Tony’s Story – the next installment

Here is another segment in the story of Tony Atherton, one of the main characters in The Souring Seas, the opening part of The Road to Environmental Armageddon, my climate change saga. It carries on from my posting on this blog two weeks ago.

*****

Tony’s Story (continuation)

Shortly after the dawn of a new day in May 2050, I placed my morning pick-me-up on the front porch railing outside Michael’s farmhouse. We hadn’t had coffee for months, and the concoctions we called tea were getting further from traditional orange pekoe. It was hot, and we had no right to complain. We’d survived a year in our little refuge tucked between huge snow-capped mountains. We were among a minuscule lucky few.

The sun had recently risen on a beautiful spring day that marked the beginning of our second year in Pemberton Meadows. The fields and gardens were planted. Everyone anticipated a day of celebration after weeks of hard work. For Michael, Hannah, and I, it would be a muted celebration. We’d learned nothing about Beth’s fate. The chances of hearing anything positive were fading into nothingness.

Michael joined me. “You set for today’s celebration of the official completion of spring planting. First time it’s been in May.”

I picked up my cup. “I was imagining you put the date forward to make it coincide with our arrival one year ago today.” I shook my head, smiling. “Silly idea. Anyone can see it’s another effect, this time a positive one, of global warming.”

“You’re keeping track of the trends?”

“Numbers aren’t as solid as I’d like, but we collect enough data to make estimates. Last year, global warming reached six degrees above preindustrial levels.”

“You still have confidence in the results?” Michael asked.

I looked up, surprised by his understanding of the importance of the increased uncertainty. Our problems were trivial compared to everyone’s survival problems. But they were important for someone trying to understand what happened. “Everything comes with more caveats. They limit our real understanding, but we’ll manage.”

When Michael went inside, I returned to my meditations.

My first issue was the nature of the explosions that destroyed cities and ignited wildfires. Early reports said they were nuclear. We measured increases in radioactivity, but the increases were less than we expected for so many powerful nuclear explosions.

My second concern was the rapid increases in global temperatures, carbon dioxide concentrations, and sea level. Concentrations that had been increasing smoothly leapt higher. The nuclear explosions and subsequent fires must be the cause, but we hadn’t included step functions in our models. Our capacity to generate new models was limited, so we couldn’t test our ideas about these new trends. Could we avoid stooping to unsubstantiated speculation?

My third problem was the lack of radio transmissions from elsewhere in North America. We’d only heard anecdotal reports of stragglers crossing America’s northern boundary into western Canada. They may have joined the populations of the Canadian prairies, but we had no communication from Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba.

We’d established radio communication with less than two hundred thousand people. What happened to the other five hundred million North Americans? Were they struggling to survive in the wasteland without any means of communication?

The influx into the Pemberton Valley of refugees like Alice, Hannah, and me increased the population to approximately ten thousand. Many were transients, intent on finding unoccupied land they could homestead. Others hoped to expand the cultivated area of our valley.

Most of Pemberton and much of the nearby Mount Currie survived the fires. No fires reached farther into the valley to Pemberton Meadows or other farmed areas. But the airport and nearby golf courses were lost as well as numerous homes south of town.

Power supplied by the electrical grid failed, and fuel shipped in from elsewhere was no longer available. Local electricians and engineers diverted power from two wind turbines into the grid of electrical wires spreading throughout the valley. They added self-sufficient homesteads with excess wind or photoelectric power they could supply to the grid. Their overall generating capacity was five megawatts, not a lot for a town of ten thousand, but much better than nothing.

They’d also been to the Rutherford Creek Power plant, a run-of-the-river hydropower facility operated by the now-defunct Provincial power authority. It was non-functional but appeared relatively undamaged. If they got it operating, they’d have approximately sixty megawatts of electrical capacity. That would be enough to supply Pemberton’s needs with plenty to spare.

The pioneering folks of the Pemberton Valley were looking ahead to a gradually improving future. I struggled to share their optimism. We were sitting in a little bowl surrounded by rugged glacier-capped mountains that inhibited the advancing fires. It wouldn’t stop the radioactivity circling the globe. And there was my old science problem. The globe-girdling wildfires had released an enormous amount of carbon dioxide. It would reduce the acidity of the ocean and produce a new trend to cooling temperatures. How would the Pemberton valley fare if temperatures started dropping?

*****

One more segment should get me to the end of this biographical sketch. After that, I might start on another biography, perhaps that of Elena Llewellyn, one of the main characters in An Industrial Solution, the second part of my saga.

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