The Last Preserve

It was cold. That’s how they knew they were getting close. It wasn’t the same cold of a long, arctic winter night, but rather that chill you get when you walk into an underground cellar. It was an empty, almost eerie type of cold. The low-hanging, dreary clouds weren’t helping.

School kids of all ages were in the process of bundling themselves in thick puffy down jumpsuits with the words “Canadian Archipelago Tours” embroidered across the chest. Everyone had been handed a suit as they loaded onto the high speed glider ship. Elementary teachers helped pull zippers and fasten boot laces for the youngest of the children, their eyes glowing in anticipation.

“Maybe this year I’ll get to see a real whale! Not just a picture, but like a real, big whale!”

“Yeah, right!” One child scoffed. “My mom told me she only ever saw a whale once, and it wasn’t even a whole whale. It was just the top part spraying water all over the place.”

An automated female voice cut through everyone’s thoughts. “It is time to finish the last of your preparations, we are almost at our destination. Please take your assigned seats along the deck of the ship.” The youngest children mindlessly scratched at their ears. The speaker implants were governmentally approved to be inserted before the first day of primary school. It took some students longer than others to adjust to the permanent earphone.

The ship was cutting so fast through the water that it felt as if everyone was still standing on the Yukon coastline. As it began to slow, the oldest students, that of middle and high school age, found their seats while teachers herded the youngest to their chairs. The force of the waves swayed the ship side to side as they decelerated. All of the chairs began facing the bow of the ship.

Like a permanent fence arising out of the cold arctic water, reinforced steel beams with flashing orbs on top stretched out horizontally in front of them. The captain steered the ship through an opening in the fence. The nearest fence post to the gate had a steel platform with a small metal shelter sitting above the waves. Guards were permanently stationed here. One stood at a window in full military gear and nodded as the boat passed by. Onboard, the captain cut the ship’s engine.

“Hello and welcome!”, the voice began again in everyone’s ear implant. “We are excited to have you onboard with us this morning. We ask that you listen to our directions very carefully to ensure a pleasant and memorable experience of the Arctic Archipelago Bubble Experiment, or the AABE.” In a more serious tone, the voice said, “please remain in your seats the entire duration of the tour. Once we are back outside of the gates, you may move about the ship as you please. The ship may rock suddenly, so keep your lap belt on as well.” Some of the children laughed, knowing that the waves hitting the ship was one of the best parts of the entire trip. They were, after all, the most interactive.

The ship drifted forward through the water. Through the spraying mist of the ocean waves, a glow was visible in the distance.

In a lighter tone, the voice continued, “feel free to ask any questions that come to mind. Whether this is your first trip or your thirteenth, there is always something new to learn about the AABE! Sit back, relax, and let the sights amaze you.” The high school students had been on the AABE field trip so many times, they could practically recite the opening announcements themselves.

Schools were the only groups that received annual governmental funding to go see the Arctic Archipelago Bubble Experiment. Everyone else either had to have an enormous amount of money to pay for the private cruise, or just couldn’t go after they graduated from high school. The Canadian government claimed something about always having the money for children to see the power of humanity.

As the glow up ahead grew closer, it became clear that the source was high in the sky and reflecting down.

The voice started in everyone’s ear again. “First, we’ll begin today with a brief history lesson. The year was 2026. Global carbon emissions were high, places around the world were beginning to experience greater temperature changes and massive storms, but people still disagreed about the reality of climate change. Scientists had been ringing the warning bell for years, but it did not matter: people were too comfortable to change. If only they knew what was to come.”

The voice paused, letting that sink in.

“At the time, a group of excited, young scientists had an idea: if people needed the motivation to change, maybe they needed to be shown the potential consequences of their actions.”

“We needed to do something, anything,” a recording of an interview with an elderly man began in their ears. “As scientists, we knew we needed a relic, something to show people around the world that climate change was worth fighting for. Numbers and graphs just weren’t doing it.

“It started embarrassingly small. We used glass containers and filled them with plants, soil, microbes, and water. We’d seal the jar, put it in a sunny window, and then the jar would be able to survive all on its own with no outside inputs. We manipulated jars with increased temperatures to represent the real world as it was in the 2020’s and you’d see the plants eventually die due to heat exposure. This was huge!”

But the old man laughed. “Of course, people didn’t care! It’s just a jar with some plants. It didn’t matter that the plants, which convert the sun’s energy to sugar, were the things we were relying on to fix climate change. It didn’t matter that they were dying because it was too hot for them to handle. The research didn’t even make it to mainstream news. No one cared.”

An elderly woman began to speak. “We knew we had to make things real. Our research had to be personal and actually matter to people. So we took our jar idea to a whole new scale.

“’What if we put a place in a jar’, one of our colleagues had asked us. We laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea at the time, but it was kind of our only hope. So we pondered the idea and, almost jokingly, began listing places to trap in a jar.”

“Well I love my hometown, we could preserve that,” one voice said.

“New York City, in a bubble!” said another.

“The Bahamas, so we could vacation whenever we wanted.”

The old woman began again. “The jokes turned more serious though, as we began to think about a place like the tropics. Sea level rise and rising temperatures would surely affect these places, likely in our lifetime. Maybe trying to preserve a place like that wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe a rescue mission was what we needed.”

A clear wall appeared in front of the ship. It was nearly invisible, except for the waves crashing hard from the outside, and subtle, smooth lapping waves moving on the inside. The wall looks to be made of glass, though it was much stronger than that. Adapted from chain link fencing, nano-mesh was an extremely thin reinforced sheet of steel with microscopic threads, making it invisible to the human eye. This, blended into military-strength plastic, acted as the shell of the bubble and kept the outside world completely separate from the AABE.

The ship turned hard to the left and moved along the transparent wall. All chairs on the ship automatically turned to face the wall. Inside, the bright orb up above was shining right up to the wall, but it’s light didn’t pass to the outside, creating a sharp contrast with the dreary weather that the boat passengers were experiencing.

Past the waves, a rugged coastline could be seen. Almost immediately beyond the coast, white-topped mountains stood tall and jagged. Every year, the school students took in the sight of the archipelagos, having never seen anything like it before. Their hometown in the Canadian Yukon, a remote and quiet place in previous generations, was now bustling with people and cityscapes. These boat trips were the most wild places that any of the students knew of.

The female scientist continued. “We decided that we wanted to rescue a place that was one of a kind and at severe risk of global climate change. But logistics kept popping up for every place we’d think of.”

The voice of an interviewer asked, “how about a tropical island like the Bahamas?”

“Too many people, both locals and vacationers,” the scientist responded.

“Okay, how about Antarctica. There are no people there.”

“We’d interrupt too many scientific experiments that had been going on for decades. Who were we to say that our experiment was more important than all of those?”

“Well what about the Amazon Rainforest? Northern Alaska?”

“There’s too much politics in the Amazon. We’d ‘prevent too much economic growth’. Alaska was similar, although that idea did get us thinking.”

The voice of the elderly male scientist started speaking again. “So here we were, with a brilliant idea and nowhere to put it, when one of our colleagues went on a Northern Canadian cruise. He called us up immediately. ‘There’s no one living on the north-westernmost islands above Canada, there’s really little going on up there at all. Some of the Queen Elizabeth Islands, like King Christian, Borden, and Brock, are totally uninhabited! Just mountains, fragile arctic ecosystem types, ice, and at-risk species. This could be it.’ Man, when we heard that, we jumped on it.

“It took a lot of work and way more logistics than I care to go into. But construction started four years later, thanks to support from First Nations communities. Without them and their passion for these lands, we probably wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

“We had a plan: build in 360 degrees around the archipelago, and make sure that it is self-sustaining. This means everything needed to be inside the bubble, from the seafloor to a renewable source of sunlight. We couldn’t risk anything. Opposition was high, but we had a point to prove.”

As the boat toured along the outside of the clear wall, sea birds could be seen flying inside high in the sky. One soared across the ocean surface, swooping to grab a giant cod.

The original female narrator’s voice spoke up. “And prove a point they did. Now, after nearly 50 years of confinement, the Arctic Archipelago Bubble Experiment remains the most diverse and ecologically-intact place on this Earth. What were once ecosystems at risk of sea level rise and ice melt continue to flourish today, the glaciers have been preserved, and the one-of-a-kind landscape has been protected from the human hand.”

One child turned to their friend. “So I guess I still just don’t quite get it… If someone figured out how to save this area, why didn’t they know to save the rest of the world?”

The sights of the Canadian Archipelago moved past the ship. The stark contrast between the empty, quiet of this place and the bustle of their home city were startling. A mass migration northward had occurred a decade or two after the AABE was built. As the threat of rising sea levels and warming temperatures began to sink in, people moved away from the tropics and towards cooler climates. They expected the once harsh, cold conditions to eventually turn temperate. And they were right. Many of the students’ grandparents had moved from the United States up into Canada, toughing out the cold winters in order to experience more mild summers.

Meanwhile, tropical storms, high temperatures, and high humidity near the equator were creating a sort of cycling pattern. They were causing mass destruction and the worst storms ever recorded in human history, one after another.

Those fortunate enough to be able to ignore it all lived business-as-usual, so as temperatures rose and harsh storms increased around the world, they just kept moving north. Cities began popping up across much of northern Canada. Though winters in the Yukon were not extremely pleasant, they were much more comfortable than they had been throughout much of the earlier parts of the century.

“Will we ever get to go inside?”, a younger student asked.

A ship assistant wearing the same puffy jumpsuit as the students spoke up. “The Bubble Experiment is completely sealed off. It reaches high enough in the sky to mimic a multilayered atmosphere, as well as low enough into the Earth to allow sand dwellers and natural geological processes below. The Bubble is like the jars from the original experiment: completely sealed with nothing coming in or out. No person, animal, or molecule will ever pass through the walls.”

The boat turned away from the glass and headed south towards the gate to exit the massive fence and head back to the Yukon coast. All of the chairs rotated around to face the bow of the ship again.

The female narrator spoke again. “Canadian Archipelago Tours would like to thank you for joining us today on this journey to the past. May this site of both scientific and historic significance be a reminder of what we once had, what we still have, and what is left to fight for.”

As the ship exited the fence, it gained speed and the rocking of the waves was no longer noticeable. “The Arctic Archipelago Bubble Experiment may be the greatest legacy that humans have ever left. May we never forget it,” the older students mumbled along with the female narrator as she wrapped up.