Monday, April 2, 2012

"A Great Aridness": A Book Report

"A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest" by William Debuys

I'm sure that anyone living in the proximally near or east of the Mississippi river during March of 2012, with a record breaking streak of record breaking warm temperatures, must have, even for the briefest unguarded moment, had a little thrill of fear thinking:

"Wow, what if this it? What if we went through the phase change and now this is the new normal? What if, come June, the temperatures are a steady 120F? And the month of August never gets below 140F?" Face it, even the most rabid climate change denial type had to have had experienced just the slightest frisson of foreboding. Personally, I have a dollar bet that the arctic becomes permanently ice free during the summer come 2015. I suspect I'm going to collect that dollar.

Well, I do have friends who are going through that particular cognitive dissonance known as global warming denial, despite the fact that the weather is getting weirder, the arctic ice is shrinking, the upper latitudes are warming twice as fast, and getting ready to dump a whole bunch of methane into the atmosphere, they are convinced that anyone who believes in global warming is a fool. So, I guess it is going to take a phase change to convince them otherwise. Naturally, it will be the places that least need it that will experience the worst. The American Southwest is one such place.

Now, if there is any place in the United States of America that ought to serve as an object lesson, a true lesson of history as to how you should be prepared to live, it's got to be the Southwest, with it's ruins of pueblo village such as Mesa Verde, and Chaco Canyon. So naturally, if you are to settle anyplace that is already arid, you'd possess a certain predisposition towards hardship, a ready willingness to ape the ant, to be a tough and fibrous creature that stores up for hard and bleak times. What you wouldn't be is some type of soft, sloppy spendthrift, demanding green lawns, golf courses, the sidewalk-and-gutter, two car garage lifestyle of the more luxuriantly water blessed regions back East, or up North.

But, apparently, we Americans are just as deluded as the Indians and Spaniards that came before us. Build big dams, cut big ditches, make big plans, force Nature to service us, and ignore the whole long past history of the region, which is: fire, dead trees, dust and thirst. So, it won't surprise me not a bit when 30 to 50 million people, some five to ten years down the line, suddenly find themselves with a comical slackjawed "Oh!" of an expression on their fat, stupid faces when they get gut-punched by their hubris.

And the saddest part is, an extended drought, a decades long megadrought, is not going to be the type of hardship that will bring people together. Time and again, during catastrophe, people do have a tendency to be neighborly, to be altruistic and giving, but not during a drought. People compete, people get cranky and selfish, and nothing productive gets done Some inklings of this are already seen in how the states of the region compete for water.

Arizona, it would seem, does a very good job of representing almost everything that is wrong with America. This is not to say that there are not good people living there, or good people that have lived there for several centuries - even including the Anglos, who have modified their behavior to live in the land. Tucson, it would seem, has done well in this regard, as they realize they a desert town.

So, let me modify my statement, and hone it down to the Phoenix metropolitan area, the Sun Corridor, as representative of the worst American characteristics. Take, for example, their self-righteous and mercenary spirit, proudly ignorant of their subsidized condition, ruggedly individualistic and possessed of a manic private property fetish, and all the while convinced of their innate and inherent right to privilege. Defiantly white, Protestant, English-only, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, devoted fans of right-wing television and talk radio. Zealots, angry, unappreciative, and dementedly entitled, made all the worse by the fact that they, retiree immigrants from places like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Little Rock, Duluth, don't seem to realize that they are the alien invaders. They may be frightened and confused by the people they deem foreign in language, looks, values, and behavior, but they just don't seem capable of realizing that these are the centuries-old inhabitants of the region.

Nor do they understand their utter dependance upon the divine grace of the federal government, who provides them with their very existence. Without the vast expenditures and engineering projects that the Bureau of Water Reclamation, their would be no sun Corridor, no Mountain Megacity, no air-conditioned paradise, and, given the long term climatic trends, will there be . They are doomed. Fucked. And probably just as well.
This is not to say the region will be abandoned entirely. People will still live there. They'll just live more realistically, and the ones that don't leave. But the ones that leave? What should we do with them? Do we really want these selfish, short-sighted, unpleasant peoples to settle among us?

I wonder, would these refugees develop some sense of empathy for the present plight of a similarly straightened peoples, just south of their border?


  1. Dood, summer's been here now for the past two weeks. We're looking at a minimum 6 months of hard summer weather hereabouts, and it didn't even hardly pretend to get cold this past "winter".

    Time to start planting the avocado and citrus fruit trees in the front yard like it was FL or CA..., (oh, that, and invest in some of that opulent waterfront real estate in Detroit MI)

    1. Michigan, at least, has the prospect of becoming a refugium to look forward to. Must be some jobs in that, right?

      BTW, where do you guys in KC get your water from? The Missouri? The eastern edge of the Ogallala Aquifer? Hm. I guess I could look it up.

  2. We get ours from the Missouri. That's why I commenced to squawking last year when things very nearly got out of the Corps of Engineer's hands upriver and threatened to Fukushima those two nuke plants in Nebraska.