Putting the life back in science fiction

California in the High Altithermal, Part 7: The Mish-Mash and the Rebirth (?) of Civilization

This is an ongoing series.  Here are links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

One of the things that’s hard about talking about California’s future is that, on the one hand, I’d love to predict winners and losers, and I suspect others would be happier if I did.  For example, perhaps the Latinos take over.  Or possibly the white ranchers will become the feudal lords of the 24th Century.  Or the permaculturalists will agroforest the north, and the Rainbow Family will become a model for future communities.  Or the resurgent Indian tribes will reassert their ancient hunting and gathering life-styles, aided and abetted by the native plant enthusiasts who help them rewild the hills. Or Guatemalan migrant farm laborers will teach the people of California how to make milpas to take advantage of the increasingly tropical climate, and we’ll all go Mayan or Aztec or Tarahumaran or some such, and grow coffee under the trees instead of pot.  Or the tech tycoons will build their shining arcologies on the hills, beacons of sustainable civilization midst a howling wilderness populated by scattered bands of survivalists.

And I could make a story for each of these. But are any of them stories worth telling because it might be true? Or are they just my biases and preconceptions playing out?

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California in the High Altithermal, Part 6: Embracing the Suck

This is an ongoing series.  Here are links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

One of the challenges with this scenario is that it starts 100 years from now, since it follows my (probably overly simplistic) model from Hot Earth Dreams. This is a problem, because it would be easier if I did the simple doomy-gloomy thing and predicted that we’re going to collapse in, oh, about 20 years or so, so the future has a lot of stuff we’d recognize. If we’re talking about a collapse 50-100 years out, then we’re basically talking the collapse of a civilization that tried for sustainability and ultimately failed over the course of decades.   This means, in turn, that there’s a potentially large amount of sustainable, appropriate technology that could be (hopefully will be) invented between now and then, stuff which will make our descendants’ lives better even if things go permanently pear-shaped. Here I’m not going to speculate on possible technology (that’s what the comments are for, Alex), but hopefully you’ll see why some inventions still matter more than others.

Instead I’m assuming that, during the 21st Century, some combination of  a titanic storm (the ARkStorm, for “Atmospheric River, 1000-year Storm”) and the Big One earthquake, possibly with a side order of pandemic, famine, and non-nuclear war, combine to trash California over the 21st Century, and that some large fraction of California’s population loss is due to emigration to Oregon or Mexico, not in-state excess mortality (aside to Oregon: it’s not too early to start building that border fence…)

Here I’m going to talk a little about human life during the early part of the High Altithermal.

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More (Recreational) Reading
February 17, 2016, 6:29 pm
Filed under: climate change, more books, writing | Tags: ,

Yes, I’m still reading.

Speaking of which, yesterday, one of my readers passed along a book review essay from December 1, 2014: J.R. McNei’s Changing Climates of History.  It’s something you might enjoy, hence the link.

McNeil writes about how historians have started grappling with how historians have finally started grappling again with how climate affects civilizations, after casting environmental determinism to the outer darkness back after WWII.  Assuming McNeil’s right, this essay sheds a bit of light on why environmental determinism got such a bad rap, as well as highlighting some neat-looking books, one of which I actually read and included in Hot Earth Dreams, not knowing (as usual), that it was part of a wave going through academia over the last five years.

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California in the High Altithermal, Part 5: A Wedge of Swans

This is part of an ongoing series.  Here are the links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

[Note: additional material was added on Feb 15]

In this entry I’m going to be a real brat and not talk about the logical next section: California’s posturban cultures.  The only excuse I’ll plead is that I’m reading up a bit on Sonoran desert agriculture (Tohono O’odham papers, Gary Nabhan, and so forth), to at least raise my ignorance to a higher level. Since I just found a really cool book I want to delve into, that post is going up probably in a week or so.

What I’m presenting here is what I originally intended to finish the series with, a consideration of the white, gray, and black swans that will affect California’s history going forward.   If you’ve read Hot Earth Dreams, you already know that I’m talking about Taleb’s black swan theory, with white, gray, and black referring to major, disruptive events that range from predictable in timing and scope (white) to totally unpredictable (black), with gray in between.  What disasters await Californians?

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Hot Earth Dreams is still ahead of the curve, but…

Just a brief note.  I saw this newspaper article and wanted to share it:


Here’s a link to the Nature Climate Change article mentioned.  I haven’t received a copy yet, as I just emailed the lead author to see if I could get one.

Just in general terms, it’s great to see more climate scientists looking into the deep future.  Hot Earth Dreams is based on decade-old work by David Archer (who is a coauthor on this paper), and I’m looking forward to seeing the details from the new model.

California in the High Altithermal, Part 4: Human Landscapes

This is an ongoing series.  Here are the links for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I didn’t get to livestyles of posturban peoples this time.  That’s the next piece.  Indian California was a complex place, with hundreds of peoples and languages and a wide variety of life ways.  Modern California’s a massively complicated place, but it’s complicated in very different ways than Indian California was, due its central position in the modern global economy.  The High Altithermal will be complicated as well, but in very in different ways than it is now.  Here I’m going to write about how California’s jumble of environments shape where (and to some extent how) people live.

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California in the High Altithermal, Part 3: natural Landscapes

Part 1 of this series can be found here.  Part 2 can be found here.

For Part 3, I want to start with two numbers: 2,644,443 and 200,000-300,000.  The first is what I predict, based on the formula in Hot Earth Dreams, would be California state population in 2100 CE, and I’ll get to how I calculated that in a second.  The second is the estimate of how many Indians lived in California before European contact.  The first I calculated by finding out California’s current population (rounded up to 39,000,000), it’s current annual growth rate (0.9%), and plugged the numbers into a compound interest equation and ran it out to 2050 (52,888,867.  Please check my math).  Then I applied the 95% dieoff from civilization collapsing between 2050 and 2100, and came up with a population of 2,644,443.  The thing to notice is that this number is still ten times higher than what the state supported before Europeans came along.  It’s also almost twice as high as the state population in 1900 (1,485,053), which suggests to me, sadly, that the scenario of a 95% population crash is probably too optimistic for California.

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