Putting the life back in science fiction


What mass extinctions look like

Another post, in part to remind myself that I’ll need to update the chapter on reefs in Hot Earth Dreams.  The bad news of March, at least in my opinion (aside from all the rain that didn’t fall on California) was that the bleaching of the northern section of the Great Barrier reef (as mentioned by, among many others, National Geographic, DW, Slate, CNN, and The University of Queensland.  Personally I like the last one the best, but tastes differ).

What’s going on, to be brief and oversimplify, is that coral have a temperature range, and the Coral Sea, or at least parts of it, are exceeding that range with this year’s El Niño.  By itself it’s a tragedy, and it’s one that’s going to leave a mark that’s bigger than you might think.

Here’s why.

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Yet Another Brief Update
April 8, 2016, 4:52 pm
Filed under: climate change | Tags:

Just a couple of items.  I’m busy with a small consulting gig and with the latest excremental explosion from the Board of Forestry (google California Board of Forestry Vegetation Treatment Program.  Or on second thought, don’t), so I’m not thinking deep thoughts about the future at the moment.  Here are a couple of shallow thoughts as an amuse tête. Continue reading



Climate change and mental health
March 29, 2016, 1:22 am
Filed under: climate change, Hot Earth Dreams, meditation, PTSD | Tags: , ,

This is small entry, but as many people reading this know, working on climate change has mental health effects.  There are articles on the web with such heartwarming titles as:

When the End of the World is Your Day Job

Climate depression is for real. Just ask a scientist

Pre-Traumatic Stress Syndrome: Scientists Speak Out

One college teacher contacted me, because he wanted to use Hot Earth Dreams as a text in his class.  One of the things he asked was what book should be paired with HED to offer a complementary view.  Unfortunately, I probably pissed him off, because my answer was a book on mindfulness. Anyway, after I suggested that, I never heard from him again.  But it was an honest suggestion.

Here’s the thing: I’ve suffered too.  My chiropractor got to know me very well as I wrote HED, and after I released it, I started suffering from what I’m now sure were symptoms of anxiety, although they felt like fairly scary diseases at the time.  What has worked for me in dealing with this is mindfulness meditation.  You don’t have to become a Buddhist to learn it, but it’s worth remembering that the fundamental Buddhist truth is that life is unsatisfactory, but that it’s possible to escape it through embracing the suck rather than trying (inevitably unsuccessfully) to avoid it.

It’s not just about anxiety and depression either.  There’s also guilt, because I’m part of the problem and I don’t feel like I’m doing nearly enough to solve it.  There’s fury, when I see these self-preening…okay, I won’t go on a three paragraph rant about all the politicians and moguls I see, but I get as stressed out imagining them getting their just and gruesome desserts as I do when dealing with depression.  And there’s frustration, of course, and sadness, and the endless chores of dealing with others’ denialism, nihilism, and constant changing of the subject, because anything’s better than trying to do something that requires suffering.  That’s a whole unholy brew, and that’s just inside my own skull.

Just based on my own limited experience, if you’re dealing with similar crap and don’t want to try self-medication, I’d recommend Bhante Gunaratana’s Mindfulness in Plain English.   It’s short, sweet, and it’s helping me.  There’s no magic here: it’s more about putting in the hours learning how to patiently deal.  The only difference is that, unlike the other things I’ve tried so far, it does seem to help.  I’ve also downloaded an app from the American VA for using mindfulness to deal with conventional PTSD, and that helps as well, mostly because I use it to keep track of how long I meditate each day.

Hopefully this will help some of you.  Let me know if it does, or if something else works as well.  There’s enough suffering out there without people suffering alone with this too.



California in the High Altithermal Part 9: Death Valley Dreams

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading articles (such as this one) about how anomalously warm Alaska and other parts of the Arctic were this winter.  Someone even said that if California had warmed half as much as the Arctic did, we’d be in trouble.

Well, we did warm about half as much.  By my calculations, San Diego was 9°F/5°C warmer than average for the month of February.  This turned what is normally our wettest month into a dry month, with tumbleweeds sprouting in February instead of June, and flowers blooming months early.  The heat squelched our El Niño rains, with persistent high pressure forcing the rains north to flood northern California and Oregon.  Since I’m not a climatologist, I can’t say authoritatively that this is the new normal, but given the fossil record of rain forests in Oregon and the models of a hot dry So Cal, I’ll go out on a little bitty limb and say it sure could be.  But I’m not sure whether we know that we’re in trouble yet.

Still, some rain did get through, so my wife and I took a three day weekend to go up to Death Valley and see the tail end of the “superbloom,” and all I got was this lousy blog idea.  Actually, I had fun and got a lot of cool pictures of individual flowers and landscapes as well, but the massive fields of flowers have faded away.

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California in the High Altithermal, Part 8: This time it’s different…

This idea seems to be sprouting like a weed in some odd places, including (reportedly) with a group of professors at UC Davis.  The general idea, as I’m hearing it second and third-hand, is a conglomeration of “this time it’s different,” “weeds are the new natives, you stupid nativists,” and “It’s now the Anthropocene, so the old rules are out the window.”

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It can’t happen here, and
March 6, 2016, 2:43 am
Filed under: climate change, disasters | Tags: , ,

Just a brief note.  This afternoon, I was listening to the radio, and the show Reveal had a program called “Might Ike: A monster storm in the making.”  It’s investigative reporting worth listening to, if you want to get away from California disasters a bit.

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The Future: resilient, invisible, and already here

“It is only too obvious that forcible extraction of agricultural products from the grower by those who produce none of their own foments conflict. Free, self-reliant families with modest needs and no natural incentive to increase food production to feed outsiders stand in the way of those seeking power. It is thus not surprising that Russia’s history from the advent of princes and Christianity to the present day has been that of passive and active resistance to the oppressors, endless uprisings, rebellions, peasant wars and brutal executions, and repressions of those refusing to recognize the “divine authority” of rulers (be it “princes” or “commissars”) or the inviolability of the official ideology (be it “Christian” or “communist”).

Russia’s story is by no means unique, but rather falls into the global pattern, since measures required for gaining control over populations that were previously independent and self-sufficient are similar throughout history and throughout the world.” (Leonid Sharashkin, The Socioeconomic and Cultural Significance of Food Gardening in the Vladimir Region of Russia.  PDF Link)

It’s fun what you can say in PhD theses, isn’t it?  That’s where the above came from.   I certainly explored the intertwined themes of appropriation, violence, resistance, and agriculture in Hot Earth Dreams, as many of you undoubtedly remember.  What we don’t often think about is how often resistance literally crops up, well, everywhere, even in authoritarian empires like China and Russia/USSR.  Or here, for that matter.  It’s about gardens, about how people feed themselves and what they do with surpluses. Continue reading



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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