An Oasis of Amends

Floris M. Kleijne

You should have seen this, Rowan.

From the observation platform on the converted oil rig, I watch the giant conveyor lift the chunks out of the ocean, see them climb to the coastal plain, see the freeway width of the belt disappear over the horizon, and feel like a Lego figurine in a life-sized industrial zone.

The solid wall of noise makes me sweat as much as the heat does. The shouting, the mechanical roar of the conveyor, the screaming crunch of the ice, and the shattering splashes of the chunks crashing back into the ocean make it hard to think. So I don’t think, but let the memory of you pervade me, a bittersweet sensation I love and dread.

While I was still trying to fight the greenhouse effect, lobbying for emission agreements, investing billions in sustainable energy, strengthening sea walls around the globe, you were way ahead of me. I called you a pessimist when you said global warming was a given, the inevitable result of humanity’s carelessness. You told me nothing we could do to mitigate our mistakes would have measurable effects on any useful time scale. You argued that it was too late to fight causes, that all our influence and wealth were better spent dealing with the consequences. I called you fatalistic, mocked you for a harbinger of doom.

In the end, you relented, chose our marriage over your beliefs. This keeps me awake at night, that you gave in, relinquished your conviction to support my follies instead. Is that what love does to us?

I should have listened to you.

Another iceberg drifts stately into the bay, propelled by a trio of power pushers and its own embedded engines, into the maws of the Nutcracker. You would have loved that name. The enormous steel jaws rise from the waves and squeeze together, seeming to stop dozens of meters from the tip of the iceberg. Under water, the automatic drills deliver their charges, and the berg shudders with muffled explosions, the jaws recommencing their unrelenting squeeze until the ice shatters into house- and car-sized chunks. As the nutcracker opens, the sweeper ships move in, herding the chunks deeper into the bay. For all its violence and chaos, the operation runs smoothly, and in fifteen minutes, the first chunks rise from the ocean to be conveyed inland.

The explosions, the waves, the rumbling of the conveyor travel through the rig until my chest vibrates. Sweating, I climb the stairs to the ancient waiting Chinook, its twin rotors attempting to overwhelm the symphony of shudders.

This is how the dyke shook before it collapsed.

We were there at the breach when The Netherlands were lost. The worst south-western storm in the history of Western Europe took giant bites out of the Dutch dunes even as the Zeeland Delta Works succumbed to the onslaught. The evacuation of the country, which I had fought to postpone because the sea wall would damn well hold, wasn’t even halfway complete.

Was it guilt that kept me hauling sand bags? Was it love that kept you by my side? At least I know what it was when the dyke crumbled, and you were swept away while I was dragged to safety, screaming your name.

That was punishment.

I’m making amends now, Rowan. Don’t mourn what’s already lost, you told me. Deal with what’s left. You’re gone, my love, but I’m still here.

“They’re going to melt,” you said, shrugging. “Both of them, north and south. There is no way you can reverse that process now.”

“But if you’re right, if that’s true, sea levels will rise by as much as six meters. Whole coastal regions will be lost, millions of lives. You think I’m just going to sit by and let that happen?”

You shook your head and smiled. “They’re going to melt. The question is: can we let them melt where a gazillion gallons of freshwater will do some good?”

The Chinook passes over Nouamghar and follows the conveyor belt. On either side, the scorched sands of the Western Sahara stretch to the shimmery horizon. From up here, the conveyor looks like a foot-wide black strip loaded with crushed ice. But I know its actual width, and my mind locks up trying to calculate how much water is traveling inland.

We’re already raising the water table, Rowan. It took the fortune I amassed with sustainable energy and draws every Gigawatt of solar power from the Algerian farm, but it’s happening.

Sixty miles inland, melting station A feeds the Benichab irrigation hub. From the helicopter, I look down upon the slowly expanding circle around the hub, the green land, wadis that used to be dry most of the year now supporting dates and coconuts and meadows.

You should have seen this.

 

Rivers Lament

Mohammad Shafiqul Islam

Rivers lament over why they were born, they

Question their existence, ask their maker if any

The rivers weep copious tears no one can see

For the loss irreparable. Clinically dead, they

Seem to wait for a time when news echoes in

The air: the wasteland returns. Cuckoos will

No more sing to declare the advent of spring

Deadly and ear-piercing cries of humans and

Animals will break stones. O agonized rivers

You don’t shout like human beings absolutely

Vacuum within! You’re calm like trees gifting

Nature with gentle breeze. Desperate and evil

Land grabbers ravage banks extending gluttony

To the rivers, eating out life, destroying beauty

And disturbing cadence like Grendel. The rivers

Had golden days with stream of water as a force

To create rhythmic sounds as if celestial music

And petite white flakes made many a shoal of

Small white fish swim, jump and fall in between

Giant boulders to have a flower nearby blossom

Rapidly and feast the eyes of travelers. Children

Would bathe in a group, young girls would swim

Together, farmers wash mud after plowing their

Fields to sow seeds for golden crops. Toxic water

In different colors spawns fetor making distance

Between humans and rivers—to touch water now

Is to catch incurable diseases! O rivers, you do not

Inundate fields to bring silt for healthier crops and

Bountiful harvests anymore! The soil has already

Begun to crack, trees stopped growing and a new

Form of epizootic is imminent. Ether couriers your

Valued missives: don’t kill water, let your life flow.

 

 

Read the interview with Mohammad Shafiqul Islam here.

Editor’s Note: Love in the Time of Reckoning

Expect of me no high editorial remove. Not this year. I opened this project for submissions six months ago in a different world. Nothing is as I imagined it would be.

Yet I find that almost everything I wanted out of Reckoning remains the same—and suddenly it means a lot more. The individual, personal, visceral ways injustice and exploitation affect us mean so much more; narratives of resistance mean so much more; acts of protest mean so much more, for one thing, because they give us a voice, they help us find each other. I’m proud to think Reckoning might be another way of bringing us together—all of us still committed to resist.

In these pages you’ll find the people on the front lines: activists, ecopunks, scientists, historians, workers of the land, teachers, students, immigrants, the marginalized, and yes, the privileged. Environmental justice isn’t just for the exploited. Neither is reckoning. For what it’s worth, we’re 66% white, 60% American, 50% male-identifying, 12% Asian, 11% Indigenous, 7% Black. Yes, I counted. (No, I didn’t count sexual orientation.) I needed to know if all that agitating for diverse submissions had done any good. And it has. But not enough. I can do better, I’ll do better. We all have to do better.

When I conceived of a journal of writing on environmental justice, I entertained the notion it might escape bias. I wanted a platform for the viewpoints of individuals, not movements, certainly not corporations. I learned with painful swiftness that the biases least to be avoided were my own: the confining nature of the English language, my education, my experience and lack thereof. I’ve tried to circumvent my biases, to balance them, but in certain ways they remain, and in certain ways, I am unashamed. You will hear no voice in these pages attempting to pretend climate change isn’t real, nor that we’re not responsible, nor that some of us aren’t more responsible than others, nor that there’s nothing to be done.

I wanted Reckoning to provide a means for perceiving the passage of time, a marker we can look back on and judge what’s changed. It can still be that. But watching the world change around us as this first issue has taken form has made the limitations of that ambition clear. Some of the darkest thoughts featured here look even darker since they’ve been written. Some of the most hopeful may begin to seem far-fetched. The outlook presented here on the world and humanity’s relationship to it became imperfect as soon as the words were put to the page. But I can also think of this as exactly the kind of reckoning I set out to do: seeking not blame or punishment, but new perspective, new understanding. It’s what humans do. We leave behind what we’ve done, we share it, we move on, we do better. I picked the winter solstice for Reckoning’s release because it seems in some ways to have always been a time humans used for looking forward, looking back. It’s the top of the cycle, when everything starts again, and we get another chance.

I cannot articulate how privileged I feel to get to be the one to pay these authors and artists for their work and put it out into the world, to encourage and in some fractional part help them to do more.

I hope their work encourages that in you.

If you’re reading this on the website, new content will be appearing weekly henceforth; links in the table of contents will go live accordingly. If you’d rather not wait, the full ebook is available now from Weightless Books (other outlets coming soon).

Reckoning in the Time of Cholera

I thought about calling this “Love in the Time of Reckoning”, but I’m afraid I’m not quite there yet. I’ll write that next, hopefully.

A disastrous thing happened a few days ago the consequences of which I fear will necessitate a great deal more reckoning, for everybody: rich and poor, oppressors and oppressed, even the people in the middle keeping their heads down trying to avoid either, even more than I was already expecting when I got the idea for Reckoning a year ago. Global warming will not be averted. It will be mitigated, to some degree. The world will not make the cap of two degrees C of the Paris Accords. Here’s a Danish professor arguing a three or four degree increase in average global temperature is far more likely. And that was last month. Environmental justice, likewise, will have to be fought for tooth and nail if it’s to come at all, for anyone.

I am up for that fight.

I’ll admit, half an hour before sunrise Wednesday morning, I considered canceling Reckoning and tearing up the contracts. For that moment, it didn’t seem worth doing anymore. A slim technical majority had issued a referendum; it didn’t want hope or change or progress, it wanted everything back to the bad old way even if it it killed them. Then I realized that made this even more worth doing. The harder it gets, the more it’s worth doing.

This dovetails with something I’ve wanted to articulate about Reckoning. This journal, whose first issue will appear one month before He Who Shall Not Be Named enters office (and believe me, I’m aware of the problems in that reference; forgive me, I find myself in need of black humor), will never be about revenge or punishment, it will never be about watching the world burn and saying “I told you so”. It’s about trying to understand, about finding a way forward. “Finding Our Way in the Time of Cholera”, I could have called this post, only it doesn’t roll quite so trippingly off the tongue.

Reckoning 1 has received just over three hundred submissions; I’ve read about half of those and accepted seven. I am so grateful to those seven people. I can’t tell you how excited I am to share their work. That I get to do that makes me feel immensely better about this whole mess. But regarding the remainder: it seems a lot of people mistook “reckoning” to mean I was looking for horror. Around Halloween I tried watching 28 Days Later, the alt-zombie film from 2002 that opens with all those scenes of a ruined, empty London, devoid of culture, populated with rage-filled cannibals. I shut it off after ten minutes. Once those scenes were eerie and compelling. This time they did nothing for me. I guess I could read it as a Brexit allegory, but why would I need that when I have the real thing? I’m tired of apocalypses. I was tired of them before the echo-chamber-dwelling troglodytes of my democracy elected Lord Farquad. Octavia Butler already predicted this whole trainwreck back in 1993. The end of the world is old news. And worse, it’s lazy. I want to see something new.

You’ve heard it from editors before. This time, please consider applying it to more than just fiction, to whether I want to see or you really need to write another wet Mad Max. Please consider it as it applies to the real world–not just in the big, abstract sense, but to you personally. That’s the kind of difficult, at times painful work I think needs to be done, and it’s the kind of thing I want to see in fiction. Honestly, I could adopt it as Reckoning‘s statement of purpose.

We can’t let the grief overwhelm us, we can’t just close off. We have to keep thinking, we have to keep finding new ways, and we have to keep talking and writing about them, so everyone else will see.

That’s where the love part comes in.

What Is To Be Reckoned?

Everything.

At the moment, it’s 136 degree days in Iran, 120 degree days in India, thawing permafrost in Greenland. It’s the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent that lived only on a few coral islands in the Great Barrier Reef, extinct as of June 2016. It’s the remarkable but temporary upsurge in cephalopod populations in the world’s oceans. It’s my neighbor in suburban Michigan raking his front walk using a giant, gas-powered hairdryer. It’s the SUV holding steady as the most popular car in America. It’s the assassination of Berta Cáceres, the indigenous Honduran environmental rights activist, by a US-installed right-wing government. It’s the divestment movement. It’s #exxonknew.

Last year it was rail-thin polar bears moving south and mating with grizzlies to make bigger, tougher bears. It was mad mitigation hypotheticals about filling the sky with nanites to block out the sun a la Highlander II. It was tar sands. It was migratory bridges built for animals to cross highways in Europe. It was butterfly dieoffs. It was coral bleaching, ocean dead spots.

And these, of course, are only what I’ve heard about, from here in my comfortably passive-cooled, solar-paneled, hundred year old house in the water-rich, temperate (though momentarily droughted) Great Lakes State.

What I want to know is, what am I missing? What am I isolated from? What will it be like in a year? In two years? In five? Who will we be paying for the mistakes we’re still making today? What will get us to stop, and what flavor of too late will it be?

This is one of the purposes I want Reckoning to serve: as a milestone, something I can look back to from the future and remember what we thought was going to happen, where we were wrong, what has disappeared and what has gotten worse, what has been saved and what has gotten better.