Friday, January 31, 2014

Chapter 2

After hanging up, Graham tapped out an email to logistics, approving the reporter’s visit.  Before hitting send, however, he turned away from his computer.
It had been years since anyone from outside the military had been on site.  It would be nice to have a couple fresh faces around headquarters – even if it was for just a few days. 
But Graham always worried about security.  Fifteen years ago, when he first took command of the West Coast Water Production Program, he disallowed non-military visitors.  Security was even more important these days than it was back then.  The more details people knew about his operation, the more vulnerable it was to attack. 
But then, this was the Peggy Lee Swenson.  She was an award-winning journalist for Our Modern World, the #1 rated hologramovision show of all time.  Turning back to his computer, Graham did a quick search, pulled up a couple of her recent pieces, and skimmed them.  She was good.  Plus, she already had the necessary security clearance from previous assignments.  It was true; she had been everywhere.  He was just being paranoid, that’s all.
Moreover, Graham knew that he really had no choice in the matter.  His reluctance was inconsequential.
He reached down, unlocked one of his desk drawers, and removed a highly confidential memo from the Minister of the Department of Climate Security that he had received two weeks ago.  The memo felt heavier than its eight pages.  In it, the Minister predicted that most parts of the world, including most of North America, would become completely uninhabitable within the next five to fifteen years.  The West Coast would be the first to fall. 
Graham had contributed some highly sensitive information to the assessment, including an analysis of the rapidly decreasing efficacy of the solar panels that powered the water production facilities due to excessive heat.  The facilities were likely to fail within five years. 
The memo also predicted that ambient air temperatures would spike in the coming years, reaching a global average temperature of 117 degrees by the year 2100, a seven degree increase in less than nine years.  It recounted the deadly effects of Super Storm Zebra, the largest storm ever recorded, with wind speeds of 575 mph.  The storm had demolished climate shelter zones throughout Brazil and Argentina, annihilating approximately half a billion people.  The memo predicted a 90% chance that similar super storms were likely to occur across the globe as ocean temperatures continued to rise, intensifying storms to an extent never before imagined.
In a separate section, the memo recounted the highly disappointing results of the United Nations’ Stratospheric Sunlight Reflector Project.  Despite years of work, billions of dollars, and the successful placement of 50 million space mirrors in the stratosphere, the multinational team of geo-engineers had failed to realize any cognizable effect on global temperatures.  Further, the International Carbon Sequestration Initiative had not made even a small dent in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
The memo contained the following simple messages:  the dream of a scientific fix to the climate crisis has all but died, and the planet would soon be uninhabitable.  In other words, barring an unforeseen and highly fortuitous turn of events, there would be no next generation to solve the climate problem.
In order to “protect” the public from this information, the memo ordered Graham and other high ranking officials to participate in a media blitz of positive news.  Graham did not like the idea of misleading the public, but he was a soldier, not a politician.  The memo concluded:  “We cannot keep the truth from the public forever, but we can and must stave off the inevitable panic that the release of this information will cause for as long as possible.  It is still possible that the U.S. Division of Experimental Geo-engineering will give us the home-run solution that we have all been praying for.  Until then, however, we must continue to protect the great citizens of the United States.” 
It was all bullshit, Graham thought to himself.  The media push coincided with upcoming elections.  Nonetheless, Graham would follow his orders. 
Replacing the memo, he locked the drawer, grabbed his keyboard, and sent his approval of the journalist’s visit to the logistics desk for processing.  If the truth about the water production facilities came out now, he knew there would be complete anarchy in the L.A. Climate Shelter Zone.  Hundreds of thousands of people could be displaced, and many of those might attempt to cross the Great Western Desert.  He certainly did not need all that blood on his hands.  So why not avoid that outcome for as long as possible?
Graham reached into a different drawer and pulled out a mason jar of corn whiskey – “white lightning” as they used to call it.  He poured a healthy two fingers into his coffee cup and downed it. 
He shivered and checked the clock.  It was 1500 hours.  He poured himself another stiff shot and got back to work.
As he was getting ready to leave his office for dinner, Graham momentarily turned to his office window, eyes hazy now, coffee cup still in hand.  Droplets formed outside the window pane, growing infinitesimally.  Eventually, gravity exerted its inevitable pull, causing one pregnant drop to break free and take a reckless crash-course through the other slowly-forming beads of water.  Headlong it raced to the sill, where it joined its brethren in the inexorable voyage down the Transamerica Building and eventually back to the Pacific Ocean.  Endless fog blew past his window – dark and dense, as though Graham could have stepped out and floated forever into the deep, gray void.
Just then, the de-molding spray clicked on, and a sheet of green-tinged liquid poured down the outside of the windows, washing away the water drops and any mold spores that dared to venture to the 20th floor of the Transamerica Building.  The hourly decontamination process kept him and the other soldiers in the sealed headquarters relatively safe.
Graham sat still and quiet, alcohol coursing through his veins.  The view reminded him of his purpose:  to keep the water production facilities pumping out fog day-in and day-out, no matter what.  The fog rose, like a thick, misty wave from thousands of boiler units floating in a massive grid twenty-three miles offshore.  The units boiled sea water, liberating fresh, drinking water from the salty sea and spewing it upwards in great, billowing plumes of fog.  The thickest concentration of boiler units lay offshore of San Francisco.
From the boiler units, easterly winds kept the fog flowing inland.  After it blew through the empty city, it sailed across the Bay, climbed over the East Bay hills, swept past the abandoned farmhouses of the Central Valley, and then got squeezed up against the steep slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where mechanized cannons seeded the clouds with silver iodide, resulting in a nearly constant downpour.  Water ran down through creek and river beds to seventeen enormous, heavily guarded containment reservoirs.  It then flowed south past the dry, empty wastelands of the Central Valley through a series of covered canals to southern California, where the nearly sixty million inhabitants of the megalopolis of the L.A. Climate Shelter Zone and the adjacent, government-run, vertical farms sucked up every drop.
Recently, Graham had been doing a lot of soul-searching about his life’s work and his legacy.  The memo from the Department of Climate Security had brought all his doubts and fears to the surface.  A few years ago – hell even a few weeks ago – he had had little difficulty conjuring up the historian who’d depict him as one of the minor, hard-working leaders of the era.  It had seemed plausible that he’d be listed among the mid-level, self-sacrificing heroes who had helped humanity hold on until the geo-engineers miraculously stabilized the climate or found a way to survive or escape the interminable heat and critical lack of fresh water on Earth.  Of course, the scientists would be the real heroes, but Graham would settle for being a medium-sized cog in the machinery that kept the human species going through the darkest hours of the climate crisis. 
He’d had hope.  He’d had faith in the government’s climate remediation programs.  But the Minister’s blunt memo had eroded almost all of it. 
In a sick way, Graham had felt a perverse vindication when he first read the memo’s conclusions.  He always thought that a mass migration into space offered the least risky, most practical solution.  Space stations had been operating since the 20th century.  Given sufficient time, scientists could have perfected human life in space.  But, the space station program had lost popular support.  Naively, preachers, activists, and politicians had pronounced that humans would meet the climate challenge head on.  “Man can accomplish anything,” they called out as they marched through the streets.  The geo-engineers convinced Congress to sink more money into mirrors and sequestration, always promising that a break-through was just around the corner.  This lack of foresight was proving devastating.
Graham stood up from his chair and headed toward the elevators.  It was hard to believe, but he was starting to seriously doubt that there would be a historian at the end of his days to say anything, one way or another, about his role in all this.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chapter 1

June 23, 2091
“It is not an easy trip out here, Mrs. Swenson,” Graham said into the phone.  He leaned back in his chair and stared out at the thick, warm fog streaming by the window of his cavernous office on the 20th floor of the Transamerica Building.  Far below him, that same ever-present, man-made fog flowed like a river through the silent streets of San Francisco – a poignant meteorological reminder of the drastic, irreversible changes of the past thirty years.  Fog snaked through the vacant city day and night, past crumbling Coit Tower, rusted-out cable cars, and the dilapidated skyscrapers of the Financial District.  It streamed through empty alleyways, down Mission Street, and past the Embarcadero on its way across the Bay.  The sun did not shine on the streets of San Francisco; it was a city without shadows. 
Under the dark fog, a thick, velvety carpet of poisonous mold, Stachybotrys chartarum III, or the “silver slayer” as it was commonly known, covered every inch of the city.  It ate away at the guts of the once-glorious Victorians of Pacific Heights and layered the city’s streets with a hairy coat of mycotoxins.  Mold hung from street lights and store signs.  It clung in drooping sheets like foam insulation to the sides of tall buildings.  Swaths of it blanketed large, empty parks.  When the wind picked up, deadly spores swirled through the air – a fatal ambient condition that had claimed nearly two million lives prior to the city’s evacuation.
Graham continued, “We’ll pick you up at the Fresno checkpoint and bring you here in the hover transport vehicle.  You and your crew will be fitted with hazmat suits.  Listen, I want you to be fully aware that visiting us here at headquarters is dangerous.  As I am sure you are aware, there is no cure for infection with the silver slayer.  And our trip out to the water production facilities has its own risks.  The seas can be unpredictable.  We haven’t lost a ship yet, but the threat is real.”
“I understand the dangers and appreciate your concern.  My editor wants this story, and I’m willing to do what it takes.” 
Graham smiled.  The voice on the other end of the phone was soft and sweet – just a pinch of Southern sugar – but businesslike as well.  She was direct, clear, and articulate. 
She continued, “And by the way, I should tell you that it’ll just be my hologramographer and me.  No big team, just us.  We don’t mind risks.  We’ve covered the rebellions in Alaska, the Asian plague, and the evacuation of New York City.  I’m no shrinking violet, Colonel Snow, I can assure you that much.  I was a military kid so I know what life is like on Army bases.”
“Good,” Graham said.  
“Oh, and one more thing, please don’t call me Mrs. Swenson.  That was my mother’s name – may she rest in peace.  Just call me Peggy Lee . . . or Ms. Peggy Lee if you insist on being formal.”
“Gladly, ma’am.  And call me Graham.  I am looking forward to meeting you.  Our facilities are not luxurious, but we’ve made them as safe as possible.  I just wanted to make sure that you knew what you were getting into.  Please contact the logistics desk to set up a time for your transport.  We’ll see you soon.”
“Thank you, Colonel Snow.  I mean, thank you, Graham.  See you in a few days.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dear Members of Congress,

I am writing to ask you to take quick and decisive action addressing the climate change crisis.  Specifically, I ask that you pass legislation creating a tax on fossil fuels based on the CO2 content of those fuels at the first point of sale.  I am a public-interest environmental attorney and have been studying solutions to climate change for years.  A gradually increasing fee on carbon is the most effective way to rein in our country’s dangerous carbon addiction.

This letter also serves as an invitation.  In addition to lawyering, I am a fiction writer.  I have recently written a novel that takes place in San Francisco in 2091 called Out of the Fog.  My story depicts a world radically altered by climate change.  I am publishing it serially on my newly created blog (  I will publish one chapter per week for the next 52 weeks, starting this Friday, January 24, 2014.  And here’s the twist:  the ending of the story will be dictated by your action or inaction.  Thus the fate of my characters will be decided by you, just as the health and well-being of future generations depends on your passing a rapid and robust response to the climate crisis.

Governor Jerry Brown just declared a drought emergency in California, my home state.  The Sierra Nevada snowpack is staggeringly low at 17 percent of normal.  California’s looming disaster is only one of a long list of recent climate-related tragedies, including unprecedented wildfires in Colorado and Texas and the extremely costly Superstorm Sandy.  How many catastrophes must our nation endure before the federal government is willing to take action?

Please read Out of the Fog and make 2014 the year America rises to the climate change challenge and begins leading the world toward a healthier planet.
Joshua A.H. Harris