Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dark Age America: Climate

Over the next year or so, as I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I plan on tracing out as much as possible of what can be known or reasonably guessed about the next five hundred years or so of North American history—the period of the decline and fall of the civilization that now occupies that continent, the dark age in which that familiar trajectory ends, and the first stirrings of the successor societies that will rise out of its ruins. That’s a challenging project, arguably more so than anything else I’ve attempted here, and it also involves some presuppositions that may be unfamiliar even to my regular readers.

To begin with, I’m approaching history—the history of the past as well as of the future—from a strictly ecological standpoint.  I’d like to propose, in fact, that history might best be understood as the ecology of human communities, traced along the dimension of time.  Like every other ecological process, in other words, it’s shaped partly by the pressures of the senvironment and partly by the way its own subsystems interact with one another, and with the subsystems of the other ecologies around it. That’s not a common view; most historical writing these days puts human beings  at the center of the picture, with the natural world as a supposedly static background, while a minority view goes to the other extreme and fixates on natural catastrophes as the sole cause of this or that major historical change.

Neither of these approaches seem particularly useful to me. As our civilization has been trying its level best not to learn for the last couple of centuries, and thus will be learning the hard way in the years immediately ahead, the natural world is not a static background. It’s an active and constantly changing presence that responds in complex ways to human actions. Human societies, in turn, are equally active and equally changeable, and respond in complex ways to nature’s actions. The strange loops generated by a dance of action and interaction along these lines are difficult to track by the usual tools of linear thinking, but they’re the bread and butter of systems theory, and also of all those branches of ecology that treat the ecosystem rather than the individual organism as the basic unit.

The easiest way to show how this perspective works is to watch it in action, and it so happens that one of the most important factors that will shape the history of North America over the next five centuries is particularly amenable to a systems analysis. The factor I have in mind is climate.

Now of course that’s also a political hot potato just at the moment, due to the unwillingness of a great many people across the industrial world to deal with the hard fact that they can’t continue to enjoy their current lifestyles if they want a climatically and ecologically stable planet to live on. It doesn’t matter how often the planet sets new heat records, nor that the fabled Northwest Passage around the top end of Canada—which has been choked with ice since the beginning of recorded history—is open water every summer nowadays, and an increasingly important route for commercial shipping from Europe to the eastern shores of Asia; every time the planet’s increasingly chaotic weather spits out unseasonably cold days in a few places, you can count on hearing well-paid flacks and passionate amateurs alike insisting at the top of their lungs that this proves that anthropogenic climate change is nonsense.

To the extent that this reaction isn’t just propaganda, it shows a blindness to systems phenomena I’ve discussed here before: a learned inability to recognize that change in complex systems does not follow the sort of nice straight lines our current habits of thought prefer. A simple experiment can help show how complex systems respond in the real world, and in the process make it easier to make sense of the sort of climate phenomena we can count on seeing in the decades ahead.

The next time you fill a bathtub, once you’ve turned off the tap, wait until the water is still. Slip your hand into the water, slowly and gently, so that you make as little disturbance in the water as possible. Then move your hand through the water about as fast as a snail moves, and watch and feel how the water adapts to the movement, flowing gently around your hand. .

Once you’ve gotten a clear sense of that, gradually increase the speed with which your hand is moving. After you pass a certain threshold of speed, the movements of the water will take the form of visible waves—a bow wave in front of your hand, a wake behind it in which water rises and falls rhythmically, and wave patterns extending out to the edges of the tub. The faster you move your hand, the larger the waves become, and the more visible the interference patterns as they collide with one another.

Keep on increasing the speed of your hand. You’ll pass a second threshold, and the rhythm of the waves will disintegrate into turbulence: the water will churn, splash, and spray around your hand, and chaotic surges of water will lurch up and down the sides of the tub. If you keep it up, you can get a fair fraction of the bathwater on your bathroom floor, but this isn’t required for the experiment! Once you’ve got a good sense of the difference between the turbulence above the second threshold and the oscillations below it, take your hand out of the water, and watch what happens: the turbulence subsides into wave patterns, the waves shrink, and finally—after some minutes—you have still water again.

This same sequence of responses can be traced in every complex system, governing its response to every kind of disturbance in its surroundings. So long as the change stays below a certain threshold of intensity and rapidity—a threshold that differs for every system and every kind of change—the system will respond smoothly, with the least adjustment that will maintain its own internal balance. Once that threshold is surpassed, oscillations of various kinds spread through the system, growing steadily more extreme as the disturbance becomes stronger, until it passes the second threshold and the system’s oscillations collapse into turbulence and chaos. When chaotic behavior begins to emerge in an oscillating system, in other words, that’s a sign that real trouble may be sitting on the doorstep.

If global temperature were increasing in a nice even line, in other words, we wouldn’t have as much to worry about, because it would be clear from that fact that the resilience of the planet’s climate system was well able to handle the changes that were in process. Once things begin to oscillate, veering outside usual conditions in both directions, that’s a sign that the limits to resilience are coming into sight, with the possibility of chaotic variability in the planetary climate as a whole waiting not far beyond that. We can fine-tune the warning signals a good deal by remembering that every system is made up of subsystems, and those of sub-subsystems, and as a general rule of thumb, the smaller the system, the more readily it moves from local adjustment to oscillation to turbulence in response to rising levels of disturbance.

Local climate is sensitive enough, in fact, that ordinary seasonal changes can yield minor turbulence, which is why the weather is so hard to predict; regional climates are more stable, and normally cycle through an assortment of wavelike oscillations; the cycle of the seasons is one, but there are also multiyear and multidecade cycles of climate that can be tracked on a regional basis. It’s when those regional patterns start showing chaotic behavior—when, let’s say, the usually sizzling Texas summer is suddenly broken by a record cold snap in the middle of July, in a summer that’s shaping up globally to be among the hottest ever measured—that you know the whole system is coming under strain.

I’m not generally a fan of Thomas Friedman, but he scored a direct hit when he warned that what we have to worry about from anthropogenic climate change is not global warming but "global weirding:" in the terms I’ve used in this post, the emergence of chaotic shifts out of a global climate that’s been hit with too much disturbance too fast. A linear change in global temperatures would be harsh, but it would be possible to some extent to shift crop belts smoothly north in the northern hemisphere and south in the southern. If the crop belts disintegrate—if you don’t know whether the next season is going to be warm or cold, wet or dry, short or long—famines become hard to avoid, and cascading impacts on an already strained global economy add to the fun and games.  At this point, for the reasons just shown, that’s the most likely shape of the century or two ahead of us.

In theory, some of that could be avoided if the world’s nations were to stop treating the skies as an aerial sewer in which to dump greenhouse gases. In practice—well, I’ve met far too many climate change activists who still insist that they have to have SUVs to take their kids to soccer practice, and I recall the embarrassed silence that spread a while back when an important British climate scientist pointed out that maybe jetting all over the place to climate conferences was communicating the wrong message at a time when climate scientists and everyone else needed to decrease their carbon footprint. Until the people who claim to be concerned about climate change start showing a willingness to burn much less carbon, it’s unlikely that anyone else will do so, and so I think it’s a pretty safe bet that fossil fuels will continue to be extracted and burnt as long as geological and economic realities permit.

The one bleak consolation here is that those realities are a good deal less flexible than worst-case scenarios generally assume. There are two factors in particular to track here, and both unfold from net energy—the difference between the energy content of fossil fuels as they reach the end consumer and the energy input needed to get them all the way there. The first factor is simply that if a deposit of fossil carbon takes more energy to extract, process, and transport to the end user than the end user can get by burning it, the fossil carbon will stay in the ground. The poster child here is kerogen shale, which has been the bane of four decades of enthusiastic energy projects in the American West and elsewhere. There’s an immense amount of energy locked up in the Green River shale and its equivalents, but every attempt to break into that cookie jar has come to grief on the hard fact that, all things considered, it takes more energy to extract kerogen from shale than you get from burning the kerogen.

The second factor is subtler and considerably more damaging. As fossil fuel deposits with abundant net energy are exhausted, and have to be replaced by deposits with lower net energy, a larger and larger fraction of the total energy supply available to an industrial society has to be diverted from all other economic uses to the process of keeping the energy flowing.  Thus it’s not enough to point to high total energy production and insist that all’s well; the logic of net energy has to be applied here as well, and the total energy input to energy production, processing, and distribution subtracted from total energy production, to get a realistic sense of how much energy is available to power the rest of the economy—and the rest of the economy, remember, is what produces the wealth that makes it possible for individuals, communities, and nations to afford fossil fuels in the first place.

 Long before the last physically extractable deposit of fossil fuel is exhausted, in other words, fossil fuel extraction will have to stop because it’s become an energy sink rather than an energy source. Well before that point is reached, furthermore, the ability of global and national economies to meet the energy costs of fossil fuel extraction will slam face first into hard limits. Demand destruction, which is what economists call the process by which people who can’t afford to buy a product stop using it, is as important here as raw physical depletion; as economies reel under the twin burdens of depleting reserves and rising energy costs for energy production, carbon footprints will shrink willy-nilly as rapid downward mobility becomes the order of the day for most people.

Combine these factors with the economic impacts of "global weirding" itself and you’ve got a good first approximation of the forces that are already massing to terminate the fossil fuel economy with extreme prejudice in the decades ahead. How those are likely to play out the future we’re facing will be discussed at length in several future posts. For the time being, I’ll just note that I expect global fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions to peak within a decade or so to either side of 2030, and then tip over into a ragged and accelerating decline, punctuated by economic and natural disasters, that will reach the zero point of the scale well before 2100.

What that means for the future climate of North America is difficult to predict in detail but not so hard to trace in outline. From now until the end of the 21st century, perhaps longer, we can expect climate chaos, accelerating in its geographical spread and collective impact until a couple of decades after CO2 emissions peak, due to the lag time between when greenhouse gases hit the atmosphere and when their effects finally peak. As the rate of emissions slows thereafter, the turbulence will gradually abate, and some time after that—exactly when is anybody’s guess, but 2300 or so is as good a guess as any—the global climate will have settled down into a "new normal" that won’t be normal by our standards at all. Barring further curveballs from humanity or nature, that "new normal" will remain until enough excess CO2 has been absorbed by natural cycles to matter—a process that will take several millennia at least, and therefore falls outside the range of the five centuries or so I want to consider here.

An educated guess at the shape of the "new normal" is possible, because for the last few million years or so, the paleoclimatology of North America has shown a fairly reliable pattern. The colder North America has been, by and large, the heavier the rainfall in the western half of the continent. During the last Ice Age, for example, rainfall in what’s now the desert Southwest was so heavy that it produced a chain of huge pluvial (that is, rain-fed) lakes and supported relatively abundant grassland and forest ecosystems across much of what’s now sagebrush and cactus country.  Some measure of the difference can be caught from the fact that 18,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age was at its height, Death Valley was a sparkling lake surrounded by pine forests. By contrast, the warmer North America becomes, the dryer the western half of the continent gets, and the drying effect spreads east a very long ways.

After the end of the last Ice Age, for example, the world entered what nowadays gets called the Holocene Climatic Optimum; that term’s a misnomer, at least for this continent, because conditions over a good bit of North America then were optimum only for sand fleas and Gila monsters. There’s been a running debate for several decades about whether the Hypsithermal, to use the so-called Optimum’s other name, was warmer than today all over the planet or just in some regions.  Current opinion tends to favor the latter, but the difference doesn’t actually have that much impact on the issue we’re considering:  the evidence from a broad range of sources shows that North America was significantly warmer in the Hypsithermal than it is today, and so that period makes a fairly good first approximation of the conditions this continent is likely to face in a warmer world.

To make sense of the long-term change to North American climates, it’s important to remember that rainfall is far more important than temperature as a determining factor for local ecosystems. If a given region gets more than about 40 inches of rain a year, no matter what the temperature, it’ll normally support some kind of forest; if it gets between 40 and 10 inches a year, you’ve got grassland or, in polar regions, mosses and lichens; if you get less than 10 inches a year, you’ve got desert, whether it’s as hot as the Sahara or as bitterly cold as the Takla Makan. In the Hypsithermal, as the west dried out,  tallgrass prairie extended straight across the Midwest to western Pennsylvania, and much of the Great Plains were desert, complete with sand dunes.

In a world with ample fossil fuel supplies, it’s been possible to ignore such concerns, to the extent of pumping billions of gallons of water a year from aquifers or distant catchment basins to grow crops in deserts and the driest of grasslands, but as fossil fuel supplies sunset out, the shape of human settlement will once again be a function of annual rainfall, as it was everywhere on the planet before 1900 or so. If the Hypsithermal’s a valid model, as seems most likely, most of North America from the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges east across the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains will be desert, as inhospitable as any on Earth, and human settlement will be accordingly sparse: scattered towns in those few places where geology allows a permanent water supply, separated by vast desolate regions inhabited by few hardy nomads or by no one at all.

East of the Great Desert, grassland will extend for a thousand miles or more, east to the  Allegheny foothills, north to a thinner and dryer boreal forest belt shifted several hundred miles closer to the Arctic Ocean, and south to the tropical jungles of the Gulf coast. Further south, in what’s now Mexico, the tropical rain belt will move northwards with shifts in the global atmospheric circulation, and the Gulf coast east of the Sierra Madre Oriental will shift to tropical ecosystems all the way north to, and beyond, the current international border. Between the greatly expanded tropical zone in the south and east and the hyperarid deserts of the north, Mexico will be a land of sharp ecological contrasts

Factor in sea level rise, on the one hand, and the long-term impacts of soil depletion and of toxic and radioactive wastes on the other—issues complicated enough in their causes, trajectory, and results that they’re going to require separate posts—and you’ve got a fairly limited set of regions in which agriculture will be possible in a post-fossil fuel environment: basically, the eastern seaboard from the new coast west to the Alleghenies and the Great Lakes, and river valleys in the eastern half of the Mississippi basin. The midwestern grasslands will support pastoral grazing, and the jungle belts around the new Gulf coast and across southern Mexico will be suitable for tropical crops once the soil has a chance to recover, but the overall human carrying capacity of the continent will be significantly smaller than it was before the industrial age began.

Climate isn’t the only force pushing in that direction, either. We’ll get to the others in the weeks ahead as we continue exploring the deindustrial landscapes of dark age America.


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YJV said...

Hi Cherokee,
Thanks for the reply! Canberra has stabilized again to its dry-cold, however this winter is a proper one as it's hitting -3 to -5 every morning. I haven't lived here long enough to know if this is normal, but I can say it's more intense than last year. Being from Auckland I'm glad as long as it doesn't rain endlessly.

I'm also finding the regular articles of your farm very interesting, particularly your updates on off-grid electricity generation.


Pierluigi Dipietro said...

I would suggest this link . It si a little OT, but as an archdruid You should enjoy it :)

I see this as a signo of the times

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- I think the current thinking is that it takes more like 10,000 years for very closely-related species of birds to distinguish themselves from their common ancestor, and probably more like a million years for larger distinctions to be made. And I misspoke; the Mourning Dove was the Passenger Pigeon's closest *sympatric* relative; it's closest relative overall is the allopatric Band-tailed Pigeon of the western mountains. But Bandtails don't form the enormous flocks, nor are they such long-distance migrants. Occasional strays do show up in the east (I found South Carolina's first record myself, in fact, way back in 1991), so they do have the potential to colonize the east especially if megadrought pushes them out of the west. My guess though is that it was the long-term cycle of megadroughts that made the two species differentiate in the first place; leaving their ancestors isolated from each other on opposite sides of the Great Desert over and over again through the glacial cycles.

I expect that the large-seed-munching niche (currently filled very inefficiently by squirrels, as evidenced by the huge piles of uneaten acorns, hickorynuts, and walnuts that litter the ground around our house every autumn) is more likely to be filled by some exotic species imported or invading from somewhere else, rather than by evolution. We also used to have an abundant parrot in this area, of course, and many of the soft-fruited trees coevolved with the Carolina Parakeet just as the nut-bearers did with the pigeons. The piles of rotting fruit under the wild plums in late autumn are a sad testament to the loss of this species as well -- it was its fondness for fruit that lead to its being shot into oblivion as a "pest." There are plenty of other parrots in the world that could easily take over where the Carolina left off.

Of course, if advanced technology survives long enough, there are serious talks about resurrecting these extinct "keystone" birds from the DNA in museum specimens. It is very close to feasible right now. I am not sure whether I find this freaky, or a suitable (and bare minimal) atonement and reparation for at least one or two of the many horrific sins that our technological era has committed against the biosphere. I am always wary of technological solutions to the problems created by technology...

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: surviving the Cascadia Quakes -- The native people of the area survived them many times. Individual villages were wiped out and people died, but the People-with-a-capital-P and their culture went through probably dozens of them intact.

Claudia Oney said...

John Michael inspires us all to imagine our future.

With respect to communes, I imagine they might be more appealing when we are faced with the harsh times ahead, not to me personally, but for some. I have seen many thrive, but they do not seem to last. Still as a place to learn skills and a haven of security, the objections discussed here might pale a bit in our future. Monasteries were a haven in the middle ages and imposed terrible 'restraints'. I do support Courtney's admiration for peace, love and understanding. How well all that will hold up when we face storms, drought, famine, disease and crazy bathtubs is unknown, but I'd like to think we are wired for cooperation and compassion.

Day to day, I love the practical, imagining canning without my convenient electric stove. And Cherokee Chris is right, wood fires can do it. My grandmother canned in her washpot. Hoo boy. And as the downward slope gets worse and the climate gets more unpredictable, food preservation will be crucial. My joke has always been that it is more work to harvest and preserve food than the grow it. If I were a wizard, I would build an outdoor stove and bread oven and wire my freezer to solar power.
So busy now with my garden, poultry, milk cow and all. Of course, that is where a community would be handy. A shared freezer and stove. Mmmm.

thrig said...

The Arctic CEO mentioned above might be best understood in the Aussie model—standing down there caused the blood to flow to their head, and then who knows what they will say. That might be a localized effect, though. Better to gather blackberries, and worry about stepping on those black caltrops that are buckwheat grains on the kitchen floor. As for Norway, one tale has the sacred wagon of Freyr—that would be the god of fertility and warmth—stuck in a snowbank following a blizzard. How the future differs will remain to be seen. I do note that while Scyld Scefing arrives in ancient legends, both Tolkien and "Children of Men" have the child leaving, not arriving.

Three kilometers barefoot isn't actually bad (it's hard to overstep or put your heel down too hard as when wearing foot-foams), assuming you're already proficient at walking, and miss all the glass. The route was longer on account of having to walk back after remembering partway through that I had left the bread behind.

Dwig said...

Adrian, I second the recommendation for Meadow's primer. I'd like to see it be part of high school curricula everywhere.

JMG, replying to Eddie: "... you have to be sure that somebody with more guns than you have isn't going to show up and take it away from you ..."
Is there a way to be sure of that? I look forward to coming post(s) on the subject. (Since my little essay into free verse a while back, I've been exploring the terrain...)

Joel Caris said...

In regards to EROEI and fuel substitution, I think the point that too often gets missed is that the way all this shakes out in the future is not going to be controlled and rational. It's going to be a complicated, messy process driven by competing economic and political interests, population pressures, social and cultural beliefs, and so on.

Now, I'm not sure I have a full and complete understanding of the EROEI issues being discussed here by JMG, Avalterra, and P.M. Lawrence. However, it seems to me that if you have a certain amount of coal and you want to use that coal for a coal-to-liquids scheme or to burn it to extract oil from the ground that has an EROEI lower than the coal or even in the negative territory, then you're engaging in an unnecessary loss of energy. You're using the coal to create a liquid that provides you less energy than if you just burned the coal.

Can that happen? Sure, yes, if it's technically feasible. But if you do that in an energy-constrained world (which is what we're talking about here, after all) then you're subtracting net energy from the system. In the energy-constrained world of the near future, there's going to be strong demand for all available energy. There's going to be competition over it. And, therefore, subtracting net energy is going to be a contentious issue.

Of course there will be parties who would prefer to turn a certain amount of coal into a certain less amount (energy wise) of burnable liquids, because they have more use for liquids than for coal. But there also are going to be parties that will happily burn that coal and gain the full use of energy from it. Therefore, there's going to be competition over that coal: one side wanting the direct burning of the coal and its full energy content and another side wanting a lower-net-energy liquid derived from that coal.

This is where all the various economic, political, societal, and cultural pressures come in. How that shakes out is impossible to say and entirely dependent on the details and variables. But, in an energy-constrained world, I suspect I would have better luck betting on outcomes that led to greater net energy. More often than not, I suspect that would be the outcome.

But the point here is that the process will not be centrally controlled. Saying that liquid fuel is more useful than coal is only true within certain contexts. And in an energy-constrained world, it's going to always be true only for certain people and not true for others. Some will have greater use of the liquids, others will have greater use of the higher net energy. So the decision of how to use that coal becomes economic, political, and so on. Technical feasibility is only the first step. If it is technically feasible, then it's an option, but then economics, politics, culture, etc. gets to fight over the final decision of how to utilize that coal.

And again, if I'm a betting man in that scenario, I'm placing my bets on the higher net energy. I'll lose some of those bets, but I probably win a heck of a lot more.

It has to be remembered that we're entering a period that's going to be characterized by greater and greater chaos, due to the failure of the underlying systems that provide our current stability and understanding of the world. Therefore, trying to make predictions about the future that work within the current assumptions of rationality are, as often as not, likely to fail. Today's rational decision is not necessarily tomorrow's rational decision, because the context likely will be dramatically different.

Ray Wharton said...

This year has been a blessed oscillation in North Western Colorado. A friend recently commented "I have seen a summer like this before, in Kentucky." Of course the extreme drought of three years ago is a fresh memory, and I reckon a more likely sign of trends to come. This being already an extreme and unpredictable climate, added oscillation and more difficult predictions is a daunting prospect indeed. Colorado's infrastructure to support its population is actually rather fragile, and dependent on natural cycles that can take wild swings with no warning, and indeed have done so before.

Maybe I should be practicing refugee camp life skills, I reckon many of my generation will be going though such things; events that could decimate the support capacity of my area could hit like a bolt from the blue if the climate rolls snake eyes. I wonder, what personal traits would make one refugee stand out as more welcome than another?

This article greatly understates the event in the mountains, but a "high wind event" in the mountains that happened to be shaped just like a tornado cut a 50 meter wide swath of destruction in an area that meteorologically speaking shouldn't really have this type of 'high wind event' at all.

Looking at a map of the Western United States I notice that if the climate and infrastructure becomes even a bit less hospitable it is a short path to a world with 100,000 + square mile no man lands fitting between little spots along side rivers where a few hardy hominids can eek out a subsistence.

I wouldn't think it strange to see everything from Kansas to the Sierras abandoned excepting a few river valleys in more fortunate areas of the mountains. Wild West, part two!

@SLClaire - That is a disturbing article about California, I recently read a book about the Okiee refugee camps after the dust bowl, even a small displacement of California's population would be overwhelming compared to the dust bowl migrations.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Bill Pulliam and others--I'm heartily in favor of attempts to resurrect the Passenger Pigeon or something like it from reconstituted DNA plus if necessary crossbreeding with related extant species. Also in favor of trying to bring back other species that have been wiped out in the last 500 years, but the pigeon would be a logical starting point.

There are several naturalized flocks of feral parrots living in trees in San Francisco. There's a moving documentary about them and one of their human friends, called The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill or something like that.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

A large percentage of Californians were not born here. Most if not all the recent population growth in California is from immigration, not natural increase. Take away the jobs and people will leave. That happened in the last two recessions.

Recession and drought haven't yet emptied the San Joaquin Valley, even though it has Great Depression levels of unemployment. But urban populations are more mobile. We're due for a big infrastructure-destroying quake near San Francisco in the next twenty or thirty years. Break enough gas lines, water pipes, and freeway on ramps and you get large fires, after which people have no jobs to go to. 5

wolfvanzandt said...

Claudia, the people in my culture take pretty well to anarchy. I don't think that's true of the general population and I think that's part of why communes fail. Most people have a hard time listening to their inner compass about what's best for the group - they keep coming back to "what's best for me." Still, we're not thinking about just communes but a variety of different social constellations that are loosely interconnected and cooperative.

I prefer that. There's a law of system analysis called Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety that states that for a system to survive, it has to have as much internal variety as the environment it operates in. For everything the environment does to a system, it has to be able to come up with a counter-measure. The more approaches a person has to a problem, the more opportunities they have to solve it. And that's why I like diversity.

Many people see our society as converging into a society where more and more people are more and more similar. Many people think that's a good thing - I think it's a prelude to disaster.

avalterra said...

Goodness, didn't mean to stir the pot quite so much. But I agree with JMG - in the end all kinds of wackiness will likely be tried, most of which will fail before being even implemented and a few of which will fail soon thereafter.


Zach said...

@Courtney Jane,

If you're still reading... I was going to be one of the people warning you that your scheme won't work to change human nature, but that's already been well-covered.

Instead, I'd like to offer you some encouragement.

The idea of finding some cheap, fertile, out-of-the-way land, pooling resources, and making a go of it is not necessarily a bad idea at all. Go for it! I salute your ambition. Better than sitting on a couch fretting about the end of civilization. But, make sure to "count the cost" first. The surest way to make such a venture fail would be starting it with unrealistic expectations of Utopia coming about.


exiledbear said...

re: California

Most of the people who live in CA aren't actually from CA.

There is a certain amount of snobbishness in certain parts of urban CA. The first things they ask you in some circles are "Where are you from?" and "What race are you?", in order to pin you down into some category that then determines how they behave and interact with you. At the top of the lists in terms of deference are "The East Coast" and "WASP". Anything else puts you further down the list.

Rural CA, I never really experienced, but I suspect they're the same as rural folks elsewhere.

I'd help my blood relations from CA if they ever needed it, because they had to move. In the upcoming era, blood may be all you have left. As far as the rest of those "Where are you from?" people go, they can keep moving as far as I'm concerned, perhaps to the east coast.

Redneck Girl said...

@ Bill Pulliam, I think instead of the Carolina Parakeet it will likely be escaped domestic Parakeets. San Francisco already has a population of such birds. Although some species could be revived by cloning (like the Passenger Pigeon) I believe to get a healthy population faster you could selectively breed a close relative for type and cross breed those with the cloned birds for a wider gene pool.

At the stable where I keep my horses I'm seeing some color variation in the black birds that live in the area. Last year a young hen was showing white in a few of her flight feathers and a scattering of white in her neck feathers too. Just a few weeks ago I saw a male bird pecking at grain on the ground with his tail feathers spread and except for the two or four 'outside' feathers his tail was white. This valley has also produced some pale colored deer as well. Not quite white but going in that direction.

They've already considered breeding for type to get mammoths back. I personally would like to see Woods Bison brought back. I read a few years ago in Alaska they found a near intact frozen carcass of one apparently killed by a saber tooth tiger that had taken one bite from the spine area. (They called it Babe, a nod to Paul Bunyon.) I understand that Woods Bison were much larger then modern buffalo. Or perhaps I'm uninformed in the matter.

Feral pigs are taking the empty niche for nuts and fruit here on the west coast. They're becoming real pests in California and can pose a danger to ground nesting birds, small/newborn animals and children.

The 10,000 year differentiation became clear to me with the Kiabab Squirrel. On one side of the Grand Canyon the squirrels are black but on the other side they're red. It's the exact same squirrel, ear tufts and all except for the color. That seems to place the gouging of the Grand Canyon during the end of the last Ice Age when the huge glacial lake in Canada and the northern parts of Montana and N. Dakota breached the ice dam, flowing to the Gulf of Mexico.

At the stable where I keep my horses I'm seeing some color variation in the black birds that live in the area. Last year a young hen was showing white in a few of her flight feathers and a scattering of white in her neck feathers too. Just a few weeks ago I saw a male Black Bird pecking at grain on the ground with his tail feathers spread and except for the two or four 'outside' feathers his tail was white. This valley has also produced some pale colored deer as well. Not quite white but going in that direction. Interesting times for sure!


Varun Bhaskar said...

@ Janet and Enrique
I've put both books on my reading list, which is getting very long thanks to this blog. I wish I could point you guys to a good book about Bangalore's lakes ans d canals but most of what I know comes from drunken conversations with Anthropologists and civil engineers.

I read an article about traditional land/water management systems being far more resilient to climate change than our current systems. I mean who would have ever guessed that systems that don't strip that land of it's resources would actually work better. No one could have ever predicted that. Ever...

One advantage we will have in the next two or three decades is a massive surplus of labour, which will be very helpful for civil engineering projects. From what I understand you only need to alter about 80-100 sq miles of land to create a micro-climate. Don't ask me to cite that piece of data, it came from the same drunken conversations that I mentioned earlier. I see rain water harvesting becoming a huge deal in the future.

Completely forgot to link that water harvesting technology I mentioned earlier.

Remove all the stuff about solar power and they've actually created a coastal greenhouse that create small amounts of drinking water. Pretty impressive, but of course how far you can scale something like this really matters.

Redneck Girl said...

I'm not sure someone hasn't beaten me to the punch on this but here is 'THE ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS'!

What to Do With All that Carbon Dioxide: Why Not Make it into a Fuel Source?

Read more:

Do I get my Moeller Flying Car with this discovery? I want it in that color Volkswagen had some years back that they called vapor.

I won't hold my breath of course, blue and olive/brown are mutually exclusive, no compatibility at all!


nuku said...

Re communes: Here in N.Z. there is a history of various types of communal living arrangements. Where I live (top of the s. Island), there are 4 that I’ve visited; one I lived at for 9 months. The oldest dates from WW2, started by conscientious objectors with a Christian outlook. At its height in the 60’s it had a large scale Agri base, car repair business, etc. It was very “socialistic” at first. Upon joining, you had to give up all your personal assets, and in return got a house to live in, free meals in the communal hall, a small amount of spending money, use of a car. It went into decline in the 70’s when most of the kids of the founders moved away. Still going today, but not on the same basis and not a functioning semi-self-sufficient economic unit now. Also the Chrisitan “glue” isn’t there although there is a sort of “spiritual” ethos. It is still a going concern, adapting like any organism to its environment and its own internal development...

nuku said...

Re communes 2: In 1999 I lived on another commune which was founded in the late 60’s in a fairly isolated rural area on an old farm.
All the land is owned by an educational trust and each member gets assigned a small area to build a house which they personally own. Although Members didn’t have to give up their personal assets, they must put in 10 hrs/week on various communal tasks like gardening or maintaining the communal infrastructure. There is no religious underpinning, but all the founders (many of whom were not native born New Zealanders) had a vision of actually living an “alternative” to the existing individualistic Capitalist society. At the beginning, pretty much all the members were poor youngish folks with a bit of capital and lots of energy, and most worked inside the commune. Over the years, some got rich by working on the “outside,” some remained poor, some new members came in with money, so now there is the usual stratification of money “inside” the commune, and some of the richer members even pay the less rich to do their communal manual labor! Again, the organism evolves.
On the “outside,“ most people work jobs for cash and pay the government via taxes to take care of the communal stuff like sewage, water, etc. They also avoid dealing with the internal politics of the organizations they pay to do the work for them.
In the commune, the members had to deal with all that, work and politics day-to-day, and learn to live with each other not just as casual “neighbors down the block.”
My guess is that in the de-industrialized, more localized, future, various forms of more or less communal living will evolve to meet the needs of those who survive.

John Michael Greer said...

Pierluigi, I'm basing my analysis on the last hundred million years or so of paleoclimatology, which includes periods in which CO2 levels in the atmosphere were many times higher than they are today; it also includes periods of extremely rapid climate change -- far more rapid than the IPCC is talking about, though not necessarily more than we'll get. If you can show me solid reasons to think we'll get climate shifts more drastic than the super-greenhouse events of the Toarcian and the Cenomanian-Turonian epochs, say, that's one thing; otherwise, yes, it's just another way of insisting that it's different this time.

On a brighter note, many thanks for the link! Is there any way we can get some lakes like that over here, to swallow up some of the hideous suburban excrescences over here?

Bill, you're probably right that intrusive exotics are more likely to pick up the slack than new species, though we'll see; the pace at which the eastern coyote seems to be moving toward wolfhood is impressive. Still, I can think of one species very well adapted to make use of those fallen seeds and fruit: feral pigs. Not as good at long-distance seed transfer, but we've already got 'em over much of the country.

Claudia, it's an interesting question how much the communities of the future will resemble communes, and how much they'll resemble medieval villages. A cooperatively owned stove and freezer might be an option in either case.

Thrig, I think you're right about the CEO.

Dwig, sure: don't depend on having piles of stuff. If your value to others depends on what you can do rather than what you have, the folks with guns are much more likely to be your friends rather than your murderers.

Joel, excellent. That very helpful bit of realism gets you tonight's gold star.

Ray, I'd expect to see a nomadic economy emerging on the high desert and dry plains. Much more on this as we proceed!

Unknown Deborah, I also wonder what's going to happen when the state can no longer afford its welfare programs, and the very large number of poor Californians on public assistance head for states that still have some money left for such things. One way or another, it's going to be a rough road.

Avalterra, it's a valid question, and deserves discussion.

John Michael Greer said...

Bear, interesting. Most of the people I met who were emigrants from California were actually born there; I wonder to what extent newcomers are pushing the natives out!

Wadulisi, I suggest you get it powered by a perpetual motion machine, or maybe a Dean Drive. All jokes aside, such moronic proposals are going to be flying fast and thick as the crises start piling up.

Nuku, those are about par for the course for my experience with successful communes. Then there are the unsuccessful ones, which are the vast majority; here in the US, the average commune survives for just over two years.

Bill Pulliam said...

Assorted items, pull out whichever seem to be responses to you!

Most mammalogists now consider coyotes, wolves, and dogs to all be the same species, just different subspecies/domesticated varieties. So it's not far to go from coyote to wolf, especially if you mix some domestic dog in (they have more wolf genes and wolf-like social structure). Still, I haven't seen the coyotes in the eastern woodlands developing anywhere near the complex social structure that the wolves that used to live here had. This matters, because adult deer are usually too big for a coyote to take down, but can be prey for a wolf pack. Same for the feral hogs, which have just begun moving into this county in the last couple of years.

About those hogs, unless we do get wolf-like canines back, we're just stuck with them. People rarely if ever have much luck eradicating them by our own hunting methods.

About ecological substitutions. Unfortunately, a parrot is not a parrot is not a parrot, and a pigeon is not a pigeon is not a pigeon. The exotic parrots getting established in North America are not really hardy away from houses, and they are not migratory. And every species has its own quirky preferences for food and habitat and its unique social and reproductive behavior. That is why they are all different species. So even if some start to venture into the wilderness, they will be something new, not a replacement for something gone. Passenger Pigeons had a complex social structure and long-range migratory behavior that are unlike their living relatives.

Selective breeding to create an imitation of an extinct species -- you're very unlikely to recapture the behavior and ecology as well, not just the physical appearance.

White on birds -- this is not actually all that rare in the wild. If you sort through large flocks of dark birds, you find it pretty often. It can be genetic or developmental. Some birds grow white feathers from healed-up injured parts. I don't know that the incidence of it is really changing. It's more a matter than once you notice one partially leucistic bird, you start looking more closely and discover more of them.

The squirrels on either side of the Grand Canyon have not necessarily been isolated for the entire time the Canyon has existed. With the climate swings, the Canyon rims have not been squirrel habitat for much of that time, certainly not during the last megadrought. So the present day squirrels are probably descendents of critters that dispersed from the highlands upstream of the canyon within the last <10,000 years as the pines expanded out of the mountains and onto the higher plateaus. Plus, it's not really unfeasible for a squirrel to cross the canyon. Them critters can swim, ya know. And the canyon walls are not unscalable to a squirrel for its entire length.

And finally, the singular of "species" is "species." There is no such thing as a "specie," at least not in standard English.

Pierluigi Dipietro said...

"Pierluigi, I'm basing my analysis on the last hundred million years or so of paleoclimatology"

Ok, this removes all misunderstandings.

If this is your timeframe, then I agree with you, It will not be different this time :)


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bogatyr,

Well, that is perhaps unsurprising as the original Mad Max was filmed not too far from here. hehe! Seriously though, I'm really unsure how many people could actually walk the uphill trek to get here and whether they'd be in any condition at the end of it to make demands of me. I could seal off the mountain range to vehicle traffic, if I so chose.

What happened during the Great Depression was that men usually hit the road looking for work. They were called "swagmen". The reason for this is that a swag is a canvas waterproof bag inside of which they slept. It was not uncommon on rural lots during those times that you had a swagman living down the back paddock who worked for their water, food and accomodation.

It is only in our present times that we have fantasies of going out and taking other peoples things. Really, few people would understand what it means to live here at this particular location. I'm not suggesting that I may not have to make accomodations with a local warlord though.

Hi P.M. Lawrence,

Have you heard about this: Morwell residents considering move after Hazelwood mine flare up?



Cherokee Organics said...


Many thanks! Mate, that's cold though. I hear you about Auckland too as I've visited the city. As a funny side story, a mate of mine is a Kiwi and he reckons that if the dams drop below 80% full, they reckon that they're in the grip of a drought! Mind you, he's from Dunedin...

Hi Claudia,

Many thanks too. Preserving fruit using the bottling (hot water bath) system is always hard here because it is usually on the hottest day of the year... Hmmm, I can see an outdoor pizza oven in your future.

PS: I bake the bread outside in a small electric oven at that time of year.



Cherokee Organics said...


Yes, I'm trying really hard to walk the talk. I've let it known around here that there is an external power point which people in the local area can use just in case there is a big black out. I haven't had any takers yet, but it is still early days.

By the way the new panels are making the system rock along nicely.

I've put a new blog entry up too showing all of the interesting things I'm getting up to here: A frosty reception

Honestly the ground has been frozen here for a couple of days! Why would people want to try and farm in those conditions? Beats me.



Morgenfrue said...

Perhaps not totally relevant to dark age climate, but here's an article I stumbled over that made me think of the availability of lampposts - rich dude warns other rich dudes of shadows on the wall:

Nastarana said...


I lived in the CA Central Valley for about 25 years, the last five of which were in the small town which prides itself on its' large number of Christian churches--you might know the one I mean. During those five years in Christian Central, there was a killing next door, followed by the firebombing of an auto in the small hours by the relatives of the accused, to encourage them to not testify at the upcoming murder trial (the accused was convicted anyway). The year before I left, one young woman was actually tied up and set on fire over an $850. drug deal (she died in hospital). That lead to the arrest of 6 individuals and reopening of no fewer than 5 previous killings. Law abiding folks not involved in illegal trade were not exempt from theft and violence. I had my car broken into, license plate stolen, garden tools stolen out of my yard while I was answering the phone inside, purse stolen at work. When I moved to the East Coast, the mechanic where I took my car thought it was hilarious that I automatically put a club on my car whenever I parked. My daughter in college in another West Coast state reported that Californians on campus were also obsessively locking their doors and belongings, much to the amusement of others.

I understand the reason behind high CA crime, which is the desperation caused by the combination of low wages and high cost of living, especially housing costs. Rudeness is part of life, and can, rarely, be a useful tactic, but no one should be asked to, and I am no longer willing to, live in a war zone in order to further someone else's profit.

Shane Wilson said...

On the California bandwagon, I lived there from' 04-'12 or so. South bay, metro L.A.,
My impression is that people move/live there for the most superficial of reasons, namely the weather. It's the top reason people give, and the main reason they can't comprehend living anywhere else (too cold, humid, rainy, hot, etc.) I hadn't given much thought to the biome/ecology of the area when I moved there, and it became the main detracting feature for me. I realized I needed green and lushness to thrive, and the arid climate depressed me. I couldn't share this with anyone, as they found it very upsetting. Most of urban/suburban California is such an artificial environment that bears no relation to its natural state. Not to say that there isn't tremendous natural beauty in California, but, for me, day to day, it was an ugly environment.
One thing I noticed when I lived there was the pronounced defensiveness and boosterism of the state. Having also lived in Ohio, I recognized it at once: California is" rust belting" as surely as the great lakes states were 30+ years ago. My guess is that many die hard Californians will ignore the warning signs and stay on way too late. Meanwhile, here in central KY, I've met enough California transplants that I'm thinking it's not a coincidence, but it still amazes me, considering I don't think of central KY as a destination for Californians. Meanwhile, I'm very grateful to be back in a rich, diverse biome with lots of lush greenery and ample rainfall throughout the year. :)

LewisLucanBooks said...

I read something a couple of years ago about Quaker Parrots occupying the former range of the Carolina Parakeet. I saw a bit of film of them establishing breeding populations in the outer boroughs.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a pair of birds around my apple trees that I though might be Goldfinches. Odd for Goldfinches as they generally stay away from buildings preferring fence lines and open fields with lots of nice weed seed.

Then the male landed on my porch rail. Again, unusual behavior for a Goldfinch. It was a canary! I had to shoo him away as my cat was getting VERY interested. According to my neighbor / landlord they are about and have been for years.

Shane Wilson said...

Other signs of" rust belting" in California:
Lowered health indicators for a state once considered extremely health conscious: cigarette taxes haven't been raised in over 15 years or so, and cigarettes are actually cheaper in California than many other states. They even voted down a tax increase a few years back. Secondly, if I'm not mistaken, obesity rates in California are actually higher than the national average.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

' "And finally, the singular of "species" is "species." '


'There is no such thing as a "specie," at least not in standard English.'

In standard English, "specie" means money in the form of coins. It comes from the Latin legal phrase "in specie" which means "in the actual form".

There is a problem with the meaning of "specie" now that most coinage consists of base metal rather than silver or gold and therefore has no more intrinsic value than a paper note.

steve pearson said...

@ Courtney Jane or anyone else interested, I would suggest that you try WWOOF(willing workers on organic farms). There is another similar service, the name of which I can't remember. You join for a minimal fee & get access to their list of farms where you can work in exchange for room & board. There are family farms, communities, the whole 9 yards. They are world wide, at least Europe, N.Am., Australia, NZ. I have worked at several, learned a lot, made some good friendships.
I reckon just going out & buying some land would be mad unless you know a lot more about it. This is a relatively painless way to learn about the life style, the land & weather conditions in whatever area you choose & perhaps find an opening to some longer term situation through it, if you still want that.
Regards, Steve

steve pearson said...

Was just going to add that, once you find one good wwoof situation, either the hosts or other wwoofers can usually direct you to other ones elsewhere; "go to this one, but that one is not so good" sort of referrals. You can pretty much continue indefinitely for very little money.

Moshe Braner said...

Re: EROI of coal-to-liquids and such. I think doing it on a truly large scale does not make energetic sense and thus cannot be a basis for an industrial society. Albeit South Africa still does it, thanks to have already paid the large sunk cost of setting up the machinery.

But, as a way to get a not-large amount of liquid fuel, it may make sense, if the liquid fuel is used for a specialized purpose. E.g., as a plaything for the super rich. (Got to keep those exec jest flying, you know.) Or, most likely, for military uses, which is why Germany did it during WW2. Japan went farther, and urged (forced?) a huge number of civilians to roam the woods collecting pine pitch, which they transported to centralized facilities in which they converted it (at great energy expense) to bits of liquid fuel to run the last kamikaze flights.

Or take the modern-day equivalent. You may have heard of the US Navy coming up with a way to turn seawater into liquid fuel. That's how the energy-clueless journalists say it. I think what they mean is that the US Navy, having nuclear-powered ships a loooong ways from home, thinks it would make sense to use surplus electrical power to electrolize water, and then use chemical processes to convert the hydrogen to liquid fuel. EROI? How cares. It's cheaper than transporting liquid fuel from 10,000 miles away during wartime conditions.

valekeeperx said...


Sorry, but I’m not that familiar with the Central Valley, though what you describe is not surprising. I grew up and still live in the “Inland Empire” area of southern California. As long as I can remember, this area has mainly been conservative and “traditional”; lot of agriculture and viniculture. However, the ag and vineyards have given way significantly over the years, to the waves of land development. Sadly, only small pockets remain.

We've had our share of crime here as well. The cartels have had their “representatives” for decades. But, California is not the only place where these things go on. It is part of industrial society, well, actually just part of human ecology I guess. People give in to fear, desperation, insecurities, and lash out violently. There are rude, self-righteous, and self-absorbed people from many places. Again, California does not have a monopoly. But, there are good, kind, and considerate people from all over the world as well, not just California. We find what we are looking for.

Regarding the sense of living in a war zone, somewhat understandable I guess depending on one's life experiences and expectations. Where I grew up was more along the periphery of the rougher stuff that went on in the LA area. I was in high school in the late 70s, and we had gang members that were essentially new recruits; small, but very marked and definite presence on campus. There was trafficking and extracurricular violence. On average, a couple of these foot soldiers were taken out violently each year. And, there was “collateral damage,” too. Senseless, needless. I’ve struggled with these kinds of things, as well as much of the other sad, ridiculous, unnecessary happenings in other places over the years. Still, there is much good in the world at the same time and there is much beauty to experience wherever we find ourselves, including California.

In recent years, I’ve found some practices and perspectives that help a lot. Reading the ADR and some of JMG’s books has helped, too. Yes, challenging times no matter where one lives, but in the end we all wind up as worm food, whether by microbes, disease, auto accident, or physical violence of some sort. As JMG pointed out in his post of July 23, we can come to terms with this prospect and face it head on and deal with it productively, or we can live in fear of this prospect and let it have its way with us.

dies ad bonum est vivere, dies ad bonum est mori

P.M.Lawrence said...

Joel Caris, you're getting close, but you're doing what JMG is doing: trying to pull the parts together too soon, then bringing out difficulties from one part in a way that makes them look as though they are from another part.

Now, what I am trying to do is analysis: breaking down the parts to get an understanding before pulling them together. Yes, many sophisters don't ever get around to pulling them together, but that's not me, I just haven't got the earlier stage over to people yet. And yes, some things cannot be taken apart like that, any more than taking the cat apart to see how it works, but that's where the art comes in in deciding what to separate like that; the merely physical and technical things actually can be separated, so nobody should think I am abstracting out what should be left in.

So, let's see what you have pulled in that belongs elsewhere than the matters I was looking at.

"You're using the coal to create a liquid that provides you less energy than if you just burned the coal" - correct, but that's another question. Remember, peak coal - the inherent, internal limitation of this ersatz oil approach - hits later than peak oil, and unevenly in different parts of the world (the brown coal I used as an example is "stranded coal", tied to its area unless and until it is used to produce something that leaves, like electricity).

"But if you do that in an energy-constrained world (which is what we're talking about here, after all) then you're subtracting net energy from the system".

No, that is not what we're talking about here, that is what we are going to be talking about later (if we do it right), when we pull it all together. Here, we are talking about the run up to a collapse, during which constraints on certain forms of energy are tightening but others are as yet further off - including coal constraints. And it turns out that the bottleneck is not in this coal part, not before other things hit. (There will probably still be brown coal in existence even once people can't get at it any more for other reasons, let alone process it to get ersatz oil, just as there were still Roman aqueducts standing even after people couldn't keep them working - but that just means it's yet other constraints that will hit, and until they do there's an option to push back the oil constraint in at least some places.)

"Technical feasibility is only the first step. If it is technically feasible, then it's an option, but then economics, politics, culture, etc. gets to fight over the final decision of how to utilize that coal... Therefore, trying to make predictions about the future that work within the current assumptions of rationality are, as often as not, likely to fail. Today's rational decision is not necessarily tomorrow's rational decision, because the context likely will be dramatically different."

That's what I've been bloody saying. But we won't get past that first step in our analysis - our breaking it all down to have a look at it - for so long as some people think that means that there must be technical feasibility problems that cut in early too, just because other things will provide obstacles. And some people really do think that EROEI must be what stops it, just because it does stop some things; but it's a faulty syllogism other possible causes of things stopping - EROEI stops some things, this will be stopped, so EROEI will stop this.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Shane - Yeah, I did the S. California sojourn in the early 70's. I don't know. There was the whole Beach Boy beach thing. Memories of The Summer of Love. It just seemed like a happening place for a young person to head for. And, I had a job offer in place.

My home town is Portland and I really didn't think the lack of rain would bother me, but it did. I needed the rain and the green. On trips back home I could actually smell the fir trees and rich earth over the jet fuel at the airport.

It was the gas shortages that finally were the last straw. I saw scary things in those gas lines and thought that if ever anything really serious happened, S. California was not the place to be.

But, all things considered, I was glad I spent a few years down there. As a young person. Got to see a bit of the world and met some really interesting people.

Helix said...

Tangentailly related to the current topic, I have just moved from Idaho to rural Virginia. Although the area around Charlottesville appears very lush, I was alarmed, and saddened to observe that there are no honeybees at all at my new residence despite a lawn containing clover and several flower bushes in full bloom near the house. Ditto mosquitos at night -- Nada. Two nights ago, I was standing at my friend Bob's door in nearby Maryland, and noticed that there were no nocturnal insects at all buzzing around the door trying to get to the lights inside -- no moths, no mosquitos, no flying bugs, gnats, beetles or any other insect. At my erstwhile home in Idaho, I would have to go through my door at breakneck speed to avoid having to share their company indoors for the rest of the evening. About the only insect I saw an abundance of at my new home were Japanese beetles.

I also noted a surprising shortage of birds, squirrels, and other creatures that I would expect to find in abundance in such a lush environment.

I originally grew up in rural Maryland, and distinctly remember the riot of squirrels, raccoons, honeybees, groundhogs, and insects of all kinds. While some people probably think of insects as a nuisance, I see the absence of them in such a lush environment a sign of an ecosystem under extreme stress.

Zach said...


True paleo-conservatives are a rare breed today, and ones that also recognize climate change are rarer. It might be just me in fact. :)

No, there's definitely two of us. :)

With a few more, maybe we could get a movement going -- or, at least, play a few hands of Euchre...


fosforos said...

One crucial factor missing from this forecast: the ecological impact of the worldwide nuclear war that will be the inevitable result of the course (which we are already far advanced on) l;eading directly to that Dark Age!

valekeeperx said...

Shane, et al,

I’m going to respond as though you are serious, though, I think you may be having a bit of fun.

Regarding California and the rust belting issue, not going to argue that, since one of JMG’s main points is that the whole country is rust belting. Most people in America are not heeding the warning signs. Californians aren’t alone.

Southern California is a semi-arid desert, not sure what you were expecting. I guess deserts are not for the faint of heart. As far as California’s artificial environment, um, there are 38 million people in the state and yes, it has been highly modified by humans, what did you expect? It’s not as represented in the advertisements or the movies, but then nothing is.

I guess a lot of people have come to southern California for the mostly sunny weather. I’ve heard that a few times from some people and most are glad they did. My parents came here as children with their parents, who came here from the Midwest for work after WWII. Booming aerospace and defense industries among other things.

Seems that some people are anxious to dance on California’s grave. But, I’m going to stay here. I know what to expect about most things and where things are. At the same time, I’m heeding the Archdruid’s advice and reading up on local ecology and natural history, etc.

Regardless of what happens, there will be plenty to salvage. In the valley areas of southern California, there are still good, fertile soils that can be utilized, though some “undeveloping” may be required. Whatever is done, it will be done in comfortable sunny weather. Freezing to death won’t be a big worry. Yes, water will be the defining challenge and I expect there will be actual out-and-out water wars rather than just the courtroom variety. I expect that Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson will become ghost towns before LA or San Diego. But, to paraphrase what JMG has said repeatedly…things are going to get rather messy everywhere. Whatever the case, life has a 100% mortality rate. So, I’m going to focus on enjoying the ride and preserving what I can.

Best regards.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Bill Pulliam wrote, "Re: surviving the Cascadia Quakes -- The native people of the area survived them many times. Individual villages were wiped out and people died, but the People-with-a-capital-P and their culture went through probably dozens of them intact."

Same is true for the Coast Miwok, some of whom lived right over the San Andreas Fault, but their building practices were nothing like current industrial society.(There is a park in northern Marin County with a reconstructed Miwok village called Kule Loklo.)

Miwok dwellings and meeting places were dug a few feet into the ground, walled and roofed with wooden poles and branches covered with bark and other lightweight plant materials. These constructions were flexible, relatively lightweight, and replaceable from abundant local materials. The Miwok did not store large tanks of toxic flammable chemicals near where they lived and hunted.

MawKernewek said...

According to this website from NOAA and work by Hollan and Berger and Loutre we should not expect the Earth's orbital parameters (the Milankovitch cycles) to lead to a new ice age within the next 50kyr - 100kyr, or maybe as long as 0.5Myr. This is based on the 65N summer insolation , linked to the establishment of permament ice since it is primarily summer, rather than winter temperatures that determine whether ice persists from one year to the next.

If anthropogenic climate change is sufficient to cause full deglaciation of Greenland, within the next few centuries to millenium, then perhaps we would not expect a large ice-sheet to reform there even if CO2 levels dropped again in a couple of thousand years, since it would need another big push in the cold direction to go back from an island that would possibly have a low-albedo forest on it, surrounded by a low-albedo ice-free ocean, back to an ice-sheet.

GreenGoth said...

Glenn and others, regarding the overdue catastrophic Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, if you haven't seen it yet I highly recommend Jerry Thompson's well-researched 2011 book Cascadia's Fault for the historical & prehistorical evidence of previous catastrophic quakes along the Cascadia Subduction Zone (from British Columbia down to northern California), and the immense destruction we face when the fault rips loose again.

Nevertheless we are going ahead with our retirement move from Los Angeles [gods help us!] to establish our homestead in the "banana belt" of Humboldt County; fell in love with the area while our eldest attended Humboldt State, and are fortunate enough to retire from the cube farms while still healthy & in our late 50s.

But we'll stay well out of the well-documented tsunami/river surge zones and prepare for a very long emergency if Cascadia blows during our lifetimes. I grew up in rural Georgia where families routinely grew huge gardens, kept chickens and other livestock for home use, gifted surplus among neighbors, while working the usual kinds of 1950s-60s era jobs in nearby towns. (Now Atlanta's cancerous growth has covered all that fertile land and woods in suburbs, breaks my heart!)

GreenGoth said...

On the topic of global weirding on a geophysical hazard scale, Bill McGuire (professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College, London) has written "Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes" (2012). He discusses the end of the last Ice Age when the immense weight/pressure of the great glaciers and ice sheets disappeared, the crust beneath "bounced back" while the vast meltwaters poured across the land, sea levels rose and the crust around the ocean basins' margins warped and bent, provoking a "huge resurgence in volcanic activity, seismic shocks and monstrous landslides".

He then goes on to make the case through current research and models that the temperature rises expected in this century and beyond due to human-caused climate change may trigger similar catastrophic geohazards far beyond what we have experienced in ["civilized"] human history, citing the current rapid melting of the glaciers and ice sheets of the "three poles" (north, south, Himalayas); much depends on how rapid and extreme the temperatures and sea levels rise, potentially triggering such drastic reactions from the planet's crust.

So even beyond climate/weather phenomena affecting shorelines, desertification, spreading disease vectors, famine, climate refugees, resource wars, etc., we may be in for an even bigger "bumpy ride" than anticipated.

In short, the message is (in horsey terms), "Gaia's gonna buck."

peacegarden said...

“I also noted a surprising shortage of birds, squirrels, and other creatures that I would expect to find in abundance in such a lush environment.”

Shocked me…I am only a little over an hour away, and here, life is teeming. I have been to many areas around Charlottesville, and have not observed the conditions you describe. I wonder if you are in some area that has been sprayed, trapped or hunted out; a place made barren by design. (Or accidentally as an unintended consequence.)

Hope you can attract new fauna and flora to your place. I’d start with the flora…fauna will soon follow. Best of luck to you.



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