A three-foot rise in sea level would submerge almost 20 percent of the entire country and displace more than 30 million people. Some scientists project a five-to-six foot rise by 2100, which would displace perhaps 50 million people. As perspective, the ongoing tragedy in Syria has caused the exodus of approximately three million people.—The Unfolding Tragedy of Climate Change in Bangladesh, Robert Glennon, Scientific American
Today marks the halfway point of this project. 50 days now until Election Day. But today I’m thinking about another halfway point, one a century in the future.
Over the weekend, I helped my friend Monica Jahan Bose celebrate the arrival of her new book, Renew with a small, socially distanced celebration in her alley and driveway. I was honored that she asked me to work on the layout of the book, and it was great to have the final product in hand after nearly a year of discussion and work. The book is 108 pages of photos, poems and essays from her performance art and community dialogues addressing the climate crisis.
Bose’ family is from Bangladesh, one of the most populous and low-lying places on the globe. A slow-motion crisis has been unfolding there as the sea rises to swallow coastal villages and flooding encroaches on dense urban areas. And so, she brings the invisible voices of Bangladeshis to western capitals, making the consequences of carbon-guzzling known.
I met Monica in 2015 or so, and we first collaborated when I asked her to record one of Future Cartographic’s stories about D.C. in the year 2215 for an audio installation. Someday I’ll put together a clearer timeline of those speculative fictions here on this site, but here’s a summary: by 2215 we have our act together and are living in a utopian city because we started to get our act together in 2015.
But even in that rosy fiction, I couldn’t ignore the inevitabilities of the coming century. A halfway point in 2115 was a bleak one, peak climate change and a bleak period in the memories of grandparents in those the stories. Grandparents who would today by newborn grandchildren.
The culture of D.C. in those stories — and of communities around the world — is and will be shaped by climate refugees. Not just from Bangladesh, but from Florida, Louisiana and populous tidewater region of Virginia. And rising waters aren’t the only danger. The west coast is on fire, and Californians are debating their comfort level with the harsh smoke-filled air summer after summer.
Unfortunately, we did not get our act together in 2015. The bad-for-100, recover-for-100 barely plausible utopia of 2215 is behind schedule. The halfway point is bleaker now than it was five years ago. The waters continue to rise.