaks on the next building only seconds later. 

‘Yewwww!’ she yells out, as her mouth fills with water. Backwash from the force of both collisions turns the water between the buildings into a washing machine, and she’s sent flying off her board into the vortex. Under the water, the motion ragdolls her and her leg rope snaps, separating her from her board like a newborn from its placenta. 

Her board is spat out into the air and is slapped onto the side of the second building by a spasm of backwash. It breaks apart like chalk. The Blacksmith pulls herself up to the surface of the water and gulps air, swimming like hell towards the shore behind the buildings. Another wave will be coming through soon, and as is the way of sets of waves, this one will be bigger than the last.

Before the next wave breaks over the buildings and sucks her back into its vortex, Kayden fangs through on Lenny’s bike and grabs the Blacksmith by the back of her rashie. The elastic material springs her into the air and snaps her back into Kayden’s arms. Kayden rides the ski so hard that they outrun the next wave. With the Blacksmith clinging to their back they make it back to the shore before the wave does.

* * *

Days later, the swell has died down. The cyclones have danced back out to deeper waters, leaving brown water behind and dirty foam covering the ocean. The beige froth is everywhere — all up the headlands and throughout the high-rises. The waters are teeming with new fish making use of the shade, attracting more sharks and dolphins to the area. 

The other thing the cyclone has left behind is all the world’s rubbish. As the cell waltzes around the planet, it sucks up everything that is in its path, scooping rubbish up from the whirling water and pulling it into its body like a vacuum, then dumping it back in the water in its wake. 

Gooris emerge from the inland caves and buildings, and at the next outgoing tide they follow the water out toward the ocean on a russet-colored river, tinted with the runoff of rich red mineral dirt. They travel back to the coast on jet skis, paddle boards, canoes and kayaks, in tinnies and bigger row boats. The stronger vessels trawl nets behind them to scoop up the rubbish for sorting. They scrabble through the carnage, evaluating the debris for treasure. There is an abundance of fishing gear — nets, lines, and hooks — and plastic containers, bottles, sealed food packets, driftwood, and assorted bits and pieces of rubbish. You name it: if it’s water-resistant and it floats, it’s here. Back at the coast, the oyster farmers spread their traps back all around the waters and anchor them down; the oysters will filter the water, helping to clean it over the coming weeks.

Kayden paddles the Blacksmith’s smelter back onto the open water and sets it up near the headland. The Blacksmith is perched up on a stool out the back, getting her workshop ready for everyone’s repairs. Lenny rides his ski over to them. It’s dented and demented-looking. When he boards the rig, he says to Kayden: “Half of me still wants to flog you for doing this to my bike, but the other half will be stoked to sponsor you for thinking quick and saving the old warhorse. Now piss off while we talk. Try and find some useful trinkets amongst all this mess.”

Kayden, hiding a smile, paddles away in their kayak.

Lenny asks the Blacksmith, “Now, are you gonna hang around for a bit or what?”

“I think so neph. Between you and me, I’m still a bit shook. Just goes to show, it doesn’t matter how much of a hero you used to be back in the day — none of us are a match for the power of the ocean at the height of cyclone season.” She coughs; she could swear that there’s still saltwater in her lungs. “Nothing like being faced with your own decaying strength to humble you, eh?”

“You’ll be right, old girl,” Lenny says. He puts his arm around her and wipes a tear from his eye. “Drop your anchor for a bit here and we’ll look after you.”

Learn more about Grist’s Imagine 2200 climate fiction initiative. Or check out another Editors’ Pick:

Dr. Mykaela Saunders is a Koori/Goori and Lebanese writer and teacher, and the editor of THIS ALL COME BACK NOW: an anthology of First Nations speculative fiction, the critically-acclaimed, world-first anthology of Blackfella spec fic (UQP, 2022). Mykaela won the 2022 David Unaipon Award for her manuscript ALWAYS WILL BE: stories of Goori sovereignty from the future(s) of the Tweed, forthcoming with UQP in 2024, and she has won other prizes for short fiction, poetry, life writing, and research.

Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor (she/her) is a 32-year-old illustrator from Bogotá, Colombia.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Ocean Bikies Take Cyclone Season on Mar 6, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Imagine 2200: Sweet Water From Salt

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 03:45

Imagine 2200, Grist’s climate fiction initiative, publishes stories that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, imagining intersectional worlds of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. This short story is part of our Imagine 2200 Editors’ Picks collection. It was originally published in Solarpunk Magazine Issue #4, 2022.

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Three months had passed since the accident and Seraph could not stay in port any longer. Cyril held a brass horn in his hands. His father found it in an auction for nautical antiques. A remnant from the Star Ferry line in Hong Kong. “Remember your family history,” he’d say to Cyril, and launch into one of the many stories of how the Shome family had made and lost their fortunes in the old city. Cyril’s mother would roll her eyes at the family tales, but she indulged him in his storytelling. 

And now both were gone, and Cyril would not hear those stories again. He needed to leave this apartment. It was never meant to be home for more than a week, maybe two at most. Out the window the setting sun painted bonfire colors in the gaps between buildings.  

If it had only been grief, Cyril might have managed. From New Manila, Gaurav did what he could, stayed with him every step of the way, a virtual but nonetheless reassuring presence. 

“Come home when you’re ready,” Gaurav would say. “Please don’t rush things.”  

Cyril wanted to rush things. He wanted to be back home and out of the East Singapore docks as soon as he could. Because it wasn’t only grief. No, it was grief buried under a bureaucratic nightmare of forms, verifications, examinations — and worst of all the unceasing offers to free him from his burdens and buy Seraph and the firm. An excavation of more varieties of grief than he’d have imagined he could hold. Yes, long for your mother’s impeccable record-keeping as you go through the files she’d prepared for just this occasion. Grieve for your father’s swashbuckling style as you sort through a wardrobe that suddenly holds three times too much for the one surviving member of Shome Apiary Ltd. 

Cyril brought up a video feed of the ship at port. Seraph swayed in the waves. “Just me and you,” he said. Seeing the ship never failed to lift his mood, even in these circumstances. She had two sails to each of her three masts, though none were visible at the moment. Each of the six canvases were nestled into the hollows of the masts themselves. It would be his first journey alone with Seraph. Alone apart from the hives, of course.

Gaurav materialized in the air beside him. He put a holographic hand on Cyril’s shoulder. Responsive threads woven into the fabric of Cyril’s shirt contracted, tightening against his skin. It was almost like being touched. 

“I’ll be there, too,” Gaurav said. “Until you get home.”

Cyril packed the brass horn into its case. The velvet lining had a musty scent. Was the mildew still alive, he wondered? Waiting for water, waiting for another chance to thrive? He strapped the case to his pack and made his way to the docks.

* * *

The ship was infested. Security officers swarmed on her decks like ants after honey. Cyril went up to the gangplank. On either side of the walkway two barrel-chested guards stood. Red-and-gold insignias appeared to glow in the twilight: SinoPact Merchant Marine. Their suits reminded him of beetle carapaces. 

“This is a secure area,” the guard said. Her voice was as uncompromising as her uniform. 

“This is my ship,” Cyril said. 

“We’re here to check ID for anyone who wants to board. It’s a matter of national interest.” 

“This is my ship,” Cyril repeated, and sent over his credentials and titles of ownership. The guard’s eyes flickered as she read.

“You have our condolences. The SPMM were in negotiations with Mrs. Shome to acquire your vessel. We’re to ensure our interests — and yours — are protected until terms are settled with the estate.”

“You know my mother never agreed to sell. You have no right to be on board. I’ll report this to the arbitrators.”

Neither guard moved. Cyril tried to access the network to make good on his threat, but found nothing. No signal at all. Rather than intimidated, he felt emboldened — the effort at secrecy was an acknowledgement their actions weren’t fully sanctioned. Cyril took a gamble. He stepped through the two guards like a cutter through shoals. They didn’t stop him. 

Mother would have been revolted to see corporate security on board Seraph. The price of pursuing a life offshore: there would always be those that wanted nothing more than to bring new habitats under old politics. The Maldives Restoration Project gave people a model to follow, a recipe for building carbon-sink communes at sea. Agriculture, boring as it might seem, was one more front in the new lands’ struggle for self-determination. Ships like the Seraph were invaluable to the habitats, and so were valuable as political pawns. 

Read another Imagine Editors’ Pick Starlight Is Kinda Bright

There were maybe a dozen security officers on board. The windows of Seraph’s bridge were dark, the doors still locked — at least they hadn’t forced access. Cyril reflexively tried to reach Gaurav to see if he could contact a legal team, but found he still couldn’t access the network. Signals must be jammed throughout the ship. That didn’t leave many options. Forcing the corporate officers off physically was out of the question — any attempt would justify force on the officers’ part. Entering the bridge himself risked giving others access. Cyril didn’t know what the company’s plans were, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the security team was a prelude to contesting Seraph’s ownership in court.

Cyril would not risk letting corporate lawyers make their case. He had no experience in that arena. Huddled by the mast, Cyril checked that no one was watching before unpacking the antique horn. Centuries ago they would have been attached to the boiler system of a steamship. This horn wasn’t quite so old. Most appliances ran on wireless power, but Father had installed a few old-fashioned sockets on board for his toys. Cyril uncapped an outlet and plugged in the horn. No doubt an ignominious ceremony compared to what his father had pictured.

Cyril left the horn on deck and went midship. He unlocked a door — not to the bridge but to the decks below. A security guard watched, but did not intervene. Cyril hoped it seemed he was doing nothing more than sorting through his belongings. He descended. 

Half-lit LEDs marked the corridors. He went past the cabins, past the doors to the cargo hold. Cyril feared the officers might force their way into the hold and unload Seraph’s cargo, his family’s most valuable asset: one hundred and fifty hives of Greenwing honeybees. Though the hives slept, chilled to hibernation by the ship’s environmental controls, Cyril thought he could hear them through the bulkhead. The apiary had been his nursery, its warmth and safety taken for granted as he learned how to raise and nurture the hives. Since the crash, Cyril had hardly been on board, only doing the necessary visits to make sure the bees were fed and watered as the ship coaxed them through their cycles of rest. He longed to go inside and check to see that they were well. 

There wasn’t time. His footsteps sounded hollow on the stairwell as he descended to the engine room. 

“Nothing like real brass,” his father had said.

Onboard Seraph, the room was a glorified control panel. The emergency generator was the only remnant of the room’s namesake. Electrical motors powered the propellers when they were needed. Cyril turned on the circuits, and the ship drew power from batteries that had been idly cycling for weeks. He was still cut off from the networks, but the ship’s intranet came online, and he could see the camera feeds from around the ship.  

No sense in waiting, Cyril thought. And he powered the topdeck circuits. 

Even in the engine room, the sound punched through Cyril’s chest. “Nothing like real brass,” his father had said. Speakers can’t quite replicate the resonance summoned by kilos of metal sounding into the night air. 

The goons scattered like roaches in the light. Even if they found and disabled the horn, Cyril suspected that attention from the entire Ap Lei Marina — and from the local government — was the last thing the security officers wanted to stay around for. Despite their confidence, arbitration would not take kindly to them being on board without explicit permission. When the last of the guards reached the pier, Cyril hit another switch, and the gangplank retracted back on deck. It was time for their maiden voyage together.  

* * *

The sun rose full red on the horizon, flaming the sky with gold and cochineal crimson, and Seraph pulled free of interference. Cyril watched the screens as computers attempted to connect to UAVnet. 

Status bars blinked and came up green. Cyril smiled, allowing himself to believe he and the ship were beyond corporate reach. The expression felt strange on his face. For a moment, he didn’t think about his parents.  

The ship only had projectors installed in the bridge, so Cyril had to stay inside to chat. Gaurav’s projection flickered into existence. Cyril reached out to hold Gaurav’s hand. It was a comfort to know that, a hundred miles away, his lover could feel something. 

“It’s good to see you again,” Cyril said. “SinoPact had the networks jammed on shore.” 

“I’ve been trying to get through. Did they give you trouble?”

“Called their bluff,” Cyril said.

* * *

They sailed east, which took them through the main shipping route. There was plenty of room for a smaller ship like the Seraph to maneuver. In open water, Seraph was not only fast, but beautiful. She cut through the waters with grace, as though barely skimming the ocean’s surface. Between the bone-white slats of the deck, solar cells collected sunlight. The flanks of the ship were lined with the same gray photovoltaic composite. Power fed onboard motors, but much of the energy was used for navigation and for the rigging that caught the winds that were the ship’s main mode of propulsion. There was nothing like sailing. Canvas snapping in the wind, masts rotating to catch even the barest breeze to turn it to speed. 

Even the biggest cargosails, ponderous as they were, had a grace of their own. Seraph cut through the wake of one behemoth. The cargosail’s four masts towered like office buildings overhead. Sixteen wings of white canvas embraced the wind. With enough surface area, the atmosphere became a solid thing, powerful enough to satisfy the appetites of ports old and new. Cyril couldn’t imagine the force that pushed against the masts, a force needed to move thousands of containers stacked on her decks. From where he stood they were small as bricks. 

He finally had a chance to go to the apiary. Seraph had room for nearly three hundred hives in her hold, though she carried only half that number at the moment. The extra space gave the bees room to fly and maneuver, to work as soon as they anchored at a habitat. 

The warmth of the hold welcomed him. Seraph was waking the hives. Even stowed away, the bees were never silent. Cyril checked the strappings for the brood boxes, and everything looked as it should. To Cyril, the hives were a blanket of sound, a thrum that confirmed he and his family had done right. That their legacy was worth pursuing. 

A warning message flashed on the intranet. Cyril automatically started a message to his father before he remembered. He set the hives aside and ran back to the bridge. 

He feared SinoPact would send cutters after Seraph and abandon all pretense of respecting international waters. But no, Cyril found a far more impersonal adversary. On the navigation screen, yellow flags flashed: a tropical depression warning for their plotted course. He pulled up charts and radar overlays. He’d seen these decisions made dozens, even hundreds of times before. His parents would ask him what he thought was the right course, because how else would you bring up a sailor to be proud of? But in the past, he could be wrong, and his parents would tell him so. 

Navigation assist brought up two promising options. Either cut through the storm, hope it doesn’t grow larger than the models predict, or turn south and avoid the worst of the winds. That would add days to what was meant to be a short journey. Or longer, if the storm pushed them further off-course. 

A longer trip wouldn’t be good for the hives. That’s what Cyril thought to himself as he selected the shorter path. He’d ridden through worse, and so had Seraph. 

* * *

Safe is only as safe as your preparations. Cyril went through the decks and tied down everything that wasn’t already secured. He checked the living spaces, the machine room, the kitchen; much of the equipment was already stowed away from when they first arrived. 

Cyril returned to the apiary to finish the checks. Crouched next to one of the last hives, he stopped. The bees may never be entirely quiet, but the buzz in the air was louder than it should have been. He’d missed something. 

Following the sound, he saw the problem. Hive eighty-four hadn’t been closed. It must have happened when he first received the navigation alert. Careless. If it had only been a matter of a few escaped bees, that would have been manageable. A headache, but manageable. Cyril hadn’t been tending the hives as well as he should have been these last three months. Hadn’t checked the frames, counted the cells — he should have split this hive weeks ago. It had gotten crowded. 

The bees decided to fix the problem for him. 

Cyril turned the lights on full. 

A swarm of bees balled around one of the hatches in the ceiling. At its heart, he knew, was a queen looking to build a new home. The swarm seemed almost a liquid thing, with bees burrowing in currents of legs and wings, clinging onto one another. The ball dripped insects that lost their grip and fell until their wings caught and brought them back to their brethren. 

The hatch was open just a crack for ventilation. The swarm could sense the fresh air, knew that the way out was near. Closing it to cut off their escape would risk killing bees and, even worse, risk crushing the swarm’s queen. Cyril knew what he had to do: get at the split from the outside, seal them in, coax them back into the hold. He grabbed his tools.

* * *

Though they were only on the very edges of the tropical depression, the waters had roughened. The seas crested white, and the deck was pitching more than it had. Cyril made sure to keep at least one hand on the railing as he approached the hatch. His other hand carried a bee brush, another antique his father had collected. Boar bristles fit to brush out a horse’s tail were more than enough to knock the swarm back inside. He’d close the hatch, and re-home the swarm when the ship was clear of the storm.

Bees lined the edge of the hatch. In the sunlight the bees’ wings flashed a signature iridescent green. Cyril’s mother had helped with the research efforts in Jakarta, when there were still precious few Greenwings anywhere in the world. The engineered bees fared better at sea than their cousins who would often lose their way and fly into open waters. 

There weren’t as many bees as there should have been. These were only stragglers. He bent close to the gap between the hatch and deck to try to peer into the hold. Had he gotten lucky? The swarm might have been knocked back in by the rocking of the ship. He gently swept the remaining bees back inside. 

The ship’s bow cut through a particularly high wave, and Cyril almost fell over. The sails would have to be taken in. He looked up at the masts, and nearly lost his brush to the sea when the next wave hit. Nestled at the shroud, halfway up the mainmast, the swarm had found itself a new home. 

Only when he had the ladder extended and braced against the mainmast did he feel the first touch of fear in his chest.

Cyril could let them go. Retract the sails, sit the storm out, get ready to be home for the first time since his life broke apart. His parents would have told him the swarm wasn’t worth it. He had to take care of himself. Their voices did not dissuade him as he approached the mast.

Seraph had wingmasts, which meant that the mast’s cross-section was shaped like a teardrop to minimize resistance. There were no handholds. Instead, a ladder had to be secured to the mast. 

Only when he had the ladder extended and braced against the mainmast did he feel the first touch of fear in his chest. He’d never loved heights. A personal embarrassment. Not the best quality in a sailor. 

He looped the tie around the mast and winched it tight. The waves reached higher, and the ladder pulled against him as he secured it. Saltwater dampened the decks. One kick to the ladder to make sure it stuck fast, and Cyril took a deep breath. The air felt different. As if he could taste the electricity building in the clouds.

Cyril tucked the brush through a belt loop and threaded his arm through the mesh basket he’d need for the bees. For a moment, he closed his eyes. He could only hear wind, the strain of canvas, the whistle of air against the ropes. He climbed. 

Four, five steps up the ladder and already the swaying of the ship pulled harder on his arms. Clouds chased after the horizon, and behind them the skies darkened. As the ship shrank under him, the oceans seemed only to expand, endless, marked by faint lights of ships or habitats so distant they may as well have been lanterns on the water. 

Rung by rung Cyril climbed. He told himself not to tire his arms out, to use his legs like his father taught him. But against the wind he had to grip the ladder with everything he had. His arms ached. He was close enough to hear the swarm. It hung like a bizarre black-and-yellow fruit on an impossible tree. 

Read another Imagine Editors’ Pick Ocean Bikies Take Cyclone Season

Another wave came, and the mast tipped starboard. For a moment Cyril dangled over nothing but water, and the mast swung back. He had eyes only for the bees. He did not let himself think about what he’d do if the swarm fell now.

Cyril wrapped his left arm around the mast. He could just hold the mesh basket under the swarm, but the wind made it almost impossible to keep it steady. The basket pulled away from him, trying to take to the air like a kite, then a gust pushed it flat against the mast. Cyril knew the wind would only grow stronger. He kept the basket as steady as he could, braced against the mast, and reached up with the brush. He could feel his bootsoles squeak against the ladder’s damp rungs. He could almost reach the swarm. 

The ship pitched again. He drew back and held tight to the ladder as the mast once more swung over the edge of the ship. There wasn’t much time left. He could see the cloud front. Cyril couldn’t remember if all tropical depressions were as intimidating as this one. The first splatterings of rain came, drawing patterns on the waves.

He had a sense of the timing. One shot, he told himself, he had time for one shot and he’d go back down the ladder. He wrapped his arm around the mast again, and reached up with the brush. The bristles caught a handful of bees. They fell and broke apart, swept away by the wind. Cyril adjusted his grip, held the brush by its very end, and stretched. Gentle, he told himself, and he pressed the brush against the swarm. It sank into the living ball, and then the bees gave — the swarm dropped from the mast, pulling the brush from his hand. He held the basket out and felt a weight drop inside. 

Cyril’s legs shook. The lines vibrated in the wind, seemed to whistle at him as the storm tried to peel him from the ladder. His right hand was back on the rung. Breathe, he thought, breathe. Descending, his limbs were so weak he thought he might have to let go. Better to land in the water than the deck, he thought. He’d find his way back on board somehow. Rain fell uninterrupted, and waves threatened to wash over the decks. Rushing down would be a mistake.

He counted his steps. The lines stopped whistling and moaned as though they had voices. Seraph bucked against a wave like a horse. Cyril lost count, and started again. 

When his foot met a plank and not a rung, Cyril collapsed to the deck. Only then did he check the basket. Inside was at least half of the swarm. It held together, bound by an ember of pheromones and instinct. Cyril let the first breath of relief loosen his shoulders. He’d managed to get the queen. 

* * *

He moved the bees to a warmed drybox to protect them from the damp. They’d be rehomed into a new hive box as soon as he had a chance. Cyril left them for the bridge. The orders he gave by heart, directing Seraph to steer into oncoming waves at an angle, to conserve power, and to stow the sails. 

Cyril watched as the sails furled themselves. Fabric strained with gusting wind, and the sails drew together with aching slowness. It took a full ninety seconds, and Cyril could feel each one. Only when the sails were folded and stowed into the masts did he know the risk of damage to the ship was minimal. Cyril strapped himself to a seat. He tried to call Gaurav, but the drones overhead had been rerouted to avoid the storm. Once he was home, he’d get Gaurav a radio. Strapped into the chair, he waited for the storm to pass. The world of the ship moved around him. The windows showed inky sky, and on the glass drummed rain spat by boiling clouds. The world moved around Cyril, and the windows showed only a canyon of the sea, the view of one falling from the crest of the wave to the valley of storm-driven seas far below. Once he was home, Cyril told himself, he would remember. Remember how much there was to love, remember Gaurav, remember what there was to live for. 

Seraph’s bow hit the bottom of the trough and dug into the ocean like a needle into flesh.  Cyril could not breathe, felt his ribs tighten as the ship plowed into the bottom of the wave and struggled to raise itself up. The windows darkened with drums, with boiling rain, and the Seraph climbed. 

* * *

Cyril did not know when night began, or if he’d truly slept in the nightmare of the storm. When he came to, chest sore from the strapping, clothes still wet from his climb up the mainmast, morning had come. Calm seas made the storm seem almost impossible, an absurdity. But even at Seraph’s gentle rocking, Cyril found reminders of what he’d endured. 

On the horizon, the first of the cultivated islands came into view: a green brushstroke on the sea. Three repurposed drilling rigs anchored New Manila, and mangrove trees rooted to algal mats traced the outlines of the habitat. Cyril had spent his childhood diving around and under the mangroves. He missed the tranquility of living on the islands, the canopy of bridges between homes, but above all he missed the eerie magic of the waters beneath. He found peace in glass-bodied shrimp gardening mangrove roots, in schools of fish dueling with the light under the leaves. Waters were kept quiet enough for dolphins to roam when they passed through on their seasonal migrations. The platforms’ supports extended hundreds of meters underwater, steel columns covered with crustaceans, mollusks, and algae. The floating groves helped isolate the fish farms within the islands from the open ocean.

Seraph swung around until it reached a part in the trees. Cyril steered into the harbor. To his ears the birdsong seemed almost delirious. On the water, fallen branches floated, the only evidence of last night’s storm. It’d be harvested for compost soon, along with other cuttings and waste. With a gesture, Cyril opened the cargo hatches. It was time for the hives to earn their keep. 

As light and warmth flooded into the hold, the first bees left their homes, drifting drowsy from the journey. The bees sparkled green in the sun, a dusting of glitter on their way to scout the dozens of islands in the archipelago. They would return and share news of nectar and pollen. The decks would hum with the beating of wings as the hives sought out apple groves, plum orchards, melon vines, and mango trees. And because of the bees, there’d be a harvest. 

The family mooring drifted into view. Gaurav waved from the dock. Cyril felt, for a moment, like he was on top of boundless ocean again, vertigo thrumming through his chest to a deeper part of himself he had no name for. Cyril didn’t wait for the gangplank to touch the pier before he leapt across. He’d come home. 

Learn more about Grist’s Imagine 2200 climate fiction initiative. Or check out another Editors’ Pick:

Jeremy Pak Nelson (he/him) was born and raised in Hong Kong. When not distracted by folk fiddle or the game of go, he uses outdated methods of putting words on paper to write stories that have appeared in Jellyfish Review, Solarpunk Magazine, and Shoreline of Infinity. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and currently works as a technical writer in Manchester, England.

Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor (she/her) is a 32-year-old illustrator from Bogotá, Colombia.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Sweet Water From Salt on Mar 6, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Imagine 2200: Starlight Is Kinda Bright

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 03:45

Imagine 2200, Grist’s climate fiction initiative, publishes stories that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, imagining intersectional worlds of abundance, adaptation, reform, and hope. This short story is part of our Imagine 2200 Editors’ Picks collection.

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Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. 

Breathe in, breathe out, in, out. 

Happy birthday dear Tai-iiii. 

Caress your attention around the sensation of oxygen in your nostrils. Eventually, you get lost in it. Like you’re doing backstroke in the middle of the Pacific. Hopelessly lost, or hopefully lost, I guess it depends who you ask. 

Happy birthday to me. 

The bell’s ding-ding is sharp, makes my chest spike. Feet shuffle, elbow joints click, a few murmurs bubble as everyone opens their eyes. I grab the frayed edges of my mat, start to roll it up, make sure one end of the cylinder doesn’t poke out more than the other. 

Dad does the same beside me. In fact, the way we adjust the mats is almost identical, our movements almost rhyme. Like we’re related or something. 

He doesn’t return my glance, his chin tucks as he stands up, ducks under the exit door into the field outside. I squeeze between two women I can’t remember the names of, chirp my ‘excuse me’ after I’m a meter past. 

Meditation is meant to calm you. The space in between inhale and exhale is meant to be the drainage pipe for your bouncy thoughts: wondering what Skittles tasted like, rugby players from sixty years before I was born, that one library dance scene from The Breakfast Club

They’re all meant to disappear. And they have. 

They’re all meant to be replaced by a neutral bliss. And they haven’t. 

My mind buzzes not with movies or sports, but with a question for — “Dad! Excuse me, Dad!” I call out. 

It takes him five seconds to turn around, almost like he’s analyzing whether the noise is his own son’s voice or a trick of the wind through this ankle-high grass. 

Yes, I count the seconds. No, it’s not sad. It’s just a fun game I’ve started to play recently. Record’s thirteen. 

He leans his rolled mat against the side of a whare, pinches his nose’s bridge.

“Don’t use the tongue of foreigners,” he sighs. “Our ancestors have gifted us a perfectly functioning one of our own.” 

Read another Imagine Editors’ Pick Sweet Water From Salt

I switch from English to Māori, jog up to him. “Sorry, sorry.” 

“It’s becoming a habit,” he says. “What are you spending your VR time on?” 

See, our village is cute. We’d rather let hypothermia take us in the night than use oil or gas for power. But overcast days are a thing and the wind is more bipolar than even me, so we only generate a certain amount of electricity a day. 

Therefore therefore therefore, we’re only allowed fifty-nine minutes of VR time a day. You’ve got to make the most of it, I reckon. Don’t spend your seconds on studying herbal medicines, fishing techniques, natural pesticides. The carrot life cycle simulator is one that’s recommended by local parents a lot. A recommendation I passionately ignore. 

“I don’t know,” I scratch the back of my neck with my free hand. 

“People only mumble ‘I don’t know’ when they fully-well know, but just have no intent of sharing.”

“Maybe, like, William Shakespeare, George Orwell, J.K. Rowling …” 

He shakes his head, flings his eyes up at the passing clouds. “And what has Romeo and Juliet taught you about potato farming? Has Harry Potter used a spell yet that makes your bait speak lies in salmon?” 

A response snaps the back of my tongue. Something about salmon not being an official New Zealand language. I clench my teeth to stop it from bursting out. I don’t need a sandal outline on my ass today. 

There’s over one billion different experiences in the VR metaverse. I know this, because Google says so in unskippable ads before all of their popular ones. 

I could explore craters on Venus, scuba dive with blue bottle jellyfish, skrrt Ferraris through the streets of 10 AD Jerusalem. 

I could. But I don’t.

“Don’t find yourself getting lost in the imaginations of colonizers when you could be getting lost in the serving of our people.”

In a green armchair on the seventy-fourth floor of the Google Library. Candles always flicker, a cuckoo clock always ticks and it’s always, always lightly raining. That’s where my happiness is.

In turning pages, even when I pinch the paper or dogear its corner after fifty-eight minutes, I know there’s nothing really there but 010101s on some American server. That’s where my excitement is. 

“Tonight, you’ll start to be a man. Tonight, you’ll take your place as a leader in this iwi,” Dad continues. “Don’t find yourself getting lost in the imaginations of colonizers when you could be getting lost in the serving of our people.” 

But I’ve been speaking Māori since I was on baby formula. I lead junior haka practice twice a week. I row waka ama and I’ve memorized our myths and I don’t see the harm in reading one or two stories by an English woman. 

“I’ve got a request,” I tuck the front of my shirt in. “For a birthday gift.” 

I realize it’s a bit late to ask for a birthday gift on the day of your actual birthday. Thing is, you can’t chat shit about it. It’s an unwritten rule of the universe you’ve got to be nice to me today. 

He raises his right eyebrow. “Birthday gift? As in, a gift … a gift for you?” 

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s what everyone used to do, back when we lived in cities. Right?”

He frowns. “The boy who’s got everything wants even more. What? Whiskey? A fur coat? A ta moko?”

“A book. An actual, physical book. Like, maybe Macbeth, or Nineteen Eighty-Four, or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s …” 

I’m not interrupted, by the way. I’ve only got a feeling it’s best not to go on. 

He runs two fingers across his clenched jaw. That’s feeling confirmed. His own ta moko spiderwebs out. Thick strings of green ink, green like pine needles, curve from his cheekbones to the intersections of his lips. I still remember the nonchalance of the seventy-something year old man who did it, the stench of his fingernails, the tap-tap-tap of wooden mallet onto stone chisel onto the skin of my dad. 


The one word is used more by him as a command, less of an offer. I thought turning eighteen would’ve gained me some of that mutual respect, some of that adult shit. Sike. No number on a birth certificate will make my arms thicker than his, my presence bigger than his, my first name worth more than his.

He grabs the top of the whare, pulls himself onto its roof, motions for me to leave my meditation mat by his. I try to copy him, but when my triceps quiver he hurls me up by my sleeve. 

The corrugated iron is rough, bumpy. I guess it wasn’t a priority of shipping container companies to make their products comfy to sit on. 

“Can’t you remember?” he asks. “You are getting a gift for your birthday.” 

“You can’t refer to a girl as a gift, Dad. It’s 2122.” 

“I was talking about the ring, not your wife-to-be.” 

It takes all my willpower not to groan. Okay, maybe all my willpower is a bit of an over exaggeration, but at least 92.3% of it. The chief’s son always gets married off to some neighboring chief’s daughter. Midnight, eighteenth birthday, it’s tradition. Part of the peacekeeping game, our diplomatic dice roll. 

I blame it for all my high school party hook-ups, yoga dates, midnight rendezvous on the beach. It’s amazing how quickly alcohol and a sloppy handjob can turn the future to a blur.

I consider asking which iwi. A girl from Ngātiwai, Ngāti Hine, Tainui, but what does it matter? I won’t get a word in and neither will she until we both start to murmur “till death do us part.” 

His legs dangle over the edge, I hug mine against my chest. I’m not sure whose house we’re on, but I hope we’re not interrupting anything important. I personally would be slightly distracted by two ass-shaped indents in my ceiling. 

Rows and rows of whare stretch out, pretty much every shade on the color wheel. Red, blue, even beige. Not by our choice, just by what we happened to find at ports that haven’t greeted a cargo ship in decades. The logos on the side fade more and more each year. Some companies I recognize: Apple, Tesla, NextEra Energy. Some companies I don’t: BP, Hummer, Kmart. 

“This is what we’ve fought for, this is what we fled for,” his eyes trace across the acres in front of us. “The British robbed this from us, and after almost 300 years, we can smile and say we’ve got it back.” 

Ride-on electric lawnmowers sing as they scythe across rugby fields. A girl tinkers over the final weaves of her basket, ready for a fresh haul of shellfish. The sound of gossip, the smell of yeast floats from the bakery section nearby. Solar panels glisten and windmills whir and it all seems like just a facade.

So perfect for some. So repetitive to me. 

* * *

If you want expert advice on how to skim stones, don’t go to me. Ihaia’s record is seven, Makareta claims he got nine, and I swear Wiremu fluked a twelve when we were younger. 

Unfortunately for you, there’s no one else here. So I’m your local authority, with a lifetime high of four. 

Welcome to my tutorial. Hopefully you’ve got a notebook on hand. 

Light stones with a smooth surface skim the best. Any bumps are ehhh, they make it jitter off in random directions. Heaviness is just anticlimactic, sinks it before it can take flight. 

I’ve already scouted out one, don’t worry, done the hard yards for us. It shone between a clump of marram grass and reeds. Like, no joke, literally shone. I took it as a sign from the heavens. I toss it in my palm. It weighs less than a handful of hay, its texture is like a more earthy stainless steel. 

I wind up, count to three, whip it across the water.

It plops, sinks without bouncing. 

Come on, universe. The sound effects rub it in. I bark out a curse. 

“Careful, your highness. Potty mouths don’t make for good husbands.” 

I turn around. A girl dumps her basket onto the sand, outside the brown outline of where the waves stretch in. She rolls her harem pants halfway up her shins, tiptoes into the ocean, no splash. She bends over, her almond hair drips over her ears, its edges sway with, soak in the current. 

“Please don’t call me ‘your highness’,” I cross my arms. “It makes me sound pretentious.”

“And are you?” 

“No,” I shrug, pause. “In my unbiased opinion.” 

The joke only earns me the hint of a grin. She dips her hands into the water, pulls out one pipi, two pipi, three pipi. I come over to help her scavenge, but my footsteps kick up sand like Godzilla’s would kick up dirt and the water turns murky. 

“Be delicate, your highness,” she tuts.

“It’s Tai,” I say, wait for her to respond with her name. 

She reaches back in. 

“I know.” 

She cradles the pipis in her arms, their shells yellow like a used sponge, they piss salt water onto her skin. She heads for her basket, spills them inside, hoists it over her shoulder, trods up the beachface. 


It’s chill. 

I shouldn’t even be talking to her, anyway. The fuckboy life is a fun one, sure, but I’m about to graduate from it. Step up to become a married man. 

I’m a proud daydreamer. Zoning out for me is less of a phase, more of a lifestyle. But the ones where I flirt like I’m running off a script or a girl blushes over a spontaneous haiku, they’ve got to go. Be replaced with fantasies of TV channel arguments, a black coffee addiction, raising a set of twins … 

Okay. I’ve taken it all into consideration, and actually, my verdict is fuck that. I’ve still got, like, seven hours. 

I’m going to hit on the pretty girl in harem pants. 

Save your judgmental thoughts, your holier-than-thou attitude. Go write a complaint to the tribe’s marriage board instead. Well, first, you’ll have to create said marriage board. But then, go crazy. 

I catch up to her by a beech tree. Its branches stick out of it like a coat rack, bunches of leaves as fresh green bowler hats. 

She squints at my forehead as I come up beside her. “You’re sweating.” 

“You’re a fast walker.” 

She starts off again, I lightly grab her arm. Key word being lightly. I want the world to know it’s bullshit if anyone accuses me of something like — 

“Assault. That legally counts as assault,” she tilts her head. 

Something like that.

“Take me to court, then,” I shrug, let go. “What’s your name?” 

We don’t have a court system, either. 

Her eyes flit to her fingernails. They’re blunt, edges chewed into semicircles, specks of mud caught underneath. 

“Jasmine,” she says. Her voice drops almost into a whisper, even though there’s no one else around. 

So melodramatic. It’s not like she’s disclosing the code to the discovered nuclear bomb laptop of Kim Jong Un. 

I purse my lips. “Such a Western name.” 

My eyes widen. “City hospital? You were born in a city?”

“Yeah, maybe it’s not Hūmārire or Pīwari or Waiwaiā,” she replies. “But I guess Mum was worried they wouldn’t have macrons on the city hospital’s keyboard. A messed up birth certificate isn’t a great sign of things to come.” 

My eyes widen. “City hospital? You were born in a city?”

“Born and raised, seventeen years of motorway traffic, billboards, and office blocks,” she nods, makes eye contact again. “She wanted to move back here, though. The smell of cow shit is so freeing, apparently.” 

I try to imagine it. This girl, with skin like acorn husk, skin like mine. This girl, with eyes that perk slightly at the edges, eyes like mine. This girl, with a heart that beats our people’s blood and DNA that holds our people’s genes and lungs that breathe our people’s air, strolling down a main street with noise-canceling headphones and a frozen Coke. Maybe even a, what’s it called, a library card in her purse. 

The scene is grainy, like a YouTube video loading on poor WiFi. It doesn’t comprehend. 

Next issue. I can’t comment on frozen Cokes or library cards, but I can’t think of anything else except her being from the city. She takes a step away, almost challenging me. Come on, dude. Less than a minute of chat and you’re already out of things to say? 

I sit down by the trunk; she glances back to the village before joining me. The bark digs into my lower back. 

“Which city?” I turn to face her. 

“Auckland. Come on, I only do it big time.”

“Tell me about it.” 

“You know,” she notes, whistles in between. “The first thing my mum taught me was good manners.” 

I bite the inside of my cheek. “Please tell me about it. Everything. I’ve got until sunset.” She hmmms. I’m not sure what she’s chalking up my interest to. Curiosity, boredom. 

I’m not sure what I can even attribute it to. Maybe it’s just desperation for a distraction. Maybe all I want is a hint of what life is like outside of farming and fishing, baking and breathwork. 

And so she talks. And so I listen. 

Every detail she mentions, she spins it into a 3D world, a 3D world private for the two of us. It’s like she’s the developer for a VR experience, and I’m her beta player. 

The minor details are the most vivid, the things she squeezes onto the end of sentences or middle of stories as an afterthought. They stick. Fire truck sirens, chalkboards, revolving glass doors.

Here, in our tribe, we’ve got maybe fifteen thousand people. There, she says they have over one million. Puddles to oceans. Enough people to fill stadiums and justify skyscrapers and provide you with the chance to meet someone new every bus ride.

Read another Imagine Editors’ Pick Ocean Bikies Take Cyclone Season

“So, you’ve read books, right? Like proper, paper books.” I rest my chin against my knee. 

She laughs. “No. In my whole time there, I never once touched a paperback.” 

My shoulders drop, and she touches my forearm. 

“It’s sarcasm,” she continues. “Of course I have. Although, barely ever with consent. The only thing that got my eyes to pages was the threat of failing my English essays.” 

Harry Potter?” 

“Read all seven.” 

“Oh my Lord,” I press both palms to the sides of my face. “How does it feel to be living my fantasy?” 

“That’s your fantasy?”

“Well, there’s some other ones, but I shouldn’t mention those while my fiancé gets ready somewhere.” 

Her elbow nudges my side, I nudge back. She pauses, wrinkles her nose. 

“It’s kind of fucked, don’t you think? That your dad’s going to marry you off for the sake of it?” 

I think back to taking my shoes off before stepping onto the kitchen vinyl, mouthing worship songs on Sundays, doing homework at the back of a party. It’s just what has to be done, what’s always been done, what always will be done. 

But that answer won’t impress Jasmine, so I nod and say “yeah” instead. 

She picks up a fallen leaf, uses its stem to sketch hashtags, crescents, diamonds in the dirt. “I could take you to the city. Tonight.” 

My chest tightens. “What?” 

I ask it not because I didn’t hear her. Every syllable cut into my ear drums like carvings into oak. 

I ask because it sounds like a joke, a white lie, a tease. It can’t be, it can’t be an offer. 

“This isn’t some mindful concentration camp. I can still talk to my old mates, you know,” she traces out a trapezium. “They’ve got cars, electric motorbikes, one’s dad even owns a boat. Give me the word and you can switch shellfish for strip clubs.” 

I flinch. Is this bark rougher than normal bark? Is the angle of this sunset steeper than yesterday’s? Because the back of my neck prickles and I have to squint to see her face. But even squinting doesn’t reveal any telltales of “hey, haha, I’m just kidding” on her lips. 

I’ve watched this sunset thousands of times, and always it rises with the knowledge that I’ll be here in the village, waiting for it. 

Not that the sun itself would be massively worried about my specific location. Still. 

This is where I was born, and where I’m expected to die. From dust to dust, from sunset to sunset. 

But the dust I’m interested in is coated on a bookshelf somewhere. I want to feel the crease of a broken cover spine, the edges of a page, the sting of a papercut. See its faint red outline on my skin.

She stares out, past sand, waves, the volcano range that naps on the horizon line. “A boat. The beach. Three hours, and we could be gone.” 

I know it’s more than just the books tempting me. But trying to comprehend one million different noses, one million different vocal tones, one million different souls would freak me out, kick awake my common sense, probably stop me from blurting out — 

“I’ll be there.” 

So I just focus on the books instead. 

* * *

I tug my suit’s lapels, squeak the leather of my right shoe against my left, fiddle with the ring on my finger. It’s a titanium band, pinches like a vice in the school’s woodwork center, its glow is dim under the lamplight. 

Dad knocks. 

It’s him, yeah. I know for a fact it’s him. Not because he’s in sight or he’s called out, but because it’s less of a proper knock and more of a signature percussion performance: seven evenly spaced bangs against the metal. 

“What’s up?” My voice spikes at the end, I keep eye contact with my mirror.

“The economy.” There’s a rustle of cushion tassels, a relaxed huff. 

I almost snort. “I’ve never even seen you buy something with a credit card, let alone make comments about economics.” 

“Women love a good sense of humor, Tai. Work on it.” 

I know. Mine just tends to lean more towards penis jokes and puns rather than finance. 

On second thoughts, maybe I do need to work on it. 

The muscles at the base of my neck urge me to face him, but I tighten them, try to distract myself by running over every feature of my reflection. One strand of hair splits my eye, my lips are slightly chapped, I watch my shoulders sink. 

I trace my ring finger across the crack that zigzags from the top of the glass. Titanium drags across it, then skin. It’s sharp, but not enough to pierce, only teases with the pain. 

No, I haven’t met the bride-to-be yet. I’ve been told her name a few times. That’s all. Over dinner, passing conversations, a congratulations letter from Aunty Kura. But I let its syllables drag through my mind’s desktop, straight into the recycle bin folder.

There’s no clock in here. Might be a good thing, because it would be fucking blatant that I’ve got something planned. I’d check it every time the second arm ticks. All I can do now is wonder how long it’s been since Jasmine and I parted ways at the beech tree. 

“Reverend sent me to fetch you. So, are you ready?” he asks. 

Way to drag out the moment. Some quality father-son time before the wedding here. Every swallow feels like a gulp. Each is thicker than you realize once you’re aware of it. 

“Yup,” I lie. 

Or, at least, that’s what I want to say. 

I’ve never wanted one word to come out of my mouth more than that. No difficult answer in class, no perfect flirting dialogue, no sentence or phrase or sound seems more enticing than “yup.”

But I can’t. I don’t know whether my vocal chords are seizing up or if not telling the truth to him is just too fucking intimidating, and instead all I can murmur is — 


I scratch my chin, even though he made me shave this morning. Now, he’s meant to say something next. I’ve had one or two or a million conversations in my life, and I’m pretty sure that’s how they work. I go, you go, I go again, table tennis with our facts and feelings. 

But the silence doesn’t break. It digs into my gut instead, turns it hollow, into a gap. 

“No,” I repeat, as if an extra two letters will fix everything. 

Those two letters might be able to change a novel’s ending. They might even be able to stop a war. Change the path of history. But the ring is still on my finger, too tight for even those letters to tear it off. 

These shipping containers are never spacious. They were made for crates of bananas, belt buckles, lots and lots of BMW spare parts. Not dressing rooms. 

But we switch out the hubcaps and handbrakes for a sofa and a mirror, hook it up to the solar power system, and call it what we want. So that’s what it becomes. No questions, no queries, just acceptance via “oh, nice, new dressing room.” 

They’re not spacious to begin with, but even now the corrugated walls seem to creep inwards. Maybe another few inches and there won’t be enough oxygen left in here and we’ll pass out until morning comes.

My face prickles with a warmth, an uncomfortable warmth. I stand up, make my way over to the door. But to get to the door means I pass Dad on the sofa. To pass Dad on the sofa means I feel like checking if there’s any marks on my shoes for a strange length of time. 

His fingers grip the hem of my shirt, but their tug lets go just as quickly. 

“I forgot something,” I say. “At the meditation block.” 

There’s no response. None quick enough to catch me before the door creaks close, at least. 

I’ve always had this thing where I think everyone I pass by is judging me. It’s not just a romantic thing, either. It could be someone’s grandfather, or grandchild, and something in my brain triggers. Like they’re scanning me for all my visual pros and cons. Call it insecurity, call it ego, call it human nature. 

But now, I’m genuinely like an extra who turned up to the wrong movie studio. Everyone else is wearing hoodies and flannel shirts, not suit jackets. Jandals and gumboots, they double-take at my dress shoes.

A hand grabs my shoulder, a grip that’s more like a leash, swivels me around even as I try to resist.

Most people know what’s happening tonight. I get a few well-wishes along the way. None of them register as anything more than soundtrack noise. 

For every step I take towards the beach, the eyes on me matter less and less and less. Because if this is the last time they’re going to see me, I’m glad it’s an image that’s easy to remember. 

A hand grabs my shoulder, a grip that’s more like a leash, swivels me around even as I try to resist. 

Even when Dad lets go, he doesn’t actually. Sure, the physical contact’s gone, but there’s so much more to touch than just physics. It might stop on our skin, but it can pulse through, into everything else. Just as long as it’s someone you love, or fear, or a healthy/unhealthy mixture of both. 

His eyebrows scrunch. Three toddlers stop for a second, observe, skitter away. He clutches a paper bag to his chest. 

Eighteen years of breathwork and each breath still feels forced. Eighteen years of North Island air and it still feels cold. Years turn into decades too quickly and I don’t want to count the decades I’ll spend in a fake love.

Jasmine and her city friend will almost be ready. Her hand on the anchor’s rope, one eye on the gap between two volcanoes, the other on the path leading down to the shorefront. 

I take a step backwards. He hands me the package. 

“I know individual gifts aren’t part of our culture,” he crosses his arms behind his back. “But I thought we could make an exception, just this once.” 

Should I sprint? Sigh? Neither feel grateful, neither feel right, so I distract myself by trying to guess what it is instead. 

Chocolates? A framed family poster? Some sort of ornamental box? But the weight is weird. Too light for metal, for stone, for wood. 

I reach inside. The top’s material is almost sticky and the corners are rough and when I drag my thumb across it, it separates and rustles and … 

I fling the bag onto the grass, hold the gift up until it touches my nose. The corners of my mouth pull into a smile.

On the cover, there’s a boy. His spectacles are nerdy-as-fuck, his cape is too big for his neck, and he looks like the sort of kid you’d have a moral dilemma over defending or not at lunchtime. 

I turn to the first page. 



Ko Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, o te nama tuawha, Privet Drive, i whakahīhī ki te kii he tino noa, ka nui te mihi. Ko ratou nga tangata whakamutunga e whakaaro ana koe ki te uru atu ki tetahi mea ke, ngaro ranei, na te mea kaore ratou i mau ki nga korero poauau. 

I flick through the rest of the pages. All the same. All in Māori. Every Google Library session, they’ve always been English words. But the macrons above the letters, the way the vowels dip in tone, the rhythm of the sentences: it’s sweet, rich, more beautiful than anything virtual candlelight has illuminated for me so far. 

Dad tilts his head, waits for my reaction. But what reaction works when these 300 pages override 300 years of history? Harry Potter’s meant to be a boy from Surrey and I’m meant to be a boy from Waikato and our paths weren’t ever meant to cross so intimately, so smoothly, so casually.

I look around. Look out. Look at this place my great-grandfather brought the first shipping container to, my ancestors discovered on tamanu trunk canoes. 

The solar panels glisten, the barley fields bend, people walk around with content in their faded forehead lines and relaxation in their shoulders. 

And for a moment, I wonder if this is where I really belong. 

The city might have bouncy music playing from mall speakers, but we sing waiata in groups by bonfires and dining tables. 

The city might have frappuccinos, but we have lamb hangi and fried bread. 

The city I’ve dreamed of, the future I’ve dreamed of, it fades to black. And the black becomes more purpley and spots of light start to dance and I realize all I’ve done is look up. 

My wedding ring glints once as I raise my hand over my eyeline. Would it shine just as bright if I tossed it up? High enough for it to get caught outside of Earth’s gravity, to hang with the rest of the universe.

My uncle once taught me all the constellations that lead our tūpuna here. He waited for cloudless nights to take me out to the hilltops, we took a flask of hot chocolate and some ginger biscuits. Isn’t it kind of cool, how our ancestors found them all without telescopes or observatories? 

The constellations. Te Kakau, the rest of the world calls it Orion’s Belt. Matariki, the Pleiades. Te Waka-o-Tama-rereti, Scorpio. I can spot them all now, connect the invisible lines, feel the energy of my ancestors in their patterns. 

The city might be full of bright lights, but we’ve got the stars at their full potential. Actually, we don’t even have them. 

Technically speaking, we’ve just got old light. A memory of where the stars once were. And maybe that too is more than enough.

Learn more about Grist’s Imagine 2200 climate fiction initiative. Or check out another Editors’ Pick:

Anthony Pita (he/him) is a student from New Zealand, studying at both the University of Auckland and the University of California. Alongside finishing his first novel, his work has been published in Huia Short Stories, Narrative Imperative, Signals Journal, and more.

Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor (she/her) is a 32-year-old illustrator from Bogotá, Colombia.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Starlight Is Kinda Bright on Mar 6, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Greenland’s marine ecosystem is experiencing a radical ‘regime change’

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 03:15

When marine biologist Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen began studying the boreal waters that surround Greenland 40 years ago, an inflatable raft carried him through vast expanses of polar pack ice, with narwhals and walruses frequently passing by. The astounding blue sea ice seemed almost inviolable in its grandeur. 

But with Greenland reaching its highest temperatures in the past 1,000 years, the scene is changing. Arctic sea ice, which is responsible for maintaining cool polar temperatures, is dwindling rapidly. The oldest and thickest of it has declined by 95 percent during three decades of global warming.

“There’s a whole beautiful landscape that used to be there,” said Heide-Jørgensen, a researcher at Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. “Nowadays, we can see that all the ice is gone.”  

So too are a growing number of the creatures that lived among it. Inuit communities are seeing little to no evidence of endemic species like the narwhals and walruses that Heide-Jørgensen grew familiar with. Instead, they are finding animals native to more southerly waters, including mackerel, bluefin tuna, and many kinds of cetaceans, all of them drawn to the warming waters and abundant prey. 

Visual observation and remote sensing leave Heide-Jørgensen and fisheries biologist Brian Mackenzie with little doubt that a potentially irreversible regime shift – a change from one stable ecological condition to another – is occurring. Unprecedented numbers of dolphins and fin and humpback whales suggest a tipping point in the marine ecosystem off the east coast of the world’s largest island. This climate-driven shift means not only that meteorological and climatological phenomena thousands of miles away can affect local conditions in unexpected ways, but they create the potential for cascading effects throughout entire ecosystems. 

“It has a very specific driving force for the tipping element, which is the sea ice.” said Heide-Jørgensen, who attributes the regime shift primarily to a significant decrease in summer sea ice arriving from the Beaufort Sea. 

That body of water, located along the northernmost seaboard of Alaska, generates the pack ice found off the coast of eastern Greenland. It is carried there over the course of several years by winds and currents. For native marine species in Greenland, the ice regulates temperatures by reflecting sunlight and provides critical habitat and nursery grounds for animals, invertebrates, and algae. 

As the tern flies, the Beaufort Sea is about as far from these waters as Anchorage, Alaska, is from Portland, Oregon. “It’s a huge distance,” said Heide-Jørgensen. He noted that the scope of what’s happening in Greenland shows that the effects of climate change are certain and long-ranging, impacting ecosystems across thousands of miles. “It goes far beyond what we had originally thought. Local systems can be severely affected by something so far away, which is a lesson learned.”

While many studies have shown regime shifts in other marine ecosystems across the globe, there has been little revealed on such shifts in the Arctic until now. The researchers note that the process that spurred the radical change likely began 10 to 20 years ago when temperatures started to increase more dramatically. Thanks to 19th-century explorers, records of ice throughout Greenland date to 1820 and help reveal climatological patterns and effects.

“It contributes to the general evidence basis for how climate change is affecting life in the oceans,” said Mackenzie, a professor at Technical University of Denmark. “There’s now many studies showing changes in distributions, changes in food webs, and so on. Not many for the Arctic or in sort of remote places like this. And so it’s contributing to the pattern that we’ve been seeing in the scientific community.” 

Humpback whales, usually found off the coast of New England and Newfoundland and in the waters north of Scandinavia, are now migrating by the thousands along the east coast of Greenland. Fin whales, also usually seen offshore in the North Atlantic, are increasingly common as well. And while this shift isn’t necessarily bad for the opportunistic cetaceans, which can adapt to a certain threshold of oceanic shifts, it places immense stress on endemic species like narwhal. The researchers suspect the native creatures are moving north as the water warms and interlopers arrive.   

Newcomers like the whales, which require a lot of food to sustain themselves and migrate thousands of miles, are now consuming more than 1 million tons of food per year, outcompeting other animals. “There are big ecological implications for local biodiversity and the interactions among species,” said Mackenzie. “Particularly in predator to prey competition relationships.” 

Marine species aren’t the only ones who will experience these ramifications. Changes in species distributions, especially fish, could reshape commercial fisheries. 

Bluefin tuna had never been recorded off the eastern shore of Greenland prior to 2012, but have been recorded every year since. “We got some reports from Greenlandic fishing crews that they had caught some bluefin tuna as bycatch,” said Mackenzie. “And we could see that the temperature in the area had increased quite a bit compared to previous years. The thermal habitat expanded, and that’s one of the reasons why we think the tuna started to show up. Mackerel itself had not been seen in Greenland waters before 2011, and we think that the tuna more or less followed the mackerel. With changes like this, it’s likely that there’s multiple effects throughout the entire food web, especially at lower trophic levels.”

Unless ice export from the north increases and temperatures cool, it is very likely that this new regime will become permanent. “It would require the unlikely and substantial reversal of current warming, and several years to reverse the trend with little multiyear ice in the Arctic Ocean,” said Heide-Jørgensen. “No climate deals seem to cover that at the moment.”

Given the pace of global climate change, the Arctic Ocean could within our lifetimes record its first summer without ice. Some studies suggest that may happen within a few decades. “Forty or 50 years ago, that concept would be unthinkable,” Mackenzie said. “But it looks like it’s going to happen. And if that does happen, it would mean even more major changes on the food web and ecosystems up there.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Greenland’s marine ecosystem is experiencing a radical ‘regime change’ on Mar 6, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News


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