The XX Factor

A “Novel” Take on the Climate Change Report

Last week, the United States Global Research program released a report on the potential impacts of climate change in the United States. Based on a year and a half of work and a consensus from 13 federal agencies, the 198-page report makes the doom, gloom, and destruction that await us available to all. Still, who reads 198-page government reports? Well, I do.

So in an attempt to bring some amusement to a dark situation, I’ve summarized the main points of the climate change report using five different literary (ok, quasi-literary) styles. Each vignette is set in the year 2100 under the ” higher emissions scenario ,” which is a conservative estimate that presumes some kind of international reduction in emissions.

However, our current climate change trajectory is much, much worse than any of the scenarios considered in the report. We’re emitting so much carbon that we’re exceeding climate scientists’ worst nightmares . But I’ve never been a horror fan, so I’ve stuck with the more optimistic predictions here.

Genre: Noir

Climate change prediction: The U.S. will be seven degrees hotter.

The moment she walked into my office, the temperature got two degrees hotter. She smoked like a coal-fired power plant and had a carbon footprint that went all the way to 850 molecules of CO2 for every million molecules of atmosphere. That was more than double the carbon in the atmosphere now, and more carbon than I really wanted to handle. This dame was hot-and I mean seven degrees of global temperature increase hot. And she wasn’t even the worse-case scenario. Even her smart cousin, who stabilized climate change at a mere four degrees of global temperature rise, looked like she could kill some penguins before breakfast and wash them down with torrential flooding. I poured myself a shot of ice water. I was going to need it.

Genre: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Climate change prediction: Flooding in the northern US, drought in the southern US

It was a dark and stormy night in the Northern U.S., not so dark as it had been from all the fossil-fuel-lit streetlights, but still pretty dark. Rain threw itself violently against the huddled houses-considerably more rain than there had been when Bulwer-Lytton wrote about the very first dark and stormy night, since warm air holds more water and since the air was a lot warmer than it had been 100 years ago. The night in the southern U.S., particularly the Southwest, was still dark, but considerably less stormy due to more droughts and dramatically decreased snow pack.

Genre: Haiku

Climate change prediction: Three to four foot sea level rise

The ocean creeps up
And floods the New York subway.
Three to four foot rise.
South Florida floods!
Don’t retire to West Palm.
You’ll need gills to golf.

Genre: Romance
Climate change prediction: Increased wildfires and insect infestations, mismatches between animals’ life cycles and their food sources

Flynt McKraken’s powerful arms glistened with sweat as he uncoiled his long, thick fire hose. It was dry and hot, like it always was these days. Warmer winters meant more tree-eating beetles and less rain, so every bit of summer lightening or power line sparking could lead to vast wildfires. But it wasn’t just the fire that made McKraken sweat. Katarina was out there, passionately looking for her precious butterflies. The plants the butterflies ate bloomed too early now, before the butterflies had a chance to emerge from their cocoons, and now they were all but extinct. So raven-haired Katarina had wandered far into the back country, and now she was trapped. At the thought of losing her, not even the intense heat of the wildfire warmed the cold ashes in McKraken’s turgid heart.

Genre: New Yorker short story
Climate change prediction: Increased heat leads to worse air quality in cities from ozone and higher pollen loads, insect-borne diseases increase

They sat at the kitchen table, silent except for the gentle susurrations of her asthma. Now that the number of days hotter than 90 degrees in Chicago had quadrupled, she wheezed all the time. He remembered a day, long in the past, where they had had a picnic without worrying about pollen or West Nile virus. They had sat together on a blanket, eating brie and arugula, laughing at the little dogs in coats. He hated her wheezing. The microwave beeped.