Normally I write alternate histories in response to one or more climate anxieties that people share with me at the counseling booth or in some other context, but the idea for this one came from hearing our radiators bang and hiss, I think, mostly.
It took the people of the states neighboring states with oil, coal and natural gas economies about three years to get everything together, and in that time, the burning, the trucks passing over the roads, the leaks, the excavations, continued to do their damage. Many people died of them–salamanders and mosses, canvasback ducks and grasses, cactus wrens, honeysuckle bushes and humans. Some of the blockades during this time kept coal trains or LNG trucks from reaching their destinations, and others kept them from collecting new loads by standing across the railways and roadways and chanting the names of the dead. Meanwhile, people in neighboring states adjusted their budgets, in some cases altered the interiors of their houses or apartment buildings and increased the capacities of their septic systems, spread the word, and at last announced that they were ready.
Anybody who had made their living working for these industries–as riggers or as administrative assistants, as claims filers or miners or geologists, could leave their job and a person or family in another state would make themselves responsible for them, just as if they were cousins coming from another country. Some called it “adoption” and others “asylum”, but everyone called the people on the giving end “responders.”
Some humans moved in with their responders, right into the house, helping them build adaptively after storms, remediate their soil, remember to charge the batteries of their power chairs, or doctor their dogs. The people and plants and insects in that place adjusted to the presence of additional people: a new set of eyebrows for the mites to colonize, a new pressure on the ground above the roots.
Some of these living arrangements lasted years, some months; a few dissolved almost immediately, but the responders continued their interracination–their inter-rootedness–sending money, answering questions–as long as the newcomers wished it. “Interracination” because it needed a new word: it wasn’t patronage, since they weren’t patronizing; it wasn’t support, which can mean too many other things, and doesn’t acknowledge the work of entanglement, the constant recalibration, unease and shifting. Even those who remained to nurture their home places, with packets of money, kids’ clothes and nonperishable food arriving weeklyish via the still-functioning mail, or to pick up monthly at the fair days that were starting to spring up in disused parking lots, felt the stiffness, the difference, the pull, and had to work it off in their own ways. Teenagers attached harrows to their ATVs, now sunpowered, and shrieked their way around the edges, tearing up asphalt, and older people strolled or shuffled after them, scattering the seeds of tough grasses, elderberry or scrub pine or nasturtium, whatever they thought might be able to endure it.
The hardest months were the cold months. A lot of people living on high ground or in dry zones moved into their basements then, running vents to the outside, and some became seasonal migrants, learning the new and shifting patterns along with traveling birds, for whom they left sustenance in exchange. In cities, people got good at making paper waste into pellets and logs, and in the country there was the wood of trees that hadn’t weathered the changes. But there really is nothing you can burn for warmth that doesn’t add particulate matter and carbon molecules to the air, and people lived, as they had in the past, with the knowledge of what they were making worse. They sang songs of mourning and gratitude for the pulp and the ashes, for trees that had died last year, or twenty years ago, or fifty. They moved on to stories of the people of the past: giant insects, dinosaurs and ground sloths, rheas and dodos, moose and bowhead whales. These weren’t exactly adventure stories, since most of them had no humans in them, but they were stories of the thrill of being a living creature. When childrens’ eyelids got heavy, the adults–born family, gathered family, and responders– switched to stories of small people: close-to-the-ground animals, quick birds, the frogs that were slowly coming back to some of the streams near the tracks, though the mining and fracking sites wouldn’t support life until long after everyone listening was dead.