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The Dust Pirates of Central Europe
Holding back the sand
Worldbuilding is what I enjoy the most about writing.
I spend a lot of time reading books and articles and listening to podcasts about topics I enjoy. I’m pretty obsessive about things that spark my interest, and I go down the rabbit hole of research with great enthusiasm. I like to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated subjects, and writing fiction allows me to use this inclination for worldbuilding.
For my short story collection, ‘There Is Hope’, I built a dystopian world to create awareness of the worst-case scenarios of climate change through the medium of fiction. And a fascinating aspect of my world is the Dust Pirates, a secluded people that control the illegal trading route, The Dust Road.
Holding back the sand
The Dust Pirates are a nomadic colony inhabiting the dust bowl of Central Europe around the year 2550.
During the first half of the third millennium, climate change turned Europe into a hot continent, creating a chasm between the North benefiting from more sun and rainy weather and the South left to roast in the baking heat.
At first, the European Union tried to take measures against the economic disasters caused by the drying South, but it couldn’t keep up with the speed at which the climate changed, bringing about destruction.
Eventually, the lucky and cool Northern Europeans were fed up financially supporting the sweaty southerners. The exorbitant food prices, the climate refugees crisis, and a failure to stabilize a collapsing ecosystem determined the North to split from the South and save what was worth saving.
As a result, the European Union collapsed, and Northern Europe, UK and Russia formed the North Colonies Alliance or NCA. To avoid a flood of immigrants, the NCA strengthened its border police, thus making it impossible to enter the North without a valid permit. Moreover, many criminals and offenders were expelled from the NCA because the food was insufficient to keep them in prisons.
Left to fend for itself, Central and Southern Europe became a no-man land where the heat turned thirsty and hungry humans into beats. Without money to hold back the sand, the desertification of the South advanced at a fast pace. Water deprivation was the main issue, and by the end of the 23rd century, hardly any inhabitants were left in the South, except for some Japanese colonies of seaweed farmers on the Atlantic coast.
With nowhere left to go, despaired people joined the organized crime cartels of Central Europe. In exchange for a daily cup of water and food they worked in the infernal heat, recycling whatever they found in the abandoned cities and selling it to the North through an underground network known as The Dust Road.
But this was not the only merchandise making its way through The Dust Road. Everything was available for those who could afford to pay, from human trafficking for sex, organs or labor to smuggling forbidden goods such as seeds, wood, lithium or drugs and guns and selling permits to enter the NCA.
Anyone who dared venture into the unbearable heat and was not stripped of their belongings and sold for organs could make a living on The Dust Road. But while the trade was open to everyone, no questions asked, a secluded people known informally as the Dust Pirates controlled The Dust Road.
Nobody knew who the nomadic Dust Pirates were; few could claim to have met a Dust Pirate in person. Some people even wondered if they existed or if it was all an urban legend. Despite the confusion, one thing was for sure: trading on The Dust Road was only possible with the Dust Pirates.
Legends and stories about the Dust Pirates abound, but nobody knows much beyond their control on the illegal trading route, The Dust Road.
As outlaws, the Dust Pirates found a haven beyond the all-pervading eye of The Cooperatives, who aren’t interested in surveilling beyond the southern border of the NCA. They also indirectly benefit from the illegal trade that secures many of the missing resources for The Cooperatives to continue their efforts to restore the planet’s ecology. Especially the seeds and lithium, rare materials such as wood are very sought after.
The extreme living conditions are not for the faint of heart but the nomadic colonies dwelling in the middle of the deserted landscape might hide a secret in plain sight.
Or perhaps those are just urban legends meant to attract the naive and uninitiated to a sure death.
When you think you’re alone, the Dust Pirates appear out of nowhere on their electric motorcycles, and you know there is no way back. Because nobody saw a Dust Pirate and lived to tell the story.
But if you are brave and pure of heart, you just might be spared.
How climate change will impact Europe in the 21st century
I came across the term dust bowl in the book ‘When the Rivers Run Dry: Water, The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century’ by Fred Pearce concerning the American Midwest, an arid area turned into agricultural crops that depletes aquifers for irrigation.
Aquifers are ancient underground water reserves that took millions of years to form and today are exhausted at a neck-breaking speed to irrigate crops in areas unsuitable for agriculture, thus wasting a lot of precious water.
The first time I came across the information that Central Europe would turn into a dust bowl was in the book ‘The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming’ by David Wallace-Wells. Heat will be trapped more inland, leading to a greenhouse effect. Also, the density of urban settlements, where temperatures are usually 5 to 10 degrees higher than in the surrounding countryside, paired with droughts and forest fires, amplifies the disaster. Trees that go up in flames cannot absorb CO2.
As I kept reading and researching, I learned that the 21st century will witness ferocious climate impacts in the world, with billions of people at risk of chronic water scarcity, tens of millions exposed to hunger and places near the equator that will experience unsurvivable heat.
Europe is destined to become a hot continent, and European cities will cook their residents. In August 2003, Europe experienced a once-in-a-millennium heatwave that killed about 80,000 people. If the planet heats by 1.5 degrees, this kind of summer will be the new normal. However, if the world warms by 3 degrees, which is a more likely scenario, the temperatures in the European concrete cities will jump by 6 to 10 degrees, and the heat could kill 95,000 people yearly.
For example, I live in Vienna, the capital of Austria, a city with mild summers, an average high temperature of 27 degrees, and an average low of 18 degrees in August. Yet, by the end of the 21st century, scientists predict that Vienna will be as hot as Florence, a city with an average high temperature of 32 degrees and an average low of 18 degrees in August.
But the problem is not the average temperature.
In June 2011, I visited Florence for the first time, and at midday, it felt like the sun was burning a hole in my skull when I didn’t wear a hat. One day, I had the brilliant idea of going for a jog at 11 am; I was almost fainting by noon. This was not due to a lack of fitness. At that time, I was running almost daily and participating in half-marathons. The reason was that, on that day, the temperature in Florence was almost 40 degrees. (I managed to find some historical weather data.)
I can’t imagine that kind of heat in Vienna, yet the scorching hot and unusually dry summer of 2022 made it feel like a reality.
Heat affects the body and mind, and it is literally maddening, causing increased violence and psychiatric emergencies. Heat also leads to a decline in labor productivity. Already today, in the hottest months of the year, outdoor work is hard and potentially deadly in the Mediterranean.
With the European trend of rural migration to cement cities, one is left wondering how the tightly populated urban areas will affect social relations once the cement starts to burn.
While the South roasts and the North drowns, floods and fire will make the safety of homes more precarious. Additionally, there will be more droughts more often, leading to food scarcity in the South and exorbitant food prices in the North.
Some parts of Europe will be flooded while others will burn. There will be coastal flooding due to sea level rises, and Barcelona, Malaga, Cadiz, and Napoli will see once-in-100-years floods 5-times a year by 2100 even if global warming is kept in check.
Meanwhile, there will be permanent coastal flooding in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and main tourist spots along the coast in Northern Italy. In the Mediterranean, the sea will rise by 1.1 meters affecting 42 million people, and Northern Europe, the UK, and Central Europe will experience river flooding more often.
Lastly, the high temperatures will surge in new epidemics not usually encountered in Europe, such as dengue fever, chikungunya, West Nile virus, and malaria.
This climate catastrophe will deepen North-South economic inequality, and the bad news is that the EU’s plan to reduce emissions will not shield the continent from climate nightmares. Meanwhile additional strategies to safeguard European cities from roasting and drowning cannot be adopted fast enough to keep up with the pace of climate change.
If you would like further reading on how climate change will affect Europe, I’ve added an article below that goes into detail.
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