Next Step along the Road…

Next step along the Road…

In last week’s post on my Road to Environmental Armageddon project, I vowed to complete my current round of editing the first book in my trilogy within a week. It was a big task because my target was dialogue tags and I have a lot of dialogue in this ms. I’d read up on subjects like ‘motivation reaction units’ and using dialogue tags to express emotions to just using he said and she said to no tags at all wherever possible. Much of it was contradictory and it soon became obvious I shouldn’t rely heavily on any one technique.

So, I went through the whole ms trying to apply all the lessons as best I could. I also passed every chapter through my three editing filters (Prowriting aid, Hemingway app, and Grammarly).

I am now at a crossroads and looking for input on whether I should proceed with proofreading the ms and publishing the polished version, or go back to the drawing boards and rethink the whole project.

Here is the first chapter:


The Road to Environmental Armageddon

Alan Kemister

The Road to Environmental Armageddon is a precautionary tale. It describes a potential outcome of humanity’s refusal to address the environmental consequences of its ever-expanding exploitation of fossil fuels. In Part One, a graduate student in oceanography and an actress turned environmental activist struggle to understand the consequences of a stunning discovery that will upend our understanding of the environment. Part Two follows several members of the next generation of graduate students as they grapple with the consequences of a technological fix for global warming.


Part One

The Souring Seas

Chapter One


Halifax, Nova Scotia, Monday, May 3, 2021


Tony Atherton’s phone chirped as he stepped from the shower. He ran naked and dripping to his mobile, charging on rickety shelves beneath his studio apartment’s largest window. Wide-open casements admitted cool morning air to his second-floor flat.

A young blonde with long hair and the posture of a runway model stared from a window in the adjacent building. Her shimmering iridescent blue dress suggested she’d just returned from an all-night party. He hesitated, momentarily transfixed by her smiling eyes only four metres away.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he exclaimed several heartbeats later, as he grabbed his phone and slithered to the floor.

He mentally kicked himself for his chickenshit reaction. I’m tall, muscular without being musclebound, and decent looking. Why didn’t I nonchalantly answer my phone and saunter away from the blasted window?

He tapped the incoming call button. “Heyo.”

“Good morning, Anthony. Jacinta Lopez Martinez speaking.”

“Morning, Jacinta,” he replied.

“I hope I have interrupted nothing important.”

Tony glanced at his bedside clock. 8:05. He was sitting naked on the floor of his sparsely furnished apartment, hiding from his neighbour when he should have been enjoying a relaxing end-of-term break. Hilarious perhaps, but unimportant, and nothing he’d discuss with Jacinta.

The early morning call could have only one explanation. He took a deep breath. “Something’s wrong with the aquarium, eh?”

“The matter is the pH control system has failed, and I need your help.”

“Can’t Herr Professor solve it?” Tony asked.

“Professor Krueger is at a conference. Only Rosalind and I are here to manage the aquarium, and we are uncertain. I would not have called if it was not important.”

Rosalind Parker, Rosie to everyone but Jacinta, was an undergraduate working for the summer. Neither would resolve mechanical problems without help.

Tony struggled to concentrate on the call rather than the blonde he imagined laughing at his expense. “Explain what happened, and, you know, I might suggest something.”

“There appear to be two problems. First, all pH sensors failed. Many algae have grown over the weekend, and they are inhibiting the sensors. Second, all the carbonic acid has discharged into the aquarium.”

“Experiment’s ruined. Why not abandon it and start again?”

“We should not stop until we understand the rapid algal growth.”

A picture of slimy goo overwhelming their experimental setup displaced images of the blond temptress. Dissecting the computer records and determining the exact conditions when the system failed were the obvious next steps. But something else was equally important. “Give me forty-five minutes.”

Tony refused to creep like a cowardly dog in his apartment. He stood, hoping a bevy of female roommates with cellphone cameras hadn’t joined his neighbour.

The window opposite was empty. Vaguely disappointed, he rushed through his morning routine before dashing to the university.


Tony diverted into the oceanography department annex. The humid concrete cavern with banks of fluorescent grow lights housed the ten-metre diameter aquarium where Jacinta was studying the effect of a more acidic ocean on phytoplankton. A thick surface accumulation and the smell of decomposing vegetation assaulted his senses. The huge tank’s constant mechanical stirring caused the algal mass to roil like the witches’ cauldron in Macbeth but didn’t disperse it.

He strode from the aquarium to the laboratory he shared with Dr. K’s other students.

Jacinta emerged from her office with the grace of a flamenco dancer. She looked the part with her abundant curly dark-brown hair, brown eyes, olive complexion, and delicate facial features. Add castanets and a colourful flowing skirt, and she’d be ready for the stage.

She swept up to him. “Hello, Anthony. I apologize for taking you away from vacation.” Jacinta’s pronunciation and unusual expressions were charming but foreign. “Rosalind thinks you will not have breakfasted, so we have coffee and muffins.” She paused with head cocked. “Have you regarded the pool?”

Tony scanned the room, searching for the promised treats. “Strolled by as I came in. Sickly yellow colour of a cheap curry.”

“I also observed the unusual colour. Rosalind has taken samples to the nutrient laboratory and asked Senorita Stewart to hasten the analyses. She promised us results by Thursday.”

“Average pH is now 7.26, so up a few hundredths,” Rosie said as she skipped into the lab. The robust country girl towered over Jacinta. She always wore boots, jeans, and plaid shirts, and her appearance and demeanor were as rosy as her name implied. She paused, smiling mischievously. “Cynthia’s after your bod. She’ll analyze the nuts more quickly for you.”

“Rosalind, you should not say such things, and calling the nutrient samples nuts is undignified.” Jacinta turned toward Tony. “We need the nutrient results, so, Anthony…”

He stood straighter. The effervescent undergraduate’s lighthearted comment boosted his ego, something he needed after his neighbour appeared unimpressed by his early morning performance. “I’ll talk to Cynthia. If they’re so important, you should, you know, collect extras.”

“The intensity interests me,” Jacinta said as she watched Rosie gather bottles for the additional samples. “The textbooks say we cannot generate a bloom without a pulse of nutrients, but I cannot imagine a reason for high concentrations. How do we explain such growth?”

“No idea, but I do know something. We need electrodes that don’t fail,” Tony said before biting his bottom lip.

Something had ruined several months work, but Jacinta was treating the disruption of her plan to wrap up her laboratory work with equanimity. She had a similar reaction a year earlier when a coronavirus pandemic shut down their laboratory for several months. Small setbacks appeared to annoy her far more than large ones.

“That gives us two reasons to continue the experiment. Can we keep the pH stable between 7.2 and 7.3?”

“I can recharge the acid tanks and set the pH to whatever value you choose.”

“Will the fouling not recur?”

Tony nodded. “We can clean the electrodes every few hours while I work on a solution.”

Jacinta turned after taking two steps toward her office. “I must identify the organisms responsible for the bloom. Rosalind and I shall collect water samples for biomass and species identification. Then she can help with the electrodes. If she takes over electrode maintenance, you can resume your vacation.”


After the promised coffee and muffins in the graduate students’ common room, Tony instructed Rosie on electrode maintenance and left her to determine how long they’d function between cleanings. In the lab, he cleared a section of bench and focused on the fouling question.

Rapid water flow, he hypothesized, should inhibit growth. The simplest solution—force water past the membranes with motorized impellers.

As Tony sketched impeller housings, he imagined plankton growing in shallow coastal waters during the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods. Had lower oceanic pH generated massive plankton blooms like the one in Jacinta’s experiment? Had they produced the biomass that generated the world’s oil and gas deposits? Did her experiment suggest human-induced climate change was pushing the natural world into a new period of exceptional primary productivity? Would it generate massive accumulations of organic carbon in new oil and gas deposits?

Imponderable questions, but one thing was clear. Jacinta’s experiment presaged results that would impact their understanding of ocean acidification. She’d estimated a tenfold increase in growth rate, and several characteristics of the bloom made no sense. Would low pH become a critical factor in the global ecological response to climate change? Could it disrupt the way industrial societies functioned?

End of Chapter One


If you want to read more, email me ( with your name and email address, and I will forward the rest of the 85000-word ms, but there’s a catch. I will be looking for feedback on the general thrust of the book. Will it make an interesting book that people will want to read?

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