The polar ice kept melting and the sea kept rising (Ursula K. Le Guin)

He rode the Vancouver subway back into Portland. The trains were already jam-packed; he stood out of reach of strap or stanchion, supported solely by the equalizing pressure of bodies on all sides, occasionally lifted right off his feet and floating as the force of crowding (c) exceeded the force of gravity (g). A man next to him holding a newspaper had never been able to lower his arms, but stood with his face muffled in the sports section. The headline, “BIG A-l STRIKE NEAR AFGHAN BORDER,” and the subhead, “Threat of Afghan Intervention,” stared Orr eye to I for six stops. The newspaper holder fought his way off and was replaced by a couple of tomatoes on a green plastic plate, beneath which was an old lady in a green plastic coat, who stood on Orr’s left foot for three more stops.He struggled off at the East Broadway stop, and shoved along for four blocks through the ever-thickening off-work crowd to Willamette East Tower, a great, showy, shoddy shaft of concrete and glass competing with vegetable obstinacy for light and air with the jungle of similar buildings all around it. Very little light and air got down to street level; what there was was warm and full of fine rain. Rain was an old Portland tradition, but the warmth—70° F on the second of March—was modern, a result of air pollution. Urban and industrial effluvia had not been controlled soon enough to reverse the cumulative trends already at work in the mid-twentieth century; it would take several centuries for the CO2 to clear out of the air, if it ever did. New York was going to be one of the larger casualties of the Greenhouse Effect, as the polar ice kept melting and the sea kept rising; indeed all Boswash was imperiled. There were some compensations. San Francisco Bay was already on the rise, and would end up covering all the hundreds of square miles of landfill and garbage dumped into it since 1848. As for Portland, with eighty miles and the Coast Range between it and the sea, it was not threatened by rising water: only by falling water.

It had always rained in western Oregon, but now it rained ceaselessly, steadily, tepidly. It was like living in a downpour of warm soup, forever.

The New Cities—Umatilla, John Day, French Glen—were east of the Cascades, in what had been desert thirty years before. It was fiercely hot there still in summer, but it rained only 45 inches a year, compared with Portland’s 114 inches. Intensive farming was possible: the desert blossomed. French Glen now had a population of 7 million. Portland, with only 3 million and no growth potential, had been left far behind in the March of Progress. That was nothing new for Portland. And what difference did it make? Undernourishment, overcrowding, and pervading foulness of the environment were the norm. There was more scurvy, typhus, and hepatitis in the Old Cities, more gang violence, crime, and murder in the New Cities. The rats ran one and the Mafia ran the other. George Orr stayed in Portland because he had always lived there and because he had no reason to believe that life anywhere else would be better, or different.

From Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven.

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