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Bernal Islet in 2250

A predictive undream painted 2007/3/19 to 2007/4/2 by Wayan

Here's a portrait of my neighbors and my 'hood the way we'll look a couple of centuries from now, if the world keeps belching out CO2. I figure that by 2250, all of Greenland and most of Antarctica will have thawed, and one-fifth of the world's land will be gone. (Sea levels will rise between 85 and 110 meters, depending on who you believe. The volume of ice isn't the only factor: seawater expands when warmed, and coasts sag under the weight of invading seas.)

My home is high on the shoulder of Bernal Hill in San Francisco, but if Antarctica melts, my house will be under water--along with the homes and farms of 1-2 billion other people. The very top of the hill will become a wooded islet in San Francisco Bay. This view looks north from Bernal Islet across Mission Bay to Cape Corona on Twin Peaks Island; center right is Drowntown (ruins rising from the water), Potrero Reef, and the Marin Islands on the horizon; on the right is the strait to the California Sea.

Girls picking fruit and looking at maps on a cove amid tropical islands. The sunken towers of downtown San Francisco rise two miles out to sea. Click to enlarge.
One girl is consulting a map, so you can see most of what's left of California. My best guess is that after the coastal cities drown, a shallow inland sea, the California Sea, will cover the whole Central Valley from Red Bluff to Bakersfield. New port cities arise in the Sierra foothills to replace the old. Their relative sizes are guesses of course, but their names are all real. The sea makes the foothills' climate mild and maritime, much like the Coast Ranges today. But warmer. And in summer, instead of the occasional thunderstorm, the occasional hurricane...
Girl looking at a map of northern California after global warming: the Central Valley is a sea from Red Bluff to Bakersfield. Click to enlarge.
Painting of downtown San Francisco's towers knee-deep in the sea; the Transamerica Pyramid stands but the Bank of America has fallen.

Inland, over the mountains, the drying trend in the early 21st century has long since reversed. The Sierras are coastal now, and the hot sun over the California Sea generates a lot more intense storms, many of which spill over into Nevada. The lakes between the Great Basin ranges have refilled, further moderating the climate and greening their shores; the Basin in 2250 is rather like the Central Valley in 2000.

Idyllic, huh? A nice day for a swim, and lots of water to swim in. The sea-rise will be slow enough for people to plan the evacuation and strip the houses, so the water's not too poisoned and the shoreline's not littered with half-flooded ruins. But no one's moving the Transamerica Pyramid or the Bank of America (except the currents: its corrugated sides caught the tides, and it toppled a century ago).

Oh well, they make lovely ruins. So romantic!

The painting's a tribute to four artists:

  1. Justine Kurland's photo series of girls playing Huck Finn: Another Girl, Another Planet. My painting doesn't copy any particular photo, just the mood. Feral girls, just boatin' and fishin' and swimmin' and playin' in the tropical islands and lagoons that are all that's left of San Francisco... Painting of a girl with dark hair lounging on a rock; her oval smartbook shows Sandow Birk's painting 'View of San Quentin'. Click to enlarge.
  2. Gauguin! He liked to idealize that tropical paradise on the far side of the world, just as I'm idealizing that tropical paradise on the far side of time. Or of catastrophe. Our news AND art focus on disaster--what of the long view?
  3. Sandow Birk, a painter who's done a savage series of beautiful landscapes that just happen to include prisons in the background of every one. The one in my local museum shows San Quentin from a nearby cove much like mine (to the right is a sketch of it, on the reclining girl's screen). My painting is basically a parody--the trees on the left, the foreground beach, the gulf in the middle, the prison across the water to the right... only in my vision, Sauron's tower has fallen (oops I mean the skyscrapers downtown), the prisoners in their offices have busted out. Sign on the door says GONE FISHIN. Like Huck.
  4. The last artist is a writer: Andre Norton. As a kid her her science fiction novel Star Man's Son, 2250 AD made a big impression on me. It's a tour of post-nuclear America, full of mutant creatures and landscapes. My chosen target date is a tribute. I'm afraid the thawing of Antarctica may happen a lot faster than people project; I nearly dated this 2100.
Painting of a nude girl with dark hair reaching up to pick fruit.


What am I, in the pay of the American car companies, with their stupid gas-hogs? Burn more oil, bring on Eden? Not exactly. I just don't want to paint one more protest that just rubs your nose in a problem--to me that's reactive and shortsighted--the mind-set of the leaders who caused our current problems in the first place. Shall I protest the Iraq war by painting its ugliness, like half my art-classmates? War is bad, now there's a deep idea!

So I'm going for something deeper. War is a sideshow, an immediate blister distracting us from overpopulation and climate change, which endanger billions. But they're slow disasters, and we're nearsighted monkeys, blind to deep time.

Besides, I wanted to paint the drama of the climate catastrophe just as enthusiastically as Bierstadt painted the drama of Yosemite, or Gauguin his Polynesia. Why not? Our hothouse future's OK. Our stupid civilization will drown itself, but Gaia will shed no tears. Neither will our descendants--they'll adapt to heat and rain just fine. Life has before, in deep time, and will again. All we'll lose are our coastal toys--the ports, the cities, the monocropped coastal plains. We were bratty and wouldn't clean up, so Mama Earth put our toys away FOR us.

And I longed to paint a sensual protest. The first casualties of war-hysteria are fun, beauty, sex, (sneer) love. Regimes and protestors alike call them trivial, apolitical, PERSONAL. Suffering, now that's political! Paint soldiers, paint mad mullahs or evil politicians and the death they bring!

The news is male and adult and black-and-white (well, khaki).

But I'm a Romantic contrarian. So the girls go fishin' and the future's colorful, and sexy and lazy and fun (if slightly mutant: they're not just dark-skinned from their ancestry or skinny from that all-natural diet! Temperatures in San Francisco are now 30-35 C (86-95 F) with 90% humidity and strong UV: pale fatties won't thrive. Oh, and some folks have webbed toes, too. When you're in the water all day...)

If you don't mind the ruin of 'sivilization' (as Huck spelled it) the future's practically Eden. Ain't it?

Girl lounging high on a tree-branch.
"Round the decay of that colossal wreck,
the green and placid isles stretch far away."

after "Ozymandias", P. Shelley, 1818

LISTS AND LINKS: Only in San Francisco - landscapes - the future - climate change - heat - beaches - forest and rainforest - nudity - babes - mutants - paradise - politics - ecology - inheritances - this same hilltop view in 2050, if only Greenland melts: The City, Not Long After - a tour of Earth if the poles fully thaw: Dubia

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