The vagaries of global climate set in motion by our species’ frankly brainless maltreatment of the only atmosphere we’ve got, the subject of last week’s post here, have another dimension that bears close watching. History, as I suggested last week, can be seen as human ecology in its transformations over time, and every ecosystem depends in the final analysis on the available habitat. For human beings, the habitat that matters is dry land with adequate rainfall and moderate temperatures; we’ve talked about the way that anthropogenic climate change is interfering with the latter two, but it promises to have significant impacts on the first of those requirements as well.
It’s helpful to put all this in the context of deep time. For most of the last billion years or so, the Earth has been a swampy jungle planet where ice and snow were theoretical possibilities only. Four times in that vast span, though, something—scientists are still arguing about what—turned the planet’s thermostat down sharply, resulting in ice ages millions of years in length. The most recent of these downturns began cooling the planet maybe ten million years ago, in the Miocene epoch; a little less than two million years ago, at the beginning of the Pleistocene epoch, the first of the great continental ice sheets began to spread across the Northern Hemisphere, and the ice age was on.
We’re still in it. During an ice age, a complex interplay of the Earth’s rotational and orbital wobbles drives the Milankovich cycle, a cyclical warming and cooling of the planet that takes around 100,000 years to complete, with long glaciations broken by much shorter interglacials. We’re approaching the end of the current interglacial, and it’s estimated that the current ice age has maybe another ten million years to go; one consequence is that at some point a few millennia in the future, we can pretty much count on the arrival of a new glaciation. In the meantime, we’ve still got continental ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland, and a significant amount of year-round ice in mountains in various corners of the world. That’s normal for an interglacial, though not for most of the planet’s history.
The back-and-forth flipflop between glaciations and interglacials has a galaxy of impacts on the climate and ecology of the planet, but one of the most obvious comes from the simple fact that all the frozen water needed to form a continental ice sheet have to come from somewhere, and the only available “somewhere” on this planet is the oceans. As glaciers spread, sea level drops accordingly; 18,000 years ago, when the most recent glaciation hit its final peak, sea level was more than 400 feet lower than today, and roaming tribal hunters could walk all the way from Holland to Ireland and keep going, following reindeer herds a good distance into what’s now the northeast Atlantic.
What followed has plenty of lessons on offer for our future. It used to be part of the received wisdom that ice ages began and ended with, ahem, glacial slowness, and there still seems to be good reason to think that the beginnings are fairly gradual, but the ending of the most recent ice age involved periods of very sudden change. 18,000 years ago, as already mentioned, the ice sheets were at their peak; about 16,000 years ago, the planetary climate began to warm, pushing the ice into a slow retreat. Around 14,700 years ago, the warm Bölling phase arrived, and the ice sheets retreated hundreds of miles; according to several studies, the West Antarctic ice sheet collapsed completely at this time.
The Bölling gave way after around 600 years to the Older Dryas cold period, putting the retreat of the ice on hold. After another six centuries or so, the Older Dryas gave way to a new warm period, the Alleröd, which sent the ice sheets reeling back and raised sea levels hundreds of feet worldwide. Then came a new cold phase, the frigid Younger Dryas, which brought temperatures back for a few centuries to their ice age lows, cold enough to allow the West Antarctic ice sheet to reestablish itself and to restore tundra conditions over large sections of the Northern Hemisphere. Ice core measurements suggest that the temperature drop hit fast, in a few decades or less—a useful reminder that rapid climate change can come from natural sources as well as from our smokestacks and tailpipes.
Just over a millennium later, right around 9600 BC, the Boreal phase arrived, and brought even more spectacular change. According to oxygen isotope measurements from Greenland ice cores—I get challenged on this point fairly often, so I’ll mention that the figure I’m citing is from Steven Mithen’s After The Ice, a widely respected 2003 survey of human prehistory—global temperatures spiked 7° C in less than a decade, pushing the remaining ice sheets into rapid collapse and sending sea levels soaring. Over the next few thousand years, the planet’s ice cover shrank to a little less than its current level, and sea level rose a bit above what it is today; a gradual cooling trend beginning around 6000 BCE brought both to the status they had at the beginning of the industrial era.
Scientists still aren’t sure what caused the stunning temperature spike at the beginning of the Boreal phase, but one widely held theory is that it was driven by large-scale methane releases from the warming oceans and thawing permafrost. The ocean floor contains huge amounts of methane trapped in unstable methane hydrates; permafrost contains equally huge amounts of dead vegetation that’s kept from rotting by subfreezing temperatures, and when the permafrost thaws, that vegetation rots and releases more methane. Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it’s also much more transient—once released into the atmosphere, methane breaks down into carbon dioxide and water relatively quickly, with an estimated average lifespan of ten years or so—and so it’s quite a plausible driver for the sort of sudden shock that can be traced in the Greenland ice cores.
If that’s what did it, of course, we’re arguably well on our way there. I discussed in a previous post here credible reports that large sections of the Arctic ocean are fizzing with methane, and I suspect many of my readers have heard of the recently discovered craters in Siberia that appear to have been caused by methane blowouts from thawing permafrost. On top of the current carbon dioxide spike, a methane spike would do a fine job of producing the kind of climate chaos I discussed in last week’s post. That doesn’t equal the kind of runaway feedback loop beloved of a certain sect of contemporary apocalypse-mongers, because there are massive sources of negative feedback that such claims always ignore, but it seems quite likely that the decades ahead of us will be enlivened by a period of extreme climate turbulence driven by significant methane releases.
Meanwhile, two of the world’s three remaining ice sheets—the West Antarctic and Greenland sheets—have already been destabilized by rising temperatures. Between them, these two ice sheets contain enough water to raise sea level around 50 feet globally, and the estimate I’m using for anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions over the next century provides enough warming to cause the collapse and total melting of both of them. All that water isn’t going to hit the world’s oceans overnight, of course, and a great deal depends on just how fast the melting happens.
The predictions for sea level rise included in the last few IPCC reports assume a slow, linear process of glacial melting. That’s appropriate as a baseline, but the evidence from paleoclimatology shows that ice sheets collapse in relatively sudden bursts of melting, producing what are termed “global meltwater pulses” that can be tracked worldwide by a variety of proxy measurements. Mind you, “relatively sudden” in geological terms is slow by the standards of a human lifetime; the complete collapse of a midsized ice sheet like Greenland’s or West Antarctica’s can take five or six centuries, and that in turn involves periods of relatively fast melting and sea level rise, interspersed with slack periods when sea level creeps up much more slowly.
So far, at least, the vast East Antarctic ice sheet has shown only very modest changes, and most current estimates suggest that it would take something far more drastic than the carbon output of our remaining economically accessible fossil fuel reserves to tip it over into instability; this is a good thing, as East Antarctica’s ice fields contain enough water to drive sea level up 250 feet or so. Thus a reasonable estimate for sea level change over the next five hundred years involves the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic sheets and some modest melting on the edges of the East Antarctic sheet, raising sea level by something over 50 feet, delivered in a series of unpredictable bursts divided by long periods of relative stability or slow change.
The result will be what paleogeographers call “marine transgression”—the invasion of dry land and fresh water by the sea. Fifty feet of sea level change adds up to quite a bit of marine transgression in some areas, much less in others, depending always on local topography. Where the ground is low and flat, the rising seas can penetrate a very long way; in California, for example, the state capital at Sacramento is many miles from the ocean, but since it’s only 30 feet above sea level and connected to the sea by a river, its skyscrapers will be rising out of a brackish estuary long before Greenland and West Antarctica are bare of ice. The port cities of the Gulf coast are also on the front lines—New Orleans is actually below sea level, and will likely be an early casualty, but every other Gulf port from Brownsville, Texas (elevation 43 feet) to Tampa, Florida (elevation 15 feet) faces the same fate, and most East and West Coast ports face substantial flooding of economically important districts.
The flooding of Sacramento isn’t the end of the world, and there may even be some among my readers who would consider it to be a good thing. What I’d like to point out, though, is the economic impact of the rising waters. Faced with an unpredictable but continuing rise in sea level, communities and societies face one of two extremely expensive choices. They can abandon billions of dollars of infrastructure to the sea and rebuild further inland, or they can invest billions of dollars in flood control. Because the rate of sea level change can’t be anticipated, furthermore, there’s no way to know in advance how far to relocate or how high to build the barriers at any given time, and there are often hard limits to how much change can be done in advance: port cities, for example, can’t just move away from the sea and still maintain a functioning economy.
This is a pattern we’ll be seeing over and over again in this series of posts. Societies descending into dark ages reliably get caught on the horns of a brutal dilemma. For any of a galaxy of reasons, crucial elements of infrastructure no longer do the job they once did, but reworking or replacing them runs up against two critical difficulties that are hardwired into the process of decline itself. The first is that, as time passes, the resources needed to do the necessary work become increasingly scarce; the second is that, as time passes, the uncertainties about what needs to be done become increasingly large.
The result can be tracked in the decline of every civilization. At first, failing systems are replaced with some success, but the economic impact of the replacement process becomes an ever-increasing burden, and the new systems never do quite manage to work as well as the older ones did in their heyday. As the process continues, the costs keep mounting and the benefits become less reliable; more and more often, scarce resources end up being wasted or put to counterproductive uses because the situation is too uncertain to allow for their optimum allocation. With each passing year, decision makers have to figure out how much of the dwindling stock of resources can be put to productive uses and how much has to be set aside for crisis management, and the raw uncertainty of the times guarantees that these decisions will very often turn out wrong. Eventually, the declining curve in available resources and the rising curve of uncertainty intersect to produce a crisis that spins out of control, and what’s left of a community, an economic sector, or a whole civilization goes to pieces under the impact.
It’s not too hard to anticipate how that will play out in the century or so immediately ahead of us. If, as I’ve suggested, we can expect the onset of a global meltwater pulse from the breakup of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets at some point in the years ahead, the first upward jolt in sea level will doubtless be met with grand plans for flood-control measures in some areas, and relocation of housing and economic activities in others. Some of those plans may even be carried out, though the raw economic impact of worldwide coastal flooding on a global economy already under severe strain from a chaotic climate and a variety of other factors won’t make that easy. Some coastal cities will hunker down behind hurriedly built or enlarged levees, others will abandon low-lying districts and try to rebuild further upslope, still others will simply founder and be partly or wholly abandoned—and all these choices impose costs on society as a whole.
Thereafter, in years and decades when sea level rises only slowly, the costs of maintaining flood control measures and replacing vulnerable infrastructure with new facilities on higher ground will become an unpopular burden, and the same logic that drives climate change denialism today will doubtless find plenty of hearers then as well. In years and decades when sea level surges upwards, the flood control measures and relocation projects will face increasingly severe tests, which some of them will inevitably fail. The twin spirals of rising costs and rising uncertainty will have their usual effect, shredding the ability of a failing society to cope with the challenges that beset it.
It’s even possible in one specific case to make an educated guess as to the nature of the pressures that will finally push the situation over the edge into collapse and abandonment. It so happens that three different processes that follow in the wake of rapid glacial melting all have the same disastrous consequence for the eastern shores of North America.
The first of these is isostatic rebound. When you pile billions of tons of ice on a piece of land, the land sinks, pressing down hundreds or thousands of feet into the Earth’s mantle; melt the ice, and the land rises again. If the melting happens over a brief time, geologically speaking, the rebound is generally fast enough to place severe stress on geological faults all through the region, and thus sharply increases the occurrence of earthquakes. The Greenland ice sheet is by no means exempt from this process, and many of the earthquakes in the area around a rising Greenland will inevitably happen offshore. The likely result? Tsunamis.
The second process is the destabilization of undersea sediments that build up around an ice sheet that ends in the ocean. As the ice goes away, torrents of meltwater pour into the surrounding seas, and isostatic rebound changes the slope of the underlying rock, masses of sediment break free and plunge down the continental slope into the deep ocean. Some of the sediment slides that followed the end of the last ice age were of impressive scale—the Storegga Slide off the coast of Norway around 6220 BCE, which was caused by exactly this process, sent 840 cubic miles of sediment careening down the continental slope. The likely result? More tsunamis.
The third process, which is somewhat more speculative than the first two, is the sudden blowout of large volumes of undersea methane hydrates. Several oceanographers and paleoclimatologists have argued that the traces of very large underwater slides in the Atlantic, dating from the waning days of the last ice age, may well be the traces of such blowouts. As the climate warmed, they suggest, methane hydrates on the continental shelves were destabilized by rising temperatures, and a sudden shock—perhaps delivered by an earthquake, perhaps by something else—triggered the explosive release of thousands or millions of tons of methane all at once. The likely result? Still more tsunamis.
It’s crucial to realize the role that uncertainty plays here, as in so many dimensions of our predicament. No one knows whether tsunamis driven by glacial melting will hammer the shores of the northern Atlantic basin some time in the next week, or some time in the next millennium. Even if tsunamis driven by the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet become statistically inevitable, there’s no way for anyone to know in advance the timing, scale, and direction of any such event. Efficient allocation of resources to East Coast ports becomes a nighmarish challenge when you literally have no way of knowing how soon any given investment might suddenly end up on the bottom of the Atlantic.
If human beings behave as they usually do, what will most likely happen is that the port cities of the US East Coast will keep on trying to maintain business as usual until well after that stops making any kind of economic sense. The faster the seas rise and the sooner the first tsunamis show up, the sooner that response will tip over into its opposite, and people will begin to flee in large numbers from the coasts in search of safety for themselves and their families. My working guess is that the eastern seaboard of dark age America will be sparsely populated, with communities concentrated in those areas where land well above tsunami range lies close to the sea. The Pacific and Gulf coasts will be at much less risk from tsunamis, and so may be more thickly settled; that said, during periods of rapid marine transgression, the mostly flat and vulnerable Gulf Coast may lose a great deal of land, and those who live there will need to be ready to move inland in a hurry.
All these factors make for a shift in the economic and political geography of the continent that will be of quite some importance at a later point in this series of posts. In times of rapid sea level change, maintaining the infrastructure for maritime trade in seacoast ports is a losing struggle; maritime trade is still possible without port infrastructure, but it’s rarely economically viable; and that means that inland waterways with good navigable connections to the sea will take on an even greater importance than they have today. In North America, the most crucial of those are the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Hudson River-Erie Canal linkage to the Great Lakes, and whatever port further inland replaces New Orleans—Baton Rouge is a likely candidate, due to its location and elevation above sea level—once the current Mississippi delta drowns beneath the rising seas.
Also, I agree that the inland waterways of North America will become more important. In fact, they already are. Freight traffic has finally surpassed recreational traffic on the Erie Canal. This will help support new roles and revive old roles for the cities of the Great Lakes in the future, including Detroit, although those new roles won't be enough to maintain the current populations.
The one quibble I have is on the scope and effect of tsunamis from Greenland on the east coast of the U.S. Yes, there will be earthquakes from isostatic rebound after the ice sheets melt, but I don't know if there will be enough uplift from each event to produce a wave bigger than a very large storm wave. One of those might be a couple feet high and go up a river a mile, but I have trouble seeing anything bigger from a reactivated normal fault with a magnitude 6 earthquake, which is what is going to happen around Greenland. Submarine landslides are a different story, and those could produce the kinds of tsunamis you are predicting. As for the methane eruptions, I suppose, but I don't recall one big enough to actually produce a measureable tsunami.
As for the effect, most of the U.S. east coast is around the bend of Labrador, Newfoundland, and the Grand Banks from Greenland and facing southeast, so most of it should be doubly protected from tsunamis from Greenland. Europe, on the other hand, will get direct hits from the northwest.
A better candidate would be landslides from the Azores and Canary Islands. Those will produce tsunamis that have direct paths to the U.S. and those volcanoes can collapse quite easily, especially from endogenous earthquakes and eruptions combined with rising sea level.
8/6/14, 5:47 PM
On the one hand, I don't expect to live past 2070 or so. But I'd like to leave something that someone will use after me. So the rising sea and thinking of the storms getting worse and the well going brackish terrify.
Thanks for writing about this.
8/6/14, 6:34 PM
At some point i expect the irrationality that has brought the situation about will turn to an equally irrational fear of a vengeful god as our early childhood Christian programming kicks in , already , even among avowed "conservatives " there seems to be some deep seated fear of nature being some sort of conscious malevolent entity , and themselves as being naughty children who deserve to be punished ...all very Leopold Masoch wouldnt you say AD ?? ...
Orphic Hymn 17- Thomas Taylor
"Hear, Poseidon, ruler of the sea profound, whose liquid grasp begirds the solid ground; who, at the bottom of the stormy main, dark and deep-bosomed holdest they watery reign. Thy awful hand the brazen trident bears, and sea's utmost bound thy will reveres. Thee I invoke, whose steeds the foam divide, from whose dark locks the briny waters glide; shoe voice, loud sounding through the roaring deep, drives all its billows in a raging heap; when fiercely riding through the boiling sea, thy hoarse command the trembling waves obey. Earth-shaking, dark-haired God, the liquid plains, the third division, fate to thee ordains. 'Tis thine, cerulean daimon, to survey, well-pleased, the monsters of the ocean play. Confirm earth's basis, and with prosperous gales waft ships along, and swell the spacious sails; add gentle peace, and fair-haired health beside, and pour abundance in a blameless tide."...
8/6/14, 6:40 PM
Max Osman said...
Long Time Reader ,First time commenter
What do you think the outlook is for city's
In Minnesota Like St. Paul and Are you proposing that the worlds climate will revert to that of the Eocene
8/6/14, 7:11 PM
John Michael Greer said...
I was interested to note that one of my readers posted something to last week's post referencing a book on exactly this subject I haven't seen -- Bill McGuire's Waking the Giant. I'll see if I can find a copy, and include its information and references in this analysis.
Myosotis, a great deal depends on exactly where it is, and how the topography and the shape of the local sea floor will likely affect potential tsunamis. As 70 feet above sea level, you might just get a very nice piece of oceanfront property!
Kutamun, I think respectful offerings to Poseidon, or any other sea deity you prefer, are probably a good plan at this point.
Max, we'll get to the inland cities in due time. As for climate, no, I'm expecting a brief period -- well, brief in geological terms -- more or less parallel to the Miocene, and then back down into the next glaciation.
8/6/14, 7:34 PM
Rebecca Brown said...
Oh, I'm reading Gibbons currently; it's excellent.
8/6/14, 7:51 PM
If I get time, I'll do a little more looking around and see if I can find out what the magnitude of that change really was, and also to see what the ice cores in Antarctica say about that spike.
That reminds me: while interviewing at a grad school (not the one I later got into) in March, I was handed a chunk of 20,000 year old ice from an Antarctic core. They have to shave off the outer parts of the core due to possible drill bit contamination, so they like giving little chunks of that to visitors. It's amazing how large and widespread the bubbles of air from the LGM were thoughout the ice. The slowly melting ice cracked like Rice Krispies as the bubbles popped and released a little bit of LGM air with ~190 ppm CO2. Finally, after most of it had melted, I ate the remaining chunk. I was told that may not be the best idea due to the drilling fluid...but then they broke down and said it was a pretty minor danger; they have cocktails with rejected ice several times a year!
8/6/14, 8:01 PM
Ms. Krieger said...
I live in a small city with a deepwater port to the east of NYC. The land rises steeply up from the harbor and most folks live at 50' or more, but all the infrastructure is at sea level. The power plant, loading docks, chemical plant, tranformers, and especially the railroad. If the sea rises 15', the most trafficked rail line in the country will be underwater at high tide!
Now, the state cannot even come up with the money to fix the 115 year old swing bridge across the harbor ( yet another sign of the shameful neglect of our infrastructure) so this may all soon be a moot point.
But from my vantage point up here on the hill overlooking the harbor and downtown (140' elevation, thank you very much) it looks like such a waste. A town with plenty of potential, waterpower and a rail link and lots of old disused infrastructure, will likely drown due to spectacularly poor planning and lack of vision.
Then again, maybe things will work out. A spur off the rail line used to connect to Long Island via barge for both passengers and freight... maybe we'll get similarly multifarious inspiration in the future.
8/6/14, 8:06 PM
Ozark Chinquapin said...
It may only take 4 or 5 degrees C of global temperature change to cause collapse of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The late Eocene was about that much warmer than today and there were no ice caps, they didn't form until the Oligocene when it became sharply colder. Polar amplification means that a 4 or 5 degree global change can create many times that much change at the poles.
I used to see the figure of a possible 300 foot rise eventually if all the ice melted. However I've more recently been seeing smaller numbers. The USGS estimates are that there is enough ice in all the world's ice sheets to raise sea level by 206 feet. This page breaks it down (at the end of the article) http://www.thewire.com/politics/2013/11/map-sea-level-rise-probably-wrong-its-too-optimistic/71246/
Thermal expansion would raise the sea level higher, a half meter or so for every degree C increase in the global temperature.
I'm also curious why you expect return to ice age conditions in a few millennis? The peak of the PETM lasted 100,000 years. If that happened again, we would skip the whole next ice age. Are there other analogs that you thing more closely resemble our situation?
8/6/14, 8:10 PM
Roille Figners said...
Generates a simple inundation map based on a given assumed level rise. 50 ft isn't an available choice but 13m (42 ft) and 20m (66 ft) are.
8/6/14, 8:15 PM
I have a thesis, which nature may test for me, that we don't have to wait for Greenland to melt off. I suspect that when the sea ice to the north of Greenland is gone in the summer we'll see glaciers flowing into the sea much faster than now. Ice doesn't have to melt to raise sea levels. It can do the same thing by moving from land to sea. The recent discovery of the "Grand Canyon" of Greenland under the ice raises the likelihood that this scenario might play out. Don't know how much would flow off, but it wouldn't take hundreds or thousands of years. Western Antarctica might display some similar behaviors as the sea ice decreases.
Hard times are coming.
In the Bramblepatch
8/6/14, 8:36 PM
Ah... no. The ice only drew enough water from the oceans to link the islands of Great Britain and Ireland when the ice came far enough south to block the passage; the hunters would have had to travel long distances over the ice without supplies, moving away from the herds. Snakes, like men, could get back into Great Britain over such land bridges, but not into Ireland.
8/6/14, 8:47 PM
8/6/14, 9:14 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Grebulocities, I'd definitely encourage you to do the research. My working assumption is that the jump in polar temperatures, and especially around the northern polar region, was much greater than 7 C. -- the magnitude of ice sheet collapse suggests a massive heat wave. It interests me, though, that so many scholars who've worked with the data (for Mithen is far from the only person who cites similar figures) keep on saying 7 to 10 degrees C. globally, and so few people outside the specific field of study seem willing to consider that possibility.
Ms. Kreiger, that story is going to be repeated a great many times in the years ahead!
Glenn, that's one of the theories about how ice sheets collapse. We may be about to see whether that's how it works.
P.M. Lawrence, not so. You'll want to have a look at this map.
8/6/14, 9:16 PM
John Michael Greer said...
8/6/14, 9:20 PM
Mister Roboto said...
8/6/14, 9:22 PM
8/6/14, 9:34 PM
He talks about the "trigger sunshine value" ( pp. 154-156). This value measures CO2 in terms of sunshine strength, which is dependent upon the Earth's orbit.
The 100,000 year figure seems to be based upon us having the wherewithal to dump "2000 Gton C" into the atmosphere. I learned from Tverberg and Greer that this ain't gonna happen, cause it don't make no sense to expend more energy than is returned from the expenditure, find the financing, etc.
So...John's figure may actually be right!
8/6/14, 9:38 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Odamaki, that'll be covered in next week's post.
Kleymo, well, it's certainly my best guess. A variety of natural cycles strip CO2 out of the atmosphere, and as those come into play, the ordinary rhythm of the Milankovich cycle -- which should see the descent toward a new glaciation sometime in the next few millennia -- should take over. Still, that's well beyond the 500-year scope of this series of posts.
8/6/14, 9:57 PM
Brian Kaller said...
First of all, I’m enjoying "Decline and Fall" – thank you. I expect at least one review in a major magazine in the next few months, but I’m not sure which yet; I'll let you know.
Second, I realise that undersea events like these would be unpredictable even if we knew a great deal about them, and we don’t. That said, though, I’m not sure it follows that people would flee the densely populated coasts in large numbers. People continue to live densely in California despite the occasional earthquake, and where I grew up along the Mississippi and Missouri despite floods that force whole communities to evacuate and return. People get used to things quickly, and can be very selective about which risks they see and write off.
Population centres also could be set back from the coasts a bit – which is often the case anyway. I suppose that much will depend on the size and frequency of such disasters.
Also, your predictions here seem to vary from those in "Star’s Reach;" how much of that is dramatic license vs. new research?
8/6/14, 10:14 PM
From the usual selfish and short term human viewpoint, I do not have to care, having only 20 or so years left on this planet.
8/6/14, 10:55 PM
In today's blog, all you say is consistent with what I have learned of geology, geomorphology, paleoclimatology, and other related studies. I think, though, that your guess of Baton Rouge to be the "new" New Orleans might not come to be. As John McPhee points out in the book "The Control of Nature", the only reason water flows down the last 300 miles of the Mississippi is that the Corps of Engineers continually repairs and replaces parts of the control structure and bank protections where the Atchafalaya River meets the Miss. When the maintenance is neglected due to lack of funding or parts, or perhaps even before that if a very large flood occurs (not too unlikely with increasingly chaotic weather), the Atchafalaya will steal all of the water, leaving Baton Rouge, many chemical plants, and all else on the lower part of present channel of the Miss. River high and dry -- until the sea comes up the channel or much more money and/or other resources are given to the Corps and they are able to fix the problem.
8/6/14, 11:39 PM
Brother Kornhoer said...
Good series....I know this is all information you've culled from other's research, but I don't think anyone has synthesized it together in quite this way...mainly because you're less blinded by presuppositions that we'll somehow change course.
I've realized for some years now that Detroit is located in one of the most strategic places in the continent – ironic given it's current decline – but I'd gamble that if anyplace in North America remains urbanized, Detroit will likely be one of them. Inland ports like Memphis, St. Louis, Louisville, and Pittsburgh also seem well-situated geographically. In the Southeast, several cities were founded because they were located at the head of navigation on a river, such as Augusta, Georgia, just below the rapids on the Savannah River; the Savannah is still 500 feet across at this point. These old minor ports may come back to life.
In contrast, the place where I live now – Calgary – I consider to be a very large mining boomtown, near it's peak if not past it. In 50 years, the oil revenues and the water will likely be gone, and there won't be a reason or the means to have a large city here. I have doubts about how inhabitable it is by a large population without fossil fuels anyway.
Technical question for you....do your sources on global warming attempt to estimate and factor in additional carbon releases to the atmosphere from natural sources such as releases from soil carbon, subsea methane hydrates, and melting permafrost, or are future CO2 levels & thus temperatures predicted more or less by projecting fossil fuel use? My understanding is that those potential natural contributions are fairly large unknowns.
8/7/14, 12:49 AM
I got a good sense of the terrain when I became a bicycle rider, it made me very elevation aware. Climbing the last hill home I'd crawl out of the sea and then climb something close to four hundred feet to get home if oceans rise thirty feet. For now the bottom of the hill is dry.
But will anyone notice? I'll be a lucky man to live long enough to see any changes. An observer, a historian will live hundreds of years hence. In those years many 'Black Swans' as described by N. N. Taleb will surely descend upon the land. The social and economic changes a flock of 'Black Swans' may bring could obliterate all memory of present life and things past.
In a few hundred years people may become predominantly illiterate. They may have no connection to us at all. People living in the Puget Sound then may know no more of the internet and television then than we do of Roman Music. How many libraries will survive a flock of a thousand landing black swans? Of any that do will the language in their books be understood? The future inhabitants of the land may not be the sons and daughters of present inhabitants. They may speak a different tongue. Die-offs to come will bring changes as great as any tsunamis you describe. Books moldering in remaining libraries may at some future time be called work of a devils hand. Then they will be disposed of accordingly. Like religious shrines being destroyed in northern Iraq.
But if there is a quiet monastic cell somewhere and a future historian lights a candle carefully unfolding some old, rare and yellowed maps next to some freshly penned travelers tales of his own time. He will know the world has changed. Then with a trembling hand his goose quill will dip into his inkwell and seeing the ancient connections flickering in the candlelight, he will begin to write. In a language we may not be able to read. A history of things to come.
8/7/14, 12:52 AM
8/7/14, 1:20 AM
Odin's Raven said...
When will the real estate frenzy start, as people try to peg out claims to what they hope will be desirable property? Could this be the first bubble of the new economy, or the last of the old one?
Who'll be left with whom to trade, and for what? Why fuss about rebuilding ports? If it gets back to longships or triremes, they can just pull up on a beach or moor by a riverbank.
8/7/14, 2:13 AM
Pierluigi Dipietro said...
The only doubt here is concerning the matching of climate event timing and human response timing.
A necessary thing to put in to the picture is the overpopulatin issue, and the fact that a large part of people live between sea level and one emter above.
For sure, we will see more water floating cities like Shangai in the future.
8/7/14, 3:20 AM
Oceans pushing upstream into freshwater river systems is a veritable disaster , i guess it would salinate a fair bit of good alluvial farmland on coast as well ....bugger
Paul Watson - Captain of The Sea Shepherd
Neptune’s voice rolled like thunder thru the sky
Angrily he smote the deep seabed floor
From the shore echoed mankind’s mournful cry
……The sea rose up and struck fast for the shore
From out of the East with the rising sun
The seas fearful wrath burst upon the land
With little time to prepare or to run
Against a power no human can stand
Maybe this is the blue monster goddess your little mates in New Orleans can see coming ??
Tsunami is one of the Chousin, three superior goddesses who created the universe, with the other two being Washu Hakubi and Tokimi. She is the founder of the empire of the planet Jurai, patron to its Royal Family, and creator/mother of its mighty Royal Trees.
8/7/14, 4:14 AM
8/7/14, 4:40 AM
James Hick said...
Great post as usual. Bit off-topic sorry but any news on when Twilight's Last Gleaming might be released in the UK?
8/7/14, 5:19 AM
Mean Mr Mustard said...
I used http://flood.firetree.net/ to get a local then global perspective, for the benefit of your global readership.
Certainly much of this interactive map accurately reflects recent flooding in the UK - such as the Somerset Levels, York and the Thames Valley.
The shoreline laps at my own front door at 13 metres, here on Cambridgeshire's Edge. Much of Eastern England - which already requires constant energy - or maybe windmills again - to power pumping stations to drain the Fenland - and the Vale of York... All gone. As is Central London.
Elsewhere, Holland is wiped out completely, Venice and the surrounding region is no more... Southern Iraq, including the Basra oilields are under water, so best extract that thar oil before it becomes offshore? And the same goes for Abu Dhabi, and nearby Dubai, where the artificial palm island upscale housing estates turn out to be very poor investments on one's property portfolio.
Gone too are Bangladesh, and also the Nile Delta, where most Egyptians live.
Fortunately, most of Marrowstone Island in the Cascadian Salish Sea remains intact, hopefully including the Bramble Patch.
8/7/14, 5:43 AM
(I have no idea whose predictions are likely to be more accurate of course, and it doesn't affect me either way. I post just for your information!)
8/7/14, 5:54 AM
Eduard Florinescu said...
8/7/14, 6:03 AM
8/7/14, 6:04 AM
rube cretin said...
Excellent scenario of likely macro impacts of climate change in our future. As the comments suggest many, at the micro level, are already thinking about the various decisions likely to confront much of the population alive today, or their closest descendants. Since the majority of the population is located within 50 miles of our diverse coast lines the majority of our expensive infrastructure in located in these area. The role of sunk costs in important deliberations is believed to be a major factor for considerations.
A 2004 paper in the Journal of Ecology and Society, http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss1/art6/ , discusses the sunk costs decisions made by ancient collapses societies. " .. this paper, we propose an explanation why overexploitation seems more common in ancient societies that built larger structures. This explanation is based on the well-studied sunk-cost effect in human decision making: decisions are often based on past investments rather than expected future returns. This leads to an unwillingness to abandon something (e. g., a settlement) if a great deal has been invested in it, even if future prospects are dim."
Keep sunk costs gentle on the mind!
8/7/14, 6:23 AM
Eddie Tennison said...
I guess the only thing I'd mention is that it's unclear to me, given the effects of climate change on agriculture and habitat, whether or not many (any) humans will be around to see the sea levels rise even fifty feet.
It sounds like maritime sailors of the future will need to be a hardy breed. It's always been a dangerous job. I read that one bulk freighter a week is lost, even now.
8/7/14, 6:28 AM
In order to make the water from Lake Erie "safe" to drink, they've had to increase chlorine use by a fifth and use twice as much carbon in the filtering process. That's probably a relatively modest input compared to the emergency measures coastal cities will have to undertake when the water starts rising, and that we'll all have to take as extreme weather, resource constraints, and systemic failure kick in. Frightening to think about what the government response in the same situation will look like in a few decades when such a solution is drastically more costly, or the resources simply aren't available. Hard choices indeed.
8/7/14, 8:02 AM
England tore up almost all its forests trying to keep warm, then discovered coal. England marred its sky burning coal to power its industry, then discovered oil. I'm not saying there's a guarantee that a new energy source will be found, I'm not even sure it can be said to be at all likely. But for good or ill it all seems to boil down to how much energy we can throw at our problems.
8/7/14, 8:05 AM
JMG or other readers: any suggestions for texts about how the relationships between scientific information, public perception, and public policy have played out throughout the history of scientific endeavor? Perhaps you’ve posted on this topic before. I’m ignorant.
Without a strictly scientific understanding (undergirded by a scientific/humanist mythos), and particularly without any warning—an earthquake or a tsunami ceases to be merely a “natural disaster,” but potentially takes on a more cataclysmic/religious significance. Same goes for the changing of the seasons, the birth of goat, etc.
Thanks for your work.
8/7/14, 8:42 AM
Scott Taylor said...
What I am proposing is the seas may become too rough or unpredictable to allow any kind of marine transport and the port cities may lose their economic centre well in advance of the oceans drowning them. Its just a theory.
But expanding on the point, the first shoe to drop would be the shipping assurance underwriting escalating to unsupportable costs. Large ships of equally large value cargoes would be too risky. We would soon be back to schooner scale shipments. Eulogies for Walmart and Costco would appropriate at this time. (Walmart no great loss but I would miss Costco).
The other end of the spectrum would much calmer winds and waves. Fossil fuels are prohibatively expensive to use for cargo ships - if available. Sailing is one big duldrum. What makes sense? Nuclear powered ships? They would have to be of a scale and much less quantity. In this scenario there would be a concentration of both shipping and ports.
Here's one for a JMG future history novel (note, not sci-fi), what if these nuclear powered ships drove an economic concentration that evolved into city-state societies that existed only to transeverse the globe? More than a Costner Waterworld existence. And if it has been written, my apologies. There would "webs" (slang for marine people for webbed toes dating back to Aquaman) and "terras" for the land dwellers. Would human evolution branch in two directions at this time? I can already imagine a terra dialogue where they slight the marine people as "platties". They're platapuses. Not sure what they are made up of and won't be around long.
Getting back to the central point, marine traffic may severly changed long before port cities are pushing up bubbles.
8/7/14, 8:48 AM
8/7/14, 8:55 AM
8/7/14, 9:27 AM
Crucially, though, this was only the figure for the Greenland Ice Sheet summit. They used a number of isotope proxies, including H-2, N-15, and Ar-40 along with O-18; they all paint very similar pictures. They relied on the fact that molecules with heavier atoms settle disproportionately due to gravity and that this effect is highly temperature-dependent, enriching those isotope ratios disproportionately more at colder temperatures.
Paleoclimate studies in mid-latitudes show equally rapid temperature rises, but not of the same magnitude. Some studies of several temperature proxies in southern Switzerland (at around 47 N) showed the Younger Dryas-Preboreal transition resulted in warming of only about 3-4 C in the summer, although winter temperatures responded by a substantially greater (but less certain) amount.
I haven't looked at any papers about the subtropics or tropics, but I from what I gather the effect should have been much less. I'd hazard a guess that the average over the planet couldn't have been more than something like 2.5 C, given that half the land area on the planet is between 30 S and 30 N, and that land temperatures respond far faster than the ocean to rapid warming.
Not sure if you can access them, but here are some papers:
8/7/14, 9:31 AM
One issue is that during previous instances of dark age collapse there were no nuclear weapons. If overpopulation is our primary problem then inevitably wars will break out over scarce resources and whether dropped for the purpose of reducing population or not, nukes will be very effective in that regard. So there might not even be a Sacramento left to worry about.
Secondly, the bigger primary problem is that we'll almost certainly run out of usable energy long before significant sea level rise (I'm thinking 50 years?), and without energy there will be no way to maintain current population levels. The simple numbers revealing how dependent we are on fossil fuels for everything are staggering. When society is in such a state of rapid population decline I don't think infrastructure is going to be maintained and it will be looted. Without maintenance it will become irreparably useless pretty fast.
Both oil and natural gas will be over in a few decades, with only small amounts coming from stripper wells supporting Mad Max style oases of life. How long coal will last remains a big question mark, but I think that any large accessible reserves will be plundered pretty fast after oil and gas run out. Then we'll hit the net energy cliff and fossil fuel extraction will drop to almost nothing as the social support structures enabling it collapse (where are the nuts and bolts going to come from to keep the stripper wells pumpng?) In this case I don't see how we'd have much maritime trade at all, except using sailboats. Made out of what? Trading what?
The only thing that might save us is if someone figures out how to make solar panels with a better net energy return than they have now.
8/7/14, 9:53 AM
I pretty much agree with what Mr. Greer proposes here (Heck, even NASA agrees:
But just for the sake of completeness, I would like to add my pet blurb.
When the environment is involved, in fact, any time you leave the controlled environments of the laboratory, you enter the realm of chaos. Chaos rich environments are replete with chaotic processes. Chaotic processes are unpredictable because they are very complex (too many factors to keep track of) and very sensitive. Although they are deterministic, if you started the exact same chaotic process twice under initial conditions that are so slight that the differences could not be measured, the end results would be drastically different.
That said, things may not be as bad as Mr. Greer is predicting here; unfortunately, they may also be worse.
8/7/14, 10:20 AM
8/7/14, 10:23 AM
Eric S. said...
8/7/14, 10:40 AM
8/7/14, 11:05 AM
Would Portland , Oregon be a west coast equivalent to your examples?
8/7/14, 11:13 AM
Eric S. said...
Also... I know it's too far in the future to matter with this particular project, but since you've brought it up I'm trying to get a clear picture of the figures for the end of the current interglacial. You're saying the next few millennia, but I've seen figures that suggest the current interglacial could last another 50,000 years. What draws you to one set of results over the other?
8/7/14, 12:09 PM
Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Taking an interest in the long-term future of Estonia, I now feed into the cartographic tool http://flood.firetree.net/ an assumed 2e10-metre rise. I thereupon find that inland Estonia, unlike the present Netherlands interior, **HAS** an agricultural future: the coastline changes only slightly. :-) :-)
Admittedly, the seaport future of Tallinn becomes questionable.
Perhaps the present port infrastructure is hopelessly ruined, while Parliament continues its oratory, high and dry on the ancient central-Tallinn citadel eminence of Toompea? Toompea is a Baltic-region, 13th-century, analogue of the the 17th-century upper town in Quebec City. The Quebec upper town, too, will stay dry for a while.
Estonia is a specialized topic, unlikely to interest other readers greatly. But the fate of London is a matter of general concern, since here we have one of the cultural citadels of the Anglo-Saxon world.
The present Thames Barrier will fail, in the sense of being overtopped, long before the averaged global sea-level rise reaches the top of the barrier. Early overtopping will occur because the Thames estuary is subject to surges (at any rate from storms; however, I suppose tsunamis, which JGM highlights this week, would be a further worry).
There admittedly are proposals to build a more ambitious Barrier.
My hunch, as an uninformed layman, is that London, whether protected only by the present Barrier or protected by some successor thereto, will become a poster child for sea-level rise - one of the great iconic disasters, destined to be remembered centuries from now in ballad and epic and monastic chronicle, with the dome of St Paul's visible above the waves for a while (until key load-bearing structural elements fail), in a watery reprieve of that celebrated wartime photo.
With the failure of London, British institutional life, so heavy concentrated in recent centuries on London, will need to be reorganized.
In digging around for a while this morning, I find an easy, concrete Internet resource, to supplement the pleasantly concrete http://flood.firetree.net/. This further resource is a table of Barrier-closing incidents,
year by year since the early 1980s, laid out roughly halfway down the long page which is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thames_Barrier.
The table suggests a sustained deterioration, of uneven pace, since the early 1980s, in the overall Thames situation.
Toomas (Tom) Karmo
(near Toronto, Canada)
(Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com, www dot metascientia dot com)
8/7/14, 12:38 PM
Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
8/7/14, 1:49 PM
John Michael Greer said...
PhilJ, well, I did say I wanted to talk about the next five hundred years, you know.
Geowatcher, fair enough -- and that's something to factor in, of course.
Brother K, most of the projected releases from methane hydrates, permafrost, et al. are methane, which has (as noted in the post) a very short lifetime in the atmosphere, and so I consider that part of the climate chaos mentioned in last week's post. The error bars in all cases are large enough -- for example, we don't know exactly how much CO2 will get released by burning fossil fuels -- a rough middle-of-the-road guess is the best that can be done.
K-dog, exactly. I'll be talking about that, too, as we proceed.
DASK, there again, there are plenty of parallel events in prehistory, and it's not too hard to factor in the results. They'll be discussed in a future post.
Raven, no, Cayce was dead wrong. He predicted that Atlantis would rise from the waves in 1967 and that the world would end in 2000. 'Nuf said.
Pierluigi, population is a dependent variable, not an independent one. As the carrying capacity of North America and the planet contract, population will decline steeply, in the usual ways. Yes, that'll be discussed as we proceed. One step at a time!
Kutamun, my money is on the Bride of Godzilla.
Yupped, I have friends in western MA, and was impressed by the countryside when I visited there a few years back -- should do fairly well, all things considered.
James, probably around the beginning of next year. It's being published by a UK publisher, so you'll get it as soon as anyone!
8/7/14, 1:51 PM
steve pearson said...
8/7/14, 2:09 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Bogatyr, I have to admit I wonder if Seattle and Portland real estate interests are behind that article!
Eduard, that's fascinating. Some browsers show that shift, some don't. I'll tinker with it and see if I can figure out why.
Redoak, thanks for the recommendation!
Rube, excellent! Thanks for the link -- this is going to be useful for documenting some of the trends I've been trying to trace.
Eddie, humans are one of nature's great generalist species, right up there with rats and cockroaches; we're very, very hard to exterminate. By the time the oceans rise fifty feet, there'll be a lot fewer of us, but we made it through the Younger Dryas-Boreal transition at a time when we had a lot less in the way of adaptive skills than we do now. More on this as we proceed.
NR, that's a great example of the death of a thousand cuts to which industrial civilization is already falling victim.
Dammerung, okay, now ask yourself this: what if throwing energy at our problems has become the primary source of our problems? Because that's a good brief summary of the mess we're in...
Shaun, I've posted on that topic repeatedly, going back to the early days of this blog. I'll be revisiting it as we proceed.
Scott, as far as I know, there's no particular evidence for increased or decreased rates of wave erosion on shorelines at higher or lower sea levels in prehistory, so that's probably not something to worry about. As for nuclear ships, not hardly -- those were tried in the 1950s for commercial uses, and turned out to be hopelessly uneconomical. There's a reason why the only nuclear ships on the seas today are warships owned by major powers, which don't have to turn a profit.
Crew, so noted.
Thrig, the Ring of Fire these days isn't dealing with the sudden impact of massive isostatic rebound -- you're comparing apples to orangutans.
8/7/14, 2:18 PM
Don Plummer said...
I've been half-kidding people when I say I wouldn't move anywhere that isn't at least 100 ft. above current sea level, but in reality it hasn't been a joke. The glacial melting could come quickly, as John says, and I wouldn't want to be caught.
We live at 830 ft. here in central Ohio, so inundation by ocean water won't be a problem for us. I foresee other problems here in the suburban sprawl belt where we live.
8/7/14, 2:28 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Markbc, we don't know when large-scale melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps will begin. If the current methane releases accelerate, we could see serious melting, sea level rise, and postglacial tsunamis within a few decades.
Wolf, er, that "NASA study" got a portion of its funding from NASA, that's all. It's still worth reading, mind you.
Maria, I wouldn't live next to the Atlantic for anything!
Eric, how far above sea level? That's the crucial question.
JR, we'll get to those in due time.
Avalterra, get a topo map, find the 50 foot above sea level line, and use a blue marker to fill in everything below that. That'll give you a rough estimate of how much of Portland will be saltwater estuary in a post-melt world.
Eric, the Alaskan glaciers are too far away and not heavy enough -- it's the melting of continental ice sheets that's at issue. As for interglacial, I'm unfamiliar with evidence that interglacials can last anything like that long -- perhaps you can point me to a source.
Toomas, exactly. It's a source of some interest to me that the first (as far as I know) deindustrial novel, Richard Jefferies' After London, has the ruins of London underwater in a vast lake of toxic swill...
8/7/14, 2:29 PM
Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
A couple notes from the Chicago area: I love the idea of a return to the Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes as civilization hubs--as they were thousands of years ago. Chicago has been a trade crossroads as long as there have been people, from the times of the earliest immigrants who became the people we call Native Americans. There never was one truly ancestral population because there were always travelers and people coming in from other regions. It was common for people from multiple tribes to live in one village.
As far as I know, people settled along the rivers, not actually on the Lake Michigan shore or in the tallgrass prairie: the shore and prairies were great places for hunting in different seasons.
So I can see a new version of that kind of culture re-arising, as infrastructure declines and the rivers are relied on more.
Also, it takes a great deal of work to keep the Chicago lake plain, a natural swamp/marsh/flat, wet region, more or less dry. So one can imagine changes in residency patterns should the pumps turn off and the Chicago river turn back around. In the near term a great deal of effort will be made to keep Chicago's water management system functioning in order to keep trade going and tap water available.
One other thing to consider: fluctuating lake levels. The lakes might shrink as temps rise. What would that do to settlement patterns?
8/7/14, 2:45 PM
Auriel Ragmon said...
8/7/14, 2:48 PM
Anyway, I've been reading your blog since January when I stumbled on it and went back to read all the Religion of Progress posts -- interesting series!
Well I wish to comment on this article of yours, and I just want to say, this looks like a pretty darn accurate long-term sea level rise from the Greenland and West Arctic ice sheet collapses. But did you know East Antarctica will contribute some ice melt as well. I hope not all of it, that would really wreck things! Recent reports indicate that the EaSt Antarctic ice sheet has been destabilized, particularly in the Wilkens Basin.
8/7/14, 3:00 PM
Daryl Vernon said...
Used way beyond reason along with oil as motor fuel, refined sugar for bodies was also fundamental to latter-day anglo hegemony. It is more than symbolic that the Queen (of Canada, too, alas still) came across not only to open the Seaway, but also on Toronto's shore, Redpath's sugar refinery (still standing & running, unlike most waterfront things from that era).
That the Seaway take on an unexpected role after its failure for intended use, after the failure of its presiding hegemony, is something of an irony, but one that the Queen and hegemons she fronts for could probably not care less about.
The rising tide to lift all boats...Another not unrelated book of possible interest I've just had a tempting look into, is Van Tillburg's new, Chinese Junks on the Pacific: Views from a Different Deck. What was disdained in angloland past may yet come to the forefront to help many cope in the rising tide...
8/7/14, 3:36 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
Economists tell us that knowledge is spread perfectly and people make rational decisions.
Isn't it funny how those two statements sound innocuous but are so far removed from the day to day world of existence that they are completely laughable.
However, that sort of thinking must be a powerful sort of magic, because people apply the same sort of thoughts to their natural environment.
I rarely come across thoughts and opinions in the community which were clearly expressed in your essay. Those thoughts can be summarised as: the world is transient in nature. Perhaps that summary doesn't express the current in your essay so well, but that seems to me to be the underlying theme.
It's funny, but when I look at all of the plant communities about the mountain range here, they all tell a story about change. No location is immune to that change either.
For example: The giant mountain ash trees are slugging it out with the alpine ash and messmates for dominance. It all depends on shifting patterns of rainfall, fire, elevation and aspect to the sun. But the contenders are waiting in the background for their day in the sun again. A little bit more rainfall, a little bit less fire and the blackwoods (acacia melanoxylon) will re-establish a solid canopy of drought hardy rainforest. People have also gone and thrown exotic species into the mix too with all sorts of other contenders just waiting. I spotted a feral radiata pine in the nearby forest happily growing. It is a complex drama of change and it is happening right in front of our noses and is there for all to see.
People on the other hand tend to believe that nature does not change, despite clear evidence that it does. Global weirding challenges people’s core assumptions about their lives which is why it is such a hot button topic.
A great example here is the reaction to the Black Saturday bushfires in Feb 09. Yeah, I'm always banging on about it, because it is part of my reality. With 2,000 houses burnt or destroyed and 173 dead, and 450,000ha of forest burnt, the authorities chose to enforce stringent building codes and there is also some anecdotal evidence that they deny new building permits in areas outside of established townships.
That was simply one approach based on the assumption that nature is some untouched wilderness and change is never to occur. However, they could have chosen differently and legislated that houses be built of a more temporary nature. Like the Japanese do in earthquake / tsunami affected areas. Or the Aboriginals used to build less onerous constructions. There are plenty of valid responses to this situation however, it is my gut feel that responding in different ways would challenge many of our cultures core assumptions. Nature will sort it out eventually anyway.
Your analysis will get no argument from me. I reckon the result is baked in.
There is a new blog update here showing all of the interesting stuff going on at the farm, plus there are some cool photos: A frosty reception
8/7/14, 3:46 PM
Violet Cabra said...
Equally striking was beginning to contemplate the enormity of planetary changes that have occurred in the past. I remember hitchhiking through far eastern Oregon/northern Idaho and being told that the rolling hills were lava flows. For hundreds of miles, land created created by cataclysm so intense as to be almost inconceivable to me. Imagining the vast areas of land where humans once roamed that are now covered by sea-water created a similar feeling of awe.
Taken together, the immense timescale and immense change give me a feeling of religious awe for our living planet. Living in a literal sense of changing, evolving and becoming.
Of course these immense changes coming to us fast on very human timescales don't bode well for the long term comforts, my survival into old age, or the preservation of cultural forms that I cherish. I think the emendation you offered to my comment last week was brilliant; there is no safe choice. And personally I think looking for one is an exercise in nerve-wracked futility.
Still I feel a sense of awe for our living planet when I step out of my parochial vantage point as an animal eager to survive and be safe.
Can you recommend any good general books on the geologic/climatic history of Earth? I'm inspired to learn more!!
8/7/14, 3:51 PM
In the grand perspective humans are irrelevant. The current spread of humans over the globe is coincident with a global climate which favored us.
What a beautiful world it has been for so many. As is today on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Not so very far where the evidence of the first great ice age is laid bare on the surface. Where 18,000 years ago the land I stand on was a mile below the surface of the ice. A mere blink in geological time.
8/7/14, 4:03 PM
"Fortunately, most of Marrowstone Island in the Cascadian Salish Sea remains intact, hopefully including the Bramble Patch. "
Thanks for the kind thought, Mr. Mustard. At 126 feet (38 meters) we're well clear of the Tsunami zone and any sea level rise not involving the entire East Antarctic ice sheet. Though we do anticipate losing the well to either rising sea levels, or the big quake, if it comes in our life time (due any time from 64 years ago to 236 years hence). In which case, we'll have to make do with rainwater catchment. If there's still a driller around a decade after the quake it might be worth drilling a new, shallower well. But I think if the quake's more than 10 years and less than 50 years from now, the area will be mostly abandoned, well drillers and all. We'll be limited to the skills and tools we, and a few of our hardier neighbors have.
In the Bramblepatch
8/7/14, 4:24 PM
8/7/14, 4:26 PM
Bruno Bolzon said...
PS: quite scary, the captcha seems to be a random street house number. I wonder for what purpose are they cataloging these numbers!
8/7/14, 4:40 PM
8/7/14, 4:52 PM
Eric S. said...
8/7/14, 5:11 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Adrian, a lot depends on whether the postdecline economy can support canal traffic. If it can, maintaining canal links between Chicago and the Mississippi will be sufficiently important that I don't think you'll see the river reversing course!
Auriel, and there will be no fish to catch, so that's going to be a very hard row to hoe. More on this in a later post.
Ed-M, yes, that's why I included a modest amount of East Antarctic melting in the basic scenario. Thanks for the links!
Daryl, comments get eaten by Blogger now and again. If you put something in and it doesn't show up, if you didn't use profanity and weren't playing troll-games of one kind or another, that's usually what happened.
Cherokee, excellent! The ability to see nature as a pattern of ongoing flow is, to my mind, crucial to make sense of what's happening, and what's going to happen.
Violet, delighted to hear it. I don't know what's currently out there -- the books I grew up with, and which played so large and nefarious a role in making me doubt the sparkly suburban reality I was supposed to believe in, are all long out of print. Your local public library, though, can probably help you out.
Rapier, the first great ice age? Nah, that was in the Precambrian...
Enrique, thanks for the links.
Bruno, it's a matter of body size. As a rule, the larger the animal, the shorter the lifespan of the species -- and we're very large as mammals go, large enough to count as megafauna. For a species as large as us, ten million years is a good long run.
8/7/14, 5:12 PM
8/7/14, 5:26 PM
William Knight said...
Can odamaki (or anyone else who knows) identify that certain sect?
8/7/14, 6:45 PM
Kirby Benson said...
On a more personal note I will not be happy if my vacation spot on Maui is underwater - it could really ruin a good round of golf.
8/7/14, 6:48 PM
I R Orchard said...
Isostatic rebound will also raise sea levels, admittedly over many millennia, but is it accompanied by corresponding subsidence nearby?
Be very cautious predicting tsunami high water marks, they can be VERY high if the cause is particularly violent.
JMG, you recommended not being nearby during a methane eruption. Is there any record of one of them being ignited by a lightning strike or such? Now that would be a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion!!
On that subject, the methane is a strong GHG but only remains for months. The CO2 it oxidises into will be around for many centuries, presumably trapping more heat than the methane did. Either way, it's not good.
8/7/14, 7:39 PM
8/7/14, 7:55 PM
Now if there was a way to pair that up with elevation, and we could see just what gets lost as sea level rises.
8/7/14, 8:08 PM
I could do the research myself, just thought it might be something you have looked into and it might be interesting to mention it to readers.
8/7/14, 8:27 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Eric, fair enough -- and yes, I did materialize in the Cedar Light kitchen a while back, though I had the assistance of a speaking gig in town the night before. ;-)
Onething, because it's going to take several millennia for all the CO2 to cycle out of the atmosphere, and until that happens we'll have warmer than usual temperatures.
William, go onto any peak oil forum and ask about what will happen to all the leftover nuclear reactors and fuel rods, and they'll come out of the woodwork so you can identify them for yourself...
Kirby, I will indeed. Völkerwanderung is a common feature of the collapse of civilizations; unfortunately so is the spoiling of quite a few recreational experiences!
Orchard, I don't know of any evidence for a methane eruption being ignited, but it's a possibility. As for the long term effect of the CO2 left behind as methane breaks down, sure, but remember that it loses more than 98% of its heat-trapping potential when that happens.
Grebulocities, fascinating. I don't recall seeing anything like that; the last detailed reading I did about the Neoglaciation, as we used to call it, suggested that we were within a few millennia of the beginning.
David, thanks for the map!
Markbc, we've got something like a billion years, maybe a little more, before the seas boil due to rising solar output and the biosphere dies. Multicellular life has only been around for 600 million years or so, so there's lots of time left on Earth's clock.
8/7/14, 9:41 PM
@Glenn--depending on what you mean by "shallower", you might hire a strong young man to dig it. John Muir nearly died digging a well for his father.
8/7/14, 10:22 PM
Ivan Lukic said...
8/8/14, 12:35 AM
james albinson said...
As a general comment to the question of what I am doing about it - I am collecting slide rules, log tables, manual portable typewriters, tools and repair kits in an attempt to be Mr words, numbers and fixits in a localised environment.
8/8/14, 5:04 AM
8/8/14, 6:19 AM
Robert Beckett said...
On the ground here in eastern Ontario, it has been a relatively damp and cool spring and summer, with vegetation and trees particularly lush well into August. A bit of carbon sequestration going on with this increase in biomass.
A pleasant surprise, several what turned out to be tomataos (not tomatoes)volunteered in my small patch of garden and are 4'high and fruiting. Compost can do that. Mmm, green salsa!
On an off-topic note, but going back a few weeks, you mentioned "provisional living".
I'm happy to report this week that divorce papers are filed, and a surplus vehicle sold. Time to move west. I'll take my chances with the 'big one' in the Gulf Islands, at 60 feet above sea level, the gods willing.
8/8/14, 7:37 AM
Raymond Duckling said...
I am aware that it is the reptilian part of my brain that takes offense of the words "flood from the south" coming out of an Arizonian mouth. For the benefit of JMG and the fine community gathering in his "virtual living-room" I will recognize that.. yes, there's a flood of people from the Spanish-speaking Americas to the US... and yes, the results are not likely to be pretty for *anyone* involved.
Once we have established that the "flood from the south" is indeed coming your way, I will offer a piece of (unwelcome?) advise. Every bit of fear and mistrust you feel towards us, we feel tenfold towards you. Arizonian gringos are scary evil people that hide behind their automatic rifles and will murder/rape your women and children if given a chance. Everybody this side the border knows that. Regular gringos are rude and clueless, but (mostly) harmless.
When the flood hit's your hometown, you want to be perceived as a Regular gringo, not an Arizonian gringo.
8/8/14, 8:12 AM
Another wild card thrown into the whole climate mix.
8/8/14, 9:05 AM
8/8/14, 9:07 AM
One of my concerns is that as coastal towns flood, that's an awful lot of pollution to unleash. Septic tanks, underground gasoline tasks from every convenience store, toxins from all the decaying underwater infrastructure: the new estuaries will be poison. What impact will that have on marine life? On humans who flock to the sea coasts a couple of hundred years after the floods?
8/8/14, 9:14 AM
After your mention of early post-apocalyptic literature, got _After London; or, Wild England_ from my local library. A recommended read; very interesting, given what we all discuss here. The copy I got, by the way, is a first printing. Yep, 1885, with a fountain pen entry in its cover. Almost 130 years old, and in quite good shape as well. Gave me a bit of a shudder. I once held a book in my hands on spherical geometry printed in about 1502, and it also was readable (and I could understand some of the notation!). Another eerie experience, given this world of electronic ephemera we have now.
8/8/14, 9:43 AM
Neighboring New Bedford collapsed a century earlier still (in the 19th century it was the world whaling capital) but doesn't have the elevation, though it does have a unique massive low-tech stone sea wall that should help out for quite a while.
The New England culture outside the major cities is favorable too. Self-sufficient "off the grid" living isn't as popular as in e.g. Appalachia or Colorado (not even back in colonial times; the New England colonies were very organized and regimented), but thrift and old know-how are and always have been highly valued. The version of stoicism associated with the "New England Yankee" still exists. (Not to be confused with the "New York Yankee." To the latter, "thrift" means getting the lowest price; to the former, it means doing without.) It is, I think, one of the better mental frameworks for preparing for and dealing with crisis.
The biggest uncertainty for "Nuwinga" is probably the future recoverability of the coastal and Grand Banks fisheries, after the peak overshoot population does its worst to scour the oceans of their protein.
8/8/14, 9:49 AM
John Michael Greer said...
James, interesting. I'll check it out.
Robert, I've talked about the most important negative feedback several times in previous posts -- that's the shutdown of the thermohaline circulation, leading to an oceanic anoxic event and the relatively fast removal of gigatons of carbon from the biosphere. That's usually how a major greenhouse event on this planet judders to a halt. Another very important source of negative feedback in the present case is the short lifespan of methane; it's hard to get a runaway cycle going if your most potent greenhouse gas breaks down and loses more than 98% of its heat trapping value in only a decade.
Lewis, yes, that's also an issue, though it's impossible just now to know how likely that is to happen.
Thrig, thanks for the reference! "Lasy mantle syndrome" had escaped my previous research.
Greenflame, we'll be talking about that next week, among other things.
Myriad, if that's the gamble that works for you, by all means go for it. The classic New England mentality is by no means a bad fit for the age ahead of us.
8/8/14, 10:11 AM
There is a little more on my comment on last week's post. In fact one author suggests that it will be as long as 620,000 years, to achieve the low levels of summer Northern hemisphere insolation that occured 110kyr ago at the end of the last interglacial.
8/8/14, 11:14 AM
Robert Mathiesen said...
8/8/14, 12:04 PM
Robert Mathiesen said...
One of the more compelling moments in my own travels through the USA was visiting the little chapel of San Miguel in Santa Fe and hearing how it was already a functioning parish well before the Mayflower's passengers touched land at Plymouth. That ranks right up there, for me, with rapping my own knuckles on the Liberty Bell inside Independence Hall in Philadelphia back around 1950.
8/8/14, 12:13 PM
Courtney Jane said...
8/8/14, 1:22 PM
Rich Brereton said...
My last post appears to have been eaten by Blogger but I think I have figured out the problem.
My question is, can you comment briefly on the Galveston Flood of 1900 and the subsequent evolution of Houston as the dominant port? Are there any lessons we may draw from that episode that are relevant to the topic discussed here? On the face of it, I would say it's a historical example of a very wise abandonment of sunk (haha, sorry) infrastructure costs. Maybe you have studied the matter more closely?
8/8/14, 1:25 PM
Rich Brereton said...
8/8/14, 1:30 PM
I request your permision to write as a comment, a traslation into Spanish of this post.
8/8/14, 1:34 PM
It looks like we're actually near a local minimum for solar insolation and most of the time for the next 130,000 years will be spent with higher insolation than present. Then there are some more erratic dips that could trigger some glaciation, but the dip at 110 kyr ago will be the last one of that magnitude until 620 kyr from the present. Another, fairly calm period similar to the -10 to +130 kyr period takes place between 300 and 500 kyr from now.
Of course the fact that glacial conditions by Milankovich forcings probably wouldn't have returned in the near future (in fact insolation goes up over the next 25 kyr) might make the coming warming slightly worse. I'm not sure exactly how much worse, though; my best guess is not a lot.
8/8/14, 3:13 PM
I have recently tried to build a nesting house for bats. Where I live in Europe, bats are pretty small, and prefer tight shelters (the entrance is like 3 to 4 cms wide). Of course you cannot command whether the critters would adopt it or not...
I would be interested to hear from people who have tried to build animal (even insects...) shelters?nesting houses
8/8/14, 4:40 PM
Also as to the question of human extinction. Something which I recently realized was that if you understand that our current culture and way of life is the current zenith of human progress, far and away superior to that which came before, it is easy to realize that anything which that culture was not capable of surviving must be too much for any lesser culture to handle. How can the simplified communities of the future survive where the apex of human achievement failed and died? It makes no sense, therefore when this culture goes done the whole of humanity must go with it. QED.
8/8/14, 5:34 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Rich, I've read about it briefly but not studied it in any detail, no. As time permits, I may give it a look.
Anselmo, you may certainly translate it into Spanish, but please don't post it as a comment here! There must be Spanish-language peak oil sites where a translation of this post would be welcome; I'd encourage you to use one of those.
Dagnarus, people are still building on what will soon be ocean bottom rather than ocean front because denial still reigns supreme in contemporary culture. People may like to play with notions of world-ending catastrophe, but I knew far too many people who waxed rhapsodic about the inevitable extinction of all life in 2012, and yet were still putting money into their retirement accounts, to think that such claims are taken seriously.
8/8/14, 8:14 PM
Life without lawyers? Unimaginable.
Why should I respect humans at all seeing as they repeatedly do the same foolish things?
This society feels it is so special that life fundamentals are pushed off to scouting badges. I have known way too many "high IQ" valedictorian types that were completely impractical but successful by contemporary standards. They were totally dependent and easily held hostage by those who can do.
So we get the engineer who can design a car but not fix it. We get the mechanic who can fix it but has no idea how it works.
We are made to be consumers. Go shopping and everything will be fine.
8/8/14, 8:49 PM
JMG, if you wanted someone to state their prejudiced cultural justifications for future resource wars, Mr. Duckling would be a good example. Do you think this level of anger is justified. And do you really think "gringos" will be able to live in peace if raymond's attitude is that of the majority of incoming immigrants? It's your virtual living room, as you tell us. If these words were said in my living room I would feel threatened, angry, and moved to action.
8/9/14, 5:06 AM
Bike Trog said...
8/9/14, 5:20 AM
Now as to the ultimate maximum temperature under double the preindustrial (1880) CO2 loading, it is my understanding that the 3 C rise is due to ECS -- Equilibrium Climate Science -- and that according to ESS -- Earth Systems Science -- the long term temps work out to + 6 C over 1880 levels. Jim Hansen figured this out by his analysis of the paleoclimatological findings, IIRC. Now how long this will take is anybody's guess, so I won't quibble with your 3 C rise I'm temperature 500 years out (from last week's post).
What makes you think that humanity will become extinct even though the most technologically advanced civilization won't be able to handle the coming climate chaos? Even Easter Island didn't see NTHE after the last tree fell, whose root system was destroyed by rats. But even if you're correct, I don't see any NTHE as a quick apocalypse (unless the insane frackers in DC get to wage WWIII with no one to stop them and it goes nuclear, then it's Nuclear Winter and an instant Ice Age!), rather a long breakdown into the eternal night spanning, say, a thousand years. Not even hockey sticks are turned as sharply as the NTHE apocalypse!
8/9/14, 8:25 AM
Bike Trog said...
8/9/14, 8:33 AM
Brian Weber said...
And where is cold, deep water formed? The artic and the Antarctic. It's possible that AGW will lead to year-round ice-free conditions in the arctic (though I think this is unlikely---I doubt the Gulf Stream transports enough heat to keep the arctic ice-free in winter, though I could be wrong) in which case deep water formation in the arctic may slow dramatically or cease. But it is almost impossible to imagine a halting of deep water formation around Antarctica.
Why? Due to quirks of recent geology (past 30 million years or so), Antarctica is encircled by an ocean, and the circum-polar current and the ice sheets covering Antarctica reinforce each other in a system of powerful feedbacks. To wit, in winter powerful, frigid katabatic winds continually blow seaward off the ice sheet, making the surrounding ocean cold, and driving the current. For its part, the powerful current prevents any serious encroachment of warmer subtropical waters.
Basically the triggering event for our current ice-house climate state was the opening of the Drake passage and subsequent glaciation of Antarctica (though there were other factors). This occurred in a substantially warmer world than present, and until planetary geology alters the Antarctic current, it's hard to see Earth returning to hothouse. Now I'm not a denialist... We can certainly warm the planet, just not by THAT much. All-in-all I think the Archdruid's take is reasonably likely, though probably with some unforeseeable surprises.
8/9/14, 9:30 AM
Brian Weber said...
Anyway particulates have a well-known (but poorly quantified) cooling effect which may be countering CO2 warming. If the industrial world slows or comes to a near-halt in the next century or two, the particulates will quickly fall out of the air, but the CO2 will not. Might we see comparatively quick warming when industry and global population down-step?
Put another way, this could be an under-recognized positive feedback in a warming world: climate change causes industrial disruption, leading to fewer airborne particulates, leading to greater climate change. How significant might this be?
8/9/14, 9:49 AM
Robert Mathiesen said...
From what I have seen and read of the Southwest, Mr. Duckling's anger seems quite warranted. I am not Latino, but my wife is half Spanish, and frankly I felt that Mr. Benson's post warranted such a response as Mr. Duckling's. Remember, please, that that part of North America belonged to Mexico at the time, and it had been settled by them and used productively, before the United States took military action to seize it, in part to win new lands for slavery and the plantation system. Contempt that Protestant Anglos felt for Catholic Mexicans, and Catholic Hispanics in general, fueled a great deal of the United States' early moves toward empire.
8/9/14, 10:03 AM
Scott Taylor said...
It is a safe assumption with complex systems that when an accelerant, or forcing function is applied something is going happen that was not deterministic. That's why we always make sure we have the big red button that says "STOP". Some of the relocations proposed by other commentators display the temptations of linear thinking. If the seas becomes too rough or unpredictable for effective shipping the issues around maintaining a viable point will be moot. It is also a safe assumption the outcomes will be nonlinear. Think S-curve.
It may not have been clear, but I was inferring the use of nuclear powered ships would be of a large scale making them feasible. Like an aircraft carrier, they would probably be a small marine city state. Consequently, shipments would be massive and much less frequent. Again, rendering many small port locations unusable.
Finally, for the East Ontario person heading for the Gulf Islands - oh no, not another one! I'm a native BC'er (BC stands for Beyond Canada because that's how we were treated by eastern Canadians until they found out we had oil and gas and plenty of temperate regions to inhabit). On a serious note, in the Gulf Islands potable water is an issue. Regions investing in both catchment and possibly alternative fresh water production. A little solar powered desalination unit would do nicely.
And I'm in Ontario building windfalls. Quid pro quo.
8/9/14, 10:15 AM
Newly filled reservoirs have caused modest earthquakes a number if times. Adding a dozen meters of water should distort the crust as well.
Not as extreme as melting thick ice sheets, but more broadly spread out. XXX gigatons of weight removed from one place should cause earthquakes - why not the addition of those same tonnes in other places also causing earthquakes ?
8/9/14, 10:48 AM
Could this have been a regional observation, perhaps tied to which way the Great Lakes emptied out ? St. Lawrence or Mississippi.
I have some understanding of the processes, but not as good as I would like.
I also prefer the term Climate Chaos. Observed in the garden here in Georgetown KY this summer.
PS: I think another reader is from around here. Let me know if you would like to meet.
8/9/14, 11:03 AM
Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Thanks very much for the information. Of course it would be the locks, not pumps. What do you think of the idea that if the lake level falls too low the river would try to re-reverse itself?
8/9/14, 11:45 AM
Nevertheless, I do maintain that, anything you read or hear on any public media needs considerable salt.
8/9/14, 1:15 PM
Mr. Duckling's remarks were most informative. It is always helpful to know what others think of us so we can better prepare for what they might do to us.
Rather than getting angry we should be getting busy. Ethnic exclusion laws are a. morally offensive, and b. don't work, but that does not mean that local communities can not have laws and ordinances in place which force incoming migrants to abide by community standards. For example, a community which wants to prevent the careless killing of 50,000 honeybees because some mow & blow guys couldn't be bothered to read instructions, might want to pass an ordinance requiring that anyone who hires yard labor has to keep written records of whom they do hire. In addition, community leaders might want to privately tell newspaper editors that when environmental crimes do occur, they expect to see the culprits named.
Even allowing for the justice of Mr. Duckling's observations, I think many working and middle class Americans are asking why is this our fault. No one asked the Americans of my parents' and grandparents' generations if they thought it would be a good idea to resettle Nazis in South America and then look the other way while the European refugees were organizing the drug trade.
8/9/14, 4:11 PM
Dan the Farmer said...
Waves will not simply be larger, everywhere, all the time. There may be a higher statistical likelihood of strong waves, but I think chances are high that some degree of ocean transport will exist.
Nuke carriers, on the other hand, require a level of sophistication that would be absurd in a world of declining capacities.
Perhaps the better approach is to ask what people need to survive and how to best meet that need. I like pepper and cinnamon and cumin. Some non-native oils are nice, like olive oil. I'm content with local sources of bulk carbs and protein and veggies. Depending on the world we're talking about, running a nuke freighter in order to ship small cargoes of spices is silly.
We can also talk about sources of cloth, metal work, glassware, china, furs, and similar logic remains. Big ships are an artifact of consumer economies. Conserver/subsistance economies need much less. Small sailing freighters are much more likely.
8/9/14, 8:06 PM
Shane Wilson said...
I prefer to be perceived as a Spanish speaking gringo who has a clue, since I know the general locations of the Mexican states, have a basic idea of the history and culture, and know the geography of Central America as well. I'm hoping it proves valuable as decline unfolds
8/9/14, 8:33 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Progress, I put Kirby's and Raymond's posts through because we're all going to hear a lot more of this as the tide of völkerwanderung starts flowing. Do you recall the post I made a while back on this same subject? If not, might be worth a read.
Trog, there'll be a lot of that on the arid plains of the Midwest, in particular, as things settle out. More on this as we proceed.
Ed-M, yes, that sounds about right.
Brian, I have enough trouble getting people to pay attention to thermodynamics when it comes to such obvious points as the finite nature of energy reserves, I wasn't going to baffle them further by talking about the differential heat storage capacity of air and water! As for the tectonic theory of ice ages, though, it's still a theory -- plausible but unproven -- and as I'm sure you know, there's evidence for shutdowns of the thermohaline circulation, so the permanent nature of deepwater formation isn't necessarily that solidly proven. For the purpose of this survey, I decided to stick with the known -- in this case, paleoclimatological evidence -- without dragging in current theoretical debates.
As for soot, that's another driver for the climate chaos I discussed last week. I'll look into it, but I'm not sure that it's important enough by itself to warrant a discussion in any detail.
Scott, no, I got your point. If the seas had been either much rougher or much smoother at different temperature regimes, that would have left a clear proxy marker in variations in the wake of wave erosion. Remember the first rule of scientific method -- when you come up with a hypothesis, look for some test that can disprove it, and see what happens. It'll keep you out of a lot of trouble. As for nuclear ships, if a technology isn't economically viable, it's not going to happen -- and if the necessary infrastructure can't be supported on the available resource base and economic surplus, it's not going to happen, either. Nuclear ships fail both tests. Again, look for disconfirmation!
Alan, take ten billion tons off a single large island and distribute it across the world's entire ocean surface. Do you notice a difference in the impact on the mantle? I thought so. As for the Greenland measures, I'd encourage you to read the book I cited. (And don't post irrelevant speculations about paleocatastrophism, please -- those aren't relevant to the subject of this post or this blog.)
Wolf, if they agree with me, I'm going to want to doublecheck my facts!
8/9/14, 9:53 PM
Raymond Duckling said...
I feel really ashamed of having been the one who opened this particular can of worms here. I recognize that I was not in my best, and that my parents would not have felt proud from hearing that this is what I have done with the example they have set for me.
For what's worth, I was not trolling. The feelings were all too real. I don't see myself as a particularly hateful or violent person, but my blood was really boiling for most of yesterday morning.
Please let me make and offer. Let's leave this little chat alone until after our host discusses the subject of migration in Dark Age America, and then I can tell you one or two things about how we see you.
The short version is that Mexico has a love-hate relationship with the US, much like a disfunctional couple. The rest of the Americas is well aware of this, by the way.
8/9/14, 10:02 PM
Redneck Girl said...
I understand its a human thing and I would like to point out regardless of 'race' we are all of the same species. It's not 'what' we are it's WHO we are. Me, I'm a partial descendent of two peoples who were not regarded as 'white' in earlier days, one was the Tsalagi/Cherokee and the other was Irish/Kelts. My mainly Irish Grandfather loved me very much and called me his little Sugarlasses Gal.
We can make this a very rough time for our peoples to live through but I think there's going to be more than enough grief to torment everyone. It doesn't have to be that way, we can do better, one step at a time, each day as they come. That will be the best way for the planet to survive. That will be the only way we'll survive and remain human, not just 'ethnic groups.'
8/9/14, 10:07 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
I salute you for tackling this thorny (which it clearly shouldn't be) issue.
I had no idea what you were talking about until I read further. You've earned yourself the dunces cap: so get thee to the corner and keep quiet whilst you are at it!
Seriously dude, I'm pretty certain the Spartiate class felt much the same way many millennia ago. How did it work out for them? It is an inevitably self-defeating thought process. History should be your guide.
Hi Dan and Courtney Jane,
You are both correct. Few people fear climate change because they think that tomorrow will be much like today, but with a different shoreline. I am inclined to think that this will not be the case.
I grow plants here from locations both south and north (remember it is upside down here) of the farm because every single year the climate is different, however, I can report that overall it is getting warmer.
Remember that a lot of the world’s Uranium deposits are to be found in Australia. The Aboriginals have lived with the consequences of radioactive sites for more millennia than you'd care to imagine and they simply adapted. As some of those radioactive sites were close to the surface, they had very real world impacts for those people. Those radioactive areas were simply marked as taboo sites inhabited with evil spirits and who can even say that the Aboriginals are wrong in this belief? I fully concur with their approach.
The subject of nuclear weapons also comes up fairly regularly here. They obviously feature heavily in the national imagination as a potent projection of power. However, it should always be remembered that those weapons are simply machines and if they are not maintained, tested, repaired and replaced regularly, how do you even know if they operate? Ask yourself, would get on an aircraft that hasn't flown in 20 years? Don't bother me with your answers as it is the problem of your congressmen for they are responsible ones. Ask them and actually demand answers of them.
PS: There is only a single nuclear reactor on the entire continent and it is a very long way from me.
8/10/14, 2:51 AM
Cherokee Organics said...
The thing that might be worth mentioning here is that Industrial culture has blind spots.
The Aboriginals talk about the Dreamtime which roughly translates as: “the world and all that is in it”. Plus it also includes significance for the past as a link to the current time. It is sort of hard to explain and I am no expert.
One of the funniest comments that I've read on this blog was long ago when someone suggested that the local Indigenous population were unable to see the sailing ships of the Europeans. I'm unsure, but I think that the commenter was referring to American natives rather than the Australians.
Why it is funny to me, is because the commenter genuinely meant that the native people wouldn't have been able to see the sailing ships. They meant it literally. My understanding is not perfect, but I'm pretty sure that the Dreamtime would have and does encompass Europeans, their germs and their technology. This is simply because it have been observed and accepted as part of the world around that culture as it was and not as it should or might have been.
The funny thing is that it is our Industrial culture which has the blind spots and cannot see that, say for just one example that springs to mind: dumping dioxins as a by-product of the paper making process (incidentally one of the most toxic chemicals known to man in the ocean - or including it in your batch of herbicide which you purchased ironically at the local garden centre) is actually a really bad idea. We just don't see any of this stuff and it is going on all around us, all of the time. It is ironic because it is actually our cultural worldview which is clearly not large enough to take it all in. We really pretend that our actions have no consequences and then hide behind this belief as if somehow it can make us safe.
Most people have commented this week that somehow that their situation is both unique and special. Without trying to alienate the entire commentariat of this blog, I will tell them this: "Your current circumstances are neither unique nor are they special and consideration that the future is going to look like today is far from a safe bet."
Just sayin, people.
8/10/14, 4:03 AM
James Newlin said...
Have you read Morris Berman's work and are not referencing him? He talks about Gregory Bates's study, he has books titled "Reenchantment of the World" and "Dark Ages America", both phrases you have used.
Please give a reference here and included Morris Berman in your discussion. It seems like much of what you're saying is not original thinking.
*Reenchantment* was a very popular book in the 1980s, so it's hard to imagine you haven't read it.
8/10/14, 5:15 AM
The return to sail as a mode of transport and commerce will be made difficult by the minor fact that the great oaks and other ship-building timbers have already been rip'd from the once ample bosom of both ye Olde and ye New England. Indeed my own district in the far Antipodes - now virtually treeless for as far as the eye can see - sports ironical place names like Spar Bush.
These efforts by the gentlemen of the Admiralty and local equivalents have left us with aught but soft pine and similar rubbish to build new vessels out of in quantity. And the skills to build the family boat have, unfortunately, been lost a few generations back, around here.
Once the great port's docks are routinely submerged at every high tide global commerce and even local trade and fishing will be in dire straights.
As James Hansen declared in his 2008 testimony to Congress: "No stable shoreline would be re-established in any time frame that humanity can conceive."
The muck of eroding coastlines will decimate spawning areas for coastal fisheries and destroy shell fish beds. There will be scant pickings to be had on the coast anyway - so might as well head inland and try and make a go of it there. But head inland to settle among what? Desert? Flood? Work our way towards the poles to plant hopeful seeds in the sterile juvenile soils of the warming (burning?) tundra?
Indeed. For most coastal areas it will be as you describe. I painted a similar story for my own home town a while back.
Keep on with the preparations... N
8/10/14, 5:33 AM
Dorda Giovex said...
In fact the water released in the arctic is not rotating and the more it moves towards the equator the more it must accelerate to follow earth's rotation by the eastern edges of continents.
If the melt is fast enough it could produce extremely strong rip currents and water pileups.
8/10/14, 6:01 AM
Phil Harris said...
I am posting a few links with quotes that I found useful following JMG's lead into climate science.
These are split into 2 separate comments: 1st general / plus methane conjectures; 2nd comment covers sea level, West Antarctica ice shelf plus terrestrial vegetation rapid feedback.
Rahmstorf WBGU Lecture 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uedro84teXk [Comprehensive lecture on climate science: includes wonderful animated graphic of coming and going of northern ice-sheets during glaciation & de-glaciation when ocean goes up and down 120-130m (400 feet). Greenland ice remains largely intact in previous episodes.]
Methane and the disturbed Carbon Cycle – a personal quest (2012) http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/methane-and-disturbed-carbon-cycle.html
[This is my own review with lots of links and quotes to explain climate geo-history. A near-term ‘Methane Apocalypse’ seemed unlikely.]
Hydrogen Isotopes Preclude Marine Hydrate CH4 Emissions at the Onset of Dansgaard-Oeschger Events http://www.sciencemag.org/content/328/5986/1686.abstract “The causes of past changes [jumps] in the global methane cycle and especially the role of marine methane hydrate (clathrate) destabilization events are a matter of debate. … Evidence from the North Greenland Ice Core Project ice core based on the hydrogen isotopic composition of methane δD(CH4) [indicates] that clathrates did not cause atmospheric methane concentration to rise at the onset of Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) events 7 and 8.[release of massive ice-berg swarms / warming events] …modelling supports boreal wetland [methane] emissions as the most likely explanation for [these methane jumps].
800,000-year Ice-Core Records of Atmospheric Methane (CH4) (page last modified 2012) http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/atm_meth/ice_core_methane.html [This link provides useful graphics for 3 ice cores in Antarctica covering CH4, CO2, & Nitrous oxide for 3 periods including a graphic for the last 2000 years.]
A methane-based time scale for Vostok ice (2003) [Antarctica] Quaternary Science Reviews 22; 141–155 (2003)
“A third potential criticism is that melting of CH 4-bearing clathrates, either those frozen in terrestrial sediments at high latitudes or in shallow marine sediments at any latitude, could be another possible source of atmospheric CH4. The rapid changes in CH4during the last 15,000 years shown in Fig. 1 could be interpreted as lending credibility to this idea. To date, however, ice-core studies have not favored this possibility.”
Holocene temperature history at the western Greenland Ice Sheet margin reconstructed from lake sediments (2013) “Peak Holocene warmth occurred from 6 to 4 ka, [thousand years before present] with temperatures 2–3° warmer than today.” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277379112004209
8/10/14, 6:44 AM
Phil Harris said...
2nd of 2 comments posting links for climate science - these relate to sea level. West Antarctica shelf and fast terrestrial vegetational feedback.
The Mid Pliocene sea level conundrum (2014) http://moraymo.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/rovereetal_20141.pdf
[This is probably the most important link of my updates on sea-level, and the quoted 400ppm CO2 is what we might expect in centuries following ‘Peak CO2’ (my guesstimate) at perhaps 570ppm in about 100 years from now.
ESL – ‘Eustatic Sea Level’ is the global level after the ocean volume adjustment.
“Less than 20m”, quoted below, is about JMG’s quoted rise of “something more than 50 feet” but this will depend locally, eventually, on whether ‘your coast’ goes up or down when the tectonic plates adjust their tilt. ]
“The Mid Pliocene warm period (MPWP), historically defined as the interval between∼ 3.3 and 2.9Ma, is widely considered to be an example of a past climate state in equilibrium with ∼400ppmv atmospheric CO2 levels… From the data discussed above we might infer that a Pliocene ESL <20m is the most consistent with data. However, a concerted effort to merge a larger body of geologic field data with ever more sophisticated mantle dynamic models will ultimately provide a robust estimate of polar ice sheet stability in the slightly warmer MPWP world.”
Lower bounds to future sea-level rise (2012) “We find that, in spite of fossil-fuel depletion, sea level is predicted to rise by at least ~ 80 cm at the end of this century and is expected to continue rising for at least the next two hundred years”. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921818112001579
Rapid sea-level rise (2012) “The practical difficulties of assessing regional sea-level (SL) patterns at sub-millennial timescales will be discussed using an example from the eastern United States.” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277379112003344 (2012)
Quaternary West Antarctic Deglaciations (QWAD) (ongoing) is a component project of the Glacial Retreat in Antarctica and Deglaciation of the Earth System (GRADES) research programme, part of the British Antarctic Survey research strategy Global Science in an Antarctic Context (GSAC) 2005–2009
[Useful description of Antarctica includes “Evidence for previous collapse of the ice sheet”. They went looking.
Rapid coupling between ice volume and polar temperature over the past 150,000 years (2012) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v491/n7426/full/nature11593.html “Here we present an independent dating of a continuous, high-resolution sea-level record1, 2 in millennial-scale detail throughout the past 150,000 years. We find that the timing of ice-volume fluctuations agrees well with that of variations in Antarctic climate and especially Greenland climate. Amplitudes of ice-volume fluctuations more closely match Antarctic (rather than Greenland) climate changes. Polar climate and ice-volume changes, and their rates of change, are found to co-vary within centennial response times. Finally, rates of sea-level rise reached at least 1.2 m per century during all major episodes of ice-volume reduction” [ Note there has been a ‘see-saw effect’ between Poles during de-glaciation.]
Terrestrial biogeochemical feedbacks in the climate system (2010) http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n8/full/ngeo905.html
“The terrestrial biosphere is a key regulator of atmospheric chemistry and climate. During past periods of climate change, vegetation cover and interactions between the terrestrial biosphere and atmosphere changed within decades….”
8/10/14, 6:51 AM
Shane Wilson said...
8/10/14, 7:18 AM
Shane Wilson said...
I'm thinking the initial collapse of the U.S. might induce an exodus of people, both native and immigrant, from the U.S., particularly if it gets very dark and ugly (like the rise of fascism discussed earlier) My guess is that only after the dust settles after the initial U.S. collapse will the exodus reverse as people head back in for land and salvage. Contrary to what many Anglos believe, Latin American birthrates are not actually that high compared with, say, parts of Africa and the Arab world, and Latin America is not as overcrowded as other parts of the world, either. There's a lot less population pressure on North America from Latin America than, say Europe from the Middle East/Africa. As for someone's comment regarding drug gangs in Central America, that was blowback from American deportations--those gangs originated in the U.S., particularly L.A., among immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. When they were returned to their" native" countries, which they had no cultural connection to, they simply kept doing what they'd been doing, except there was no strong government to control or stop their activities. Viola, humanitarian crisis on the border due to Central American drug gangs
8/10/14, 7:36 AM
Cathy McGuire said...
I had a thought of also being able to pass on what I know of self-sufficiency, but I'm pretty sure that's not gonna happen until I'm too old to do it. And after watching quite a few people recently proclaim they are “green” and then get a “house facelift” purely for cosmetic purposes, using cheap Asian products, I’m convinced that even the so-called ecologists are really in denial about how far they still have to fall if/when economy/ecology gets dicey… too many are “cutting corners” in the self-sufficiency area…but I’ve also become more accepting of that – just like going through the 5 stages of grief about the ongoing decline (my own and the world’s), one has to go through those stages regarding the fact that others are not going to “get it” in time, nor will they do much about it until it’s too late… it’s kind of like watching an alcoholic and realizing you can’t change them until they want to change… one has to “detach with love” as they say… I’m feeling more calm having finally (mostly) gotten past the anger and bargaining in this area – more energy to work on my own plot of land and prepare my own psyche for having less… (in particular, watching all the greenies show up to ecology events with immaculately washed cars and trucks is a dead giveaway to me… wasting water, anyone?)
On the immigrant/ethnic discussion: I'm kind of amazed at all those who focus on one group of people as if they are a single mind (like bees) - people, in my experience, are incredibly varied, no matter what ethnic group they come from! Making generalizations generally (!) comes back to bite me, so I usually don't. I will say that human nature is predictable in the sense that if living conditions where you are become intolerable, you finally move... and moving into a different culture with different rules must be a bewildering and tough experience. And I still will be very wary as the Southern Californians try to drag their beach parties up the coast in search of rain! LOL! (And as someone who's Irish on both sides, all the way back, I can tell you that cultures DO remember who stole whose land generations ago and no way do the evicted feel like that land isn't theirs... no sure how to work that one out...)
8/10/14, 8:08 AM
These days, you need to be pretty smart to get a modern engine to run. These days, you need to know almost as much as the guys who designed the thing. Have you ever seen someone get a state of the art, modern engine to run from scratch? Hunched over wires and a laptop, talking to the ECU, messing with the fuel map and making sure it knows what angles all the engine parts are at? Enough about engines.
I dunno. It has been said the last time anyone was able to know everything that everyone knew was way back in ancient Greece. To some extent, we've been dependent on each other for quite a while now. However, during times of Chaos, the person who knows a little bit about everything and is somewhat independent does better than someone who has specialized and is highly dependent. In this New Era, generalists > specialists. This is the age of the Jack of All Trades.
So, basically, lots of tsunamis. Living near the sea at low elevations, not a good idea. Living near a major river, better idea. Got it.
Still, there's a huge difference between the kind of boat that does well on the deep sea and the kind of boat that does well on a river. That's basically the whole reason for New Orleans to exist, you know. To take cargo from deep sea vessels and transfer them to barges and back.
Without some coastal terminus to unload cargo from deep sea sailing vessels and load them onto river barges, there won't be much international shipping traffic happening, as I see it.
I guess, that's the point of your thesis though, it'll be the Dark Ages all over again.
8/10/14, 8:30 AM
Looks like it's time for me to get off my provisional butt, and look for a better location back east. Carl
8/10/14, 8:30 AM
Varun Bhaskar said...
My guess is that governments that are able to organize their excess labour into some-kind of eco-engineering army, in much the same way ancients organized themselves for large-scale civic projects, will be the ones to manage what's coming. That basically leaves most of Africa out but I'm still wondering about South and Central America. EU, US, Russia, China, Japan, and Korea all have functional and refined bureaucratic systems. Hopefully they'll be able to adapt to some degree.
@ Kirby, Raymond, and Progress
It seems like one of the things that will trigger a lot of violence is the attitudes that well carry toward each-other. Some people will learn to cooperate and prosper and others will not. If we can't even see eye to eye over a heavily moderated website, whose audience are all generally on the same page, what does that tell you about how things will turn out in the real world?
A few posts ago the same thing happened when discussing race and tribalism.
It seems whenever people start discussing generic concepts about in-groups and out-groups the result is a lot of misunderstanding and anger. We all carry our biases with us. I'm with JMG on this, best to leave the politics out of it and figure out how you're gonna tend your garden. Same way, you know the flood is coming and you know the numbers. Now how are you gonna tend that garden?
As some of you know I'm currently trying to build a newspaper to serve people involved in the transition effort. The main areas of coverage will be climate related disasters, energy sustainability, localization efforts, and eco-engineering projects.
The newspaper is called View on the Ground because the goal is to provide a ground level view of events and activities in the readers regions. We will accomplish this by training our readers to be citizen journalists.
I feel that covering individual, communal, and state initiated transition projects will be vital to the success of those projects. Keeping an eye on which political and business actors actually understand the urgency of the situation will help us support them, and them to support us. Keeping an eye on problem areas, potential dangers to ourselves, and our communities will help us prepare.
I'm turning to JMG's community because you're all aware of the situation, very well informed, and would want to see the fourth estate rebuild. I'm not asking people to write, although it would be amazing if you could, but to submit articles about things going on in your part of the world. Suggestions and guidance about how you want to see this newspaper develop and what you want to see covered are also welcome.
8/10/14, 10:28 AM
@Carl-- Have you thought about moving west to Sonoma County? Petaluma is ten feet higher in elevation than Napa, farther inland from San Pablo Bay, on a navigable river, and has freight and (soon) passenger rail service. Diversified small to medium farms watered from local sources are nearby. Population just under 50,000; seems to fit JMG's previously published recommendations for a good place to settle, other than being prosperous and in California.
8/10/14, 11:10 AM
August Johnson said...
@Cathy - I understand what you've been through, I don't even want to waste the time, let alone the water washing the car. The plants in the garden make much better use of it! The car hasn't been washed since it was bought and the last time the truck was washed was when we left Alabama years ago, to get the mold off of it!
8/10/14, 11:22 AM
“One of the funniest comments that I've read on this blog was long ago when someone suggested that the local Indigenous population were unable to see the sailing ships of the Europeans. I'm unsure, but I think that the commenter was referring to American natives rather than the Australians”
I believe that idea was put forth by Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel. It referenced the aboriginal peoples we call Incans when they looked out to sea as Pizarro’s ships were approaching. It sounds plausible based on what we know about how the brain interprets what our eyes “see”.
Just want to tell you how much I am enjoying your blog entrees…Fernglade Farm is amazing!
8/10/14, 11:30 AM
Ronald Langereis said...
Off current topic but of interest to you.
The oil industry's in a quandary, article by Ambrose EP in the Telegraph: (mostly figures)
All the best,
Ronald Langereis - Amsterdam
8/10/14, 1:40 PM
RE: the ethnic discussion -- when I first read what Kirby said, I was appalled. We have the remainder of a "flood" of Latino immigrants who came here to New Orleans right after Katrina, and I don't and never did see any problem with them. But I kept quiet lest I put my own foot in my mouth... because now we have another "flood," this time of white English-speaking people from elsewhere in the US and the R.E. prices and rental costs have gone up significantly in response.
Now for my city, I don't see it drowning until the end of the 21st Century because of the rebuilt levees and sea defences. But as another poster said above, we could lose our water when the Old River structure finally gives way and allows the Miss. River run down the Atchafalaya. This of course would put the final nail in the coffin to my state's ongoing program to rebuild the coast whic has been subsiding due to lack of flood-borne sediments and damages caused by oil exploration and extraction activities. Plus, the restoration effort has been made that much more difficult to accomplish since this June when the state Legislators passed a bill making it virtually impossible to sue the oil companies for damages to property and injuries to persons' health, in any Coastal Zone parish (=county).
Oh, and the SLR might be as much as 2.5m (8 ft) this Century.
http://arctic-news/blogspot.com/ Look for the 2.5m Sea Level Rise article.
8/10/14, 4:07 PM
My thoughts went to Panama's future. Perhaps build valuable, enduring infrastructure (see new locks for the Canal) and either let them pay for themselves (if lucky) or let debts dissolve in world-wide financial collapse.
Gatun Lake is 85', 26 m above sea level. It will be centuries till locks MIGHT not be needed. Still, the Culebra Cut would need to be kept clear from the landslides that still continue today.
The bottom of the cut is 12 m 39' above today's sea level, as is the shipping channel through Gatun Lake.
Some further dredging would allow shallow draft vessels to transit without locks if the sea level rises 50'. But only by paying a toll.
As long as long distance maritime trade continues, the Panama Canal will have value.
If Panama continues making wise investments (electricity is 52% hydro today), they may be able to squeeze through the approaching bottleneck - assuming no one conquers them for their valuable asset, the Panama Canal.
8/10/14, 4:07 PM
I think most of your water comes from the Russian River and Sonoma Lake which are very low and a couple more years of drought, they'll be bone dry. Napa is not in any better shape with it being dependent on delta water from the Sierras.
The best bet for me would be to move somewhere with summer rains away from the coast. Though try telling that to a wife in denial stage and two soon to be teenagers kids. Carl
8/10/14, 4:43 PM
I struggled to figure out if you were serious in your comment.
Our culture may be the apex of achievement in some ways, but not all ways. We've had approximately zero interest in respecting nature and living in balance.
Some friends of mine have pointed out that some US land was taken from Mexico, as if that means much. I think it doesn't, because it was fallout from the colonial era. France also had large parts of the US, but we bought it, which is of course nicer. Spain had Mexico. But it isn't as if the tribes that were displaced from Arizona and New Mexico were one people with the indigenous further south. It isn't as if making the US smaller and Mexico bigger will right the wrongs that were done.
For what it's worth, I never believed the bit about natives not seeing the ships.
8/10/14, 7:08 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
The name is a dead (pun intended) giveaway! Crazy stuff isn't it?
Many thanks! It is a nice place to live too. Hope you had a chance to check out the latest blog entry which went up today: A song of water and fire
Lots of cool photos and a short video on the shed water system which has a pump, several taps and a bushfire sprinkler. The sprinkler almost destroyed my video camera during recording too. Oh no!
Yeah, I don't know about the Incan's but it certainly wasn't true for the Aboriginals here. Jared is a great writer, but I had a little bit of difficulty with his lengthy justification of taking corporate money for the environmental group he worked with. I'm happy to be corrected about the matter, but over here they call that sort of thing "green washing". Other than that Collapse was an outstanding book.
Who wrote: “the lady doth protest too much”?
8/10/14, 8:43 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Wadulisi, true enough. One of the hot-button issues we'll have to discuss as we proceed is the process of ethnic strife followed by ethnic dissolution that's standard in the twilight of civilizations.
Cherokee, the more intensely a society fixates on its own theoretical constructs, the bigger its blind spots. I don't think ours has set a record, but it's well up there.
James, I read Bateson long before I got to Berman -- Mind and Nature was required reading in the circles I ran with back in the day. I read Berman's Reenchantment of the World in the late 1980s, and didn't find it especially useful -- Theodore Roszak was more to my taste, and of course there were a number of other people saying much the same sort of thing at that time. I haven't read much else of Berman's, as I don't find his political stance useful as an explanatory tool. My primary sources, as I've discussed at some length, are Vico, Spengler, Toynbee, and Nietzche, plus a lot of historians dealing with the collapses of specific societies.
Nigwil, true enough. I'll be talking about what can be done later in this series of posts.
Dorda, fascinating. Can you point me to some accessible literature on this effect?
Phil, many thanks! Those will be useful sources as we proceed.
Shane, that's an interesting question and one I'll have to research. As for voelkerwanderung, I have a somewhat different model, which I'll be discussing in upcoming posts.
Cathy, don't get me started about eco-chic status symbols!
Bear, exactly. Once you can see that in specific examples, it becomes possible to trace the same patterns more broadly.
Carl, in your place I'd move a good long way east, far enough that it rains regularly. Still, you have to make the choice that's right for you.
8/10/14, 11:00 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Ronald, thanks for this! My take, for what it's worth, is that we're getting very close to a fairly serious financial crisis with the fossil fuel industry at ground zero.
Ed-M, well, we'll see. Climate chaos makes predicting the loss of cities vulnerable to coastal flooding a very risky gamble.
Alan, that canal is so important a strategic asset that it'll have to be either controlled or destroyed by any contender to regional or hemispheric power. I suspect it'll either stay in use or get rebuilt in a hurry, using older and simpler lock technology.
Onething, the business about the natives not seeing the ships seems to be an urban legend, so your doubt is apparently quite justified!
8/10/14, 11:08 PM
Do you think those two things are related? I.E. the fact that people like Al Gore purchase ocean front mcmansions after producing an inconvenient truth, and people who publicly state there believe that the world will end in two thousand and whatever still continue to save for retirement. Something to do with people either not considering the logical consequences of the believes which they hold, or people not practically integrating there believes into their practical lives?
Oh and also I recently saw this linked from nakedcapitalism.
Quote relevant to the project of this blog.
"If we’re convinced some powerful force—be it God or science—has things under control, we can comfortably remain passive. But fear of chaos leads us to take things into our own hands, increasing our motivation to take action"
8/11/14, 12:03 AM
I did not mean to suggest that this was my believe. My intention was to point out that most people in this society are trained to believe that our current way doing things is the best possible way of doing things, and are not really willing to engage with the idea that, for example, having to cleaning there bottom after a bowl movement with anything other than toilet paper (or possibly a bidet) is something other than a sign of another cultures barbarism. Certainly not a way of dealing with the fact that having toilet paper is a wasteful use of scarce resources. My supposition was that when you think like that it is difficult to see that there are different ways of doing things which don't require you to chop down a tree every time you go to the toilet are going to be difficult for you to see. This leads to people who don't have the imagination necessary to imagine a scenario in which people can survive even after chopping down a tree every time you go to the toilet is no longer possible.
8/11/14, 12:17 AM
Phil Harris said...
Off-topic, but has Mary Douglas work including Natural Symbols ever been referred / discussed on Archdruid Report?
I am reading the edition with a 1996 Introduction. Many thoughtful insights, though I am not sure how well they have been or could be tested, but I like the thoughts on 'ritual', 'equality’ and, quote; “social systems in which the image of the body is used in different ways [even to relegate the body as irrelevant matter] to reflect and enhance each person's experience of society."...
"Here [in a society controlled by pragmatists] we can locate millennial tendencies from our early history to the present day. For these people society appears as a system that does not work. The human body is the most readily available image of a system. In these types of social experience, a person feels that his personal relations, so inexplicably unprofitable, are in the sinister grip of a social system.” The nature of 'body' and 'spirit' is then discussed in social (and anthropological) contexts.
8/11/14, 4:06 AM
Phil Harris said...
For what it’s worth, my reading of recent climate studies suggests a sea level rise of a good bit more than a metre (3.281 feet)in the next 100 years. I guess, like Toomis, that London with an extra Barrier that again I guess we will afford, can defend against 1 metre, but will be seriously degraded with all that implies within the next 80 - 150 years. And when it comes, it is likely to be very sudden.
8/11/14, 5:16 AM
8/11/14, 6:00 AM
Rich Brereton said...
Apologies if it's behind a paywall for some. If you message me directly I can probably get a copy to you promptly.
8/11/14, 6:26 AM
John Michael Greer said...
Phil, no, and it's been too long since I read her work. Thanks for the reminder. As for sea level rise, remember that that's a baseline estimate assuming linear change, which is not what the paleoclimatological evidence suggests. The sea may rise that much, or a little less, or a lot more.
Rich, exactly -- this is why I don't tend to rely on specific theories of causation in trying to predict the future; I study what has happened -- what event B follows any given event A -- and treat that as a black box. It's a surprisingly effective method, and (for example) has enabled me to predict the popping of speculative bubbles quite reliably when economists using models of causation consistently failed to do so.
8/11/14, 7:11 AM
Brother Kornhoer said...
Very interesting project....please keep us advised as to your progress, and send us links to articles.
Fun facts about North America and sea level rise - if all the icecaps melt (unlikely, I know), then the Mississippi River valley floods all the way to the bootheel of Missouri, and the Hudson does indeed flood all the way up to Lake Champlain and then to the Saint Lawrence River, making New England and New Brunswick an island (and making Nova Scotia a separate island to boot).
8/11/14, 8:17 AM
John McPhee's Annals of the Former World is a well-written layman's look at the geological history of North America from four vantage points along the transcontinental route of Interstate 80. The four books in the series (In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, Basin and Range, and Assembling California) were bundled together with a shorter piece called Crossing the Craton, but they still turn up pretty often in their individual bindings in the used bookstores around here.
Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee wrote a book called Rare Earth a while back. While it was written to argue that planets with complex life forms like ours are probably rare in the galactic scheme of things, it supports that argument with a highly readable chronology of global geological and climatic shifts throughout the span of the earth's existence.
Colin Tudge had one called The Time Before History. It “only” focused on the past five million years, but I really appreciated how it set the context for human evolution in terms of descriptions of climatic changes and the evolution of other major vertebrate groups during that period.
Chet Raymo's Biography of a Planet was also really helpful for me in learning the outlines of global geology and climate from the beginning on up to the present. Superb illustrations!
I hope this list is of some use.
8/11/14, 12:56 PM
Phil Harris said...
Another off-topic to end the week.
I live where Toyota 'open pickup' vehicles are used for work around farms. I am told that Britain has just about been cleared recently of 'used' such, including those going for spares. Cash paid on the spot. The word is that these are re-appearing as 'technicals' in warzones just a drive distant from EU.
8/11/14, 1:13 PM
Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Thanks again for the info. Interesting thought, blocking the canals and channels. But who said anything about the river running "naturally"? Not I.
If all pumps and locks and other management were somehow halted, closed down, removed, or destroyed the river and general hydrological system would find a new "natural," very different from the pre-Euro settlement "natural." It's a tricky word, that one is.
Very respectfully, since you seem to have a good grasp of the overall system, I was referring to reports from last year when the lake level had declined to within a couple inches of a situation in which the river would start to flow into the lake, regardless of the canals: there were emergency plans in place to keep this state of affairs from occurring.
And oh, the deep tunnel--whose pumps I was partially referring to when saying that the city (and MWRD) would do everything possible to keep the pumps operating. Only in Chicago would we run the deep tunnel underneath a river to try to make up for the fact that the region is way overbuilt. :)
Actually IMHO this discussion is germane to the larger ADR project, since climate change-driven lake-level fluctuations are predicted to increase in future, bringing their own adaptation challenges to those millions of us who live in this region. Chicago and WRMD say they are collaborating on a management plan.
Not so dramatic as the fate facing property owners on the east coast, but still...and every region will have its own non-linear, complex changes and synergistic feedback loops impacted by both climate change (at a micro and macro level) and human societal systems.
So far my basement stays dry when it rains.
8/11/14, 2:27 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
Thanks for the reply, I think I'm starting to understand and see a bit more clearly.
Just thought I'd let you know that another weather record is about to be broken here:
North coast NSW enduring driest conditions in more than a century
This one surprised me because I'd thought that that particular spot on the continent was a safe bet for reliable rainfall. Here, that result wouldn't surprise me, but there...
Incidentally, it is also the location of the famous Zaytuna farm of the Permaculture Research Institute fame, so if I get any on the ground updates - which they will probably do - i'll post a link. Interesting times.
On another issue, turning Lake Eyre into an inland sea (I think it is already about 8m below sea level) on this continent would have very positive impacts on rainfall at the farm here.
Back to the article though, it surprises me how calm and objective the quotes from the weather bureau staff sound. I reckon sometimes objectivity can be taken a little bit too far.
8/11/14, 3:37 PM
Shane Wilson said...
8/11/14, 6:24 PM
8/11/14, 7:39 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, the sort of eerie calm with which the media reports the end of business as usual is really one of the more remarkable features of our time...
8/11/14, 9:15 PM
John Michael Greer said...
8/11/14, 9:16 PM
Chris, your story about the aborigines dealing with radioactive sites reminded me of another story. An engineering team was given the task of figuring out a way to warn people to stay away from one of the many US "hot" sites, that will work for thousands of years in the future. One day, while they were discussing this over lunch in a restaurant, a fellow from a local tribe overheard them and asked what they were talking about. When they told him, he just laughed and said "Leave it to us -- we'll be here; we'll tell them."
Nigwil, good point about the sailing woes. To add a bit: serious deepwater sailing in wooden ships requires a "knowledge base" that's not likely to be common anytime soon (even if some of the old "how to build it" documents survive). Our descendants may have to relearn the technology and practices from scratch. I doubt that they'll see anything like the Spanish Armada and trading fleets.
8/11/14, 10:13 PM
Anne Patterson said...
8/12/14, 12:29 AM
Phil Harris said...
"... new work indicated climate change could bring rapid and dramatic changes to weather, on top of a gradual heating of the planet. “Circulation changes can have much more non-linear effects. They may do nothing for a while, then there might be some kind of regime change.” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/11/extreme-weather-common-blocking-patterns?CMP=SOCxx2I2
(h/tip Alex from Czech)
And ... Stefan Rahmstorf 2nd episode in his Lecture 3; 2 min in; "Extremes" e.g. distribution of European heat waves over time - recent heat waves are 'outliers' outside the Normal/Gaussian distribution. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-Xd6hbe_ow
8/12/14, 2:44 AM
Violet Cabra said...
Thank so much for your recommendations! My public library system only has Annals of the Former World from your list which I have placed a hold on, and look forward to reading in a week or two.
8/12/14, 3:33 AM
8/12/14, 6:09 AM
8/12/14, 6:23 AM
Dan the Farmer said...
Something not much addressed here is the cultural equivalent of Catastrophism versus Gradualism. In Geology, these two schools of thought struggled with the causes and effects of change in the landscape. We now understand that slow erosion, and rapid change by storms and earthquakes, each have their place in geologic history. In Tim Flannery's book The Weather Makers, he spoke of "magic gates" in climate change. These are years when there is a paradigm shift in the climate, and even though the environment as a whole goes on, something is forever changed. The monsoon pattern changes. Glaciers change their melt rates. I think we'll see these culturally, and it's probably appropriate to acknowledge them. 9/11, Katrina, Sandy, The Great Recession, a decade of wars. Are these the cultural equivalent of erosion or of geologic catastrophes? I don't know, but they each seem like a magic gate. Once through, things are different forever, even if only slightly.
I said something above the other day regarding what trade will look like, and how nuke freighters are a non-starter. JMG points out that trade will continue, but doesn't say what will be traded. Depending on the society of the time, it could (and probably will) be minimal trading of bits of iron, or something as extensive as the current flow of cheap plastic crap from China, and everything in between. To say, "There will be ocean-going trade" covers a huge range of activities, and it makes a difference within the discussion what activities we mean. When we lose sight of scale, we lose much meaning in our discussion.
Regarding Tsunamis: The Pacific Northwest is due for an earthquake similar to the Norther Japan and Indonesian earthquakes and tsunamis of the last ten years. The plate structure is very similar, with an oceanic plate diving under land, resulting in volcanoes and a trench. In this case, the trench is full of Columbia River sediment, but that doesn't matter. That fault lets loose every 300 years, more or less, and the last time was 1701. We know this about to the hour due to Japanese tsunami records. So within the next 500 years, it'll go twice. I'd guess that the first of these will be a major cultural magic gate for the USA.
8/12/14, 6:28 AM
Storm dumps 4.57 inches of rain in SE Michigan
Historic rain event slams metro Detroit
8/12/14, 6:54 AM
I suppose many folks have seen it--it was Amazon's best-seller for a little while in 2012, apparently--but I don't recall anyone mentioning it during the sequence on fascism a little while back.
I didn't do much more than scan the contents. I did notice the section on energy begins with peak oil and seemed to end with the argument that we'd better get the rest of the oil or someone else will.
8/12/14, 7:32 AM
Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
I agree. Not only would such a project be politically impossible, but wherever would we get the money?
One ought not to be very surprised, though, I guess. According to Tainter and others such as our host, decline of the ability to carry out major engineering projects is a symptom of the sort of pattern of collapse we seem to have entered into.
8/12/14, 10:14 AM
I realize I live in the center of the Wooden Boat world near Port Townsend, WA; but all over the country there are reproduction schooners, brigs and ships sailing. The skills of building, maintaining and operating these vessels are alive and well, and will likely continue well into the age of Industrial Scarcity. I am more concerned about the lack of knowledge to use non-industrial or low tech methods to make sail cloth and cordage.
Dan the Farmer,
We've discussed the Cascadia Subduction Fault at length here. You might read the comments. As for frequency, I was introduced to the fault by a friend doing field research in the Willapa Bay area. It appears to have a major, regional quake at 250 to 550 year intervals. It's been 314 years since the last one, which impressed, but did not destroy, the indigenous peoples. So it's somewhere between 64 years overdue and another 236 years before it will arrive, with odds of it happening in any given year increasing as 2250 approaches. There is a recent article in the local paper about a current study of the proxies used to determine the date of the quakes. One of these was undersea sediment slides, long assumed to be cause by the quakes. This study showed there may be other causes for these slides as well; thus they don't all signal a quake, which could mean the intervals are generally longer than previously thought. I would be suspicious of a slide date not corroborated by other evidence such as dendrochronology.
In the Bramblepatch
8/12/14, 10:25 AM
I can think of two major projects with completion dates 60 or so years after starting work.
The 2nd Avenue subway and the 3rd water tunnel for NYC.
The water system for NYC is about as sustainable as one could hope for. Water is collected from protected watersheds and hydraulic pressure delivers it to the 6th story in NYC without external energy added.
The 3rd water tunnel provides needed redundancy and increased natural pressure.
Such planning is absent today.
I worked with one of the original planners for the DC Metro. He proposed ten car length platforms in 1962-63 to allow for future growth. 50+ years ago he was told "If we EVER fill up 8 car trains, we will just build more subway lines".
Today, they plan to run only 8 car trains at Peak in DC.
8/12/14, 11:24 AM
Peter Kalmus said...
I think the 7 C rise at the end of the Younger Dryas was the local temperature change in Greenland, right? The global mean temperature change would have been much less (though still dramatic… in my mind, a 1 C global mean rise is pretty dramatic). It's important to make this distinction!
I also doubt it is "quite likely" that we'll have "significant methane releases" in the "decades ahead." No one really knows… I think the best we could say is that it's possible. Most climate scientists would be somewhat surprised, I think, to see this in the next 40 years. Now extend that timescale and it gets increasingly likely, of course.
8/12/14, 2:07 PM
@Dagnarus: Well I'd rather not that a tree must be cut down every time I go to toilet, but current American industrial civilization doesn't give me a choice, now does it?
8/12/14, 2:33 PM
Cherokee Organics said...
The detatchment is eerie.
Is it my imagination but that sort of: "stay calm message" feels to me like the end point of a cycle? When all else has failed...
The funny thing is that I reckon a crisis of some sort will mark the beginning of a new cycle which will sort of look the same except for the previously wasted time, resources and energy + the impacts of the crisis. That previous waste means that there it will be even harder to respond to any future crisis. Of course the next crisis may or may not be critical, which will provide a measure of stability, but who is to know in advance?
Have I just parroted back your theory of catabolic collapse? It seems to be fitting the facts on the ground quite nicely.
Local solutions for local problems sums it up nicely!
That sounds about right. Pleasant, pleasant - then a pan galactic gargleblaster knocks you on the back of the head. Seriously though, when the tornado hit here, I remember saying: "that's a funny looking cloud". Up to that point the day had been quite pleasant.
Mind you, I see some strange things here from time to time. Yesterday morning, stumpy the wallaby was sitting in one of the raised garden beds, happily munching away on the vegies and squashing the others.
There was a bit of potty mouth!
Welcome to weather down under style. I try to plan for the worst conditions and not the average. That is what resilience means. Melbourne on the other hand seems to struggle with the extremes.
8/12/14, 3:19 PM
This is why we need to be growing hemp.
The same mills which are being refurbished to produce high end denim could likely also make sailcloth, if they had good fiber (hemp) to work with.
Acre for acre, hemp produces more pulp than timber, and you can plant it again nest year.
8/12/14, 4:01 PM
Cathy McGuire said...
DETROIT, MI - Several highways remain closed in Metro Detroit and the state of Michigan Emergency Operations Center has been activated.
Michigan State Police and the Department of Transportation personnel have been working to clear damage and reopen portions of interstates 696 and 75, as well as M-39 and M-10....Heavy rain fell in the metro area on Monday afternoon and evening, with some areas getting more than 6 inches of precipitation. Highways flooded, with reports of water getting as high as 10 feet in some areas. Many Metro Detroiters have also been dealing with flooded basements.
And of course funding in Detroit has been just a little bit...lacking...
8/12/14, 5:07 PM
Cathy McGuire said...
Plant thimbleberries! ;-)
8/12/14, 5:20 PM
John Michael Greer said...
Phil, exactly. A smooth curve of rising temperatures all over the world is the least likely option.
Dopnalfagan, that's not good news, though fairly common at this point.
Dan, I'll be addressing the likely scale of trade in some detail later on. The current posts are just setting the stage.
Zach, welcome to climate chaos!
Unknown, I didn't see it -- will put it on the list of things to look at.
Peter, it's generally a good idea to be sure of your facts before sitting down at the keyboard, you know. The version of global climate change I presented in this post is the same one I've been presenting for most of a decade on this blog; what I dismissed as groundless apocalypticism was the notion that the Earth was irrevocably on its way to a runaway greenhouse effect resulting in the extinction of all life. I'd encourage you to do some rereading in this blog's archives before making quite so public a fool of yourself in the future!
Ed-M, that seems like a good basic rule.
Cherokee, yes, that's basically the theory.
Cathy, I gather it was quite a deluge!
8/12/14, 8:33 PM
Exactly, and with 26' levees fronting the marshes facing the Gulf, 22' levees on the Miss. and 17' levees elsewhere New Orleans should stay dry until 2100, unless...
- The Miss. detours down the Atchafalaya (no sediment to rebuild wetlands)
- The shipping gates remain open during a worse that a hundred years' hurricane due to lack of power,
- The wetlands get eaten up by the Sea due to lack of political commitment or funds to rebuild them, or both.
@Alan, they just built a new Silver Line branch off of the Orange Line to Reston, eventually to the Dulles Airport. Now they are seriously talking of building a new east-west underground railway through the city to relieve the Orange / Blue Line tunnel!
@Peter: Check out page 9 of Richard B Alley's The Two Mile Time Machine. The graph therein shows a 25 F jump in temperature for Central Greenland at the end of the Younger Dryas.
@Zach, Cathy: One of Detroit's freeway system drawbacks is that most of its urban mileage is below grade, thus becoming a catchment for all the surface street and surface arteries within its watershed. The planners should have recognized the potentiality for just such a situation back when they designed the freeways in the first place.
Every... Detroit freeway flooded out. Mon Dieu, c'est incroyable!
8/13/14, 9:42 AM
Yes. I have jokingly (?) suggested that as of this week, Detroit has a huge head start for reviving a canal system.
And in a lovely example of burying the lede, only one of the multiple news stories I've seen mentions (in the umpteenth paragraph) the Michigan Department of Transportation admitting that a number of the pumping stations would have worked much better had their copper piping not been surreptitiously acquired by some ambitious Ruinmen...
8/13/14, 11:56 AM
Century Link internet was down for over 12 hours. Once it came back, I was surprised that there seemed to be very little news that it had happened, or what caused it. I did see one map that indicated the outage was from north of Seattle to south of Portland. No indication of what caused it. I suppose it was weather related.
Loosing the Net for that long was no great hardship, but it gave me a feeling of ... technological vulnerability. And then I started ruminating on all the other ways I'm technologically vulnerable. Things that aren't even really obvious.
I see New York State and surrounding areas are getting hit very hard by rain, today. Sounds like most of the Long Island expressways are shutdown.
@ Cathy - The things I hoard in large quantities are dental supplies. My teeth are iffy. Unless I stay on top of them with two kinds of floss, toothpaste, and lots of hydrogen peroxide. Some startling percentage of ancient Egyptians died of one tooth related disease or another. In Brin's "The Postman" it stuck in my mine that most of the Postman's buddies, when things feel apart, died from problems with their teeth.
8/13/14, 2:17 PM
Jerry Glasgow said...
9/7/14, 6:58 AM
Maybe this is a spot JMG can explain what a Druid is as I don't have much of a clue but assume it has something to do with skepticism about the Enlightenment. (No system or model of thought can overcome mans imperfection is my aside)
I'm not looking forward to a less rational world where ever more people are subjected to threat, violent coercion and lack of necessities. Of course the latter was a product of energy with the Enlightenment sprinkled on top. I don't really have to look to that future or most probably the progression into it as I am too old.
9/10/14, 5:20 PM