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Bubbles & Blobs

3 skips to each stone

Three Skips To Each Stone painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“In the San Joaquin Valley, pumping now exceeds natural replenishment by more than half a trillion gallons a year.” Marc Reisner

As I was walking home from town today, it occurred to me that nothing can prepare us for what is going to happen very soon in California, because nothing like what is about to happen has ever happened before. Forty million people did not live in California the last time, if there ever was a last time, so little water flowed in our rivers. Millions of cows were not being raised here, and millions of acres of water-hungry crops, including alfalfa to feed those millions of cows, were not being grown here during previous mega-droughts. Yes, there have been a few longish droughts in the last century and a half, but nothing like the current drought.

Shortly before he died in 2000, Marc Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert, the great opus on water and politics and greed and stupidity in the American West, suggested that when the current chronic drought eventually took hold in California, tens of millions of California residents would be forced to move elsewhere. He predicted most of them would move to the wetter eastern side of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, California farmers are up in arms because state water controllers are telling them they cannot have their usual allotments of water because there will soon be no water to allot. Curtailment is the official word for when a decrease in the expected amount of water is imposed on a farmer or city. The state recently issued hundreds of new curtailments, one of which severely limits San Francisco’s allotment of water from the Tuolumne River that supplies a large part of San Francisco’s water. How will San Francisco replace that allotment? They won’t.

Here’s an interesting factoid. If every American abstained from eating meat one day per week, more water would be saved than the annual flow of the Colorado River in a high-flow year. By the way, California’s allotment of Colorado River water is soon to be curtailed. Here is what Marc Resiner had to say about that:

“If the Colorado River suddenly stopped flowing, you would have two years of carryover capacity in the reservoirs before you had to evacuate most of southern California and Arizona and a good portion of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The river system provides over half the water of greater Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix; it grows much of America’s domestic production of fresh winter vegetables.”

It would take several years of normal (whatever that is) or above-normal rainfall in California to replenish our surface water supplies and superficially ease the drought, though no computer models by any meteorologist suggests such replenishment will occur in the foreseeable future. But the Central Valley aquifer, which is nearly gone, will take centuries to replenish should the state ever be inundated with water and snow again.

And check this out: scientists have been puzzling over the 2014 discovery of what one report referred to as a “warm patch of water” off the coast of California and Oregon thought to be linked to the “weird” weather being experienced across the United States. This warm patch is more than 1500 kilometers in every direction and over a hundred meters deep. Meteorologists have never found such a “blob” in this part of the ocean and they are certain there is a link between this blob and the persistent high-pressure ridge keeping Pacific storms from reaching California and Oregon and Washington.

A recent study links this “warm Pacific puzzle” to the big freezes in the eastern United States in 2013 and 2014, but several scientists hasten to add there does not seem to be any obvious connection between the blob and global climate change. Huh? However, the blob and its devastating effect on human society in California and the American Southwest is “a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades.”

As one politic scientist opined, “The blob wasn’t caused by global warming, but it is producing conditions that will be more common when such things are caused by global warming.” Why are we not reassured?

Then there is the global financial bubble that good old Greece and a bankrupt Puerto Rico are about to burst. As the world’s stock markets and fragile economies wobble in the face of myriad debt defaults, the Bank for International Settlements has issued a report warning that low interest rates not only undermine economic health, but by allowing greedy amoral banksters to take trillions of just-printed dollars at zero interest from our so-called government in order to keep the stock bubble inflated, when that bubble does burst, any day now, central banks will have no means to counter the ensuing economic collapse because the main counter measure is to lower interest rates. Oops.

Which is to say, we are in the eye of a perfect storm. We’re running out of water, the financial markets are on the verge of collapse, and if there was ever a time to plant potatoes, this is that time. If you plant potatoes now, you should have a good crop in October. Plant several kinds in case you incur the wrath of the potato gods against one of the varieties you’ve chosen.

Other measures to consider now are buying several cases of canned beans, a couple big bags of rice, before rice gets insanely expensive, and a good supply of olive oil. Along with your potatoes, plant lettuce and kale and chard.

If you live in Los Angeles or inland California, you should quickly look into buying a house east of the Mississippi while prices there are still reasonable and your house in California is still worth something. When twenty million hyper-thirsty Californians try to relocate to Missouri and Iowa and Tennessee and Pennsylvania, real estate prices there are going to soar. And it won’t be a short-term bubble.

Well, that’s all for now. Gotta take a long shower, wash my car, water the lawn, grill some steak, and top off the swimming pool before I hose the dust and leaves off the driveway and drive to the store to get some snacks and stuff. Ciao!

Categories
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Drought

Austerity

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2014)

“Rigid beliefs make disappointments seem unbearable, whereas realistic beliefs help us to accept disappointment and go on from there.” Eileen Kennedy-Moore

We are currently in the midst of a local drought that coincides with a state drought that coincides with a regional drought that coincides with the global climate change crisis that more and more scientists believe is now irreversible and will soon, as in the next decade or sooner, lead to famine, wars, plagues, the death of billions of people, and possibly the extinction of all, or nearly all, life on earth. Darn. There go my books and music being rediscovered five hundred years hence as the great unheralded literary and musical creations of Now. There go all my favorite species of plants and animals, and my favorite people, too. There goes living to a riper old age than the age I eventually live to.

According to even fairly cautious climate change scientists and climate change research institutes, things are beyond dire for human and other life on earth. I wonder if that’s why I’ve been feeling the need to nap more frequently of late. Humans have never lived on a planet with so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and maybe this excessive amount of carbon dioxide induces drowsiness. According to many of these same scientists, the only hope of slowing and reversing climate change and the disastrous effects of that change—an extremely slim hope at best—would be for all fossil-fuel-dependent societies to entirely collapse, which would result in the cessation of fossil fuels being burned, which would quickly lead to famine, wars, plagues, and the deaths of billions of people, but maybe not the extinction of all, or nearly all, life on earth. I say maybe not because of those hundreds of pesky nuclear power plants all over the world that require enormous amounts of electricity and functional infrastructures to keep those tens of thousands of nuclear fuel rods cool (even when the plants are no longer operating) so they don’t melt down and explode and radiate the entire earth.

For the time being, Marcia and I have plenty of water for our minimal water needs, but if the current drought were to turn into a multi-year drought, which it very well might given that local, state, national and global weather patterns are wonkier and crazier and more extreme than ever before, what would we and the other people in Mendocino do for water? Thinking about what we would do in response to a local catastrophe is an interesting (and scary) way to start thinking about what humans will do en masse in response to such catastrophes that are occurring with more and more frequency around the world.

I suppose if most of the people around here couldn’t get enough water to lead minimally decent lives, most of the people around here would try to go elsewhere, assuming there were relatively safe and affordable ways to go elsewhere and there were other places with plenty of water and housing and employment for thousands of people from here and millions of people from other drought-stricken places. You see where I’m going with this. Without enough water, our entire local and state and national economy and society would be kaput. And according to climate change scientists, not enough water is soon going to be reality for billions of people on earth—very soon. So where will all those people go?

To put the current drought in historical perspective, 2013 was the driest year in California in at least 165 years. That is to say, humans started keeping records of rainfall hereabouts in 1848, and since then there has never been a drier year than the year just ending, with not a drop more rain predicted for Mendocino and most of California in the few days remaining in 2013. Mendocino’s rainfall total for the entire calendar year will end up being less than fifteen inches. Our historical average here on the coast is fifty-one inches a year. Let us hope that January and February prove to be fabulously wet months, though we got less than two inches of rain all of last January and February.

Before he died in 2000, Marc Reisner, the famous writer about the history of water in California, predicted that water would become so scarce in California over the coming years that at least half of California’s thirty-eight million human residents would be compelled to go eastward, far eastward, to the New York side of the Mississippi River where rain continues (currently) to fall in abundance. However, Marc was not privy to the current computer models suggesting that most of the interior of the United States will be too hot for human habitation in another ten to twenty years, so those twenty million Californians will not only have to go east, but north. Yet north is…Canada. No problem. Canada has tiny army. America has big army. We conquer Canada for their land and water resources and then several million lucky former Americans will go up there to live.

Sound farfetched? Consider this. Swiftly changing weather patterns in Spain (population 47 million) suggest that the climate and amount of rainfall in the Iberian Peninsula will soon resemble that of present-day Algeria, which means most of those Spanish people will have to head north to find enough water and food to survive. But wouldn’t you know it, France and 66 million French people are already there.

A friend recently sent me a link to a slideshow of shocking photographs of three huge Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. These pictures appear to have been taken on moonless nights, when, in fact, they were taken on sunny days when the smog was so thick that no sunlight could penetrate the dense black air. So toxic is the air in these cities that for many days of the year children and elderly people are not allowed outside. Hundreds of flights a week are canceled at the international airports servicing these cities, yet the people and governments of these cities do nothing to address the terrible problem, though China says they will begin taking steps to slowly shift away from burning coal as their primary means of producing energy. However, for now and the foreseeable future, the people in these cities will live (for as long as they can) with the deplorable situation because the alternative, in the short term, would be the loss of jobs and a slowing of economic growth.

I mention these terrifying images from China because I feel that we, the American people and American government, are doing essentially nothing to address the terrible problem of climate change that has so severely darkened the future of life on earth. What will it take before we realize that our individual actions multiplied by hundreds of millions of us are the cause of these terrible overarching problems? When I look at those pictures of tens of millions of Chinese people trying to live in atmospheres black with poison, I think the answer must be that most of us will never realize we are the source of the problem because we have lost our natural connections to the earth and to the fabulously interconnected processes that make life on this precious planet possible.

Despite (or maybe because of) the dismal prognosis for life on earth, I’ve been having vivid dreams lately (and remembering them) in which I am confronted with seemingly unsolvable puzzles and insurmountable obstacles, yet I somehow manage to solve the puzzles and surmount the obstacles and wake up feeling optimistic, if not about the future of humanity and the planet, then about the next few hours and the possibility I may learn something or write something or play something on the piano or have a conversation with someone or plant a seed or have a vibrant thought that sparks a reaction from Universe or at least gives me the feeling I may have sparked a reaction from Universe.

Wishful dreaming? What am I talking about? I’m talking about why I continue to write a weekly article and novels and music in the face of the unsolvable puzzles and insurmountable obstacles that may soon render me and every other breathing and photosynthesizing thing dead. I am not in denial of what is happening to the earth, yet I continue to believe that for however long we are alive, our purpose is to consciously interact with Universe in loving and creative ways. Universe, so say my teachers, loves for us to take creative regenerative actions, because Universe, more than anything, loves to respond to what we do. I know I’m anthropomorphizing Universe by endowing her with the ability to love. So sue me. Happy New Year!