yahara banner logo

abandonment and renewal

What if we are not prepared for escalating environmental challenges?

The scenario at a glance

This scenario explores what could happen if humanity were unprepared to handle the impacts of climate change and other environmental challenges.                     

Through the 2020s and 2030s, climate change impacts are more extreme than predicted across the United States, and Americans are largely unprepared to deal with the ensuing disasters, especially those on the coasts and in the south. The crises put pressure on the Midwest to increase food production for the country, which exacerbates existing problems with water quality, especially in the Yahara Watershed. Eventually, and as a result, an environmental catastrophe occurs in the region.

The buildup of nutrient pollution in the lakes enables the emergence of a new species of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, which emits a toxic fume. In the summer of 2035, a massive bloom of the cyanobacteria erupts in the lakes. Its fumes kill thousands of people and force thousands more to evacuate the area forever.

In the disaster’s wake, the region undergoes an incredible transformation. Large-scale agriculture is gone. Urban areas are in ruins. The people that live in the watershed are either survivors of the disaster or mavericks—the abandonment enables them to live autonomously or to try to start a new society.

People live in highly dense small towns or on subsistence farms and intentional communities. Survival and resilience are the main concerns, and people have become highly resourceful and self-sufficient. Nothing goes to waste, and services are bartered between individuals and communities. Equality has increased, as material wealth has decreased, but centralized social support systems and governance don’t exist.

The watershed’s ecosystems also undergo a major transformation. With so few humans, the landscape is now feral. Prairies, savanna, and forests are rejuventating. The community of wildlife now includes native species that have made a comeback (e.g., wolves, cougars, beavers) and exotic species, many of which have migrated here due to climate change. Native and non-native plant species also live alongside each other. The lakes’ waters are recovering, having improved since the disaster, but they still carry scars from their polluted past--e.g., the deadly cyanobacteria still live in the lakes. Climate change has set global average temperatures that are much hotter than early century scientists predicted, which has enabled some of the ecological changes in Yahara.

This scenario’s protagonists are Daisy and Felix, a young couple that live in Hope Prairie Community, one of the Yahara Watershed’s communal subsistence farms. The story gives a snapshot of what life is like for them.

Read their story.