Tony’s Story: the final installment

Here’s the final segment of Tony Atherton’s story. He’s the central character in The Souring Seas, the opening part of The Road to Environmental Armageddon, my climate change saga. It carries on from my posting of two weeks ago.

*****

Tony’s Story (concluded)

Over the next few months, we saw more interesting developments, ones that suggested our corner of the world was settling into a slow recovery. Zeke Barlow’s arrival on Michael’s doorstep illustrated this positive trend. He’d joined the first group escorted along the new trail from Toba Inlet to the Pemberton Valley.

After the firefighters attempting to save Vancouver gave up the fight, Zeke and a friend sailed along the BC coast. They rescued people trapped by the ever-expanding fires and, in one case, survivors from an overloaded boat that sank. His description of the destruction augmented reports I received from Bill Robertson on Haida Gwaii. The entire BC coast from Vancouver in the south to the Alaska border in the north was a wasteland. Gibsons, Sechelt, Powell River, and Prince Rupert, and dozens of small, mostly indigenous, settlements were destroyed. Vancouver Island was no better. Nothing survived along its entire eastern side.

“Bella Coola?” I asked when Zeke finished his description. “It’s at the head of an inlet protected by the mountains that saved us. We thought it might be okay.”

“So did we. We sailed up the entire length of the Burke Channel. When we saw trees in the North Bentinck Arm, we were hopeful, but it wasn’t to be. Fires from the interior engulfed Bella Coola. Same thing happened farther north. Fires spread from the interior toward Prince Rupert.”

Zeke brought us information that helped me understand why we were so alone in our little world. Places like Bella Coola and Prince Rupert had been attacked from all sides. If the fires spreading north along the coast didn’t get them, those spreading west from the continent’s interior did.

In Pemberton, new industries were popping up everywhere. One example was the business of escorting visitors along the trail from the Toba Inlet. Another was the abandoned sawmill resurrected by Michael and a colleague. Every town in a lumbering area once had a sawmill. Wood they supplied had long since been replaced by finished lumber brought in from away. Products supplied from larger centres were no longer available. Michael’s sawmill was supporting the growing demand for housing for the new arrivals in Pemberton.

The caravan that brought Zeke to Pemberton brought me an important package. Michael joked it was the first piece of mail delivered in post-Apocalyptic Pemberton. Dan Delacour’s package contained copies of environmental monitoring data he’d collected from the Northeast Atlantic into the first months of the disaster. He was more knowledgeable than I on many aspects of our problem. When I added his data to mine, I’d have a more comprehensive picture of the history. It would become my gift for posterity.

The package was delivered by Claire Fitzwilliam, a young woman I’d met during our visit to the UK in 2036. She’d sailed a large sailing yacht, Merlin’s Childe, through the northwest passage in the fall of 2049. She spent the winter somewhere along the Alaskan or British Columbian coast. This spring, she’d found our settlement and delivered the package Dan entrusted to her. Her note said they’d been unable to contact her mother, Penelope Fitzwilliam, or Steve and Anna Matthews. Two of her crewmembers, Tomas Matthews and Luna Grange, would be leaving Merlin’s Childe in Alaska. The rest would return to England, departing in early July.

By the summer of 2052, we’d survived three years in our post-Apocalyptic world. Pemberton had become a strange amalgam of almost modern town and pioneering village. We’d established modern benefits like reliable electricity and late-twentieth-century landline telephones. Communication was improving as communities established themselves in enclaves that could support human life. But we relied on animal power for most transport and labour.

We conducted almost no trade with outsiders. We depended on the resources of our small community. In that respect, we resembled a preindustrial town with cottage industries and complete reliance on the food we could grow in our valley. Growing more and more varied food was a constant battle.

The ten thousand plus denizens of Pemberton were optimistic about their future. They were pioneering folk and quite happy to make do and develop inventive solutions to the problems we faced.

I wasn’t as optimistic. Two problems weighed heavily on my mind.

Everything I learned confirmed we’d suffered hundreds of nuclear explosions. The amount of atmospheric radiation was much less than the amount calculations predicted. I suppose I should have been happy. If radiation levels were as high as expected, we wouldn’t have survived the exposure.

Radiation levels in the ocean, however, were much higher than anyone expected. That raised an academic question. Why were atmospheric levels too low and oceanic levels too high? But more importantly, it raised a practical problem. High radiation in the ocean made seafood unsafe to eat. It also meant people living near the coast were subject to contamination by aerosols stirred up by wind and waves. Would some natural process strip the radioactivity from ocean waters and bury it in deep sediments? Or would humans be stuck with dangerous levels of oceanic radiation for centuries?

The marine radioactivity problem changed our ideas on where we should live. Landlocked Pemberton was good. Masset, by the ocean on Haida Gwaii, was not.

My other problem was the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide. Bill Robertson’s measurements of oceanic CO2 and pH showed much higher carbon dioxide levels and pH lower. The worldwide forest and brush fires would have released an incredible amount of carbon. That explained his observed increases.

Bill’s latest pH numbers said we were on the brink of the massive plankton blooms I’d been predicting for years. Would they extract so much carbon dioxide from the ocean-atmosphere system that we experienced serious global cooling? Could we survive a prolonged shift to colder temperatures?

*****

Where do I go from here.?

I could work, as I suggested in my post of two weeks ago, on the mini-biography of Elena Llewellyn, a central character in An Industrial Solution, the second part of my saga. Or I could devise some way of incorporating Tony’s biography in The Souring Seas. This biography would provide useful foreshadowing of the disaster to come after the end of The Souring Seas. It might entice a few extra readers.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll probably work on both of these. More to come next week as I plod down The Road to Environmental Armageddon.

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