An Imagined Future
Author: Dustin Lanker
Posted: May 26, 2018

This past winter, 70 students entered the first-ever Climate Change Writing Contest at Portland State. The University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions asked students to answer the question: In a world locked in the grip of climate crisis, how can we think our way forward?

The grand prize winner was Dustin Lanker, a senior majoring in urban and public affairs. Born and raised in Oregon, Lanker has an abiding reverence for natural spaces.

An excerpt from Lanker’s winning story, “A State of Change,” is presented here. It’s a work of fiction that’s set in Oregon in the year 2030. The state has passed such a high carbon emissions tax that shippers are boycotting Oregon, and life has drastically changed for those who have not moved away.

BY MID-JANUARY, there was no more gas for sale in Oregon. Towns near the borders still had access to fuel, but price gouging across state lines was common, making it unprofitable to transport people or goods to the interior of the state. The Willamette Valley reverted to a pre-industrial way of life, and politicians, unwilling to live in such a way, moved the state capitol from Salem to Portland.

The big city changed quickly in the wake of the boycott. Desperate throngs crowded city government buildings, shelters, and soup kitchens. Theft and extortion became a survivalist way of life for people who had never engaged in criminal activity. Portland’s black market economy exploded; every commuter from Vancouver seemed to bring something with them: toilet paper, shampoo, coffee, tampons. For a while most of us didn’t know how to live without many of these items, so we paid the exorbitant prices, but it wasn’t long before they could only be afforded by the wealthy.

A picture painted in colors of bleakness and lack, however, would be inaccurate; although there were struggles the likes of which we’d never known, we made advancements that, without such difficulties, may have taken us a hundred years to achieve. A new depth of community involvement blossomed, and it seemed we were always meeting new people, encountering each other in productive circles of cooperation. Suddenly we all knew our neighbors, and one group of relations quickly formed bonds with another, so galvanized were we by our mutual need. Individuals with valuable skills became widely known within these circles, and although some of them sought to profit from their abilities, many were content to teach their skills and lend them to cooperative efforts.

BARTERING enjoyed a new heyday, and sales of fishing and hunting licenses surged. People of similar inclinations banded together for weekly outings to forage, hunt, and gather supplies. There were “self-ers”—distrustful social hermits, who didn’t participate in our loosely-formed cooperatives—but they struggled to survive independently in an increasingly collective community. Those of us who pooled our resources and skills lived better, less afraid, with more variety, and in greater comfort. In our lighter moments, we mused that we’d been preparing for this for years. Backyard chicken coops, mushroom foraging, and handcrafted goods had been popular here since the early 2000s.

When we talked, it was almost always about solutions to common problems. Sure, we occasionally reminisced about favorite things we could no longer obtain, but for the most part necessity had focused our thoughts sharply on the present and future. We talked about spring. We knew that if we could make it that long, nature’s bounty would provide us with everything we needed to survive in comfort.

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