Preparing to Launch

I’m almost ready to publish The Souring Seas, book one in my series of climate fiction novels on the perils of ignoring climate change. It is now a more complex story with two interwoven layers. The main story, as before, follows the exploits of Tony Atherton and Beth Manville as they investigates the consequences of increasing ocean acidity and fight for increased awareness of climate change’s harmful effects. The timeline for the story runs from 2022 to 2027.

The new layer I’ve added to the story is told by Tony, the main character in the central story, in first person in 2049 to 2051. His observations in these segments interspersed through the text as prelude, interlude, and postlude include observations about life after poorly understood conflicts bring civilization as we know it to an ignominious end. He also provides insights into how the various parts of my climate change story fit together.

I’ve posted the latest versions of the first few chapters of The Souring Seas on theNextBigWriter, an online writing workshop I’ve belonged to for years. I’m looking for the reactions of my long-term reviewers to the new layer. So far, the response has been encouraging. If anyone else wants to read these first few chapters and comment on the interleaved post-apocalypse part of the story, send me an email.

These comments by reviewers on theNextBigWriter, comments and discussion with members of the Evergreen Writers Group, and interactions with others have encouraged my efforts to expand my Road to Environmental Armageddon saga and alter the way it’s heading. It now looks like it could comprise five books. What does that make it, a pentalogy?

The first two, The Souring Seas, and Building Houses of Cards, are written and have been revised several times. They describe the evolving climate change science (fictional, but I hope realistic) that’s the basis for this extended saga. The time frame for these two is 2022 to 2027, and 2027 to 2032. Book three, still a work in progress, is more political. It chronicles the problems society faces as countries refuse to heed the warnings and address the problems generated by neglecting climate change. The disaster this book builds up to has neglected climate change impacts as an underlying cause, but the immediate causes are more political and economic. It takes us from 2032 to 2049. Book four, outlined, first few chapters drafted, follows developments in the immediate aftermath of the disaster that occurs in 2049. The fifth book, set some time in the future after the major climate crisis predicted in The Souring Seas generates a new ice age, brings my saga to a close. Despite all the disasters and apocalyptic nature of my saga, I’ve been encouraged to give it a more optimistic ending than my original efforts had. I’m working on developing a light at the end of this centuries-long tunnel for the final book.

The last steps before I publish The Souring Seas will be formatting for publication and generating a killer description to go with the book. Unless I get blindsided by something unexpected in this last series of reviews, that should be sometime in the next month or so.

Next Step along The Road …

I’ve weaved another layer into my The Road to Environmental Armageddon saga. It’s based on the Tony’s Story posts I drafted on this website over the past weeks. In these new chapters, Tony Atherton looks back at the events chronicled in my trilogy. It features his description of the world he faces in the years after the apocalypse the world endures in 2049 and speculations about the chaos they’ve witnessed.

Book one, The Souring Seas, is virtually complete. It needs final copyediting, and maybe a few tweaks of the three chapters I’ve added. Here is the cover.

The Souring Seas focuses on two characters, Tony Atherton and Beth Manville. It describes my imagined impacts of ocean acidification on primary productivity. Book two, Building Houses of Cards, shifts the focus to an attempt by industrial leaders and world governments to implement a technological ‘cure’ for global warming. Here is my cover for book two.

The first part of this second book follows the exploits of two new characters, Dan Delacour and Elena Llewellyn, as they investigate the scientific basis of the cure and its geopolitical implications. The second part introduces additional characters. It focuses on scientific and geopolitical developments in the United States.

I’ve almost finished The Souring Seas and Building Houses of Cards. The third book in my trilogy, They All Come Tumbling Down, remains a work in progress.

Elena’s Story, part two

Today’s post is a continuation of my mini-autobiography of Elena Llewellyn, one of the main characters in Building Houses of Cards, the second book in my The Road to Environmental Armageddon trilogy about the hazards of ignoring the climate change threat. Part one of Elena’s story is here.

*****

Elena’s Story (continued)

The six years from December 2026 until December 2032 were the happiest of my life. They made up for my four years at a Swiss finishing school and the London School of Economics. I spent those years fending off my uncle’s well-meaning but misguided attempts to marry me to a European aristocrat. I rejected the bastions of a bygone aristocratic era and the life of a socialite and sought a serious role in Uncle Gareth’s grand adventure.

I regained my uncle’s trust and developed an active and growing role in his grand plan to save the world. During the first seven months of 2027, I lived a romantic adventure. I became a modern-day Mata Hari, ferreting out critical secrets and winning the affections of my dream lover.

From 2027 to 2032, Dan applied his scientific expertise to the tricky task of stabilizing temperatures. He also manipulated reflectivity to minimize extreme weather events. I applied my economic and philosophical training in the political arena. I struggled to understand the changes we were seeing in America. Together, we lived our fairy tale romance.

The movers and shakers in the Company of Gentlemen Entrepreneurs in the first decades of the twenty-first century were Europeans. Their governments supported them. The launch in 2025 was led by Germany, Britain, and Japan. By 2030, the United States and China had assumed major roles. The nanoparticle reflector program became part of their battle to dominate world commerce and diplomacy.

Between 2032 and 2036, the denizens of planet Earth sleepwalked into the future. The nanoparticle seeding program managers gazed into their crystal balls. They made esoteric computations and manipulated the world’s weather. They created an extended period of stable temperatures and placid weather. The focus in the second half of the 2030s should have shifted into the second part of Uncle Gareth’s grand plan—the shift from fossil fuels to other forms of energy. This didn’t happen. Was it the calm before the storm as the Americans and Chinese ratcheted up the intensity of their Battle of Titans?

By 2040, we’d reached a critical point in our grand plan to control global warming. The Company of Gentleman Entrepreneurs initiated it in 2020. Many experts played key roles. Together, we stabilized global temperatures at two degrees above preindustrial levels. We kept them steady for fifteen years.

Dan, more than anyone else, deserved a medal, or perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize, for his management of the nanoparticle seeding program. His team stabilized temperatures, and he fine-tuned the seeding to reduce extreme weather events. The 2030s saw fewer hurricanes, droughts, floods, and wildfires than we’d seen for decades.

Those fifteen years should have given humanity time to wean itself from its dependence on fossil fuel-based energy. They should have provided an opportunity to build a robust global economy based on other energy sources. That part of Uncle Gareth’s grand plan didn’t happen. Europe and Japan were the main proponents of that shift to cleaner energy. Their influence waned as the political and economic cohesion of the European Union disintegrated. As we move into the 2040s, global cooperation falls into disarray. It becomes obvious humanity will not reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

The program to control global temperatures was the first victim of our failure to work together. It should have been a crutch. A temporary phase on the road to a future with slowly decreasing carbon emissions. We observed the opposite, and the stresses became unmanageable.

China and the United States must accept blame for this failure. Each sought domination of our highly integrated world. The Americans defended their model of freewheeling capitalist democracy. The Chinese offered a new world order based on their totalitarian model of state-controlled capitalism.

Their Battle of the Titans relied on cheap energy. Everyone and everything became hostages in their epic clash. Our efforts to control carbon emissions were trampled. The world would never recover.

*****

There you have it: Elena’s perspective on a global environmental engineering program she and her uncle Gareth Llewellyn contributed to for many years. Unfortunately, it went very wrong, and the consequences were draconian.

Elena’s Story

This week I’m continuing my idea of providing mini-autobiographies of central characters in The Road to Environmental Armageddon, my saga about the hazards of ignoring the climate change threat. I’m thinking about using these biographies as glue that provides some continuity to a story that extends over a rather long time frame with several intersecting sub-stories. Tony’s story (final segment is last weeks post on this blog) would go in The Souring Seas, the first book in this trilogy, Elena’s story would go with the second book, now tentatively titled Building Houses of Cards.

*****

Elena’s Story

My name is Elena Llewellyn. I learned about my uncle’s battle to address the climate change problem after my parents died. I was eleven years old.

They were wealthy adventurers, wastrels in some people’s eyes, visionaries in others. They died under suspicious circumstances whilst trying to save the Amazonian rain forest.

I can’t say their deaths devastated me. They were strangers who appeared from time to time at Hafen Ddiogel, my grandparents’ country estate near Winchfield, Hampshire.

Hafen Ddiogel was the only home I’d ever known. When I wasn’t away at school, I lived there with Sir Owen Llewellyn, a financier who built a small Welsh bank into a major financial institution, and his wife, Lady Maude Llewellyn.

My only other family was my father’s older brother, Gareth Llewellyn. He became my guardian after they died. He taught me about our family’s commitment to the fight to wrestle climate change into submission.

Uncle Gareth described my grandfather as a Renaissance man with a strong sense of moral duty. He convinced fellow industrialists and government leaders that everyone must buckle down and solve the climate change problem.

“He committed our family to this fight,” my uncle said. “It’s become my life’s prime focus. In time, it will become yours.”

In the years after my parents died, my grandparents treated me like a little girl who needed constant coddling. Uncle Gareth treated me like a little adult. He provided information on the grand adventure my grandfather embarked upon. Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me everything he should have told me. I struggled through the early years of this story, trying to understand the family’s real motives.

My bachelor uncle did one other thing that bears upon this story. The money I inherited from my parents was in a trust he would manage until I turned twenty-five. He taught me about money by putting several hundred pounds into an account every month. I could draw on it without restrictions. It accumulated because I had little to spend it on.

When my parents died, I was in the lower fourth at one of England’s premier boarding schools for girls. I’d moved up from the preparatory school and was unhappy because the senior school girls wouldn’t accept me. I was born and raised in England but considered inferior because of my Welsh name. They dismissed me because we were bankers rather than members of the landed aristocracy. Worst of all, they thought my father wasn’t a gentleman in the vanguard leading Great Britain to greatness. Their prejudices were confirmed when my parents died under dubious circumstances in Brazil.

My closest friend was Penelope Fitzwilliam, another Welsh girl whose family was in trade. She grew up in Wales and had a Welsh accent. She was proud of her Welshness and stood up for her heritage when anyone tried to demean it.

Pen was a rebel, spurred on, I’m sure, by the other girls’ attitudes. By the lower sixth form, she was one of the few girls with a serious boyfriend. She became pregnant, intentionally, I believe, and insisted she’d keep the baby. The money Uncle Gareth deposited in my account every month became invaluable. I bankrolled her effort to birth and raise her daughter, Claire, complete her A-levels, and gain acceptance to Oxford.

Apart from the support I provided for Pen’s rebellion, my progress through senior school was traditional. I finished my upper sixth year at the top of my class and spent a year at a Swiss finishing school. Cultural studies, they called it, but I thought of it as my punishment for helping Pen. Punishment wasn’t fair because Pen paid back every pound I gave her, but Uncle Gareth always considered it a black mark on my record. Would he have been less unhappy if I charged her interest?

After my year in Switzerland, I attended the London School of Economics. I graduated with a first in political philosophy and joined the bank. I spent my first year doing tasks Uncle Gareth assigned to teach me about commercial and investment banking. Then, in December 2026, he took me aside and spent days describing the Company of Gentlemen Entrepreneurs’ quest to save the world from climate degradation. In January 2027, I joined the crusade and marched forth to slay the climate change dragon.

*****

That’s an unpolished start. More to come next week.

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.

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.

The Panhandler resurrected

I learned this week that one of my flash fiction stories has been reprinted in Arabic in a recently published anthology. Not such a big deal, you might say, as many stories get reprinted in anthologies, but this one is my first, and to have it a translation into Arabic does make it a little unusual. I was intrigued when Abdallah Altaiyeb, the originator/editor/translator for this project, contacted me, and I readily gave him permission to include the story he’d selected.

For those few people who cannot read Arabic, the translation for the anthology title is The Man Who Loves to Hug, or at least that’s what Mr. Altaiyeb tells me. The book is a compilation of flash fiction stories reprinted from story-hosting websites like Fifty Word Stories. The Man Who Loves to Hug is available for those who read Arabic at https://teriaqstore.com. Here’s the link.

My story ‘Panhandler’ appeared in Fifty Word Stories in June 2019. It is not autobiographical. In fact, it’s a slightly rejigged scene in the still embryonic third book in my climate change trilogy (or whatever it ends up being if I ever get it finished). It’s set in the post-Apocalyptic future that follows the developments in The Road to Environmental Armageddon.

Here it is:

Panhandler by Alan Kemister

The scruffy young panhandler sat on the busy sidewalk suckling a fractious infant. When I dropped a coin in her pot, the baby reached for my fingers. Distracted by the tiny hand and abandoned breast, I lingered for a moment too long.

“Alan?” she said as I tried to leave.

That’s all I have for today. Now it’s back to my Road to Environmental Armageddon project.

More of Tony’s Story

This weeks post is a continuation of Tony’s story told from the apocalypse. It follows on from the end of last weeks post.

Tony’s Story (continuation)

I arrived at Michael and Vanessa’s house above Pemberton Meadows at 7 p.m., sixteen hours after I left Vancouver. The total distance was only 150 kilometres. I’d averaged less than ten kilometres per hour. That ponderous pace had a silver lining. Our modern, highly efficient electric vehicle generated enough power from the photoelectric cells in its roof to drive at that speed without depleting the batteries.

At Pemberton, the convoy continued northeast toward Lillooet and the highway to northern BC. I alone turned off and headed northwest into the Pemberton Valley. When I reached Michael’s, I fell asleep almost immediately on their porch and remained dead to the world until Alice woke me on Sunday morning.

During the following weeks, the skies became hazier, and the smoky smell more pervasive. I joined the effort to clear combustible material from an extensive firebreak they were creating west of the town. The residents of nearby Mount Currie were making a similar effort across valleys to the south and east. These were valiant efforts, but I feared, based on other experiences I gleaned from my radio, probably futile.

As spring turned to summer, we expanded the firebreaks separating Pemberton and Mount Currie from the encroaching fires. By August, we had impressive clear cuts scraped clear of undergrowth. Our efforts were largely successful. We limited the damage behind the firebreaks to a few fires that were ultimately contained without serious damage to either town. September brought heavy rains to our part of BC and the fires retreated. Knowledgeable firefighters rejoiced, convinced the battle was won.

I had no role in the summer’s other major effort. Experienced mountaineers investigated escape routes from the upper Pemberton Valley to the coast. Warmer weather and retreating glaciers made the effort possible, but I couldn’t imagine the valley’s citizens escaping the flames through the mountains. A communication channel, however, would be in everyone’s interests. I applauded an effort that demanded skills far more specialized than mine.

In October, they abandoned trail building in the mountains. They had a route to the head of the Toba Inlet laid out and plans to continue work after the winter snow melted.

At the mouth of the Tobi River, our trailblazers encountered a group of refugees who arrived in a ragtag armada of boats from points south. They’d constructed several log cabins and planned to overwinter there and establish a permanent settlement.

During my early days in Pemberton Meadows, I set up my shortwave radio. I began broadcasting messages to anyone who could receive them and listening for messages coming my way. I had no trouble pulling in Bill Robertson on Haida Gwaii, but not my contact at our other monitoring site at Tofino. Tofino was much closer but I heard nary a peep from them.

I heard from Ham radio operators in Alaska and across Canada’s north. I heard from Iceland and various locations in northern Europe. No messages originated from the rest of Canada or the United States. In fact, I had no communication with anyone located south of Pemberton’s 50°N.

The absence of messages from anyone located south of about 55°N was a major puzzle. No more than two percent of the world’s population lived that far north, so why didn’t I hear from the other ninety-eight percent. Was the destruction far worse than I imagined? Had electromagnetic pulses destroyed all electronics? How many survived from the globes most populated areas?

My most precise, but unfortunately localized, knowledge came from my almost daily communication with Bill Robertson. He and his colleagues from Haida Gwaii kept close watch on the fires that were pressing northward along the BC coast. By mid June they’d reached the Johnstone Strait and pushed westward onto northern Vancouver Island. Bill’s estimates of the spreading speed seemed slower than the numbers I’d determined from the few early reports of fires in eastern North America. They were hardly encouraging. Nothing seemed capable of stopping the relentlessly expanding fires.

The fires dominated our thoughts, but Bill’s monitoring data yielded another important observation. Despite the hazy conditions, temperatures during that first month spiked to the highest springtime levels ever seen on Haida Gwaii. Bill’s carefully controlled measurements were confirmed by our less rigorous measurements in the Pemberton Valley. It was much hotter than normal.

The highlight of my first month was a radio message I received on Wednesday, the twenty-third of June from my old colleague, Dan Delacour. He started his graduate studies in my supervisor, Dr. Heinrich Krueger’s, climate research group shortly after I began my post-doc in Victoria.

After Dan graduated from Dalhousie, he spent a year in Georgia, then migrated to England. He and his wife, Elena Llewellyn, had survived and relocated to the Shetland Islands, a refuge area from the United Kingdom. I can turn to the first part of his story, one that stretches from 2027 to 2031. During that time, the focus of research on climate change’s impacts shifted from my ocean acidification problem back to our earlier concern for global warming.

*****

I’m still consider the idea of using Tony’s story as explanatory glue like the narrators who show up in front of the curtain at the beginning of some plays (and between acts) to explain what is going to happen. If I do, this segment could go between Part One (The Souring Seas) and Part Two (An Industrial Solution).

Tony’s Story, take three

Another week and I’m back with another iteration of Tony’s Story, my little effort at an enticement to get people interested in The Road to Environmental Armageddon.

I’ve pushed Tony’s post-apocalypse story along to the point where he abandons Vancouver, hoping to find a refuge from the calamity that’s fallen on the world. I plan to add to this little saga in the coming weeks, but for now it has come to a good point to pause and consider where I go with it.

I could proceed as I originally planned and put this out there on this website as an inducement, or I could consider it as a Prelude at the beginning of The Road to Environmental Armageddon. With that in mind I added a final sentence to this weeks rendition of Tony’s Story. It would lead directly into The Souring Seas, part one of my three part saga about humanity’s inability to deal with climate change. If I keep Tony’s Story as a standalone, that last sentence will disappear.

Tony’s Story

My name is Tony Atherton. The story of my life as a scientist and climate change crusader began thirty years ago, in 2019, when I arrived in Halifax to begin work on my Master’s degree in engineering. My timing was poor. The infamous coronavirus pandemic of 2020 hit us six months after I arrived. It delayed the completion of my degree, but brought with it a life-altering benefit. The research project I’d chosen became unachievable, and I fell back on my second choice. I designed and constructed an automated system for controlling chemicals added to a large aquarium in the oceanography building.

Jacinta Lopez was the first to use my system. She made an important discovery in May 2022. Phytoplankton productivity in our future low pH ocean would be far greater than productivity in our current one. Her simple observation inspired my twenty-seven-year career as an oceanographer.

In a strange way, Jacinta’s discovery brought Beth Manville and I together. She became the love of my life, mother of my children, and a dedicated environmentalist. Over the years, she reinvigorated my interest when it flagged and led our fight to convince everyone we must take the climate change threat seriously.

Our efforts, and those of thousands of other crusaders, came to naught in 2049. Our blighted planet spiralled into chaos caused by our inability to control climate change.

Millions died. The survivors found themselves transported to an earlier time. They struggled to cope without the technical infrastructure we’d become so reliant on.

Carl Linnaeus, the father of the modern system of nomenclature for organisms, gave our species the name Homo sapiens. This Latin term translates as wise or discerning man. Some would call him, thinking man.

Our thinking ability served us well for millennia. Great discoveries were made and cultural achievements recorded. Longevity and the quality of life improved. In recent centuries, our expanding industrial capacity overwhelmed the natural environment. We became technological marauders, bending nature to our will.

We became obsessed with making anything we could, seldom considering our need for it or our ability to build and use it without destroying our environment. ‘Do it and ignore the consequences’ became consumer man’s mantra. That, I would contend, led to civilization’s demise and consumer man’s inability to cope after the collapse.

And how did it end? How did civilization come crashing to a halt in the spring of 2049?

We know almost nothing. The conflagration that hit North America by May twenty-fourth, 2049, spread around the globe within days. Electronic communication ceased, and we were left groping for answers but managed to piece together the following murky picture.

On the twenty-second, nuclear explosions ripped through America’s largest cities. The powerful devices were hidden in buildings and triggered in quick succession. Initial damage was massive, and heat from the explosions produced fires that spread rapidly from the cities to the surrounding countryside. The Americans blamed Brazil, a rogue state, tormenting America for years with China’s support.

The US launched massive missile strikes that allowed no time for diplomacy. They didn’t generate retaliatory strikes from China or Russia. Brazil was abandoned to its fate, and presumably, little remained of its major cities.

We also learned that a more limited number of seemingly similar explosions occurred in European capitals. On the other side of the globe, incoherent reports described attacks by China on several southeast Asian neighbours.

When communication channels disintegrated, we found ourselves dependent on old-fashioned technologies like short wave radio. The overriding message for North America was the realization that the whole east coast, including eastern Canada, was on fire with millions of people fleeing from the encroaching flames. Two days after the initial explosions, Montreal and Toronto joined the list of North American cities targeted by the nuclear-bomb-wielding terrorists.

Our daughter Hannah and her baby were home with me in Vancouver when chaos erupted. Our son Michael, his wife, and family were at their home in the Pemberton valley, nestled in the coast mountains one hundred and fifty kilometres to the north. Beth was in Ottawa.

No nuclear blasts occurred in Vancouver, but it wouldn’t escape the effects. Fires emanating from nearby Seattle, an American city that was targeted, were spreading north and approaching the international border. They were also jumping through the San Juan Islands toward Victoria and southern Vancouver Island. Refugees fleeing ahead of the fires were streaming across the border.

My thoughts were fragmented. I worried about the relentless fires. Massive efforts were being made to inhibit their progress, but no one appeared confident anything could halt their spread. I worried about the university, and efforts we’d made to establish early warning networks. Those well-meaning efforts seemed pointless, a hopelessly inadequate response to the disaster we’d encountered. More than anything else, I worried about Beth. She was closer to the epicentre than we were and faced tribulations we may never understand. The lack of communication channels meant we couldn’t discover her fate.

Two things sapped everyone’s will. The first was the absence of communication with Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, and Winnipeg, four other cities that weren’t targeted. Did a massive electromagnetic pulse destroy the communication systems? Or was it global integration of everything web based? The second was our feeling of hopelessness in the face of relentlessly encroaching fires. People’s thoughts were on escape and finding safe havens.

I had several advantages when it came to developing escape plans. I’d worked for several years on a series of stations monitoring environmental conditions along BC’s outer coast. Bill Robertson, an indigenous man and an ex-student, returned home to Haida Gwaii to manage a station. He was a survivalist and a ham radio enthusiast. At his suggestion, I set up a shortwave radio transmitter in our Vancouver home. I was now one of the few people with radio communication capability.

I also had the inside track on a potential refuge area. Our son, Michael, was living with his wife and family in the Lillooet River Valley. Could the narrow valleys in that heavily glaciated and snow-covered area of the BC Coast Mountains escape the ravages of the relentless fires?

Less than a week after the disaster struck, Hannah and I decided she and little Alice would be safer with her brother in Pemberton Meadows. We could hit the road before the inevitable exodus, and I could return to Vancouver if it was still safe. With the batteries fully charged and our SUV crammed with non-perishable foodstuffs and other necessities, we departed at dawn on Friday, May twenty-eighth.

The road wasn’t too congested. We made the one-hundred-and-fifty-kilometre trip in four hours. After recharging the car’s batteries, I returned. The most notable feature of that trip was the increasingly congested traffic struggling toward the north. Back in Vancouver, I determined why. Fires to the east of Vancouver had crossed the Fraser River and were spreading westward. That meant they directly threatened Vancouver and the Sea to Sky Highway to Pemberton. Vancouverites would soon be trapped between the fires and the Salish Sea. Many decided to flee.

I made immediate changes to my plans. As the batteries charged, I reloaded our SUV with more food, more clothes, my ham radio, and more data from my office at the university. At 3 a.m., when they were completely recharged, Zeke Barlow, Alice’s father, appeared. Soot from days fighting the fires advancing from Seattle covered his face and clothes.

“I came to tell Hannah to escape. We’ve lost the battle with the fires. In days, Vancouver will be unlivable.”

“They’ve already gone to her brother’s place in Pemberton Meadows. I’m heading that way in a few minutes. You want to join me?”

“I can’t leave until tomorrow, but you should go now. Tell her I’ll get there, somehow, someday. I’m not abandoning them. I just can’t leave for several hours. Go now, before it’s too late.”

I tried to convince him to join me, but he was adamant, and a few minutes later I joined the slow-moving exodus. Along the way, I thought about Zeke, and how he couldn’t live with Hannah and Alice, but always appeared when they needed him. He’d done it again, and I was sure he’d fulfill his promise.

I also thought about Beth. Our relationship also started out rocky, but we overcame our difficulties and had a loving and sometimes exciting life together fighting the opponents of climate change. I feared I’d never see her again, but at least I’d be with our children and grandchildren.

I relived our years together as I crawled north in the erratically moving convoy of refugees.

Tony’s Story continued

I’m back one week later with a continuation of Tony’s Story. Well, more a revisiting, a realization that in posting something I worked on for one week went against years of writing, rereading, revising, rewriting, editing, rewriting, etc.

When I reread last weeks submission and showed it to a few others, I realized I’d overdone my attempt to make Tony appear like a jaded and aged academic. I’ve now cut out most of the history lesson I started with, and added the beginning to his observations on what they could discover in the days after the chaos that was the focus of Environmental Armageddon.

So, Tony’s Story is now a work in progress, with the previous version revised and some new content added.

Tony’s Story (unfinished version 1.1)

My name is Tony Atherton. The story of my life as a scientist and climate change crusader began in 2019 when I arrived in Halifax to begin work on my Master’s degree in engineering. My timing was poor. The infamous coronavirus pandemic of 2020 hit us six months after I arrived. It delayed the completion of my degree, but brought with it a distinct benefit. The research project I’d chosen became unachievable, and I fell back on my second choice. I designed and constructed an automated system for controlling chemicals added to a large aquarium in the oceanography building.

Jacinta Lopez was the first to use my system. She made an important discovery in May 2022. Phytoplankton productivity in the low pH ocean climate change would produce was far greater than productivity in our current one. Her simple observation inspired my twenty-seven-year career as an oceanographer.

In a strange way, Jacinta’s discovery brought Beth Manville and I together. She became the love of my life, mother of my children, and a dedicated environmentalist. Over the years, she reinvigorated my interest when it flagged and led our fight to convince everyone we must take the climate change threat seriously.

Our efforts, and those of thousands of other crusaders, came to naught in 2049. Our blighted planet spiralled into chaos, caused by our inability to control climate change.

Millions died. The survivors found themselves transported to an earlier time. We struggled without the technical infrastructure we’d become so reliant on.

Carl Linnaeus, the father of the modern system of nomenclature for organisms, gave our species the name Homo sapiens. This Latin term translates as wise or discerning man. Some would call him, thinking man.

Our thinking ability served us well for millennia. Great discoveries were made and cultural achievements recorded. Longevity and the quality of life improved. In recent centuries, our expanding industrial capacity overwhelmed the natural environment. We became technological marauders, bending nature to our will.

We became obsessed with making anything we could, seldom considering our need for it or our ability to build and use it without destroying our environment. ‘Do it and ignore the consequences’ became consumer man’s mantra. That, I would contend, led to civilization’s demise.

And how did it end? How did civilization come crashing to a halt in the spring of 2049?

We know almost nothing. The conflagration that hit North America on May twenty-second, 2049 spread around the globe within a few days. Electronic communication ceased, and we were left groping for answers.

We learned the world was in serious trouble. On the twenty-fourth, nuclear explosions ripped through America’s largest cities. The powerful devices were hidden in buildings and triggered in quick succession. Initial damage was massive, and heat from the explosions produced fires that spread rapidly from the cities to the surrounding countryside. The Americans blamed Brazil, a rogue state, tormenting America for years with China’s support.

They launched massive missile strikes that allowed no time for diplomacy. That didn’t generate retaliatory strikes from China or Russia. Brazil was abandoned to its fate, and presumably, little remained of its major cities.

We also learned that a more limited number of seemingly similar explosions occurred in European capitals. On the other side of the globe, incoherent reports described attacks by China on several southeast Asian neighbours.

When communication channels disintegrated, we found ourselves dependent on old-fashioned technologies like short wave radio. The overriding message for North America was the realization that the whole east coast, including eastern Canada, was on fire with millions of people fleeing from the encroaching flames. Montreal and Toronto joined the list of American cities targeted by the nuclear-bomb-wielding terrorists.

Our daughter Hannah and her baby were home with me in Vancouver when the chaos erupted. Beth was in Ottawa, and our son Michael and his wife and family were at their home in the Pemberton valley, nestled in the coast mountains one hundred and fifty kilometres to the north.

No nuclear blasts occurred in Vancouver, but it wouldn’t escape the effects. Fires emanating from nearby Seattle, an American city that was targeted, were spreading north and approaching the international border. They were also jumping through the San Juan Islands toward Victoria and southern Vancouver Island. Refugees fleeing ahead of the fires were streaming across the border.

My thoughts were fragmented. I worried about the relentless fires. Massive efforts were being made to inhibit their progress, but no one appeared confident anything could halt their spread. I worried about the university, and efforts we’d made to establish early warning networks. Those well-meaning efforts seemed pointless, a hopelessly inadequate response to the disaster we’d encountered. More than anything else, I worried about Beth. She was closer to the epicentre than we were and faced tribulations we may never understand.

*****

That’s it for this week as I slouch along The Road to Environmental Armageddon.

Tony’s Story

It’s the Ides of March and cold as midwinter today, but I don’t think any soothsayer has been suggesting I shouldn’t venture forth. But before I do, I want to finish and post my report on this week’s progress in my writing journey.

New idea I’m inaugurating today is a look back at how events unfolded at the end of my Environmental Armageddon story. I hope this little freebie will generate interest in my multi-volume saga as I make way to publication of volume one – The Souring Seas. I’ll start today with Tony Atherton’s story as he looks back in the mid 2050s at Environmental Armageddon’s dramatic conclusion in 2049. This little snippet is just the start of his reminiscences, I’ll add segments in the coming weeks. If you want to read the first chapters of The Souring Seas, you can check out these earlier posts – Chapter One, and Chapter Two.

Tony’s Story

I’m wasting valuable time gazing behind us. I should focus on survival and the future, but my aging and overstressed brain keeps returning to the question of how we ruined everything.

I’m not considering the big bang or a more recent time when Earth, a molten mass of igneous rock with a newly formed crust, first revolved around the sun.

It had an atmosphere, mostly nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water, with some hydrogen and unknown amounts of oxygen. As Earth cooled, water condensed, fell to the ground, and collected in depressions, forming the oceans.

The hydrologic cycle evaporated water from the oceans. In the atmosphere, it condensed, forming clouds, and fell on the land. The precipitation eroded the rock and carried simple inorganic molecules, ions, and small particles to the ocean.

During billions of revolutions around the sun, these processes shaped and reshaped Earth’s surface. Lightning, heat, and solar radiation triggered chemical reactions that formed simple organic compounds. Eventually, something amazing happened. Those organic chemicals, now in larger numbers with greater structural diversity, gained the ability to reproduce themselves.

They evolved into the plants and animals we took for granted. Interesting subjects for theologians, philosophers, and gentlemen of leisure. I have more pressing issues to consider.

My interest begins between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago when modern man evolved from early hominids. How did one species amongst millions develop the ability to ponder the unknown and modify the natural world?

Carl Linnaeus, the father of the modern system of nomenclature for organisms, gave our species the name Homo sapiens. This Latin term translates as wise or discerning man. I prefer to call him thinking man.

Thoughtfulness may have been an appropriate primary characteristic until the mid-seventeen-hundreds. More recently, doing man became a more appropriate appellation.

In the past two hundred years of industrial and technological development, we became obsessed with making anything we could. We seldom consider our need for it, or our ability to build and use it without destroying our environment.

So, this is where I am as we struggle to survive in our post-apocalyptic world. I’m thinking about the exploits of doing man. ‘Do it and ignore the consequences’ became his mantra. That, I would contend, led to civilization’s demise.

I’m not here to describe ancient history. I’m here to talk about my life and how we arrived at our present predicament. A predicament that has us spend nearly all our waking hours struggling to survive.

My name is Tony Atherton. I begin the story of my life as a scientist and climate change crusader in 2019 when I arrived in Halifax to begin work on my Master’s degree in engineering. My timing was poor. The infamous coronavirus pandemic of 2020 hit us six months after I arrived. It delayed the completion of my degree, but brought with it a distinct benefit. The research project I’d chosen became unachievable, and I fell back on my second choice. I designed and constructed an automated chemical control system for a large aquarium in the oceanography building.

My first ‘customer’ was Jacinta Lopez Martinez, a PhD student in oceanography. Her study of the biological effects of reduced pH in a more acidic ocean inspired my interest in oceanography and climate change. She made an important discovery in May 2022, in the short period between the completion of my Master’s degree and the formal start of work on my PhD in oceanography. Phytoplankton productivity in the low pH ocean climate change would bring us was far greater than productivity in our current one. Her simple observation inspired my twenty-seven-year career as an oceanographer.

I met Beth Manville, the love of my life, mother of my children, and dedicated environmentalist during that four-month hiatus between my Master’s and PhD studies. Over the years, she reinvigorated my interest when it flagged and led the fight to convince industry, governments, and the public they must take the climate change threat seriously.

Our efforts, and those of thousands of other crusaders, came to naught in 2049. Our blighted planet spiralled into chaos caused by our inability to control climate change.

That’s all I have for now. In the coming weeks, I’ll continue Tony’s story.

Marketting?

This week I started reading through my Souring Seas manuscript for one more time. No major reason for this additional read. I may pick up the odd mistake, or add a little local colour or a witty comment that might liven up my ponderous prose, but I’m not expecting significant changes. The real reason for this latest reread, the most recent of dozens, is my apprehension about how I get the message out when (or maybe it should be before) I bite the bullet and publish it.

I’ve been told that the key mechanism for publicizing a book is an email newsletter. In my ignorance of these social media platforms, I don’t see how that is better than this blog, but I’m considering it. I’ve also looked into sites that allow self-published authors to link promotions (StoryOrigin is one), and Facebook sites for authors. I’ve joined some, but I’m just not good at getting into the Facebook mentality.

Prowritingaid, online editing software I find useful, recommends the Inner Circle Writers Group as the best Facebook site for authors. Anyone know anything about it?

The newsletter proponents emphasize stories associated with the book being flogged as inducements—biographies of the main characters, spin offs that might suck in some readers, etc. I’m wondering about writing a postlude to my whole Environmental Armageddon extravaganza told from Tony Atherton’s perspective as he looks back in the 2050s at the mess human beings have made of our once beautiful planet. He’d be sixtyish at this point, so a good age for reminiscing. Maybe something that alludes to the trauma I’ve envisioned for the end of my saga would help sell the earlier books that work their way up to the dramatic conclusion.

The Evergreen Writers Group is going through similar soul-searching, trying to generate, during this damned pandemic, marketing ideas for Water’s Edge, our latest short story anthology. We are being featured from March 15th to 21st by the owners of The Dartmouth Book Exchange in their attempts at online promotion to support local authors and readers. We thank the Book Exchange for making this effort on our behalf.

In the meantime, I’m back to rereading The Souring Seas, or should I be working on Tony’s autobiography. If I had two brains, four hands and two computers, I could work on both at the same time. Hmm, if that works, why not four, eight and four, or eight, sixteen and eight? The possibilities are endless… I definitely need to get out more!

Too Many Protagonists

Several beta readers of my The Road to Environmental Armageddon manuscript felt I had too many protagonists. They suggested a novel of this type should have a single protagonist and a single antagonist. The antagonist remains an issue because I lack a personification of my real antagonist – the world’s inertia, an unwillingness to take climate change seriously. And the protagonist problem is also difficult because I’m trying to develop a reasonably realistic story about scientists concerned with climate change. It is inherently a slowly developing story that is unlikely to have a single protagonist taking central stage from beginning to end. I developed a story with three parts, distinct in space and time, that built on each as they approached a fourth part that finally comes to a what I hope readers will consider a dramatic conclusion.

I thought about throwing the whole damn thing on Marjory the Fraggle Rock trash heap and starting again with a time condensed story with a single protagonist before I developed my current plan. It avoids this protagonist problem by having a pair of protagonists for the each of the short novels that will build up to the fourth larger more dramatic grand finale.

Book one, The Souring Seas, has two protagonists, Tony Atherton, a graduate student in oceanography who you will have met in Chapter One if you’ve been following these blog posts, and Beth Manville, actress and environmental activist, Tony’s significant other, who you met in Chapter Two. There’s a supporting cast of a dozen characters about half of them reappearing in later books.

Book two, An Industrial Solution, begins about five years later and focuses on another pair of protagonists, Dan Delacour, another graduate student in oceanography, and Elena Llewellyn, an enigmatic character whose role I don’t wish to reveal. The third book, Future Imperfect, jumps another decade into the future and focuses on a third pair, undergraduate students Tomas Matthews and Luna Grange. The supporting characters in these two books include new and recurring characters.

The final book, Environmental Armageddon, is placed in the 2040s and brings the main characters of the three shorter novels together. The story ends in 2049 after the fools managing human activity on Planet Earth start a war they cannot stop.

I hope this works, generates a story that meets the ‘requirement’ for stories with single protagonist. If not, I’ll be visiting Marjory’s trash heap. Does anyone have her address?

The Souring Seas Chapter Two

I’ve spent the last two weeks working on generating another ‘final’ version of The Souring Seas, part one in the trilogy of short novels comprising The Road to Environmental Armageddon. They will lead to my more dramatic and focused Environmental Armageddon story. When I got annoyed with my ponderously slow progress, I diverted to touching up the paint on the inside of our house. Making much better progress with the walls than I am with the book.

Plan of the month is to publish The Souring Seas soon and move on to An Industrial Solution and Future Imperfect, the second and third step toward my grand finale, Environmental Armageddon. We all know ‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’, but if I actually publish this latest version of The Souring Seas, I’ll be committed. That, at least, might finally stop all my dithering.

Here’s a slightly revised version of the cover and the link to Chapter One. I’m posting Chapter Two here, but if you want to read the rest, you may have to wait until I get the damn thing published.

Chapter Two

Friday, May 6, 2022

After three days designing, building, and testing electrode housings, Tony had a working aquarium. It wouldn’t be robust until he installed an array of precision housings produced by a machine shop’s computer-operated tools, but it should function.

That afternoon, he approached the busy coffee shop near his apartment with a spring in his step. Inside Cuppa Java, he bought a medium house blend in a porcelain mug and scanned the glass-topped cast-iron tables and matching metal chairs.

The blond bombshell from Monday morning gazed into space from a window table. She was wearing a white sundress splashed with red and yellow flowers. Inappropriate attire for a chilly spring day, but sexy as hell.

He wandered over. “Heyo, neighbour, is this seat taken?”

A frown creased her brow as a black cloud obscured the late afternoon sunshine. “Feel free.”

“You may not recognize me, but we’re neighbours, eh?”

“Sorry,” she said. “Was I, like, staring? You looked familiar, but I couldn’t place you.”

Tony glanced around with one hand on the chairback before placing his coffee on the table. “Anthony Atherton at your service, but everyone calls me Tony.”

He made an exaggerated bow with a majestic sweep of his right arm. He imagined holding a big medieval hat instead of his Boston Red Sox ball cap, but one couldn’t have everything.

She scowled. “Elizabeth Manville. Friends call me Beth.”

He pulled back his chair and swept away imaginary crumbs. “You know, I’ve often seen you here.” That was stretching the truth—he was only vaguely aware of seeing her previously. “Perhaps now we’re acquainted, we can become coffee shop friends.”

“At work, I drink coffee, and then when I’m not working, I come here and drink coffee.”

He sat as Beth fiddled with her mug. Her scowl suggested his exuberance may somehow be insulting, but he wouldn’t let that deter him.

“Whatcha do, eh?” he asked.

“My boyfriend and I are actors. That means drinking coffee while waiting for endless auditions. If I get a job, I’m like drinking more while I wait for my few minutes before the camera.”

Tony leaned forward, coffee mug halfway to his lips. “Exciting! A film or television actress. Should I, you know, recognize you?”

“Doubt it. Bit parts in a few movies and TV shows. Mostly commercials. If you recognize me, it’ll be an insipid soap commercial or something similar. Or a stupid smiling face staring from a magazine ad. Nothing romantic or exciting.” She tipped her mug until the remaining coffee reached the rim. “What about you?”

“Student at Dalhousie starting on a PhD in oceanography. We’re studying the effects of global warming.”

She smiled as the sun returned from behind the dark cloud. “Sounds fun. Tell me.”

“You sure,” he said, his confidence evaporating. “I’ll, you know, bore you.”

“No way! I’m real interested in science and the environment. I should have gone to university and studied biology. This will be some good.”

His eyes widened. Her reaction was far too good to believe. “Stop me when I get boring, eh?”

“Get going already,” she replied, her smile broadening as she thumped her mug on the table.

He took a deep breath before launching into his standard explanation of the relationship between fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere, and global warming.

He’d barely begun when Beth held up her hand while shaking her head. “The previous federal government’s attitude was real negative. The latest Ontario government and the previous US administration didn’t treat it as an important problem. And Trudeau talks progressive but subsidizes heavy oil production. They’re, like, squashing people’s interest.”

“Totally agree. Our government’s attitude is inconsistent—green-friendly high-profile pronouncements but little concrete action.”

Beth scowled while tapping her index finger on the table. “Someone should challenge them. Learn why they’re taking us down this road to ecological crises.”

“Wow, you are interested in environmental affairs.”

Her smile reappeared. “Whenever my career bogs down. But what about you? Where do you stand?”

Tony hesitated, surprised by the depth of her interest in environmental politics and the way her scepticism of government policies paralleled his. He took a deep breath and plunged into his description of the potential problems without committing to any political approaches. He focused on his interest, the effects of carbon dioxide emissions and increasing acidity on the marine environment. Tony described the pH control system he developed for the large aquarium as his master’s project and the puzzling development he’d woken up to on Monday morning.

After several minutes of sometimes incoherent explanation interrupted by numerous questions, she drained her coffee and put down her empty mug. “Sorry to stop you, but it’s, like, time to go.”

She leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “I wasn’t bored. Next time, we can have another oceanography lesson. And incidentally, I liked your performance Monday morning. But the dialogue was too much. Try a little less cursing.”

She strutted away, but before she disappeared, her shoulders slumped.

She’s messing with my friggin’ mind and hiding something I must discover.

Monday morning, Professor Krueger stormed into the laboratory, brandishing Jacinta’s summary of their endeavours. Their research director was a large, exuberant man, and storming around was his normal behaviour.

He stopped before the whiteboard that occupied the wall between doors to two student offices. A fume hood and glass-fronted cupboards with bottles and equipment lined the remaining interior walls. Two laboratory benches dominated the floor space, and windows on the exterior wall provided natural light.

He picked up a marker and addressed his team. “Good morning. I compliment you on a job well done. Your results are intriguing, but we have much to accomplish before shouting Eureka.”

“Good morning, sir,” the perennially formal Jacinta replied. “I trust your German trip went well.”

Dr. K nodded. “An interesting meeting, and you’ve produced a fascinating new observation. It’s your discovery, Jacinta, what do you propose?”

“We must identify the mysterious pennate diatom that dominated the bloom.”

“That’s important, and I can help verify your identification.” Dr. K paused, took three paces, and stared through a window. He strode back to the whiteboard. “Isolating it and determining how it responds to pH change will follow. For that, we’ll need smaller aquaria.”

Tony smiled from his perch on a laboratory bench. When Dr. K found something interesting, he jumped in. If Jacinta wanted to control her experiment, she must stand up to him, but she was too respectful.

Dr. Krueger charged on. “This is a job for you, Tony. If you begin today, I’ll pay you retroactively from the first.” Tony nodded, and Dr. K continued. “We’ll need aquaria with pH control like we have for the large pool.”

“Presumably, you’re imagining static aquaria.” Tony stepped to the whiteboard and sketched a series of three-dimensional boxes bristling with electrodes. “We’ll need pH meters and electrodes, and separate acid control systems for each aquarium.”

“Buy them. We shouldn’t dismantle the pool system.” Dr. K replied before turning toward Jacinta. “You should repeat the latest experiment.”

“What about the nutrient question?” she asked. “We do not understand where the bloom found the nutrients it needed.”

Tony considered techniques to control fluctuating pH as Dr. K and Jacinta droned on about biology. A tricky engineering problem was better than nebulous biological considerations. He reconnected when Rosie joined the conversation.

“Last week, Jacinta sent me to the library to investigate other low pH environments. I learned many oceanside lakes have freshwater sitting above saltwater washed in from the sea. Lakes like that around here?”

“Porter’s Lake may be one,” Tony suggested.

Dr. Krueger waved the marker like a conductor with a baton. “Surveys of saline lakes are a good idea, Rosie. If a lake has runoff from acid rain, we may see low pH and ocean salinity. Put Porter’s Lake on our agenda, but first, we must get the aquaria working.”

On his way out, Dr. K beckoned to Tony. He strode to his book-cluttered office and closed the door behind Tony before saying anything.

“We must consider how last week’s observations lead to other investigations. But first, we should firm up your duties for the summer.”

Tony frowned. They’d discussed those plans during April while he corrected errors in his master’s thesis. “I’m to manage the aquarium system and pursue short-term research you outlined. In September, I’ll register for my PhD.”

“Correct, and the aquarium management job becomes more complex. The experiments I planned no longer interest me.”

“Sir, you want me to focus on engineering problems?”

Dr. K sighed. “Rather like your master’s project, but, yes, that should be our immediate priority.” He paused, staring out the window. “Jacinta will concentrate on her biological observations. You should monitor her efforts and consider how you could build a thesis project on that foundation.”

“Other climate change research may be more interesting.”

“I’m not suggesting you abandon your training and become a biologist.”

“Then, you know, what are you suggesting?” Tony asked. If Dr. K was trying to push his thinking in a certain direction, he wasn’t making his intentions very clear.

“Keep an open mind. Jacinta’s endeavours should inform a project that suits your interests.”

“So that’s my task, eh? Establish protocols for controlling pH in smaller aquaria?”

“With Rosie’s help. Then you can watch over the experiments she conducts for Jacinta.”

Tony borrowed pH meters and electrodes that wouldn’t be needed until September from a Chemistry Department teaching lab and idle computers from the Chemistry Student Resource Centre. When he reached the aquarium annex with his new equipment, he discovered Rosie was a step ahead of him. She had six large sea-water-filled aquaria on a reinforced bench along one wall. He installed the electrodes and other plumbing, transferred his control program to the six computers, and connected everything. By noon, they were experimenting with pH control in small aquaria.

Their first experiments with no plankton in the tanks were unsuccessful. All six drifted to lower pH, confounding the conventional understanding natural processes would generate an upward drift. He added a second control loop that introduced sodium carbonate and reprogrammed the computers.

Experiments with plankton from the large aquarium also failed. Two grew rapidly, an observation that intrigued Jacinta, three grew at rates similar to those in the big aquarium, but in one, the plankton died. An experiment Rosie ran with added nutrients also gave confusing results. Nutrient concentrations had little impact on growth rates.

Dr. K made frequent visits as they struggled to control pH in their new aquaria. He waxed poetic about their work, and its potentially earth-shattering implications for climate change. He repeated his comment about being on the cusp of a significant breakthrough and never expressed frustration with their lack of progress. By month’s end, his happy-go-lucky approach had worn thin.

The ongoing climate change discussion in the graduate students’ coffee room was equally frustrating. A twit named Steve Matthews droned on about the Gaia Hypothesis. He claimed the biological system could look after itself without intervention by climate change scientists. Add politicians and climate change deniers on the Christian right who insisted God would look after everything, and you had a recipe for Earth-destroying inertia.

If Jacinta’s observations were so important, shouldn’t they identify the problems, jumpstart the research, and announce the results to the world?

After the Apocalypse

Big snowstorm here last night. No, that’s not the Apocalypse in the title for this week’s post, just a feeble excuse for getting this post out later than I hoped.

New this week is a 350 story I have posted in an active contest on Voice.Club. The one-word theme for this contest was ‘Dawn’ and I tried, as I usually do, to come up with an unusual take on the theme.

The story’s up on their website. Here’s the link to my story, but viewers of my Facebook page and this website have had trouble in the past visiting the site and voting for my story (liking it is a vote), so I will post it here.

After the Apocalypse

Alan Kemister

Evelyn shed her hazmat suit and stepped from the rover’s isolation chamber. She immediately noticed the faraway look on Oliver’s face.

“Something wrong?” she asked.

He shook his head before checking their robotic decontamination vessel’s control panel. “It’s nothing. Dawn was three minutes ago. Makes me feel nostalgic.”

“Now there’s an alien concept in our screwed-up world. At night, it’s almost dark, but the sky still has an orange glow. In the daytime, it gets somewhat brighter and a great deal hotter, but we never see the sun.”

She watched the Gamma decontamination team leader approach the isolation chamber where he’d don his hazmat suit. For the next four hours, he’d trudge through the hostile environment, babysitting the robots manipulating the black maws sucking up the toxic dust covering the barren ground. She’d drive the rover, constantly watching for hazards looming from the glooming.

She checked the controls as she waited for him to emerge from the isolation chamber. He appeared, giving her the thumbs up. She turned the lumbering rover in a broad arc and headed toward Contamination Station Gamma, her temporary home with Oliver and ten other conscripts.

Seven months venturing out every night from midnight to eight a.m. and lumbering for four hours at five kilometres per hour, only to turn and trundle back to the station for another four hours. Two hundred and thirteen days taken from her young life, and another one hundred and fifty-two to go before she could return to the domed ecosphere she called home.

The industrious robots sucked up the dust in a one-hundred-metre-wide swath. One hundred metres times forty kilometres times three rovers times two shifts yielded twenty-four square kilometres decontaminated per night. During her year of servitude, they’d cover eight thousand square kilometres after allowing for time they’d spend repositioning the station—twenty-five percent of the single valley they’d been assigned.

She saw nothing but the hopelessness of their task, while Oliver dreamed of the first morning he’d see the sun rise over the eastern horizon.

*****

Readers who want to be brave and view the story on the Voice.club website and hopefully like it, can use the link to the story. I suspect it will take them to an opening page where they must sign in using their google identity or some similar online identity. The site managers use this mechanism to prevent anyone gaming the system and voting repeatedly for a story. If they persist and sign in, they may have to navigate through the site via ‘Contest’ to ‘Writing Contest–2021-Flash-01-Dawn-Shortlist-Vote’, then to my entry, ‘After the Apocalypse’ (the first one on the second row on my computer), and finally, click ‘Like’.

Lot easier to read it here, but then, sigh, I don’t get the votes.

That’s it for today. I must go shovel last night’s gift from the gods of winter. I’ll try to get back to my Environmental Armageddon story next time.

Slouching Towards Completion

I slouch like the rough beast in the Second Coming towards completion of my Climate Change story. I keep thinking I’m making progress as I once again look at revised drafts of my various parts of the saga. I have revised the first two novellas trying to incorporate valid and valuable suggestions from reviewers and most recently beta readers that suggested I needed more drama and more easily identifiable villains.

I’ve been happy with the storyline for both The Souring Seas and An Industrial Solution for some time, and chapters of both have received numerous reviews. I think they are technically fairly solid. My recent revisions to add drama and have each of these novellas reach a more distinct climax has made them longer, so both are more like small novels of 50,000 to 60,000 words. I think they are close to done.

Future Imperfect, my third novella along The Road to Environmental Armageddon, and the bigger novel, Environmental Armageddon, need more work.

Here’s a potential cover, a title page with precis for The Souring Seas, and the latest draft of the first chapter. The cover photo was provided by my friend and colleague, Judi Risser. She creates some great photos that you can see on her website – https://thruanewlens.wordpress.com/.

Comments are always welcome, because I’m always editing and revising. Nothing I do is ever finished.

The Souring Seas

Alan Kemister

Oceanographers in Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University observe enhanced growth of marine plankton when they increase aquarium acidity to a critical level. Tony Atherton studies the potential impact of their observations on climate change. He learns removal of planktonic biomass to the sediments could reverse global warming. His enthusiasm wanes when he realizes other aspects of climate change will destroy global ecological balances before his natural cure kicks in.

Beth Manville, an actress with an interest in environmental issues, steals Tony’s heart. She joins his fight to convince people to treat ocean acidification seriously. Her enthusiasm waxes as Tony’s wanes until his eureka moment when he realizes the geopolitical importance of the interaction between global warming, CO2 emissions, and climate cooling ocean acidification.

Chapter One

Monday, May 2, 2022

Tony Atherton’s mobile chirped as he stepped from the shower. He ran naked and dripping to answer the device charging on rickety shelves beneath his studio apartment’s largest window.

A young blonde with long hair and the posture of a runway model stared from a window in the next building. Her shimmering iridescent blue gown suggested she’d just returned from an all-night party. He hesitated, 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 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 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.

He took a deep breath, trying to imagine the laboratory disaster that precipitated the early morning call. She wouldn’t have called if it didn’t involve his system for controlling chemical concentrations in Dalhousie university’s largest aquarium. “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 as he metaphorically patted himself on the back for correctly assessing the situation.

“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 in their research lab. 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 may 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 the experimental setup he designed and built as his Master of Engineering research project 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.

A brisk fifteen-minute walk through chilly South End Halifax streets took Tony to the university campus. In the Life Sciences Building, he diverted into the oceanography department annex. The humid concrete cavern housed the ten-metre diameter aquarium where Jacinta, a candidate for a PhD in Oceanography, was studying the effect of a more acidic ocean on phytoplankton. The plastic-lined concrete pool was two metres deep, and a rotating arm with two giant paddles provided mixing. A thick scum and the smell of decomposing vegetation assaulted his senses. The huge tank’s constant mechanical stirring caused Jacinta’s algal mass to roil like the witch’s 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.

“Hello, Anthony. I apologize for taking you away from vacation,” Jacinta said in her formal, charmingly accented English as she swept up to him. “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 cowboy boots, jeans, and plaid shirts. Her appearance and demeanor were as rosy as her name implied. She paused, smiling mischievously. “Cynthia’s after your bod. She’d analyze the nuts faster if you asked.”

“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, mildly sexual banter 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.” Tony paused while biting his bottom lip. “We need electrodes that don’t fail.”

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 when a coronavirus pandemic disrupted everything for over a year. When he’d questioned her about that shutdown, she smiled and said, “God challenges us to do our best. We must accept these setbacks and try harder to complete the tasks He sets for us.”

Her reliance on guidance provided by her Catholic faith was annoying, but he accepted Jacinta’s need for divine motivation. Tony’s generosity, however, didn’t extend to fundamentalist Christians who claimed global warming reflected God’s will. They, and dozens of others, wouldn’t accept the reality of climate change. Add individuals, corporations, and governments who recognized the problems but refused to alter their behaviour, and academics who studied climate change but left action to others. The resulting progress-defying inertia stifled interest in humanity’s greatest environmental challenge.

Fortunately, Jacinta had her mind on the immediate problem and didn’t elaborate on her Christian motivation. “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?”

He nodded. “We can clean the electrodes every few hours while I devise 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. He 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 adhesion to the electrodes. 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 results suggest human-induced climate change was pushing the natural world into another period of exceptional primary productivity? Would it generate massive accumulations of organic carbon in new oil and gas deposits? Would it slash atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and reduce global temperatures? Could it lead to a new ice age?

Tough 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?