15 Dec 10

An Adaptation Carol: A Climate Change Ghost Story


With apologies to Charles Dickens

Chapter 1: Stationarity’s ghost

Stationarity[1] was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of its burial was signed by the world’s climatologists, the United Nations, the leaders of most countries, and the general public who cared to look around.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? He, like many other people, was in complete denial about the reality of the situation.

Unfortunately, there was no doubt that Stationarity was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If it were not perfectly clear that Stationarity was dead and climate change real then thousands of scientists could go back to studying their original passions, politicians would have one less thing to argue about, and there would be no reason to write this tale—and even less for you to read it.

Which is why gentle reader, we now find Scrooge at his office on Christmas Eve, burning coal in his fire place, bundling derivatives of toxic mortgage assets and designing a municipal bond to build a new sewage treatment plant. As we join his story, his nephew has entered to bring him warm wishes.

“Season’s Greetings Uncle! I heard you are working on the new sewage treatment plant. I thought I’d come down and help you determine the type of system that will be needed given the new climatological conditions we expect during the lifetime of the treatment plant so we can create a bond for the right amount.”

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug! There is no such thing as climate change.”

“Climate change a humbug! You don’t mean that Uncle, surely you can not plan for the future by imagining the past.”

“Nephew, you plan in your way and I’ll plan in mine. Now be gone and let me do my job.”

With this his nephew became exasperated and left his uncle to his madness.

Returning to his home that night, Scrooge curled up in bed for a long rest. Presently the cellar door flung open loudly on the floor below and the clanging of chains came up the stairs toward his room. The door swung open and before him stood the ghost of Stationarity!

``Who are you?'' ask Scrooge.

``Ask me who I was.'' said the ghost.

``Who were you then.'' said Scrooge, raising his voice.

``In life I was your partner, Stationarity. You don't believe I died?'' observed the Ghost.

``I don't,'' said Scrooge.

The spirit shook its chains. “I am here tonight to let you know that you can avoid the trap of not incorporating changing climatic conditions into your work, but you must make the effort yourself. To help you overcome your stubbornness, you will soon be haunted by three spirits, Scrooge.”

The specter floated out upon the bleak, dark night.

Scrooge tried to say ``Humbug!'' but stopped at the first syllable and fell asleep.

Chapter 2: The First Ghost

Scrooge was awoken by the first ghost as it opened the curtains around his bed. “Who are you?” Scrooge asked.

“I am the ghost of climate past.”

“What is that suppose to mean?”

“It means that way things were.”

“And they aren’t that way anymore?”

“No. They are not. There was once snow in the winter, regularly spaced rain in the summer and floodplains over which excess rain could run. See I will show you.”

They walked out through the window and viewed the world of Scrooge’s past. Children sledded in the winter and crops grew in the summer with the help of sun and rain.

“But this is just what it is like now. You’ve just taken me out of doors and made it day,” protested Scrooge.

“I think that you should wait for the next two ghosts before you speak so certainly. Apparently your nose has been in your accounting books and not outside much of late,” said the Ghost of Climate Past.

Chapter 3: The Second Ghost

The first Ghost returned Scrooge to his bed chamber and no sooner did his head hit the pillow and he fall off to sleep then the second ghost arrived.

“Who are you?” barked Scrooge, “The Ghost of Why I’m Wrong?”

“What a silly name that would be. No, I am the Ghost of Climate Present. I can show you what the world is like now.”

“Oh very well,” said Scrooge, knowing there was no getting out of it.

The Ghost whisked him off into the world around him. He saw children with sleds but nary a patch of snow to sled on. He saw fishermen and farmers and power companies fighting over water in front of a half-dry river. He saw houses and road and sewage treatment plants flooded by winter rains that replaced the snow of the past.

“This is not what the world is like!” Scrooge declared.

“Sorry to say that it is,” said the Ghost.

Chapter 4: The Third Ghost

Again Scrooge was taken back to sleep and then awaken.

“Alright, take me out then,” Scrooge said as soon as the third ghost arrived. “I suppose you are the Ghost of Climate Future.”

“Indeed I am,” said the Ghost of Climate Future proud to have his reputation precede him.

He spirited Scrooge off to see the world of the future. Children did not even have sled because there was no longer any snow, and ceaseless winter rain kept them cooped up inside. The previously verdant fields of corn and wheat outside of Scrooge’s town were dry and barren, and many houses were abandoned. Buildings were on stilts and vast cities of the past were now half submerged under water.

“I need to take you to see something in particular,” said the Ghost.

“What is that?” asked Scrooge as they found themselves in front of a hulking piece of infrastructure, half flooded, half crumbling and fully abandoned.

“This is your sewage treatment plant.”

And indeed it was. The plaque on the door read his name “Scrooge Sewage,” but it had no signs of life or functionality.

“So they have become such an advanced society that new sewage treatment technology has replaced it?” inquired the now very tired man.

“No. It was abandoned because it was built on the floodplain, for water flow rates that were inaccurate when it was built and became more so as the climate of the region changed. The city tried to build a replacement a mere seven years after this one opened, but they were crushed by the debt of the paying back the old bond while trying to maintain services with temporary fix after fix. Eventually they had to abandon sewage treatment and most of the people left—many of them were farmers who had lost their livelihood anyway. The people who stayed live without centralized sewage treatment.”

Nearby, an old man stumbled out of a house that reeked of sewage. “Help me!” he cried, “My septic system has overflowed again!”

But there was no one to hear him or help him.

“Spirit, am I that man whose house smells so disgusting? I will change my ways! I will live the Past, Present, and Future!”

The spirit nodded, and slowly faded away.

The next Scrooge knew he was waking in his very own bed the next morning. He dressed, checked the functionality of his indoor plumbing, confirmed that there was still food in his kitchen and ran out into the streets where there was a dusting of snow and bands of children walking around looking up at the sky expectantly.

He continued on until he arrived at his nephew’s house. His nephew was out in the yard harvesting the last of his fall garden.

“Nephew,” he cried with hope in his voice, “Will you help me design the sewage treatment plant and its bond for the now and for the future? Not the past!”

His nephew invited him into his home, invited over a number of experts and interested member of the community and they created a plan that would work whatever climate change might bring.

The End.

[1] Stationarity: The idea that something does not change over time. For more on stationarity and climate change, see the paper that started the rage:

Milly, P.C.D., 2007, Stationarity is dead: Ground Water News & Views, Association of Ground Water Scientists and Engineers, v. 4, no. 1, p. 6, 8.


Recommended Citation

Adaptation Mavens. (2010, December). An Adaptation Carol: A Climate Change Ghost Story. Retrieved from CAKE (http://www.cakex.org/node/2701).