Filed under: Altithermal, climate change, futurism, Speculation, Uncategorized | Tags: climate change, Labor Day thought experiment, New US capitol
While I don’t want to kill the previous conversation, I’d like to post a rather silly question, if you’ve got some down time this weekend and want to swat at it. The idea is based on the USA kind of following in the caligulae of the Roman Empire as it crashed. The question is, when Washington DC floods due to sea level rise, what city becomes the new capital, the American Constantinople?
As I said, it’s a silly question, predicated on the idea that big empires recapitulate their histories somehow. This is an idea to play with over the recreational beverages of your choice, this holiday weekend.
Here’s what I’ll suggest happens. The heartland of the US is east of the Mississippi, and the political power and population of the western US has been artificially amped basically by crude terraforming, through massive dams, canals, and a plentiful supply of fossil fuel energy. My crude guess is that, absent a total switch to sustainable electricity (and possibly with it), over the next century, the population of the western US will shrink drastically. The cause will be lack of fresh water, increased heat, increased soil salinity making farming untenable, and quite possibly, lack of energy to deal with the problems.
This is old territory for this blog, which is why I’m not going into much detail. The end result will be that the remaining western population centers–which won’t be all that big–will be in northern California and the western Pacific Northwest. The rest of the West will be some flavor of desert, except possibly for the Salt Lake area (if the Mormons can turn their cities back into farms and keep their soils from getting too salty).
My guess is that most of the people will migrate back east. I’d also guess that, like the Roman empire, American authority will shrink back across the Mississippi, especially as rising seas devastate the great cities of the eastern seaboard. America might endure for centuries of climate change, but its territory would be some fragment of what it had in the early 19th Century.
If we follow the Roman example, probably our weakened, corrupted democracy will be taken over by a series of strongmen (hopefully more competent than Great Orange #2). One of these strongmen–call him Constantine–will abandon the Washington area entirely to build his self-named capitol somewhere else.
The question is, where would that new Constantinople be? It could be Philadelphia, or some place along the East coast but above the rising waves. Or it could be somewhere else. Perhaps the US would invade Quebec and seize a town along the Saint Lawrence seaway, possibly Quebec city itself. Quelle horreur! But that would give them access to both the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, as well as some buffer against rising seas. Possibly they’d go straight to the Great Lakes and ignore the perils of the Atlantic altogether. In this case, anywhere from Toledo to Detroit to Green Bay to Duluth might serve.
Why shouldn’t neo-Constantine choose Cleveland or Chicago? Well, paleo-Constantine built Constantinople out of a little fishing village. His problem was that Rome had gotten too corrupt, so rather than move Rome, he built his new capitol from scratch, and left the old one to finish corrupting itself (which it did). If we’re being post-Romans instead of Americans, it might make sense for President-for-life Generalissimo Constantine to pick as his new capitol a small town that would be strategically important with a changed climate, decreasing population, rising sea level (you can see sea level changes at this website, among others), and trade running North-South than East-West or between continents.
Where do you think a new capitol might go, in a hundred years or so? There’s no right answer. After all, this is a weekend thought experiment. Would it make more sense to pick a new US capitol on the Mississippi? Well away from water? What would happen to the Pacific Northwest–would it be an outpost of America on the Pacific, or a new country, cut off by the failed desert states and dying cities of the American West? Have fun and make some suggestions. And either way, have a happy Labor Day.
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