Putting the life back in science fiction

2017 Predictions, Piled Higher and Deeper
January 5, 2017, 11:02 pm
Filed under: 2017, climate change, futurism, Speculation | Tags: ,

Over Christmas, we had all the relatives over, and our beloved nieces gave us their colds.  Well, I’m not sure it’s just a cold, because I’ve been spiking a fever every evening for the last week, but we loved seeing them anyway.

All this is in explanation for why I haven’t said anything over the holidays.

Anyway, 2017 predictions.  I’ll throw mine out, and feel free to add yours at the end.

BEFORE I START, HERE’S A WARNING: if there’s any US online publication that you need for climate science or anything else, download that sucker before January 20th.  There’s no reason to think it will be available on the 21st, although hopefully the Wayback Machine and international mirror sites will help.

Can I start at any place other than Trump? Actually, yes:  I predict that there won’t be a global nuclear war between now and the end of the year.   I just hope there isn’t a regional nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

Trump’s #2.  In multiple ways.  So the dude gets sworn into office and doesn’t divest (prediction #2).  I tend to go with the Talking Points Memo version of reality on this, in that the problem is, whether he’s a billionaire or worth somewhat less, we know he’s sitting under at least $730 million in debts he has to pay off (per Mother Jones.  About half of that is to the private bank side of Deutsche Bank), and from the way he’s acting around the Russians and the Kochs, he might owe a lot more to them.  Indeed, he might have started taking money from the Kochs to keep up the payments on his more visible debts (the stuff Mother Jones could ferret out).  Trump’s big problem could be that he may not be able to divest because he’s so far underwater that the blind trust would quickly go bankrupt.  This might also explain why he’s keeping his executive producer spot on The Apprentice–he needs even that comparatively trivial bit of income to keep his whole empire afloat.

Now, if he really was a courageous reformer, he’d actually declare his problems, take his licks, leave his family the hard job of unwinding his debts, and emerge influence free and with a much tougher family.  He has never (to my knowledge) showed this strength of character, which is too bad: if he did it, he’d probably end up as a great president.  As it is, he’s trying to scam his way through with his standard BS/Bully/Settle routine, and that’s where things get interesting, because everyone is getting familiar with the routine. It looks like he’s going to try to run his administration Apprentice style, with maximum chaos and uncertainty, cliffhangers every Friday, because the noise generated thereby will take the news exposure off what he’s also trying to do, which is to refloat his business empire.

Right now, he’s got this coalition around him: the paymasters (Russia, Koch Brothers, and various private financial institutions), the alt-right, who have been using Twitter to beta-test all their intimidation and swarm tactics the way the Germans used gliders to train their fighter pilots, the Koch Brothers’ oil defenders (aka the climate change denialists, anti-regulatory types, and so on), and the apocalyptic Christians who think that it’s all going to end real soon anyway, and because they’re good with God (meaning they’ve been touched with the magic water and said the magic words)* they can do anything they want, because Jesus will make it all right for them later on.  Oh, and then there are the republicans, who, if they don’t belong to one of these tribes, are just running along with it because power is so addictive, isn’t it?

So yeah, that’s a real stable coalition where everyone is marching in lock step.  It’s more like the entering ranks of any big reality show, with superficial unity and backplates at the ready.  It’s easy to predict this thing is going to fracture into competing, backstabbing (perhaps literally), mess, and I predict there will be some failed nominations (probably to be replaced by someone marginally less loathsome who will be selected because well, they’re an improvement), some resignations, and some firings.  Just to keep myself cheerful, I’ll predict some investigations and indictments too.

In some of the federal bureaucracies, I suspect that the lifer bureaucrats will run rings around their almost universally less ept Trumpian bosses.  This will include the military, which is pretty much designed that way, but I suspect other departments with long-running fiefdoms will do okay, whatever that means for their fief.  In others the workers will sadly fall in line with the deconstruction of everything they and their predecessors worked for over the last few decades.  I’ll bravely predict that there’s more of the former than the latter.  We’ll see come December.

In this case, I suspect Trump will tend to cleave closer to the desires of his paymasters when money is involved, but he will use the alt-right and Christian fringe to make threats, as leverage to give himself wiggle room whenever possible.  I think Congress will be largely useless except in gutting laws, and probably so will the Supreme Court.  A lot of the important actions will fall to the states, counties, and cities.  Those who voted for Trump because they were left behind by the Great Recession and not courted by the democrats in 2016 will fall even further into pain.

I also predict that Trump will face a phalanx of lawsuits over his failure to divest.  As someone noted, all sorts of businesses might conceivably make a case that their businesses were hurt by Trump’s self dealing, and sue him for damages.  Hotels might sue when Trump tries to drive embassies to his properties, for example.  Golf course owners may sue Trump International if all government business is supposed to be conducted on Trump-owned courses.  I suspect the first such suits will show up later this year.

Then there’s the other half of the influence problem, as demonstrated last November when Turkey jailed Trump’s major Turkish business partner on what many thought were trumped up charges.  Foreign governments will seek leverage with him however they can get it, whether by making his business partners their ambassadors to the US, giving him sweetheart deals in return for some sugar, or alternatively, extorting him by raising the costs of doing business, jailing his partners, or going after his friends and associates outside the US.  It’s a real mess, and I don’t envy the Secret Service in trying to keep their charges safe in this.  I’m not sure how to turn this into a prediction, but watch for both positive and negative outcomes of double-dealing in various stories, and mostly on the international media.

Will this get Trump impeached in the first year under the Emoluments Clause?  I doubt it, but then again, I don’t know how ept (or inept) he truly is.  It’s a Sword of Damocles over Trump, but a successful impeachment all depends on whether Pence comes across as sufficiently competent and the Republican Congress regrows their notochords and become motile and free-moving again (tunicate joke).  Otherwise, the democrats are barely smart enough to try to plan to retake Congress in 2018 and then impeach.  Maybe.

I’m not going to get into what the alt-right will do with social media or to attempts to flatten the social landscape, but it’s going to be a mess.  I recommend donating money to Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center, or other charities of your choice.  You’ll notice that “we get more personally active in trying to head off various messes” becomes a bigger theme in 2017.  Hopefully, at the end of the year we can all talk about how much we had to do and pat each other on the back.

In climate news, it’s going to be messy as well.  I predict the Kochians will try to blind as much of NASA and NOAA’s earth science observatories as possible, and I strongly support climate scientists in fighting back to keep our vision of the world.  I don’t know who to donate to to help on this (Union of Concerned Scientists?), but if you have a way to help scientists keep doing their research, do it.  In the US, I predict a bunch of weather events made more extreme by climate change will be laughed off by the lamestream media who choose to fall in line with Trump to keep access to his Whitehouse (the idiots.  This may well include NPR, unfortunately).  I suspect the rest of the world will increasingly look to Germany and China to lead the way on climate change.  Hope they’re up to the challenge.

In other predictions: Renewable energy will keep rising, despite efforts by the fossil fuel industries to tamp it down.  For grid energy, that horse is leaving the barn, and it has bipartisan support by people outside the White House.  Unfortunately, in San Diego vehicles cause 55% of GHG emissions if you believe the official stats, so wind and solar aren’t nearly enough on their own.  But we’re finally seeing it take off, and I predict it will continue to grow non-linearly. And that Matt’s reworked prediction curves will still come out a bit low.

Climate predictions are “easy”: just take the IPCC5 RMP8.5 prediction, assume it’s happening in 50 years rather than 100 years, and follow the trends.  With the US government largely cowarding out of climate adaptation, we’re stuck with business as usual for at least another four years. Since we’ve got perhaps another 20 years to make any meaningful change, that window is closing awful fast.  Twenty years sounds like a long time, but it’s basically one round of freeway improvements, so rebuilding the US entirely and sustainably around renewables is starting to become impossible.  This is one case where disruptive innovation might actually be useful.  Unfortunately, most of the 20 year road development cycle is driven by things like getting the politics to line up to get projects approved (something San Diego failed at in 2016, and will try again in 2028!), then getting the economy to swing down low enough to make it possible to afford to build the things.  In San Diego, they’re already planning how to build freeways until 2050, so we’re really deep in the weeds, whether it looks like it or not.

I predict a lot of interesting science will come out, federal meltdown or no.  I’m personally hoping for good numbers on global and Arctic methane cycles and budgets.  There is some really good modeling going on right now as well.  I’ll also go out on a limb and suggest that they’ll move the climate sensitivity parameter closer to 4°C (it’s now by model consensus around 3°C).  I’m cheating here, because I just read that there’s going to be a conference this spring at Lamont Doherty to discuss just this: there’s a lot of new data coming out from plant fossils about ancient atmospheric [CO2], and it looks to be a lot lower than other proxies had estimated, meaning that the real climate sensitive parameter is higher than the models calculate.  If these new techniques and data hold up, it looks like the climate jumps a lot higher in response to a given amount trapped heat than we thought it did, which is bad.  Note that the jump may be higher, not faster, because there are both fast feedbacks and short feedbacks, and we’ve got a better handle on the short term than the multidecadal long term.  That might be the difference between climate sensitivity of closer to 3°C or closer to 4°C.

Anyway, I could go on, about increased international isolationism, cracks enlarging in the Westphalian nation model due to increased climate-forced migration, but I’ve said enough.  What would you add?

*I don’t think people who treat baptism as a magical get-out-of-hell-free-for-eternity card qualify as Christians, but I’m a snotty materialist anyway.  If self-labeled Christians aren’t actually trying to practice the Golden Rule and are worshiping a white plaster cross as an idol, what’s Christian about their beliefs?  You may differ on this.


10 Comments so far
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I also expect there to be drastic natural disasters that receive next to no press, except perhaps the lamestream (love that name btw) trying to defend their lack of coverage on said natural disasters. Also, I expect that this Arctic melt season to be very bad, since the freeze season’s been atrocious.

Comment by Whachamacallit

The lamestream media is something I got from Fox News via The Daily Show. I have not now and never will watch Fox, but in 2016, their word for NPR, the old commercial broadcasters, and rags like the New York Times worked. Unfortunately. All of them got played for suckers by the Trump campaign, and they’re still getting played. I’m not sure how much of it is trying to maximize audience numbers, how much of it is trying to maintain their relative statuses in the Washington pecking order, how much of it is their bosses dictating slants, and so on. Whatever, they did a really poor job at separating the news from the noise, a really good job at broadcasting the noise their peers are also making, and a really bad job at covering what is actually going on in the world (case in point: Yemen: the Other Syria no one here talks about because the US and Saudis are the ones doing the damage).

And yes, thanks,, you’re right on the natural disasters. They don’t get enough coverage as is.

Comment by Heteromeles

“Unfortunately, in San Diego vehicles cause 55% of GHG emissions if you believe the official stats, so wind and solar aren’t nearly enough on their own. ” …. ” In San Diego, they’re already planning how to build freeways until 2050, so we’re really deep in the weeds, whether it looks like it or not.”

It is estimated battery energy stored, electric cars like Teslas will be cheaper than gas and diesel cars by 2030. That means to me that we can start seeing reduction of gas car emissions by the 2020s and mostly eliminated by 2050. Diesel trucks will be the last to go. Now this mostly works in the SW, but even so, fossil fuel powered stations are going to be less polluting than cars. So I am not as pessimistic as you. Or are you more concerned with the emissions required to make the cement for the concrete freeways?

Comment by alexandertolley

Oddly enough, I’m not concerned about the cement. According to the same County calculations (they’re drafting a Climate Action Plan, and I was involved as part of the noisy public), cement is a few percent of GHG produced in the County. Most of it is coming out of tailpipes.

The problem I noticed was actually around rooftop solar. We moved a few months ago, and one of the things I insisted on was a roof that was suitable for solar, meaning it had a decent southern or western exposure, if not solar panels already installed. The home we bought does have this, but I was shocked that the majority of homes I looked at (and I looked at them from Google Earth before we visited) had roofs that weren’t optimal for solar power, and this in a middle/upper middle income neighborhood. Worse, the brand new houses aren’t any better. Some of the new developments are just crammed with dormers that break up the roof surface, make all sorts of nooks and crannies for wind-blown embers from wildfires to catch, and look like they’d be crap to put solar panels on. That’s the problem that has me concerned: theoretically we could run on solar, but practically, if a third of homeowners (at a guess) had to radically remodel their homes to put solar up, that’s not going to work very well.

So yes, we’ll have electric cars, but where’s the electricity coming from? We’ll hopefully be able to swing it most days, once we get our panels installed, but no one in my old neighborhood could do it.

Comment by Heteromeles

But you won’t need to power your car from a rooftop solar panel. The utility will use grid supplied renewables to do that. I agree it is annoying that the McMansion era created all those architectural excrescences, but my guess is that the Tesla approach of using solar roof tiles will solve the installation issue for these houses in due course. While it doesn’t help today, it will be an option within a decade. Kudos to Tesla for making this idea work. It is an old idea that maybe they have solved the pricing and installation issues.

Bear in mind that solar panels are getting cheaper by about 26% p.a and that different approaches to solar – panels, tiles, flexible sheets, transparent windows, etc will be widespread, affordable and usable in a wide variety of situations. Add in cheap battery storage for energy use time shifting, and the real problem is going to be utility pushback to preserve their profits. I don’t see how they can in the long term. At least all those electrical lines on poles will start to disappear. Similarly telephone cables. By 2050, power lines and telephone cables on poles will be a quaint reminder of the past. Power will be almost entirely domestically produced in suburbs (but not cities) and communication will be wireless with fiber backbones.

We won’t have air like 2019 Bladerunner LA, but rather it will be mostly clean. Burning real wood logs for winter fires could be publicly shamed. I expect it to be banned by cities, much as London banned coal. The Bay Area allows fireplaces to be converted to gas, but not back to wood burning. Good riddance too.

Whether we get this shiny future and whether it proves enough to stave off the worst of the effects of GW and ocean acidification is unclear. If your scenarios play out, that shiny future may not arrive.

Comment by alexandertolley

This is a reprise of last year’s CAISO renewable electricity generation predictions. Last year all curve-fit predictions undershot the real value, but changing my methodology risks overfitting to recent data. Stubbornly, once again:

I have been tracking renewable energy generation on the CAISO grid for some years now. The annual average real output since 2011 (first complete year of archived data from CAISO) in megawatts has been:

2011 2532.4
2012 2744.5
2013 3429.2
2014 4055.0
2015 4559.4
2016 5414.3

This includes geothermal, small hydroelectric, biogas, and utility scale wind and solar. It excludes distributed solar (data not available) and relatively environment-unfriendly (IMO) solid biomass and large scale hydroelectric power.

Using the online curve fitting via mycurvefit.com, estimated average output for 2017 is:

5837 MW (linear regression)
6253 MW (quadratic regression)
3789 MW (symmetrical sigmoidal) (WTF; this proves I don’t understand what a symmetrical sigmoidal regression is and I should probably put down the tools before I hurt myself…)
6151 MW (smoothed cubic spline)

Comment by Matt

I’m not clear why you are using any of those curves. Your assumption is that solar adoption is a fit against time. It might be better to use a fit against cost, as both utility and residential solar have to compete against other sources of electric power generation.

Private solar installations to generate power for sale was limited by permitted output set for a few years ahead to allow planning. I’m not clear that time was a material variable.

The program to have solar installed free for low income households has surely been adding generation nicely, even if of a fairly low volume. Again, this is likely to be time invariant and more about budgets.

Comment by Alex Tolley

Thanks Matt. I’d love to get to 6400 megawatts.

Comment by Heteromeles

Will the Wayback Machine still work?


Much as I like Canada, under Harper we weren’t exactly known for openness and freedom from censorship, and the current crop of Conservative leadership candidates are all more hardline than he was. And Canadian politics tend to follow US politics by a decade or so*.

*Trudeau is our Obama, right down to the disappointing lack of substantive changes. I dread to think who we’ll get for Trump. O’Leary? Or likely someone worse.

Comment by Robert

There may be no secure storage facility, but if the data keep moving, perhaps they’ll stay one step ahead of the politicians.

What’s interesting now is how fast the push-back is coming from the bureaucracy. For example, when the US Interior Department was gagged by the White House, some National ParK employees started an “AltNationalParks” twitter account to speak truth to power. I don’t think anyone knows how this will play out, but if El Cheeto really is stuck with his BS/Bully/Settle playbook, then if he can’t win with BS or bullying, he might have to settle for a bureaucracy pushes back hard on any idea he has that they don’t like. If so, things will get really interesting.

Comment by Heteromeles

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