Setting Work for Swamp Gangsters

I did some thought exercises and prep work for the setting I developed for Latour and their friends, back around the time that I wrote the first story in that setting. I didn’t share any of that work with an audience when I wrote the first stories, but climate change has been eating up most of my brain space today and this seems like an appropriate time to share.

Yes, Latour and Ren and the Pats and Cap all exist in a loose version of our world. No, I haven’t ever decided exactly what year it is.

But there’s a reason that everything in those stories happens on boats and floating structures.

When I was first thinking through the setting for that group of stories (I have more that I haven’t posted, due to wanting to be paid for them at some point) my thoughts were as follows…

Rising sea levels are pretty well guaranteed. This setting isn’t built on exact forecast sea level changes, but explores a little bit of what may happen.

Coastal cities all around the world will be threatened, if not outright flooded. Cities that invest massively in resilience and mitigation will probably take one or more of several approaches. They’ll:

  • Build levees and dikes, dams and sea walls to keep the rising sea at bay while people continue dry life below sea level. This is immensely expensive, involves large engineering projects in valuable real estate (though, uh, we should maybe reconsider the value of real estate that will be literally underwater), and leaves cities vulnerable to flooding, storm surges, and continued sea level rise. Black swan events would be even more disastrous.
  • Elevate livable areas, perhaps with stilts and strut-work that accepts the gradual flooding of a city, or with skyscrapers that are okay with having their feet wet. This would also require rebuilding most urban infrastructure to withstand inundation by sea water, and rethinking all forms of transportation. This is also expensive, though the resulting cities would be less vulnerable to flooding. Continued sea level rise would still be an issue, but would be easier to design tolerance for than with sea wall construction.
  • Build floating cities, or structures that don’t rely on bedrock for a foundation. Like with the stilts and skyscrapers, this would essentially require rebuilding entire cities. It might be difficult to match the density offered by skyscrapers and current dense urban developments, unless some really fanciful design work were done to build down instead of up. These cities would need to control their movement in some way, perhaps anchoring themselves to the seabed, to avoid washing ashore or running aground. Floating cities would suffer less from continued sea level rise. At a guess, floating cities would be expensive as hell to maintain.

Cities that can’t invest in those things, or which invest too late, or which can’t protect all their populace (a nigh impossible task) will contribute to mass migration as people move to higher ground. Worldwide, this movement will involve hundred of millions (more likely billions) of people.

In the absolute best scenarios, that migration will result in the resettlement of displaced refugees as contributing members of productive communities, whether that means agriculture, resource extraction, or whatever else comes up. As refugees are welcomed into communities, they’d contribute their labor and skills to build new infrastructure and new civil institutions for the benefit of all.

More likely, this migration will mean widespread hostilities, violence, and unrest, followed by profound shortages and drastic degradation of living conditions due to lack of appropriate support infrastructure in the new locations. There will probably be starvation as well, in no small part because rising sea levels will destroy or render infertile large swathes of productive farmland. Refugee camps would cover vast tracts of elevated terrain, possibly bickering and fighting to acquire enough supplies while they struggle with the locals.

I would expect this migration to result in massive die-offs, especially among (but not limited to) the displaced.

Food security is still a problem, whether or not a city protects itself. Rising sea levels will flood arable land, and saltwater will infiltrate clean ground water supplies. Some can be done to protect farmland, but there will be a dramatic decrease in available arable territory, even ignoring intense weather events and desertification. Genetically engineering slat-tolerant, flood-tolerant, and drought-tolerant crops is a good first step. Vertical farming to provide for leafy greens (see 80 Acres Farms, read up on vertical farming, etc) can meet some food requirements, but to the best of my knowledge staple grain crops haven’t yet been grown indoors as efficiently or effectively as they can be grown outdoors. This will strain populations regardless of how well they built their homes to withstand their changing environment.

Where do my swamp gangsters come into this?

Many years in the future, in a future in which at least some people decided to go the “floating cities” route. Water transport is widespread, and water-based population centers are normal if not the default.

After mass displacement, after populations have shifted into something like a new equilibrium (and likely even before then), smaller communities of water dwellers will exist. You already see this with house boat communities to some extent, and my swamp gangsters have taken much of that to the next level. Lots of people live on boats, or in floating structures, or in similar places. There’s dry land, but it isn’t nearby. Much of what we’d think of as civilization has moved, been rebuilt, or drowned. Mostly it’s drowned.

In all honesty, I haven’t bothered to think hard about where people get their food or what their food looks like; I’ve been too busy enjoying my characters. Maybe I’ll put more time into that soon.

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