Putting the life back in science fiction

Interesting Times
December 11, 2016, 1:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

To quote Talking Points Memo: “Trump’s administration ends up being made up of plutocrats, right wing extremists and generals. Basically, exactly what you should have expected, unless you were stupid.”  Yes, El Cheeto Grande is probably a Russian tool, yes, the electors should do their jobs and hire someone else, not that I expect them to, and yes, this looks like another coup for Big Oil, which is in bed with both Russia and many US politicians, most especially those in the Republican Party (many of the latter might be chained to the bed, but that’s a different industry).

When I wrote Hot Earth Dreams, I naively thought that our addiction to oil was self-inflicted, that it was more about us not willing or able to break the habit than about having the pushers put guns to our heads to forcibly derail any attempts to get off oil, by, say, going solar, getting an electric car, or paying attention to what the climate is doing.  That’s another thing that needs to change in the next edition of Hot Earth Dreams.  We do have solutions, but we’re being prevented from implementing them.  It’s not our own moral weakness.

I’ll also point out that there are parallels here with both what the tobacco industry did in the 20th century and what the slave industrial complex did in the 19th century.  In that latter case, remember what happened when we forced the issue?  Well, when someone launches a carbon-neutral cyberwar, that will be the 21st Century equivalent of the American Civil War, on a global scale.  However, we’re not yet so embedded in our Internet of Things that we’re sufficiently vulnerable to such attacks.  Yet.  Want to get that internet-enabled burglar alarm for Christmas?  Maybe you should buy it for those embarrassing family members who voted red in November.  Don’t tell them how to change the password, either.

Actually, I didn’t want to talk about this stuff, but reality keeps interfering with my plans to write a nice, philosophical piece about the problems with populism, isolationism, and the whole back-to-the-land meme that we all seem to turn to as the cure for all ills, right or wrong.  Oh well.  Instead, I’d rather talk about the weather.

The other bit of news I wanted to share was from Weather West, which is simply just a little piece about the winter weather.  It looks like we’ve got a Pineapple Express aerial river blowing into central California.  If it was a big and bad enough river, it would result in the Sacramento flooding , but I don’t think it’s that bad.  What’s interesting is the high pressure to the south of it that’s pushing said atmospheric river away from southern California for at least the next week. I think we’re seeing the future here.

What’s also interesting is the incoming polar express, where cold air from Siberia is blowing over the warm Arctic Ocean to dump down on the eastern and Midwestern US.  A few days ago, a friend of mine in Wisconsin posted a picture of a sunny day, with no ice on Lake Mendota, and green grass.  In December.  In Wisconsin.  It was that warm. I think they’ll get nailed with snow again fairly soon.  Again, I think we’re seeing the future here.

There are multiple things going on.  One is that subtropical high pressure from the Hadley Cell circulation seems to be becoming the new normal for southern California weather.  This is drastically over-simplified, but basically, the air is too warm and dry to hold water, and storms tend to veer north of us.  It takes more and more work for low pressure to break in and give us some rain.  Ultimately, this will result in a very wet north, especially in the winter, and a generally dry south.  Vestiges of the California summer dry climate will hang on in northern California and in the SoCal mountains, but southern California will become increasingly desert, with storms coming at random times (summer or winter) when the high pressure breaks down.  This is central Baja weather spreading north.

Turning to the eastern US, with the Arctic warming up, the polar vortex is weakening and wobbling, and it eventually break up if we don’t get serious about decarbonization.  One result of this should be that air can flow directly over the poles and down onto the US.  Which produces a lot of snow, especially if it runs into a warm, wet system coming up from the Gulf of Mexico.  This is the blessing and curse of the Midwest, that geography allows systems from the tropics and the poles to enter the region, either sequentially or simultaneously.  This makes for the wildest weather on the globe.  Under climate change, it will just get wilder.

When I was writing Hot Earth Dreams, I wasn’t sure what would come first, the heat or the shifts in precipitation.  The Paleocene fossil record I’d depended on for figuring out Altithermal vegetation patterns was pretty unambiguous about rain forest in Oregon, but if we’re going there, does it get hot first, then wet, or wet first, then hot?  It looks like wet, then hot is the way things are working out. The Pacific Northwest will probably stay a rainforest, but said rainforest will gradually become more tropical in temperature, which means that all the snow- and cold-requiring species are going to be in real trouble.    The eastern US will also get wet first, then hot, but what this means is that we might get stuck with winter polar snowstorms well into the late 21st Century (possibly beyond), even as summer humidity reaches dangerous, possibly lethal levels.  The extremes will continue to get more extreme, and the Midwest is one of the most volatile places on Earth already.  Fun times.

What do we do about it?  Perhaps it’s the season, but I’m starting to think about Hollywood movie plots.  The monsters are in control, they’re about to wreck everything good we’ve grown up with, and we’re going to suffer.   We probably can’t defend our cherished institutions any more.  Time to get offensive, perhaps?  One thing to look forward to isn’t reinstituting the very flawed system we have now, it’s building a better one on the deeply sequestered ashes of a fossil fuel industry that’s actually in serious trouble, current political gains aside.  We don’t need New Deal institutions if we can build better ones based on the needs of the 21st Century.  Let’s try it and see what happens.


3 Comments so far
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I’m not sure I would agree with your reading about who is responsible for the oil addiction. republicans generally don’t see an issue with AGW, so they don’t see any need to stop burning fossil fuels. I do agree that much of their belief is generated by the fossil fuel industry (cf “The Merchants of Doubt”), but this is very similar to false beliefs across the political spectrum for various domains from GMOs and vaccines to gun control.

As a Californian, you know that many Republican voters (and farmers) are in denial about drought and water availability. Farmers, like the fossil fuel companies, are vested tin maintaining their businesses. I’m sure some are even cognizant that water is short, but they keep pressing their representatives in Sacramento to divert more water for irrigation and drill deeper wells for ground water. You would think that the facts about water supplies were less contentious than climate change, yet folks keep acting as if water shortages are just temporary and we can get back to normal any year now.

Comment by alexandertolley

re the weather. Here in the SF Bay area, plants seem to be confused. Two neighbors have magnolias of the kind that normally lose their leaves in the fall, stay bare in the winter, put out blossoms in the spring on otherwise bare branches and then put on leaves as the blossoms are fading.
This year they skipped the winter dormant phase and doing their blossoms a week or so ago and having their new leaves coming in as well about 2 or 3 months early.
My peppers this year bloomed in the spring, put on fruit which I harvested late summer. They lost their leaves, I trimmed them back. They put on new leaves and blossoms and gave me another crop of fruit which I have been harvesting for about a month. Maybe they do this all the time in warmer places but it’s a first for me.

Comment by Wolfgang Brinck

Here in the Central Valley, my peppers seem to bloom all through spring to fall, but don’t fruit in the heat of summer. They did make a good harvest of fruit as it turned cooler, just about the time the late crop of tomatoes, still green, stopped ripening any further.

We do get colder winters compared the Bay Area, which can be a problem for some fruit trees, especially citrus.

Comment by alexandertolley

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