The latest from our hologram portal

We speculate updates to stories and the readers who speak out in 2068.


Cristine Blanco for High Country News

These fictional short stories are part of our Speculative Journalism Issue, where we imagine stories from a West under climate stress in 2068.

Communal living in California

At California’s Santa Monica Mountains State Park, where multimillion dollar homes used to perch above the Pacific Coast before rising sea levels toppled them into the ocean, crisp blue tarps and rusted camper vans hunker beneath tall oaks and among patches of sage scrub. These illegal compounds now house hundreds of Malibu’s displaced homeowners; alongside them live many people who never owned houses at all. The result, according to sociologist Rux Andra, a professor at UCLA, is “a real experiment in communal living.”

Below the park lies another communal space, the tide flats locals have taken to calling the Old Road Commons. Where gas-guzzling vehicles once zoomed around the curves of the Pacific Coast Highway now lies a popular public beach and big wave surfing spot. “Together, these two areas demonstrate the kind of community that can sprout when geographic class-segregation is disrupted,” Andra said. “Malibu is a great example of the new California coast.”

Graffiti marks the former Devils Hole sign.
Luna Anna Archey


The Devils Hole pupfish, whose population once dipped to just 35 fish, long resided in a deep cavern in Death Valley National Park. In 2016, a young Nevada man trespassed with friends, entered the pool and accidentally killed a pupfish. Trenton Sargent was convicted in 2018 and imprisoned for one year for violating the Endangered Species Act (“How a tiny endangered species put a man in prison,” HCN, 4/15/19).

In early 2068, following a spate of break-ins and the deaths of a few skinny-dippers, land managers at the former national park, now a expansive solar farm, installed a concrete barrier over the top of Devils Hole to prevent trespassers from plunging into the cavern. Climate change had proved the real threat to the remaining pupfish, heating the water in their only habitat to lethal temperatures. By 2065, the population could no longer survive in its native habitat. The last fish were relocated to the Aquatic Discovery and Seed Bank Museum, where the public can now view the tiny survivors in a specially designed aquarium.

Once this new technology is in place,
all of our students will breathe easier.

—Si’ahl Communal Education (formerly Seattle Public Schools) Superintendent Kathryn Wong, after Bezos-AppleSoft donated 800 Smoke-b-gone™ air-cleansing units to the district last month. Critics allege that under Wong’s direction, installation of the devices has been delayed at several low-income schools. Full coverage of all district classrooms would require about 2,400 units, according to a spokesbot from the Seattle-Duwamish Public Health Department.

As far back as the early 2000s, scientists were forecasting that wildfires would become more frequent and severe throughout this century. This graph was published in 2014. The projections proved accurate, leaving much of the West blanketed in stifling smoke throughout the summer and fall.
Courtesy of Natasha Stavros/NASA

The Green Climate Action party's past

1.1: Percent of the popular vote the Green Party candidate for president
won in 2016.

58.3: Percent of the popular vote President Aiden Brown, running as the Green Climate Action candidate, won in 2068.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, U.S. politics were dominated by only two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. Smaller groups, like the Green Party — a predecessor of today’s Green Climate Action — occasionally found a sliver of success at the ballot box, sometimes even upsetting election wins that had seemed all but guaranteed to go to major-party candidates. Political instability following the Colorado River drought of 2042-’49 and the subsequent collapse of large-scale California agriculture was a major factor in the party shake-up, according to the new book The Political Fallout of the Second Dust Bowl, by Tam Greenblatt, a political historian at Stanford University.

Indigenous coalition rallies for climate action

Over three decades ago, in 2034, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the federal government has a duty to protect Northwest tribal nations’ fish and other natural resources from damage caused by climate change. Yet that ruling, the Smith Decision, has never been fully implemented. In early May, the chairperson of the Northwest Tribes’ Climate Action Coalition, Kayla Greene, addressed hundreds of activists gathered on the banks of Washington’s Elwha River. “Climate chaos continues to hurt chinook and other salmon,” she said in a speech aimed at spurring the U.S. to fulfill its treaty obligations. “It must be addressed!”

To ask Greene’s interactive hologram questions about the coalition and treaty rights, visit HCN’s hologram portal.

Climate-causer migrants find new home

A year ago, retirees Mary and Marty Dugan, “climate-causers” who profited from the oil boom, bundled their dachshund into their car to leave New Telluride, Colorado. They left after decades of tensions between newcomers and longtime Telluride residents culminated in a series of home-invasion attacks last year. While most climate refugees can’t afford to move far, the Dugans planned to drive all the way to Denver. “Unfortunately for us, that was the day the West Slope gas riots began,” Mary Dugan said. But after coasting on fumes into Montrose — one of the first Colorado communities to finalize an independent electrical grid, in the 2050s — the Dugans decided to stay: “At first we weren’t sure if we’d be welcome, but now this place really feels like home.”

Readers are saying...

George Coburn:
“Good for the Dugans — too bad we can’t all move to Montrose.”

Kelly Fogelson:
“The climate-causers are the ones who got us in this mess to begin with. I’d rather read about the residents who don’t have the money to try to leave that old ski town.”

Sal Pazera:
“The first few weeks of the gas riots were terrifying. Many Coloradans weren’t as lucky as the Dugan family; my son’s family was stranded in the North Fork Valley for four months.”

Associate editor Paige Blankenbuehler, who oversees High Country News’ coverage of the Southwest, might welcome a robot army to her hometown, Durango, Colorado — but only on the condition that it builds the affordable housing this region so desperately needs. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

Emily Benson, associate editor for the Northwest, Northern Rockies and Alaska at High Country News, will miss snowy Idaho winters and says a longer waterskiing season won’t make up for it. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

STORY NOTES (Seattle smoke quote): Western wildfires are already bigger, more frequent and longer lasting than they used to be thanks to the warmer temperatures and earlier snowmelt brought by a changing climate. Scientists expect that trend to continue, particularly in the Northwest; accordingly, communities will increasingly need to contend with wildfire smoke, a deadly health hazard.

Sources: Westerling et al., 2006: Warming and earlier spring increase Western U.S. forest wildfire activity, Science.

Stavros et al., 2014: Regional projections of the likelihood of very large wildland fires under a changing climate in the contiguous Western United States, Climatic Change.

Ford et al., 2018: Future fire impacts on smoke concentrations, visibility, and health in the contiguous United States, GeoHealth.

McClure & Jaffe, 2018: U.S. particulate matter air quality improves except in wildfire-prone areas, PNAS.

STORY NOTES (Green Party/Green Climate Action numbers):The Colorado River waters nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland; in fact, irrigation exhausts about 70% of the river’s supply, with much of that water going to farms in California. However, scientists expect a hotter and drier future to shrink the river by as much as half by 2100. The nation’s agriculture system, particularly in California, will have to adapt.

Sources:  Cooley & Ross, 2013: Water to supply the land, Pacific Institute report.

U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Reclamation, 2012: Colorado River Basin water supply and demand study.

U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Reclamation, 2019: Colorado River accounting and water use report: Arizona, California, and Nevada.

Udall & Overpeck, 2017: The twenty-first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future, Water Resources Research.

STORY NOTES (Climate-causer migrants, communal living in California): Climate change is inextricably linked to social justice; as sea levels rise and Western towns with economies based on winter sports see their snowpacks dwindle, the effects will not be felt equally by all community members. These pieces are an attempt to explore some of the possible ramifications of those changes.

Sources:  Barnard et al., 2019: Dynamic flood modeling essential to assess the coastal impacts of climate change, Scientific Reports.

Fyfe et al., 2017: Large near-term projected snowpack loss over the western United States, Nature Communications.

Mote et al., 2018: Dramatic declines in snowpack in the western U.S., Climate and Atmospheric Science.

STORY NOTES (Hologram/ Indigenous coalition rallies): Tribal nations have successfully used hunting and fishing treaty rights to assert their sovereignty in the past; for example, the 1974 Boldt Decision confirmed Pacific Northwest tribes’ right to co-manage salmon and steelhead fisheries. Now, a warming climate threatens those same fisheries; could tribal treaty rights be used to protect them?

Sources: Mote et al., 2003: Preparing for climatic change: The water, salmon, and forests of the Pacific Northwest, Climatic Change.

Dittmer, 2013: Changing streamflow on Columbia basin tribal lands — climate change and salmon, Climatic Change.

Smith, 2019: How do tribal nations’ treaties figure into climate change? High Country News.

STORY NOTES (Pupfish): The Devils Hole pupfish, Cyprinodon diabolis, was exposed to temperatures near its thermal maximum before recent climate change, and is now subject to increasing water temperatures that will severely reduce successful reproduction. Observed climate change is shown to have already warmed the shallow shelf that the pupfish depend on for already limited food sources and sunlight. Climate change by 2050 is expected to lead to “the precipitous decline of this species.”

Sources: Hausner, M. B., Wilson, K. P., Gaines, D. B., Suárez, F., Gary Scoppettone, G., and Tyler, S. W. ( 2014), Life in a fishbowl: Prospects for the endangered Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) in a changing climate, Water Resour. Res., 50, 7020–7034.

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