Putting the life back in science fiction

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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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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California in the High Altithermal, Part 2: Biopolitics

Note, you can read part 1 in the series here.

Biopolitics.  Such an ugly, synthetic word, but here I want to talk about the chaotic intersection between biology and politics that’s occurring now, because, unfortunately for prognosticators, it’s a big part of what is going to determine what’s still growing in this state in 2100 CE.  The fundamental problem is that, if you’re trying to figure out what’s going to survive a mass extinction and climate change, on the one hand there’s the biology of individual species and their interactions in ecosystems, and on the other hand there’s politics, meaning every thing from peoples’ choice of house plants to international laws.

What I’m going to show here is the mess.  It’s not a nice thing to do, but hopefully I can at least show both why environmental politics matters, and why calls to do more studies aren’t distractions, either.  In the next post I’ll make some predictions about what comes out of this mess, but as in Hot Earth Dreams, I’m walking through the process here, one essay at a time, figuring out the processes before I talk about the patterns that might result.

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California in the High Altithermal, Part 1: The physical stuff

One of the things that bugs me is that, about half the time when I dawdle on writing something, new facts emerge that change everything. That’s happened here a bit.

This is part one of a series of blog posts about California in the High Altithermal, and here I’m focusing on the environment. What I’m doing is taking the ideas from Hot Earth Dreams and working to show what might happen in one specific spot, in this case, the area currently defined as the state of California, over a specific time period, in this case, the High Altithermal.

My goal is to show how climate change happens over time, because different things happen on different scales, and that makes the future a lot messier. It’s not meant to scare people, but rather to give us a way to intellectually examine this model of the future, and figure out how people and other organisms will adapt.

If you’ve already read the book, you know the basic global scenario for the High Altithermal, which will run from 2100 CE (when our greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels stop) to 3600 CE (when the East Antarctic ice sheet finishes melting, and sea level tops out at 65 meters above the current level). These dates aren’t hard: we don’t know when we’ll finish binging on fossil fuels, what Arctic methane is going to do, or whether or even if the entire East Antarctic ice sheet will melt. But that’s the scenario I’m using here. During the first 200 years of the High Altithermal, global average temperatures climb from +3oC (we’re currently at +1oC) to +8oC, and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melt, raising sea levels by about 16 meters over those 200 years. From 2300 CE on, global average temperatures stabilize, and then start to fall 1-2oC over the next 1,300 years, while the sea continues to rise as the East Antarctic ice sheet melts away.

In this post, I’ll cover sea level rise, climate, and rivers and dams. This is necessary background, and I’m breaking it up into multiple posts so you don’t have to read a 7,000 word essay.

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