People to the rescue!

Reprieved for good behaviour


The year is 2085.  On the High Seas, in international waters, ships move under 24-hour satellite surveillance, their location continuously tracked and every movement in their fishing gear, cargo and ballast holds logged and measured.  All merchant vessels are double hulled at least, and possess a host of other safety technologies developed during the ‘1.5-degree’ storms that began in the first quarter of the century …


Within the exclusive economic zones of each country or federation, national marine ecosystem management policy is enforced in line with agreed global standards.  National parks ensure that selected areas of great beauty and special value are preserved, for recreation, environmental security and science, as well as to provide feeding and breeding grounds for fish stocks.  The latter are harvested elsewhere in the EEZ under strict national supervision or, closer inshore, by coastal communities which have been encouraged by governments to establish their own management zones …


As a result of these new arrangements, and adaptation to climate change, fish stocks are showing signs of recovery over large areas of the sea, and permitted harvests are beginning to edge upwards for some species in several countries.  This is starting to relieve prices in city shops, where wild-caught fish from the deep sea, like meat, has long been an expensive luxury …


There are far fewer poisons around than there used to be.  The agreement and enforcement of national laws and global treaties have seen to that, supported by the diligent activism of millions of citizens.  Whistle-blowers, using mobile phone web connections to share direct observations with activists, journalists and enforcement agencies, make cheating almost impossible.  The cost of safe waste disposal now has to be included in the annual business plans and accounts of all companies and cities, and the concept of ‘safe disposal’ has long since ceased to include dumping at sea …


But the most strategic change has been the stripping of greenhouse gases from the open air by vast thermonuclear-powered scrubbers, the liquefied carbon dioxide and stabilised methane hydrates being stored by the gigatonne deep underground in the long-empty sea-bed oil and gas fields.  These mechanisms are the main sources of profit for the heirs of the major energy companies, and are paid for by taxes on carbon emissions …


Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere peaked at 0.05% carbon-dioxide equivalent in 2052, their growth having been slowed somewhat by earlier desperate measures to reduce emissions, but are now down to 0.04% and falling.  The oceans stored a lot of energy in those few dangerous years in an enhanced greenhouse, and sea levels are still rising, rainfall patterns remain distorted, and wild storms still pound coastal areas.  But there is a sense of hope nevertheless …


Tourism is still important, having recovered a bit from the almost-complete closure of commercial aviation during the mid-century famines.  Now, high-speed air travel is used only for emergencies, weather permitting, and the usual way to travel long distances is by train.   The new tourism is mostly a positive force for everyone.  Coastal communities treat visitors rather like fishes, as a renewable resource for sustainable harvesting by locals.  Almost every community in the world is in direct contact with every other through the web, and environmental education has been a big thing everywhere for decades …


Many resort areas that were ruined in earlier waves of tourism development, where they haven’t had to be abandoned to the sea and sea-borne storms, have long since been rehabilitated, building on their unique strengths, the capacity of nature to regrow, and the friendliness of local people who no longer fear for their livelihoods.  In any case, most visitors want to be ecotourists and are happy to pay what it takes for a high-quality holiday, without damaging the world too much by travelling around in it.


The greenest of them, of course, stay home and tend their gardens instead.  Or else they do voluntary ecosystem restoration work, driven by the need somehow to honour and atone for the deaths of tens of millions of species in the recent mass extinction.

The freshening of the waters


And what of fresh water in all this?  The key change came with the mass movements of mid-century, in which the ideas of ‘water democracy’ became widespread.  As locally-accountable management of ecosystems became the norm, and communities learned from one another about what to require of their leaders, these ideas came to be expressed in a host of different ways, grafted onto a range of religions and philosophies of life.


They were represented by phrases such as “Water is nature’s gift, essential to all life, and connecting all life”, and “Water must be free for sustenance use, but is limited and must be conserved”, and “No one has a right to abuse, waste or pollute water or water-bearing ecosystems”.  In the same package came the strong sense of duty to use water sparingly, caringly and justly, and also the belief that all people and all species have a right to their necessary share of water.


Many also concluded that water is unique and by nature a common resource, so it can’t be owned as private property or sold as a commodity.  In short, out of hardship, necessity, wisdom and local power, water became sacred again.


The practical results were incredibly diverse, as people sought ways to solve their own local water crises, each resulting from a different local interaction among ecosystems, climate, weather, terrain, drainage, proximity to the sea, population, wealth and culture … 


They did this by restoring floodplains and welcoming floods, guiding rainwater down wells and into deep tanks, and building check-dams, all to recharge groundwater.  They did it by harvesting dew, building sea-water greenhouses and other structures to condense water vapour from the air, using solar desalination, and catching and storing rain in domestic and community cisterns.


They did it by banning thirsty crops, and seeking out species and cultivars that use least water. They did it by rediscovering ancient ways, such as underground tunnels, to harvest water from aquifers at sustainable rates.  And they did it by finding old or new ways, such as bamboo or ceramic feeders, to deliver water drop by drop to the roots of growing crops, rather than smearing it across waterlogged and salt-encrusted fields …


City administrations learned to strike long-term deals with catchment dwellers to pay a fair price for catchment services, in return for their help in protecting upstream ecosystems.  Cities learned to collaborate with one another to liberate rivers from industrial canals and dams, so that they and their shadows, and migrating fish, could run free again.  They also learned to collaborate with land owners to encourage organic farming and low-impact use of ecosystems in the catchments.


Their citizens, also affected by the ideas of ‘water democracy’, … began to demand that their urban environments become much more porous, with parks and gardens everywhere, all roads made of water-permeable materials, and a water trap on every roof.


Finally, in a development that decisively changed the lives of consumers and producers around the world, sophisticated labelling and rationing arrangements for the use of virtual water came to be accepted, along with similar means to limit the use of embedded carbon.