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comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  3732 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Climate change and Phoenix

Could you follow along? It's a serious question.

I'm an engineer. I am not a climatologist. However, I grew up in the desert southwest and I've studied a lot of history. Lemme tell you a few things:

1) Growing up, I could never figure out why the fuck the Anasazi built their civilization in an arid, dry shithole like New Mexico. It made no goddamn sense. It was not mentioned growing up that they hadn't - the reason the Anasazi dissolved into cannibalism and nomadic tribes of Navajos and Apaches is because their little piece of heaven started out looking like Southern Colorado and ended up looking like Eastern Arizona. All the water went away.

2) Ever wondered why the symbol of Lebanon is the cedar? Why they've got a big fuckin' tree on their flag even though most of the country looks like Mos Eisley Spaceport? It's because it used to be a forest. So did Afghanistan. So did most of the "fertile crescent" - which now looks like, you know, Iraq. All the water went away.

3) Why the fuck did the egyptians build all their pyramids and stuff on top of the shifting sands of the Sahara? Well, they didn't. Back when they were rawkin' it the Valley of the Kings looked a lot more like the San Joaquin than Moab. All the water went away.

4) People with no sense of history don't really get "ghost town." I spent a good part of a summer in Jerome Arizona, which was, until all the molybdenum dried up, one of the biggest mining operations in Arizona. There's an abandoned AAAA high school, an abandoned jail, an abandoned courthouse (that slid 200 feet down the hill due to all the blasting over the years), and an uneasy alliance of hippies, yuppies and Hell's Angels that take up maybe 1/50th the population the town used to support. Thing is, there's "abandoned mining operations" all over the Southwest and in many cases, it just got too goddamn hot.

5) You haven't lived until you've been drag racing at Phoenix International Raceway and it's midnight and it's f'ing 108. At midnight. And that was ten years ago now. You wanna see what they're talking about, go head out to Vegas, get off the strip, and just walk around. You hear nothing but air conditioning, buzzing louder than locusts, everywhere you go. The bottom line is that in order for the cities of the Southwest to be comfortable, there needs to be a heat exchanger that shaves 30+ degrees off the ambient temperature. And that takes some juice. And in the arid southwest, that takes some water. Lots and lots and lots of water. And if you don't think it can happen to you, ask Kazakhstan:

Or, barring that, Africa:


You watch The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur or something and it's all these dudes in purple robes wandering around the desert. Thing is, it wasn't the desert when they were wandering around it. It was a nice place to live. That's why people lived there - those guys who headed out to the Dead Sea and hid their scrolls? They were batshit. That wasn't what people did. They stayed in the nice places that weren't desertified toaster ovens filled with grit and sand scorpions. And then, the nice places went away.

My grandparents moved from Bastrop County, Texas to Claunch NM when they were kids. Their parents were going to be ranchers. My great grandfather had 400 acres of grazing land... and then he didn't. I've always wondered why the hell anyone would settle in Claunch. It's 2 hours by dirt road from anywhere you'd want to be. The dust blows all the time, piling up inches high around the buildings. If you water plants with well water, they'll die; the pH is around 11.

Thing is, it used to rain in Claunch, and you used to be able to take care of a thousand head of cattle.

And in the space of ten years, it became dust.

So I ask again - would you be able to follow along with an engineering analysis?

Or are you just naturally skeptical that the environment can change for the worse before anyone really knows what's going on?

I live in Los Angeles. I don't like it. We'll have heat waves and hundreds of homeless will die. We'll have a high pressure day and transformers will explode and cause wildfires on the 405. I didn't really freak out about it, though, until I was driving down the grapevine from Seattle (where I still have a house, and where I shall return as soon as I can), and realized the giant pipes on the horizon were pumping drinking water uphill to feed a metropolis with eleven million people in it.

That shit don't end well. Just ask the Anasazi.

user92  ·  3732 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I don't doubt any global warming claims at all. I suppose I'm struggling to come to terms with how The Authorities (city planners, engineers, etc.) can just stand by while this happens. Or are they just standing by? But I suppose maybe that's just what humans do? Maybe these huge cities will ultimately be testament not to our ingenuity, but to our lack of foresight.

kleinbl00  ·  3732 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    I suppose I'm struggling to come to terms with how The Authorities (city planners, engineers, etc.) can just stand by while this happens.

A fair question. The Salon article points to the answer:

"The Authorities" think they have a water SUPPLY problem, rather than a water DEMAND problem.

It's like this: ecosystems are fragile and do not respond well to overload. Any city is an overload for the ecosystem, it just depends on how much of an overload. You can fix that overload one of two ways: you can decrease the demand on it or you can increase the raw inputs. And, as our understanding of "ecosystems" isn't yet half a century old, our attempts at the latter are quixotic at best.

Yeah, you can "conserve water." The problem is that in order to seriously affect change, we're talking "Stillsuits on Arakkis" water conservation, not "only water your lawn on odd-numbered dates" water conservation. Consider Brazil - they're mostly rainforest but they're running out of water. They're taking baby steps that, let's be honest, would go over like a fart in church in Arizona. After all, we're busy fighting low-flow toilets and fluorescent bulbs in the name of "liberty."

Don't get me wrong: Change can be made. It has to be wanted and fought for by everyone, though. Bill Mollison famously restored some australian town or other from total collapse through permaculture. He can't visit it, though, because they want to string him up for planting hawthornes, which are spikey and mean enough that their thorns can puncture tires (they also don't take a lot of water and are great "guild" starters). So - their town was saved from oblivion through greening the desert, but they want to kill the guy who did it because his methods were rough on their tires.

This is Arizona we're talking about. They don't like black people, don't like Mexicans, don't like Daylight Savings and, by the way, are experiencing their greatest population growth from aging Boomers retiring away from the snow. This is a population that you can barely get to recycle their aluminum cans. You think they're going to put up with effective (but radical) water conservation? A lot of them don't even "believe" in "anthropocentric global warming."

The United States didn't even sign the Kyoto Protocol. Which doesn't matter any more, because it expired Dec 31 2012. Ask any climatologist and they'll say that it's too late to do anything but strap in. We're well past the tipping point and the only question left to ask is "how bad is it going to be."

I would argue that if you're in Phoenix, it's going to be excessively fucking bad. Same with Albuquerque. Same with Los Angeles. Same with Salt Lake City. Same with Vegas. Same with Kansas City. Same with Tulsa. It's going to look like Nogales halfway through Nebraska by the time we're all dead but it will have happened so slowly that nobody will have bothered to do anything. Kind of like all the dry, dead farms up in the San Joaquin - all the water that grows crops can't because it's too busy watering lawns in Pasadena.

user92  ·  3732 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I sort of feel like strapping in is probably the only real option left. So much would have to change culturally to soften the blow but cultural changes are almost impossible within a generation. I just try to install values in my children and hope for the best, but I've all but given up hope for changing my culture. I mean, it's not like I've got it all figured out either. I live in the DC area and I think we're going to have our own set of challenges.

kleinbl00  ·  3731 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I recommend "Eaarth" by Bill McKibben and "The Great Disruption" by Paul Gilding.

user92  ·  3731 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thanks for these resources. The permaculture thing really appeals to me.

b_b  ·  3732 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yes, there are some major companies that have designs on building a pipeline form the Great Lakes to the SW. That's how a lot of people want to 'solve' this problem. "We've created an environment disaster. Hmmm. How do we engineer a solution? Wait, I know. Let's create an environmental disaster bigger than we could've ever dreamed!" The simplest solution for the good people of Arizona is to look for jobs in other, more sustainable, locations ASAP. Because eventually they are going to face a mass exodus the likes of which will make the exodus from places like Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland look like a dress rehearsal. I sound alarmist, but I think I'm right. What is the other possible result? Phoenix is a metropolis in a place not equipped to have a tenth of its population long term. The Nation has described the looming disaster as The Greatest Water Crisis in the History of Civilization, and they are convinced they aren't being hyperbolic. The problem is people think, "This is America. We won't run out of anything, ever." The very basic law of conservation of mass says they are wrong. My advice, as an outsider who is not connected to the place in any way so its east for me to say, is get out. Now. There is no way to make water on a scale large enough to support a metropolis.

user92  ·  3732 days ago  ·  link  ·  

A pipeline from the Great Lakes sounds like one of the worst possible things you could do.

b_b  ·  3731 days ago  ·  link  ·  

It absolutely is. They would already be doing it if it weren't for treaties with Canada that bar such activity. MI, WI, MN or any of the other states couldn't do a thing to stop it, because that would be considered regulating interstate commerce. Only the EPA could stop it. The EPA is impotent, and we all know that we will scrap a treaty in a heartbeat if we think its damaging business. So, this is a very real possibility at some point in the future, a sad and scary possibility, but a real one nonetheless.

user-inactivated  ·  3732 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    My grandparents moved from Bastrop County, Texas to Claunch NM when they were kids. Their parents were going to be ranchers. My great grandfather had 400 acres of grazing land... and then he didn't.

Ironically, Bastrop County now looks a bit like Iraq, because it burned down a couple years ago.

kleinbl00  ·  3732 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Nothing ironic about that. "Burning down" is the way the southwest changes ecosystems. Forest Service has publicly stated that the forests of Arizona and New Mexico are busily switching from "Evergreen" to "Deciduous" through a process of firestorm and drought. Apparently they all were 600 years ago, and shall be again.

My home town nearly burned down in 1980, having not seen a forest fire in 100 years. Then it did burn down in 2000, and nearly burned down again in 2011.