Above: native forest conversion to plantations, Tasmania, 2000
Above: Conversion of remnant native forest to plantation, New South Wales, 2020
Dear Mr Cadman,
Thank you for your letter of 31 July 2001 to Senator the Hon Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, regarding the establishment of plantations on native vegetation and the use of plantation and native forest timber for carbon sinks and renewable energy. The Minister has asked me to thank you for your letter and respond on his behalf. I apologise for the delay in my response.
The ongoing practice of clearing native vegetation for the establishment of forest plantations, particularly in Tasmania where some endangered forest communities are being replaced with plantations, is extremely worrying. These concerns have been raised with the Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment, and Commonwealth and Tasmanian officials recently held discussions to identify possible solutions. It is critical that this issue is reviewed during the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement’s 5-year review.
With regards to the establishment of plantations for carbon sinks, the Kyoto Protocol acknowledges the need to enhance and preserve carbon sinks as part of a package of actions by countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Progress towards agreement on rules for inclusion of sinks activities under the Protocol was achieved during the recent climate change negotiations in Bonn. The inclusion of land use, including forestry activities, is now recognised as a legitimate part of an effective response to climate change.
Article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol allows for afforestation and reforestation as eligible sinks activities. Reforestation will only be eligible on non forested land on which new forest plantations are established with an associated land use change. The currently agreed definition of reforestation only involves lands that did not contain a forest prior to 1990. New forests therefore must be established on land that was cleared before 1990 to be eligible.
Your concerns about claims by forestry companies on potential future income from carbon credits have been noted. As you may be aware, a national emissions trading system for greenhouse gases has not been introduced. However, consideration is being given to how a trading system could work and how it could incorporate carbon credits. If an international and/or national emissions trading system is established, those wishing to sell carbon credits from forests will need to verify that the forests meet Kyoto Protocol rules. As outlined above, any replacement of native forests by plantations clearly does not meet the requirements for sinks credits under Article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol also requires Parties to have in place, by no later than 2007, a national system for estimating anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks. Australia is investing considerable resources in the development of the National Carbon Accounting System, which will provide a measurement system of land-based activities and account for changes in land-based sources and sinks. Australia will use this system to verify the eligibility of forests under the Protocol.
In working towards its emissions target for the first commitment period (2008-2012) under the Protocol, Australia is undertaking a comprehensive greenhouse gas abatement approach. This approach is outlined in the National Greenhouse Strategy and includes tree planting and revegetation programs. Tree planting and revegetation programs can play a significant role as carbon sinks and there are strong synergies between these activities and the amelioration of other environmental problems such as salinity.
As you may be aware, there is a mandatory renewable energy target which places a legal liability on wholesale purchasers of electricity to proportionately contribute towards the generation of an additional 9,500GWh of renewable energy per year by 2010. With respect to your concerns regarding the use of wood and timber from native forests and plantations for the energy sector, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 (REE Act) provides the legislative framework for achieving the target.
While the REE Act allows for the use of forestry biomass, this is confined to the use of wood waste. The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Regulations 2000 specify appropriate safeguards to ensure that the measure will not act as an incentive to engage in unsustainable forestry harvesting regimes in order to supply biomass for electricity generation.
For electricity generation based on native forest products to be eligible under the REE Act and Regulations, forest harvesting must meet all relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory or local government requirements for ecologically sustainable forest management and must be able to demonstrate that harvesting was primarily to produce high value products, such as sawlogs, not woodchips or biomass for energy generation.
In accordance with Regulation 8(6)(b), eligible plantation wood waste must be biomass taken from land that was not cleared of native vegetation for the purpose of establishing the plantation after 31 December 1989.
I look forward to your continuing contribution to sustainable forest management throughout Australia.
I am writing to you in my capacity as Research Fellow in the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, with expertise in governance, environmental policy, sustainability, climate change and natural resource management.
I am sending this email to your other ministerial colleagues, individually, with the same content, as the issue I am bringing to your attention impacts all your portfolios and ministerial responsibilities and obligations.
This matter concerns the failures in the policy areas of planning, primary industry, and environment, and possibly impinges on much more serious issues of regulatory mismanagement.
For the past few months I have been investigating the clearance of native forest, old growth, rainforest, and threatened species within NSW State Forests, notably within areas approved by DPI as plantation. I have written to one or all of you, and your agencies over the last few months, but there appears to be a lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation.
My investigations have revealed that since the creation of the Plantation and Reafforestation Act (PRA) and associated Code of 1999 and 2010 significant areas of native vegetation have been alienated (converted) to plantations, amounting to hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of hectares across the public forest estate.
You are probably aware that the PRA and Code replaced previous laws and regulations regarding native vegetation management, and that the Act allows for the conversion of native vegetation inside plantation areas under certain conditions (‘limited circumstances’). You are probably also aware that under the Act there is no requirement for public consultation, that the onus of supervision and approval belongs to the Department of Primary Industry (and not the Environmental Protection Agency), and separates compliance under the PRA and Code from conformance with the Forestry Act and associated management planning processes.
What you are probably unaware of is the grey area under which this places the native vegetation within these areas. I am not referring to areas of native forest that in any other State would be referred to as silvicultural regrowth and classified as native forest, i.e. areas post-logging that have been seeded or sown (classified in NSW as plantation under the definition in the Act). Rather, I am talking about those areas of native vegetation which existed within plantation areas, or areas subsequently designated as plantations, which were never planted or sown, but which continue (or continued) to exist within the plantations, outside areas that were either seeded, sown, or planted.
My investigations in the hardwood plantations north of Sydney indicate that while these areas individually are small, in total they amount to a significant proportion of the plantation estate. In some individual plantation units they constitute as much as 20%, or more, of the total area, and in aggregate constitute extremely important and diverse natural habitats for many threatened plants and animals, as well as proving an important range of ecosystem goods and services that plantations in and of themselves, do not.
There is no easy way to say what is happening to these areas, so I must speak plainly. In short, these areas of fully functioning natural forests are being systematically removed under what amounts to little more than a legal fiction, and passed off as plantation timber, or removed, and not counted at all. And yet these areas exist, or existed. As you know, it is in such legal grey areas that integrity challenges exist, and can sometimes even be exploited, for commercial, or other, objectives.
Let me explain how this happening. Forestry applies to DPI to have an area approved as a plantation. DPI first checks that it sits within a designated plantable area, and that the plantation design takes the identified retained vegetation into account. The approval is given and the native vegetation not otherwise identified as retained becomes part of the planted forest. If the public becomes aware of the actual or potential loss of old growth, natural secondary forest, rainforest or rare and endangered plants and contacts the EPA, the EPA refers them onto DPI, at which point DPI responds by saying planned or approved activities are compliant with the Act. If the public then contacts forestry, forestry replies by saying that the area is a plantation, and all activities have been, or will be conducted in accordance with the Act and Code.
The area is then logged. And this is where things become particularly strange. Under the provisions which guide the harvest planning process maps are created, and provided to contractors. Contractors are expected to follow these plans, but if they don’t (such as a stream is crossed with heavy equipment, or old growth forest or rainforest is removed), this may be considered non-conformant with the plan, yet still compliant with the Act and Code. In effect, the standards which are expected to govern the management of natural forest inside the non-plantation (native forest) estate, somehow become weaker, or do not seem to apply; if the EPA is contacted, the complainant is referred to DPI, DPI responds by saying that the area is compliant with the Code, and FCNSW that forestry activities are consistent with plantation management and the Act. Meanwhile, threatened species have been impacted, water quality compromised, and old growth removed. If the logging activity is especially egregious forestry might discipline the harvest contractor, or if warned in advance by the public might identify this tree or that as ‘habitat’, but the end result is always the same: the natural forest is removed.
The timber taken from these areas then also falls into a grey area, which poses a serious integrity challenge, because it is not listed on the harvest plan. How can it be? The area is a plantation, and therefore a valuable species such as brushbox, or grey gum, or ironbark do not exist within it, and are not part of the identified species on the plan, because to do so would mean the area was not a plantation, but native forest, and subject to the provisions of the Forest Act and Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (CIFOA) process, and under the jurisdiction of EPA. Rather the native timber is logged, milled, and fed into the wood market, whether as plantation timber or otherwise, to be used for the boardroom tables of Sydney, housing in developments such as Mount Gilead (itself erstwhile Koala habitat), or – heaven forbid – as ‘residues’ for ‘Green’ power to burned for electricity generation: but who would know? And so round and round the public goes, if it tries to do anything about it.
Why does this matter? Apart from the obvious danger of timber substitution, or even more serious issues of forest governance and integrity, these areas are neither ‘ingrowth’ into plantation nor planted forest, a claim often made by the relevant agencies contacted. In most cases they are areas of natural forest that are part of the broader forest around the plantation estate. Removing this affects the broader forest, its ecological integrity, and the quality of habitat and other ecosystem services available. When the public shows the relevant agencies that the forest existed before and after the initial clearing for plantation establishment, the claim is invariably made that the forest in question was identified as ‘degraded’ and not required to be retained. Alternatively, under the Act, the argument goes, the area was less than one hectare, or no more than 10%, or offset. To make matters worse, forestry has the ability under the Act and Code to annex adjacent native forest, change plantation design, and ‘offset’ logged native forest (very often of an inferior quality to the forest removed, and available for logging subsequently, anyway).
In other words, rather than governing the retention and management of native vegetation, the PRA and Code have become the drivers of its removal, and instead of protecting this valuable asset, DPI and forestry are facilitating its destruction, and EPA looks the other way.
I am writing at such length because I believe you need to weigh up the risks associated with allowing forestry to ‘log to the quota in the Act.’ Rather than avoiding conversion, forestry is actively engaging in it, and there is a net loss of native forest, old growth and rainforest. In some instances, in some plantations there is more lost than permitted under the Act; investigations I have undertaken have demonstrated this. There are implications. The Forestry Corporation of New South Wales is certified to the Australian Forestry Standard of Responsible Wood Australia, and supplies companies who feed into the Forest Stewardship Council system, both of which have more stringent requirements than the Act and Code. Being sanctioned by these systems would not only look bad for FCNSW but the other agencies who allowed this happen, and the ministers and directors-general under whose instructions they operate. This would not make the plantation timbers of NSW or the estate itself at all attractive to investors, or possible future buyers, should the division ever be sold off. Indeed, the structure of the Hardwoods Division, which has made hardwood plantations and native forest indistinguishable, is a problem in itself. Conversion of native forest inside hardwood plantations also taints NSW softwood plantations, which of themselves may also constitute a similar risk-profile, given the existence of native vegetation inside these plantations as well.
In conclusion, I am advising you that whatever either DPI, or FCNSW, or EPA claim, the reality on the ground demonstrates that native vegetation is being cleared and converted to plantation, and there has now been a lot of ground-truthing to determine this, I can assure you. This forest is invariably contiguous to adjacent forest and rainforest, and not an isolated patch. But in order to comprehend that, it requires an understanding that these remnant cross plantation boundaries, and are part of a larger ecosystem; the plantation is the intrusion, and not the other way round.
I have prepared this advisory to help you better manage the plantation estate, and to ensure NSW practices sustainable forest management, which at present, in my opinion, it does not. I have given the same advice to DPI, EPA, FCNSW, RWA and FSC.
My recommendation is simple. Stop converting native vegetation inside plantations. Stop logging native timbers inside plantations. Stop designating individual native trees as ‘habitat’ and removing the rest. Put EPA back in charge of oversight and approval forest management, and change the Act and Code to explicitly exclude conversion, of any kind. All the while ‘limited’ circumstances’ remains in the rubric, forestry will exploit what is little more than a legal loophole.
I am not looking for the standard response that is likely to ensue should you pass this correspondence onto your agency. Please don’t bother yourself. I am looking rather for some critical reflection and understanding of the social, environmental, economic, and political implications of looking the other way, especially given the current circumstances in which the Government finds itself, and in the context of an upcoming election. But most importantly, I am asking you to give consideration to the importance of these forests in the light of the current climate, water and biodiversity crisis in which we find ourselves – and to take action to stop this invisible land-clearing.
I am at your disposal for a presentation, or to give further and advice and assistance, should you require it. This letter has been written to provide you every opportunity, having been advised, to mitigate this silent disaster.
Tim Cadman BA (Hons) MA (Cantab), PhD (Tasmania), Grad. Cert. Theol. (Charles Sturt)
Senior Research Fellow, Earth Systems Governance Project
Research Fellow, Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law
Adjunct Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland
Terry Pratchett was in Australia promoting his Discworld novels, Night Watch and the Carnegie Award-winning children’s book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. I caught up with him in the lobby of a hotel in Sydney .
TC: Why do you think Discworld has become such a phenomenal success?
TP: Any answer I give you is based on post-facto reasoning, and I always fall back on the line “don’t ask the man on the tightrope how he keeps his balance”, because after a while your body just keeps its balance and the last thing you want to do when walking the tightrope is think about keeping your balance. One fan wrote to me and said that reading the Discworld books is like being a member of an exclusive club that anyone can join. I’m not entirely certain what she meant, but it was a nice line. It’s successful, and it’s fantasy, which I think is a fairly accessible genre in any case, especially these days, but there’s a sufficiently healthy injection of reality – or at least something that can pass for it in a poor light – to make it interesting.
TC: Will you ever get tired of writing about it?
TP: Oh yeah, probably. If I do, I’ll stop, but that hasn’t happened yet.
TC: I read somewhere that you keep a journal when you’re on tour. Does that help?
TP: It certainly helps when I’m on tour, yes, and well, it helps for the next tour: “I won’t go back there again, they were a bad lot!” I make a few notes, it’s part of the discipline of the tour; who I was interviewed by and so on, but mainly because if I don’t do that life just becomes a porridge of slush. If I go to a hotel, I write that I’ve been there, although they all look exactly alike. “What can you remember about the hotel?” “Well, it had staircases.” It can be pretty bad sometimes, but I got the jet lag out of my system this time when I did the tour in New Zealand last week, but on, say, an American tour it’s another night, another hotel. You become completely detached from reality, which my wife points out when I get home. She keeps getting woken up in the middle of the night because she can hear me creeping about the room when I get up to go to the bathroom – and I’m completely lost, scrabbling at cupboard doors. “That’s the wardrobe. Left! Left!” “Oh, right, there’s the handle!”. It can screw you up for some time when you’re travelling. You become quite focussed on what you’re doing but when you look back at it, it becomes a blur. My first visit to Australia was in 1990 and I’ve come an awful lot since then, it must be my seventh or eighth visit, plus the fact that we also come to Australia on holiday. In fact famously on one occasion I bought a pair of trousers and left them to be shortened and when we came back three months later, I picked them up and thought I was so cool, “Hey, he comes to Australia to get his trousers!”
TC: You have written some science fiction but fantasy is clearly your medium. Is there a reason for this?
TP: It depends. I’ve done a lot of interviews today and people are even disagreeing as to whether Discworld is fantasy. One lady said, “It’s fantasy for everybody else”. No, that’s not right, what was it? That’s it. She said “fantasy for the rest of us”.
TC: You mean versus Tolkien and the latter-day fantasy mush that’s out there?
TP: I would like the record to state that you said mush. In a sense Tolkien doesn’t count because he stands outside the genre. There are plenty of people that read Tolkien but wouldn’t pick up a fantasy novel on the end of a pair of tongs. I suppose in a sense that Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a bit like ‘Sci-Fi for the rest of us’.
TC: I’m sure you’re pleased with the success of your created world, but do you ever worry that it will run away from you, or that you will lose, say, editorial control?
TP: There’s no sign of me losing editorial control, so I don’t quite see how that can happen. In fact, a little more editorial control would be welcome.
TC: I suppose I’m thinking, going back to Tolkien, of the controversy that has occurred with the release of The Lord of the Rings movies, and the various plastic figurines and movie-related merchandise that has come out, all of which he would have despised.
TP: OK, but the significant point there is that he is dead. Classically, that is not a period of your life where you have much say in what happens. After my death, who knows, but while I’m alive it’s mine, and it stays mine. There isn’t anything out there that I haven’t said either yes to, or in most cases had some involvement in. You know about the various CDs and games that have come out, but it’s actually quite small stuff, you can walk down the street and never know there was any Discworld merchandise; it’s not in your face, it’s for fairly keen people that want to locate it.
TC: For all your humour there is clearly a serious and even moral side to many of your books, and your latest novels Night Watch and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents are no exception. Is this incidental to your plot and character development, or are you consciously using humour to get a deeper message across?
TP: I think – soggy as it sounds – the whole thing moves forward as one thing. It’s probably true since it’s inception Discworld has got shall we say a little more gravity and a little less levity, although the humour is still there. But I would say that certainly the humour of Night Watch is in places more of the style of M.A.S.H or Catch 22 than the lightweight stuff of The Colour of Magic or The Light Fantastic. Partly that’s because I’m a better writer now and because of the nature of the situation. I mean, you can be funny about big wars involving thousands of people, but when you’re dealing with, for example, a secret police, to suggest that they use soft cushions and comfy chairs makes a very good Monty Python sketch, but in a book, the page would just crack in half, you can’t do that, and you’re betraying people if you do. The situation is dark and desperate and you’ve got to portray that, certainly for a character like Vimes. If I was writing for Rincewind, he’s always got a way out, he’s always going to run away, but Vimes has got to deal with things and you’ve got to make it serious; you have to have the darkness so that the light shows through.
TC: If we stay with this idea in The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents for example, do you really care about the rights of rodents, or are we to read something more into it about human rights and animal exploitation?
TP: It is interesting that we routinely inflict on rats the kind of tortures, which would have a medical research facility burnt to the ground if they were inflicted on mice. It’s absolutely true; we use poisons that effectively burn rats alive from the inside out, so I suppose I care as much for their rights as Richard Adams cares for the rights of rabbits.
TC: I was particularly struck by your observation that Ankh-Morpork is “not a city but a process”. Is this a comment on the nature of industrial civilisation?
TP: I’m glad you liked that bit, because I’ve always thought that. For that part of the book I actually undertook some research into what a city – in this particular case, with a population of half a million people – would need in a day. I got hold of some research about medieval food requirements, adjusted this for Ankh-Morpork and added a bit. In fact, yes, we don’t realise how our own civilisation works; for example, what’s the size of Sydney?
TC: About five million people.
TP: Multiply all those figures I gave you by a factor of ten, and all that food has to come in on a daily basis. All those lobsters, all that pepper, all that stuff; it has to keep coming in, and there’s one hell of a lot of it if you think about it.
TC: You seem fairly pessimistic regarding our own human and planetary condition, yet good often triumphs over evil in Discworld – even if by accident. Do you think Discworld is doomed like our own planet?
TP: Yes. We’re doomed, we continue to be doomed, and we go on being doomed for century after century; we have actually turned being doomed into a state of normality. In terms of Night Watch where you’re obviously drawing a lot of this from, one fan objected to the darkness of central part of the book, compared to the beginning and end, which is set in bright, sunlit, modern-day Ankh-Morpork. But it’s actually run by a dictator, admittedly a democratic dictator – he’s the man who got the votes – but Vetinari maintains power by letting people do pretty much what they like and takes the consequences. He doesn’t mind if you rock the boat, just don’t drill holes in the bottom. It’s interesting that in contrast to the old-fashioned Ankh-Morpork I’ve described, the modern-day Ankh-Morpork looks like a sort of liberal, pleasant place to live! I don’t think it’s a case of good triumphing over evil, because that rather suggests that there is some kind of white figure on a horse for good, and another for evil. What actually happens is that people find a way to survive and accommodate things.
TC: You’re on the record as saying that your writing is influenced by moderately current affairs. How do you think the current situation might affect your future work?
TP: I don’t know, but I won’t invent some psychopath in a dress or anything like that – that’s just too crass. It’s more a way of thinking. It’s just as well that we do think about the situation we’re in and the things we have done. We live like gods, certainly by the standards of many people and generations. Most people in what might be loosely termed the western world don’t only have enough to eat, but all together far too much and kinds of freedoms no one dreamt about 300 years ago – access to just about all the music ever written, access to more or less every movie ever made, we are awash with stuff – and I’m not necessarily saying we shouldn’t be, but we should be aware, and locate ourselves in time and space and understand a bit of history and a bit of geography and world politics. This is not a revolutionary concept.
TC: You published your first short story when you were fifteen. Do you have any tips for aspiring young writers?
TP: Actually I was 13 when my first short story was accepted and I was 15 when it was published. It took time mainly because the editor of the magazine, John Carnell, more or less just bought stuff and eventually put it in the magazine when there was a hole of the right length. I started writing my first novel when I was 17, and it wasn’t published until I was 22 I think, but again that was because it took the publisher more than a couple of years to fit it into his schedule. As far as I was concerned it was no big deal, I was just having some fun.
TP: Yeah, get another job, but everyone says that. In my case I found that a job in journalism did help, but even then it’s possible that if the writing hadn’t taken off I would have gone on being a journalist that wrote the occasional book, and I’d now be looking hopefully towards the possibility of early retirement, something which I doubt is going to happen to me now. But journalism helped, and I know a lot of authors that it did, and I think you’d find quite a large number of popular authors – certainly male popular authors – were journalists. It knocks off the rough edges and you don’t get scared of the blank paper. You know, it’s the obvious stuff. Plus you get to see different kinds of people, get into different kinds of situations and see lifestyles that you’re not entitled to, that sort of thing, so that helps. But the other thing is that before you write, you have to learn to read and I mean read a lot and try and understand what you’re reading. I get a lot of kids who want to write fantasy, but what they’ve read is lots of fantasy, and I say that’s a recipe for disaster. All you’re really going to do is recycle what you’ve read, whereas if you read history you’ll get on the way to reading enough stuff that you can cherry pick what you want. What I’m really saying is get an education. Unfortunately, the school system is not set up to get you an education; it’s set up on the whole to get you through exams, so really it’s up to you to supplement, shall we say, the basic ration.
TC: Do you think fantasy will ever become a “respectable” genre? What do you think it would take to become one?
TP: Serious question: what is a respectable genre? What makes it respectable?
TC: Probably because it’s on the shelf marked “Literature”.
TP: Interesting. I’ve said before that I once went into a bookshop that had all the works of Margaret Attwood on the shelf marked “Literature” except The Handmaid’s Tale which is “soft” science fiction, not about ray guns, but that was in the SF section. Iain Banks is a guy that worries bookshops because they don’t know where to put him – sometimes his non-SF stuff reads like SF and I don’t think Ian gives a stuff about it, and good on him for that – but it won’t be on the [literature shelf] because of cherry-picking. Tolkien is kind of OK now, because he was successful and made publishers a lot of money. In the same way people have been making comments when they interview me that “it’s not really like fantasy writing, because it’s fantasy for the rest of us”. What we’re seeing here is actually: “OK, we think you might be good, so we’re going to cut you away from the herd, so then you’re not really a fantasy writer.” There’s a saying you must have heard, “If it’s science fiction it can’t be good, if it’s good it can’t be science fiction”. I just say: “I’m a fantasy writer, live with it. If it’s not what you think fantasy writing is, I suggest you broaden your horizons.”
TC: A personal question coming from my environmentalist background. Are you still doing your work with The Orang-utan Foundation? Is that your main conservation interest?
TP: Basically, what they do is get money from me sometimes. They get the proceeds of the Discworld plays, and I think that’s great, it’s a nice continuous earner. In terms of conservation interests yes, but we have other more traditional charitable interests. The question is, did I want it like this? I don’t know, I got it like this. The Orang-utan thing was purely by accident. I was gaining money by giving talks and things and I thought “I don’t really need this, but I think I should be paid”. It seemed logical that I should, because what people don’t pay for isn’t worth anything and so I funnelled it off to The Orang-utan Foundation because the Discworld librarian is one. Up to that point like everyone else I thought of Orang-utans as rather flabby, funny apes.
TC: Finally, do you feel you have an opportunity with your books to spread a message? It strikes me that many authors care very deeply about many things and they use their books as a platform, in a sense. Is that the same for you?
TP: Yes, but I wouldn’t own up to it. “Gosh, I feel very strongly about this” is a writer’s recipe for disaster, but there are ways perhaps of gently steering the way people think about things.
I can hardly believe it. After starting a small novella in the early 2000s, it’s almost time to say goodbye to characters that have become as close to me as family. Who would have thought a #Clifi story first penned in 2003, before the genre even had a name, would have foreseen #Trump, #CoronaVirus, #Brexit, or (yet to come to pass) the #BritishRepublic? The impact of devastating #bushfires, #floods and #typhoons were still to be felt and the very notion of #ClimateChangeDisplacement nonexistent. In writing a story about #ClimateChange I thought I was processing the trauma of my life as an #activist, not writing a plan for surviving the next 100,000 years. Yet here it is. I lost friends, publishers and loved ones along the way. Do I regret it? No. In the end, it is the story inside all of us, that is constantly, insistently, forcing its way out, telling truth to power: you cannot stop #TheChanges. It is too late. Do not despair. Hope is an action, not an emotion, and we can all make a difference in what is to come.
Among the following drivers behind the decline of the land-based net carbon sink, which are the most important in your view
Please rate from 5 (most important) to 1 (least important).
Natural disturbances (weather events, fires, pest outbreaks…) that are caused or accelerated by climate change
Unsustainable land management practices impacting carbon stocks and sinks
Increase in wood harvests
Slowdown in forest growth due to their age
Slowdown in afforestation and reforestation activities
Conversion of carbon-rich land (deforestation, draining of wetland or peatland), land take and soil sealing (expansion of built-up and artificial areas
Use of biomass for bio-energy instead of long-lived products
Other: Loopholes under the old Kyoto protocol, and equating ‘like with like’ after land use change. A field of corn is NOT a forest, and does not have the same structure and function in regulating climate. Europe must stop seeing forests as ‘crops’: whatever the historical reasons for the drastic simplification of Europe’s forests, they are now a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, not a sink. Land managers are encouraged to simplify them, through forestry for bio-energy, wood-production, conversion to tree cropping and plantations. This is completely the wrong approach to land use, land use change, and forestry. Forests must be taken out of the LULUCF equation, and restored. Wood production should be only on previously cleared land, as an actual (clearly defined) cultivated crop, like any other. The confusion at the moment is harming forests, and encouraging other developing countries to turn their own forests into a version of Germany, Finland, etc.
Among these potential EU policy approaches to promote climate change mitigation in land-related sectors, which do you think are the most relevant to achieve a higher climate ambition in 2030?
EU sets national targets which Member States can achieve in different ways (e.g. Common Agricultural Policy, national forest policies, other national policies)
An improved EU framework on monitoring, reporting and verifying emissions and removals
Reinforce the creation of relevant EU datasets (e.g. dedicated Copernicus service)
EU labels for climate-neutral products or climate footprints
EU taxes or subsidies
EU market-based policies (e.g. the use of emissions trading for land-related sectors)
EU policies to promote more sustainable and healthier diets
Other: This is completely the wrong kind of thinking. The EU mentality is to look at land as a place for economic production. It’s not. It’s a place where nature prevails. The natural world is essential to planetary survival, and regulating climate change. At the moment rampant development of all varieties (mining, agriculture, urban expansion) are eroding Europe’s natural capital. The best way to mitigate climate change in the EU is to stop managing forests, let them expand and regrow. Natural ecosystems such as wetlands must be protected, and there should be no further human encroachment into the natural world. Cities should be greened, to reduce their emissions of heat and gasses, public transport should be mandated, and the urban environment used for the cultivation of food and fibre. This is all possible; there just has to be the political will. The people will not follow if the leaders do not lead.
An important function of the land is to supply bio-based and renewable materials (wood, ligno-cellulosic products, bio-plastics, bio-chemicals, etc…) that can substitute fossil-based and non-renewable materials. In addition, the LULUCF rules recognise long-lived wood products (e.g. those used in the construction sector) as a form of temporary carbon storage.
What is the best policy approach to harness this substitution effect and carbon storage potential?
Promote carbon storage in wood products via a modification of the LULUCF rules
Promote carbon storage in wood products via carbon farming approaches (e.g. using wood products in the construction sector leads to issuing carbon credits that can be sold on voluntary carbon markets)
Promote carbon storage in wood products via tax incentives or financial support
Support for research and innovation into more sustainable production of woody biomass and more sustainable use of wood-based materials, products and by-products
Training (e.g. for land managers, engineers, architects) and awareness raising
Other: The land is not a mine for products to be turned into things to the role that simply allowing natural processes to function effectively will do. You cannot ‘store’ carbon in wood, or plastics. Eventually they break down and become atmospheric pollutants. The only way to ‘store’ carbon is to main natural ecosystem structure and function. Forests function perfectly well as atmospheric regulators if they are left alone to achieve their true ecological productivity. There is more carbon in an ancient forest than any other kind, by orders of magnitude. Consequently, restoring Europe’s natural environment and its biodiversity will combat climate change. Therefore, and land use activity around production and consumption for human needs should take place within the urban context; not the land, not the waters. There is plenty of room, only the thinking is missing, because the policy settings are the wrong way round.
In which areas should the EU focus efforts to enhance carbon sinks and protect carbon stocks?
Afforestation, reforestation, forest restoration
Agro-ecology and agro-forestry
Bioenergy coupled with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)
Soil carbon increase in agricultural lands
Protection and restoration of wetland and peatland ecosystems
Carbon storage in long-lived wood-based materials and products
Other: Bio-energy carbon capture and storage epitomises the muddle-headed thinking that seeks to ‘develop’ its way out of a problem created by excessive production and consumption. One of the original proponents in the early 2000s has subsequently claimed it was envisioned only as a backstop under an extreme climate scenario should ambitious emissions reductions prove unfeasible, in the context of commensurate broad-scale forest restoration and replanting, and as a risk management option – not as a regular emissions reduction pathway (Hickman, 2016). Biomass energy was wrongly promoted as an emissions-reducing technology by the IPCC in 2005, and incorrectly sponsored by the European Union in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). The result is a policy environment in which forests have become the crucible for conflicting management imperatives oof bioenergy creation, climate change mitigation and sustainability (Lindstad et al., 2015; Torvanger, 2019).
How should more ambitious climate action in land-related sectors be financed?
Subsidies (e.g. Common Agricultural Policy or national policies)
Higher product prices (e.g. via label mechanisms that allow producers to set a higher price)
A dedicated EU or national fund
Revenues from selling land-based carbon credits
Other: None of these approaches will work, because the fundamental premiss is that the land should be used for producing commodities. It is the production of commodities that has got us into the situation we are now in: more manufactured materials than total planetary biomass (Elhacham et al, 2020), and humans 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals (Bar-On et al 2018). All public finance and fiscal instruments should be geared to resource recovery from land fill, urban self-sufficiency (energy, food, fibre, water), supporting land managers to revert lands and waters to natural ecosystem structure and function, and education and training for national populations to commence The Great Restoration. Any more subsidies, products, funds or credits that encourage production (e.g carbon offsets from monocultures) should be abandoned. These have done more harm than good, and resulted in perverse incentives like biomass energy (e.g. Drax) which is deforesting the southern US states.
Part II: Overall policy approach
Which is your preferred policy approach to revise the LULUCF Regulation in view of the increased 2030 climate ambition?
Strengthen the current LULUCF Regulation and increase its ambition in line with the 2030 Climate Target Plan.
Strengthen the flexibility with the Effort Sharing Regulation.
Combine the emissions from agriculture and LULUCF sectors into a single climate policy pillar with a separate target.
Other: 1) Go back to the climate negotiations and negotiate an end to LULUCF, which was only ever designed to allow the continuation of unsustainable commodity production when the evidence was clear that consumption reduction is the only way to avoid damaging greenhouse gas emissions. 2) Remove forests from this equation. They cannot be equated like for like with agricultural commodities. 3) Focus ambition on restoring the natural world, which is the only method that can safely reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 4) Abandon all ideas of ‘climate engineering’ before they become entrenched, and thereby lock humanity into ‘techno fixes’ that encourage business as usual, such as BECCS, and negative emissions technologies including carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. 5) Develop a truly effective and implementable deep decarbonisation pathway for the EU, including all fossil fuel subsidies. 6) Invest in renewable energy technologies from recovered materials. That’s ambition.
Part III: Setting more ambitious rules for the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry sector
The land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) Regulation sets out rules to ensure that only human-induced changes in the net carbon sink are taken into account in the achievement of climate targets (so-called ‘accounting rules’). For instance, the rule for existing forests (which are by far the largest component of the LULUCF sector) is to only take into account changes in the net carbon sink with respect to the sink that would have occurred under the continuation of past management practices; this baseline is called a Forest Reference Level.
If, after the application of these rules, the net sink is larger than in the accounting baseline, Member States generate credits which can be used to achieve national emission reduction targets under the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR); if, instead, it is smaller, Member States generate debits. Member States have committed, under the current legislation, to not creating any debits (“no-debit rule”) – if they do, the other ESR sectors must make a bigger climate effort to compensate for these debits and achieve the national climate targets.
This approach is now being reviewed to make it fit for the higher 2030 climate target of at least -55% and a climate neutral EU in 2050.
In your opinion, should there be more stringent targets for the LULUCF sector?
Yes, there should be more stringent targets than the current “no-debit” rule
No, continue with the current no-debit rule
Other: Again, the wrong question. There should only be climate mitigation activities in the land sector. The EU needs to restore the land, and stop confusing post-war ‘afforestation’ with restoration. Although Europe’s forest cover has increased since 1900, much of these forests have become commercial forests for wood production, and there is a confusion between natural forests (which contribute to global ecosystem structures and functions for climate regulation and other services) and plantations (which are crops, for commodities). The two are not the same. Consequently, all previous forest areas, pre-industrial revolution, need to be restored. This applies for wetlands, and other land and water-systems. If the EU continues current agricultural technologies it will push the land to exhaustion, and will not be able to meet its targets. Abandon the LULUCF sector. We live in a post-industrial age: remediate abandoned factories; produce sustainable commodities in the urban context.
In case there would be national targets for the LULUCF sector, what criterion should these targets be based on?
The Member State’s wealth (GDP per capita)
The Member State’s potential to increase the net sink in a cost-efficient way
A percentage increase compared to the Member State’s past net sink
A percentage increase compared to the Member State’s net sink in a baseline that is specific to each land use category (historic baseline for agricultural land, the Forest Reference Level for existing forests)
The Member State’s share of agricultural land, forest land and wetland
Other: The only target for the land use sector should be its removal, and the deep decarbonisation of commodity production. Reference levels should be based on how much land has been converted to non-natural purposes, and restoring the original landscape to those levels. The EU should adopt a target that is below zero emissions, and where urban lands have encroached into natural systems, those areas should engage in carbon-negative production systems to take account of the initial loss of climate-mitigating ecosystem structure and function, subsequent industrial emissions, and post-industrial emissions. Historical cultural sites of agricultural production should be retained as World heritage properties, or similar, and be carbon-negative. This is not about member states’ capacities, or interests, it’s about the survival of the EU (and humanity) as a functioning polity in the context of planetary thresholds and climatic tipping points: we have reached the point of no return. The future is now.
In the current LULUCF Regulation, emissions and removals from existing forests are compared to a Forest Reference Level. The concept of reference levels was chosen to ensure a smooth transition from a similar concept under the Kyoto Protocol. Should the EU continue with the reference level concept?
Yes, continue to compare the net sink from existing forests to a Forest Reference Level which is based on the continuation of past management practices
Yes, continue to use Forest Reference Levels, but harmonise the methodology to establish them across Member States
No, compare the net sink in existing forests to a historic baseline (“net-net” accounting); such a baseline corresponds to a larger sink than the Forest Reference Level.
No, take into account the entire net sink in existing forests, without comparing it to any baseline (“gross-net” accounting)
Among these options to reinforce the LULUCF monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) rules, which are your preferred ones?
Use more precise emission factors or emission modelling (i.e. tier 2 or tier 3)
Use high resolution and wall-to-wall satellite imagery to identify where land use change happens
Make the uptake of up-to-date data and advanced reporting methodologies a precondition for flexibilities with other sectors
Introduce new requirements to report estimates for all carbon pools and greenhouse gases
Reinforce biodiversity, ecosystem and adaptation considerations into the reporting requirements
Other: None. LULUCF must be abandoned; if it is not the planet will be locked into a perpetual cycle of continual emissions from the land sector (until the climate system collapses), rather than the natural carbon neutral cycles implicit in natural ecosystems. LULUCF has resulted in countries engaging in ‘smoke and mirrors’ accounting by assuming forestry is carbon neutral (‘the trees regrow’), when it is always carbon negative (unless the forest is allowed to return to its primary, natural state, and maintained as such). By removing commodity production from the land, and undertaking production in the urban context (where there is plenty of space, person power, infrastructure, and capacity to do so) there will be no need land -sector MRV, only accounting of natural carbon cycles.
Part IV: Links between land use and agriculture
EU climate policy covers emissions from agricultural land use under the LULUCF Regulation, and methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural activities under the Effort Sharing Regulation. There is some flexibility between these two Regulations: if a Member State generates LULUCF credits, they can use them to achieve their Effort Sharing target.
The Commission estimates that the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors, taken together (referred to as “AFOLU” in the technical jargon, and as “the land sector” in the following), could achieve climate neutrality already in 2035. The de facto very close link between agriculture activities and land use is sometimes used as an argument for integrating them more strongly in the climate policy architecture. Conversely, other stakeholders may consider that it is necessary to maintain a separation between emissions from agriculture and removals from the land sector.
How should the architecture of EU climate policy be designed when it comes to agriculture and land use?
Continue to include agricultural non-CO2 emissions under the Effort Sharing Regulation; continue to allow for the use of LULUCF credits in the Effort Sharing Regulation up to the current limit.
Continue to include agricultural non-CO2 emissions under the Effort Sharing Regulation; increase the possibility to use LULUCF credits in the Effort Sharing Regulation, independent of a change to Effort Sharing Regulation target levels.
Continue to include non-CO2 agricultural emissions under the Effort Sharing Regulation; increase the possibility to use LULUCF credits in the Effort Sharing Regulation, but only in case Effort Sharing Regulation targets are increased.
Create a new policy strand, which covers agricultural non-CO2 and land use emissions together.
Other: This is precisely why the EU (and the climate negotiations) around land are in such a mess. Industrial agricultural commodity production generates emissions, from the activity itself (soil disturbance), and inputs (fertilisers, fossil fuels). The act of clearing land, historically, and currently, for commodity production (from fields of wheat to solar farms) also generated, and generate, emissions. Trying to account for this, instead of accepting the modern farming practices are inherently unsustainable and together with forestry account for 20% of global emissions, is futile. These accounting methods lock in anthropogenic land use change, instead of encouraging restoration. There seems to be a belief that humans can keep what they are doing to the land (only better, usually understood as more efficiently), and no alternative. There is. The majority of humans now live in cities. These areas can, must, and will, ultimately, become the main locality for production. Or we’re gone.
In case there were to be a single policy strand covering emissions from the land sector (agriculture, forestry and other land use), should there then be a specific target for this sector?
Yes, there should be an EU-wide target, and then Member States should be required to ‘pledge’ their contribution to this target
X Yes, there should be legally-binding national targets
In case there were to be national targets for the land sector (agriculture, forestry and other land use), what criterion should these targets be based on?
The importance of land-related activities in the Member State’s economy
The Member State’s potential to achieve climate neutrality in the EU land sector in a cost-efficient way
A percentage increase compared to the Member State’s past emissions and removals from the land sector
The Member State’s share of agricultural land, forest land and wetland
Other: Member state’s share of agricultural land, forest land and wetland by area cleared, and amount in need of restoration, less land lost to urban settlement, which is compensated by negative-zero carbon reducing technologies for commodity production, transport and other infrastructure within those urban areas.
View interview in which Debbie Lee and author Tim Cadman (research academic, environmental activist and author of “The Changes” trilogy) discuss the epic work involved in writing an epic. In Tim’s fictitious world, climate change acts as chief protagonist, idiot presidents are breaking up the US, Europe is imploding, and a catastrophic viral outbreak is wreaking havoc. Be drawn into a vortex where fiction and reality bizarrely collide, and hear about the process of writing and the lessons learnt. Tim’s live Facebook event is 7.30 pm on 12 June 2020. Be sure to tune in.
Here’s the launch itself to get you started; you might like to watch it beforehand.
There is a free promotion April 25-28 on the Kindle Boxed Set (contains Refuge, Rescue and Return in a revised edition with a glossary and list of characters). With the Kindle at USD $2.53 for over 700 conventional book pages, it’s a bargain even if you miss the sale.
Volume 3 Return, in hard copy is now available as well (also with glossary and dramatis personae).
Here are just some of the reviews for Volume 1 (Refuge) and Volume 2 (Rescue):
“The first in a larger series of cli-fi stories, Mr Cadman in Australia has written a start book that should light a fire worldwide. I’m looking forward to all the books in the series to follow. Bravo!”
“Cadman’s clear sense of the UN policy arena comes through in this fascinating novel. The characters are not only compelling, but they each represent some facet of the actual terrain of the impacts of climate change. While this is intended to be science fiction, there is much that we can learn from “The Changes” about our possible future–and, indeed, current reality.”
“I loved the first book. It was a great story, had great characters and most importantly it made you think; about yourself and humanity. As the story continues in the second volume all these same attributes are further developed; and twisted around your ethical bone until you will question everything. Looking forward to the story continuing.”
Marie-Claude was no longer the manic obsessive she had been in the last stages of her career as Executive Secretary. Her exile had been a blessing in disguise, and with Blanchflower and Major Armstrong to keep her company, she gradually became more of the person she had been before her breakdown. The dedication to reuniting the displacees with their families remained, but it was tempered by a greater recognition of her own needs, and the needs of those with whom she shared her tiny world, now renamed Cloister Farm.
Jack had joined her shortly after her recovery; UNSAP was a thing of the past, as were the shuttles, and he was lonely without her. Feeling sorry for him, she made the mistake of asking him to help her in the office, where predictably, he was an absolute disaster. Blanchflower had come to the rescue, suggesting over dinner one night that if they were going to be more than a farm in name only, perhaps he might like to help? Jack gladly accepted, taking charge of cropping, and curiously, beekeeping. Marie-Claude couldn’t help commenting that he looked like an astronaut when he put on his bee-suit. With no tractor it was hard going to turn the ground, but he had not worked his way through the ranks by sitting on his hands, and he enjoyed being outdoors. The grain and the honey both went to make Jack’s bourbon, which, given the man’s drinking habits, was all the incentive he needed to become a full-time farmer.
She played no further role in military affairs, except to take part in a holo-link conference at the farm arranged by Blanchflower in the immediate aftermath of the WorldCON surrender. She did not see or hear from Captain Branksome for some time after that, suspecting he thought she was being derelict in her duty. This was something that would have mattered to her old self, but not anymore; he would visit when he was ready. As soon as she returned from earth, Lt Stein re-entered the simulation and stopped communicating with her, although Marie-Claude did get an account of her activities from Cordwell.
The priest took it upon himself to write her regular epistles every decade or so, detailing the various dilemmas that he was obliged to confront as WorldCON’s chief negotiator, now the colonies were gone. It was good to be kept informed, she supposed, and although she occasionally responded to his missives, she never offered him advice. She missed her old friend the Professor from Colony Four far more, and was always pleased to get one of his detailed reports on his wildlife projects.
Bordeianu visited occasionally. This was a serious commitment, as it meant expending real life-hours to exit the one scenario, physically re-connecting the capsule to the Cloister Farm sub-systems, and repeating the process to return. The systems analyst even went so far as to create a new visualisation of The Repository for her when the need arose. Ms Gupta did not visit, and Marie-Claude did not ask after her, nor did the systems analyst speak of her unless necessary. Like Madé, she was one person she would no doubt have to meet one day, and she was not yet ready to confront either of them.
Peters made the most substantive contribution to her own efforts, and over the years they developed a good working relationship. Communicating via terminal was not particularly useful, given the difference between real-time and virtual, so he visited by holo-link whenever he discovered anything useful. She found their exchanges worked best if she continued to treat him as the slightly bumbling but well-intentioned Cultural Retrieval officer she had first met in Geneva-Four, however significant a position he now occupied on earth. He was particularly concerned to secure her assistance in his own efforts to recover the original identities of the mysterious Comrades, and servitor-zombies that Gruber had created. Central had deliberately kept no records, and together they began to piece together who had been where, and done what, in those dark times. There were also thousands of flimsies in the Basel archive, incomplete and in total disarray, but they were nevertheless useful for adding to or confirming the data Marie-Claude had already.
One major disappointment in her life was the lack of communication from Trappinski. He had attended the initial post-colonial holo-link, and she had expected him to stay in contact, but she neither saw nor heard from him after that. She had always considered him a friend, and was hurt by his apparent indifference to her existence. As a scientist, however, he had always been more attached to their research than people. Trappinski had little to no empathy for others, and she had learned the danger of fixating on problems she could not solve, so she acknowledged her feelings, accepting he would get in touch with her if and when he needed to.
Meanwhile, she got on with her own undertakings. The longer she worked in the office, the more familiar she became with her subject-matter, and she began to see her task as one of detective work, focussed more on finding the connections between individuals, and worrying less about daily targets. In this way, one single record could be linked to many others, and only one positive identification was enough to lead to many more as the work progressed. As the years passed, the number of individuals she reunited with their families became thousands, over the decades, tens of thousands, by the end of the first century, hundreds of thousands, and at the end of the first millennium, millions. As the numbers grew with the years, more and more displacees became aware of Marie-Claude, not as the Executive Secretary, but as Madame Bertillon. The dissonance grew between their memories of the tyrant who had condemned a billion refugees to the moon, and the woman who brought families together.Since her recovery, and his ascension to sentience, she and Blanchflower had become friends. Her therapy sessions were replaced by co-counselling, and they would share thoughts and feelings, both gaining from the exchange; emotions were new to Blanchflower, and Marie-Claude had spent many years supressing hers.
Waking up was disorienting. It was dark and he was rocking gently. Familiar with the sensation, he began to piece together his previous movements. He had been in Colony One, on the transcontinental express, after visiting Camp Hope. He had gone there with Herr Niemand to gain more recruits for the revolution. Something had happened on the train. His memory was still fuzzy and he was unable to recall what. He felt odd, as if everything he was experiencing was not quite real. He sat up, hitting his head on the top bunk.
It was enough to knock him to his senses. He was in the simulation. With a stab of recollection, he also knew he had been with Shanti – in real life. A familiar sense of claustrophobia threatened to take control. The blackness pressed in on him as if he were trapped in a malfunctioning capsule. Panicking, he fumbled around for the light.
Regarding him impassively from the opposite bunk was the old man.
“Is that you, Niemand? You frightened me.”
“There are worse things to fear. I am glad to see you are back in the land of the living. I had begun to think there was a malfunction in your interface with the simulation.”
Seeing the construct was a relief and a disappointment, confirmation that he was back in Colony One.
“This is hardly the land of the living.”
“Perhaps not, but it is the best place for you right now. Your diagnostics went offline. You have been lying there for more than two days. We are not far from Berlin.”
“Shanti got me out, can you believe it? I met her – actually met her. We tried to get a tug to reach the shuttles and escape, but I was too weak. I collapsed in the tug hangar at Port Freedom. I don’t know what happened after that.”
“You were in a coma. It appears that you remained that way until you were patched back into the simulation. Even then you took a while to stabilise. Without re-encapsulation, you would most likely be dead. Your extraction was almost fatal.”
“I saw my body. The tug accident all those years ago; it’s made me a cripple. A limp in here is nothing compared to what I am like out there. And Shanti is so much older than me. How can we ever be together? Everything is a mess.”
Sitting on the edge of the bunk, he cradled his head in his hands, miserable.
“You are being overly melodramatic. Your companion is extremely resourceful. She’s waiting for us at the terminus.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I suggest you lie back down and listen.”
Despite his confusion, Madé complied. His recent experience had left him physically and mentally drained. The construct explained the rapid turn of events in Colony One. The preparations they had put in place over the past months had paid off. As soon as it became apparent that the scenario was nothing more than a simulation populated with constructs and displacees in capsules, the Sons and Daughters of Freedom had coordinated mass marches and street blockades. Captain Kiriov, Martin and the other conspirators that Madé had recruited also played their part, organising strikes and walkouts from WorldCON facilities, making the process of governing impossible. In a few days the whole colony had fallen into complete disarray. For the most part, their people had been well disciplined and non-violent. The military was still desperately and unsuccessfully trying to regain control. The tide had turned in favour of the Sons and Daughters.
He listened, occasionally asking questions, but was otherwise content to let Niemand speak. As the train steamed towards its destination – and Shanti – he began to feel a little better. He wondered what it would be like meeting her again. Already, his time outside felt like a long time ago. He was so much younger there. How could she really love him, given his condition? There was something almost obscene about the idea. It made him angry. He was glad the revolution was succeeding. There should be a reckoning for those responsible for having made him that way.
“Did you hear anything I have been saying for the last few minutes?”
“I’m sorry. There’s so much to take in.”
“There is more, so you had better pay attention. You have become the hero-saviour of Colony One. You are the cause célèbre of the revolution.”
“Your story has struck a chord. I have been circulating an unofficial biography and some of the more notable sayings from your essays are being painted on walls across the colony.”
“Essays? I never wrote anything.”
“You might not have, but I did. You have become a source of inspiration for millions. You are a legend. Shanti too.”
“I don’t want to be a legend. I want out of here. I want my life back.”
“Your life is not your own to make those kinds of decisions anymore, I am afraid. The fate of the entire simulation rests in your hands. You are the symbol of resistance against the authorities. You are lucky they are unable to harm you. If they did, the simulation would most likely collapse under the weight of mass protest. WorldCON is losing control.
“You wanted to change things. You have. Now it is up to you to show leadership. Remember your time in the A-9 – when you were alone and landed the shuttle single-handedly?”
“Of course. It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done – even if it was in the simulation. What does that have to do with what is happening here?”
“Everything. If you want to see a time when everyone can leave this place and return to earth, you have to be as brave now, as you were then. That was your first bold step. Now, you must accept responsibility for who you are and who you are yet to be.
“Look, here come the outskirts of Berlin. We need to get you ready. I have brought you a new handy and some clothes. Put them on.”
He was reluctant, but Niemand would hear no objection and as the train approached the terminus Madé had little option but to dress as quickly as he could. The construct had provided blue weatheralls, well made, yet plain enough for him to pass as one of the people. A matching cap and a pair of stout boots helped add a few inches to his otherwise slight frame.
Charles Peters was late. He woke up in the sure knowledge that he had overslept. Panicking, he reached over for his handy and read the time: 07:23. The alarm had failed to go off. Dry tongued, he dialled for the nearest ground vehicle. 07:40. He had to be at the terminal for boarding at 8:20. Packing at the same time as he scrambled into his clothes, he gulped from the tap (unwise) and headed out.
The handy pinged in his pocket. The ground vehicle had been rerouted and a replacement wasn’t due to arrive until 07:50. He spent the remaining minutes waiting for the GV in an apoplexy of angst. Why today of all days? It was turning out to be his worst nightmare, just like the one he had this morning, shortly before he woke up. The GV came around the corner and the dream-memory vanished with the last vestiges of the hangover.
Sitting in the GV, he fell into a reverie that sang a harmony to the melody of his anxiety. It was a scorching hot morning as ever, but Charles Peters had broken into a sweat long before.
“Can’t you go any faster?” he demanded of the driver.
The driver – separated by a screen of bulletproof glass and with his intercom switched off – jabbered something muted and incomprehensible.
At last the terminal came into sight. It was 08:07 – still time to make it. They got to Security. The vehicle immediately in front had just set off an impressive array of sensors, lights and alarms, and a large mesh screen shot up, blocking the way forward. Any hope of catching that flight failed like the last blinking lights on the departure board.
In his frustration, Charles Peters rapped on the plexa-glass screen and gesticulated to the driver to turn on the intercom.
“Isn’t there anything you can do?”
He could just make out something that sounded like ‘handy’ and ‘here’. Unwilling to let go of the device but desperate to try anything, he slid it through the safety grille. The driver took it and pushed it into a slot in the dashboard. After a few moments’ silence a ping announced the outcome.
“What did it say?”
The driver looked at the handy, pushed it back through the grille, and got out of the GV.
There was a message.
You have been placed on an alternative flight.
Stay in the vehicle until it reaches the departure terminal.
WORLD COALITION OF NETWORKS
The vehicle resumed the journey on auto. His anxiety now somewhat in abeyance, he sat back in the relative comfort of the GV and examined his own life. He’d been working for WorldCON for more than twenty years. He knew that at some basic level he was being taken care of, unlike the billions who had not been. But the constant impacts of The Changes were escalating. Time was running out. His grandfather had been instrumental in the establishment of WorldCON, and its first Secretary General. This had brought privilege of a kind, but he had been expected to follow in the footsteps of his lineage.
He was the only surviving child of high-ranking diplomats who’d married late. As a family, they’d been one of the lucky ones – at first. But then The Changes took his parents, and his only sister. A translator by training, Charles Peters had been drafted, and spent most of what he bitterly thought was wasted time recording customs and languages that had gone or were going extinct. Cultural Retrieval it was called. This was another one of such jobs, except that it was in Japan rather than anywhere else.
Not that it really made much difference to Charles Peters. He really only lived to work, had no social life, and was constantly tired from overwork. How could he complain? He had shelter, warmth – food in his belly. He had a gold pass compared to millions of his fellow WorldCON citizens who had to scramble for any kind of living just to survive. He had led the strangest life of being parachuted into the worst disaster zones and areas of deprivation he had to see himself to believe. He was almost always associated with a larger WorldCON rescue team; the incidental, not really part of the set-up, picking through the ruins of fire, flood, famine and drought.
This time in Japan, he had been debriefing from an operation in Hokkaido where he’d been sent to record the last of the songs being sung by the Ainu people about the bears and salmon with whom they had once shared the world. Years of drought and dry winters had left the island tinder-dry, and it had recently burnt end-to-end, leaving the population with nothing. He’d been with people from various WorldCON agencies. People didn’t really take much notice of a translator, but he had given his presentation anyway. He had got rather drunk at an underground bar that still sold real Sake. Then he had woken up late.
At a break in the fence, the GV turned down a huge avenue of razor-barb walls. His journey was to continue for another few kilometres yet; more time for reflection. Charles Peters was sick of his life: sick of working for people who didn’t care a damn about what he did for them. His research and reports went unread; people were dying as he wrote about them and he felt like a monstrous pirate, grabbing the last of his victims’ precious artefacts on their demise.
The love of his life had been words; they were the only things he ever really interacted with on an intimate level. He had done well in his studies, but life had got in the way and The Changes had prevented him from finishing. He was pitched straight into WorldCON; a cultural vampire, yet driven to protect all that was left of the recorded fragments of civilisation as it was being extinguished on earth.
Initially, he’d found the work fascinating. His first major project had been in China. He had been sent to a region that had been devastated in a flood. Subsequent assignments kept Charles Peters busy for months at a time, usually at eighteen hour-long stretches or more. He never had time for anything except work. The privileged appeal of being one of the very chosen few on earth who were allowed to travel by air had worn thin. He didn’t have a person on earth who really cared for him or even noticed him. His life was at the proverbial crossroads: could he go ahead with everything as normal, or admit that he was going slowly insane? He knew too much not to know that the human race and countless other species were rapidly disappearing; The Changes had sped everything up. His research became an ever-increasing catalogue of disappearing people and their remains, and under such terms it could only be depressing. No one noticed him or what he did anyway; he was too unimportant. He just did his work for WorldCON and that was it.
The GV reached a security booth. At this point he was required to get out to be scanned. An anti-nausea pill popped out of an automatic dispensary, which he took, now ready for the flight, and resumed the trip. The GV swung past the main terminal, taking a route he had not gone before. He noticed an Authorised Access Only sign behind the razor-barb. Charles Peters wondered where he was being posted that required such secrecy, but he knew times were tough; people could be posted anywhere.
The GV approached a building unlike any of the other terminals Charles Peters was used to and pulled up at the main entrance. Taking everything he had – either in his pockets or his one piece of carry-on luggage – he entered into a large concourse. His handy pinged. On the screen was his flight number. He just had to find it on the departure board and he’d be off. He didn’t know where; you hardly ever knew until you took off.
By this time, being late was an irrelevancy. He was completely in the hands of WorldCON. There was nothing to do except wait until the handset pinged.
He glanced up at the departure board. He looked at the list of flight codes, but couldn’t see his. He scanned it again. This was not usual.
He approached the service desk. Two young Japanese flight attendants stood there impassively. He knew the rigmarole, and gave his flight number. One of them bowed, stood back, holding open the curtain behind the service desk. He passed into a smaller scanning booth, and emerged on the other side. A third flight attendant ushered him down a long snaky corridor, through its puckered end, and on board.
He belted up and prepared for take-off. He felt himself being gently and increasingly forced back into the chair as the gees increased. This was the worst part of the flight, but it didn’t last long.
He looked out of the tiny window. There she was below him, his whole world: bluer and browner than his grandfather would have seen it – and a lot more clouds. He wasn’t aware of falling asleep – one of the side effects of the anti-nausea pill – awaking to the insistent vibration of his handy.
You have been selected as a candidate for intensive training.
You will shortly be arriving at Colony Nine.
You will undertake integration upon arrival, after which you will be given your next assignment.
They touched down. He unbuckled and made his way to the exit. He stepped into a tunnel. There were no windows. He walked alone down the corridor. Ahead he could see a crowd of people waiting in line in front of a security booth. The queue was long. Ordinary people, all with a single piece of luggage and dazed like him, were waiting their turn at the scanning booth.
There were screens on the walls every ten meters or so. A vaguely familiar elderly man was sitting behind a desk, holding a sheaf of papers and looking directly at him.
“Welcome to Colony Nine. I hope you enjoy your second chance.”
Eventually it was his turn. He was instructed to leave his handy and bag behind, take off his clothes, put on new weatheralls, and proceed. He did as he was told, and walked into a new world.