The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Baseline Predictions for the Next Sixty Odd Years

Today, I read this article on how the Ocean is dead: How the fish and birds are gone from huge swathes of it. You should read it.

Most people are absolutely lousy system thinkers, they don’t understand break-points: How you get long trends that suddenly break up or down, how self-reinforcing cycles work, and so on.

For some time, my baseline scenario has been as follows: We are so screwed.

We can expect a complete collapse of the ocean’s ability to provide fish. Japan, the worst offender in this, will also be the worst hit. That doesn’t make me happy, but it does make me laugh. This affects the oxygen cycle and, in the worst case, we could kill ourselves off entirely. Assuming we don’t, however…

We are currently seeing a hiatus in climate change. My friend Stirling predicted this years ago, and predicted it would be used simply to double down on stupidity like fracking. And it is being used thusly. If/when the sun warms up, we are fried. Various processes are past the point of no return; we are going to see huge methane releases from Russia, for example. We are going to have worse global warming than the worst mainstream predictions.

Climate change will continue to present itself as more and worse extreme weather events, like the nasty hurricanes we’ve been seeing hitting further and further north. We are going to also see changes in rainfall patterns; these will continue to devastate agriculture.

Aquifers are being drained dry, in ways that permanently damage them. This is happening in China, the US, India, and other places. This water will not come back. Large areas that are currently agriculturally productive will cease to be so, independent of climate change.

We will see huge dust bowls form, including in India, China, and the US.

There will be widespread hunger, because agriculture is going to fail. Period. Right now, hunger is due to distribution issues: We grow more than enough food to feed everyone, we just don’t care about feeding everyone. In twenty to thirty years, this will not be the case. Instead, we will just not have enough food.

Water will be as precious as hydrocarbons, which is, in part, because creating hydrocarbons requires water. Expect much of the world not just to be hungry but thirsty.

All of this is baked into the cake. We are past the decision points on all of these items—they will happen. They can no longer be stopped. Even if you concoct the most optimistic scenarios, we would need to act radically, right now, and we aren’t going to.

Let us now move the social sphere. We are creating an unprecedented panopticon state, one in which various technologies will conspire to make it so that individuals are tracked nearly 24/7, not just online but physically. Linking all the various cameras, RFID tags, aerial drones, satellites, phones that act as spies in our pockets, and so on, with algorithms which recognize our gait, our heat profile, our face, and so on, is a project which is well underway. The NSA may be the best at this, but every major Western government is playing this game, the NSA is merely the worst offender or the best at its execution. Private tracking is likewise ubiquitous: Companies have cameras which link your face to your credit card and purchase as you pay at the cashier, for example. Everything is tied together, and anyone stupid enough to think that these companies don’t share your information is a fool.

The preferred business model today is to make it so that no one owns anything. Everything is unbundled, and instead of owning it, you lease or rent it. The moment you can’t pay, it all goes away.  This is what “cloud” computing is about: a revenue stream. Lose your revenue, lose everything.  Ownership of DNA sequences, ownership of seeds, effective ownership of your intellectual property because it appears in someone else’s pipe (like Google using people’s endorsements without compensating them), you will own nothing, and all surplus value you produce in excess of what you need to (barely) survive will be taken from you.

To put it another way, the current business model is value stripping. All excess value is stripped from the social sphere (as with Google taking almost all of the value that content producers create by taking almost all of the value of ads, and they control almost the entire ad market). People who cannot gain enough of the excess value they create become economic cripples. Because the companies that make almost all the profit today are either financial companies, IP exploitation companies, or are taking value from the environment (like oil companies), there is not enough real economic growth, whatever the GDP numbers show (financial innovation isn’t, and JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs’ profits actually damage the real economy, stripping out value, not creating it).

There is no coherent ideology opposing this, no coherent alternative. Marxism died with the USSR, whether it should have or not. No new alternative to what is laughably called “capitalism” (what we’re seeing now isn’t) has arisen. The closest we have seen is the Pirate Party, but their ideology is too far from comprehensive and has too many holes in it, as they are concerned almost entirely with a set of issues around IP and privacy, which, while important, are not sufficient to create a new society complete with a new, humane, and ecologically sensible mode of production.

So we have runaway asset and value stripping, combined with truly insane damage to the conditions for production of food and energy. And no, photovoltaic solar is not going to save us. Certainly it is better than coal, natural gas, or oil, but most energy use in the world is not electrical, and Solar PV cannot produce the necessary baseline. Thermal solar and improved nuclear power made in breeder reactors are probably necessary for the transition, but the word “nuclear” scares everyone spitless (not without reason), so that’s off the table. And we’re going to burn.

There are always counter-reactions. I expect one when the Millennials come of political age, in the early 2020s. And I expect that the first round will fail, since it will be run by Millenials picked by their elders. The second round may succeed, but at that point we are into the 2030s.

While much of this is unavoidable, the amount of death and suffering is variable. We could lose a few hundred millions over the next eighty years whom we shouldn’t have lost, or we could lose a few billion. We could see billions descend into hunger and poverty, or we could find solutions which avoid most of that.

We will not avoid it if we continue with our current ideology of, simply, Greed. As long as we put ourselves first, as long as we decide that what is good for someone is what they’re entitled to do so long as the courts don’t actually put them in jail (and we don’t even enforce the laws on the book), we are not going to manage this chain of events to come down on the optimistic side of estimates.

We will need to create a whole new ideology, we will need to radically revamp our societies , and we will need to give up much we have cherished. Fortunately, much of what we have cherished has been, objectively, bad for us. People may want to live in suburbia, but it isolates them socially and makes them fat, sick, and unhappy. People may think they want pretty plastic packaging, but it’s why they eventually won’t have fish to eat that aren’t lice infested. People may think they want healthcare, but what they need is to be healthy, and that means healthy food and an environment that isn’t laden with unhealthy chemicals. People may think they want jobs, but what they need, and what they would be happier with, is the ability to produce what they need without working for a pointy-headed boss.

We’re going to run into this wall. Whether we run into it at a hundred miles an hour and go splat or hit it at ten miles an hour and get bruised and pick ourselves up is our choice. So far, our choice has been to run faster, but we can make another choice.

Most people who read this website are middle aged or older. If so, you’ll miss a lot of the worst of this. Your kids won’t. Your job, if you’re old, is ideological: To help create the ideas that are lying on the floor, the ideas that are used when people are desperate. When things change in crisis, they change fast, and the ideas that are used are the ones lying around. If all that’s lying around is neo-liberalism, that’s what will be used. Of course ideology isn’t enough, people can still choose the wrong ideology, the wrong ideas (and often have, don’t tell me otherwise), but if it isn’t there, all they can do is pick up what is there. That’s when you start getting idiots talking about “bending the curve,” as if slow incremental change won’t be overwhelmed by vicious cycles already in play, as if we aren’t already past key decision points, as if we shouldn’t already be in crisis mode and doing not dishwater reforms, but a radical remake of our societies.

We’re going to hit the wall. We’re going to have to fight a dystopic panopticon police state in which ordinary people are not allowed to own anything of real value, let alone keep any of the real value they create. We’re going to do this while the environment comes apart, while we get battered by “extreme weather events,” droughts, water shortages, and hunger.

That’s the baseline scenario. That’s what we have to be ready to deal with, to change as much as we can, to radically mitigate to save hundreds of millions or billions of lives, and to make billions of lives good, instead of meaningless existential hells.


An Old Gypsy Story


How to Create a Viable Ideology


  1. Hairhead

    Ian, thanks for the punch in the head. I’ve been saying this to anyone who will ask for the last few years.

    1) By the time you see radical changes in the climate, it’s already too late. The recent mitigation of global warming is simply the slower-moving global-cooling cycle which has started in response to the warming; but it won’t last because we’re still pumping carbon in at an increased rate each year.

    2) Water is the new oil. Modern agriculture needs two things: oil and water (funny how in this instance, they mix). Oil for fertilizers and pesticides, water for growth. And we are spending both oil and water prodigally. The most egregious waste of water is the overuse of ancient aquifer water, viz. consciously exceeding the known inputs of the aquifer. And now this error is compounded by fracking which will make the remaining aquifer water poison.

    3) And the “renting” “economy”. I put both of those words in scare quotes because they are both obscene. I own all of the software I use, though I have been importuned by the software makers to sign onto their “convenient” monthly rental payment plan. I download from Kindle, strip the DRM, and make copies which I keep in a separate physical media. Two of my three computers do not have a modem or connection to the outside world (the web) What an utter coincidence that they both work better and faster than my contaminated internet browsing computer.

    4) For shits and giggles, I added up all my banking and debit charges, and realized that by cancelling several accounts and by moving to cash only, I had an extra $1,200 per year to spend on myself. It was just like a raise!

    Anyway, it’s good to see, Ian, how much you and I agree upon. Every once in a while I think I must be a cynical, pessimistic, depressed old fart — and then I remember that studies have shown that the chronically depressed have the most accurate and least self-serving perspectives.

  2. Ian Welsh

    In times where society had lost the mandate of heaven, the Chinese intelligentista would retreat to their estates, write poetry, drink wine and enjoy the company of the opposite sex.

  3. David Kowalski

    We need more than ideas, we need at least a few practical applications that are actually working. FDR, after all, could launch the New Deal by mostly using proven or somewhat proven ideas.

    The problem is that states, even nation states, can’t be the laboratory for change if the whole world is screwed up.

    I was watching a Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl and had to turn it off after one of two segments because I was getting infuriated by the survivors story decades later. Anyone who tried to help them was either a fool or wrong. They seemed to have little or no clue of the suffering the rest of the country (never mind the world) was going through at the time due to the Great Depression. The kids were complaining about mistakes in how they were helped 80 years after the event.

    Beyond that, some even claimed extra virtue because they survived while “the cowards went to California.”

    It kind of summed up your piece: local not national or global, unwilling and ungrateful, unaware of what was really happening outside their neck of the woods, holding a “superior attitude” towards others.

    This will be far worse than the Dust Bowl. God help us and our children and grandchildren.

  4. Min

    “We are currently seeing a hiatus in Climate Change.”

    Pardon me, what hiatus? I know people say that, but the closest thing that I have seen to that is a flat 5 year moving average for seven years or so. A 5 year moving average is too short to be a good climate indicator.

    If you know of something that points to a statistically significant deviation from the overall warming trend since the mid 1970s, please let us know. 🙂

  5. Leo

    Do you have a link to Stirling’s climate/warming hiatus analysis you mentioned? Also, how is he doing?

  6. Ian Welsh

    Private convo though there might be something online somewhere. He also predicted back in the 90s that increased weather events would be the first major effect, but couldn’t get it published (apparently a huge screaming match with a journal editor was the only real result.) That paper’s probably on a computer somewhere. (I know he predicted it, because he did so to me at the time, it’s not retroactive wishing.)

    News is mixed. He’s not making much progress where he is, but will be moving in a bit, hopefully he’ll be able to do more directed care/therapy at that time and will make more progress. Mobility is still impaired, still significant language issues (though his Spanish is fluent without any word finding problems, apparently.) Some other mental artifacts. Emotions up and down, as you’d expect, institutionalized health care does not make people happy campers.

    OTOH, he’s certainly in better shape than we expected in the first couple weeks, so there is that.

  7. Peter Cowan

    I can verify that Stirling wrote about predicted a temporary break from continued progression of global warming. In fact, he wrote about it several different times over the last decade. I’m certain he wrote about it on BOPNews, but the other times I don’t know, it would either be the Agonist or TPMCafe. The latter is unavailable, unfortunately. I’ll see if I can find something.


    What do you think is missing from the Green Party’s philosophy? I guess I’m not totally familiar with their platform, but the Greens I hang out with are all on the same page, and likely mostly in agreement you you.

  8. Ian Welsh

    Green, to my knowledge, tend towards left wing austerity. I don’t believe that is necessary. I also want a radical restructuring of the means of production and how it is controlled, not just better more fair jobs.

  9. Ian Welsh

    You need an ideology which is a radical threat to crony capitalism/neo-liberalism. Something that makes them piss themselves in fear. Even if you don’t get your full reform, that sort of fear makes them treat people much better.

  10. Formerly T-Bear

    FWIW, I seem to recall something to the effect Ian describes about weather which may have included some comment on acidification of the oceans from absorbing CO2, while observing that freshwater from melting of greenland ice sheet would interfere with the Gulf heat currents. Whether that included benthic (deep ocean) heating (possible cause of a currently observed short term equilibrium mentioned above), I don’t recall, although that observation seems more recent. Mention was definitely made that the accumulation of atmospheric energy (heating) would be most observable in the polar extremes and that enhanced oscillations caused by heating on the jet stream would strengthen weather systems and their destructive effects. At some point arctic methane release was also mentioned in passing.

    Memory has Sterling or Numerian of The Agonist being associated with authorship.

    I can bear witness to the effects of overfishing on the Irish box, changing it from a world class fishery to a barely producing offshore desert and the disappearance of Ireland’s fourth largest fishing port supporting families for generations. One or two families still fish there, the knowledge and skill gathered over generations is passing away and will never be recovered. Mostly foreign trawlers shelter there now, and ship their catches by truck to other markets, the locals cannot compete with cash of foreign wealth.

  11. Peter Cowan

    Yeah, that makes sense. There is a an element within the Green movement that would be OK with with a kinder, greener neo-liberalism. Grist comes to mind. Folks I know who are involved in Green party politics are against capitalism and neo-liberilism across the board, but I wouldn’t say they have a coherenet model they are pushing beyond some vague anarchist worker run model.

  12. Antifa

    The sailor’s article rightly stressed overfishing and pollution, describing it as they experienced it, but a far greater source of damage to the ocean ecosystem is acidification from excess CO2.

    That may or may not be what took the shine off his bright yellow paint job. It most certainly is making it harder and harder to live in the ocean for all ocean species. A solid one-third of all the carbon dioxide spewed by humans is absorbed into the oceans, where it acts to change the PH balance to a more and more acidic state.

    The most immediate damage is to the smallest creatures in the food chain, and to coral reefs and the tremendous variety and quantity of species those reefs support. When the coral dies, all the species that depend on it and on one another also die.

  13. John Puma

    The problem described has been caused by the physical enactment of the ideology of ever increasing consumption (aided by the unique energy density of petro fuels.)

    It IS more likely that nothing will happen to address the problem.

    However, in considering the possible solution (regardless of how unlikely its application) it is not clear how it can be stated that austerity would be unnecessary. We cannot consume our way out of the problem caused by consumption even with a restructuring of the means of production. (Unless “restructuring” means “cutting by a large percentage.”)

    To be clear “austerity” here is not the term being used currently which means, essentially, asset and value stripping but rather radically “simpler” lives devoid of the myriad of meaningless, extraneous, suicidal, totally useless “products” the effluent if whose production, transport and use is, or will soon be, poisoning, suffocating, drowning and poaching us.

    (This is the same “please rethink ‘affluence’ as a desirable goal” argument.)

    I recently read a book called “Growth Fetish” by Clive Hamilton that carefully describes the idiocy of our current ideology but, as usual, is weak on presenting a concrete description of the changes society needs to make to itself in order to survive the next century much less a strategy to convince younger generations that the party to which they have been introduced must be ended it if their progeny are to have progeny.

  14. David Cross

    I have a question? How do you KNOW all of these things will happen? I appreciate your passion, but you strike me as an over educated theorist caught up in your viewpoint / model of the world. So, I lookforward to your answer of how you KNOW all these things will happen.

  15. Alcuin

    @ Ian: “Marxism died with the USSR, whether it should have or not. No new alternative to what is laughably called ‘capitalism’ (it isn’t) has arisen.”

    There is an enormous difference between Marx and Marxism. Have you read Capital, volume 1? And yes, it is capitalism. After you’ve studied Marx for awhile (David Harvey’s online classes are a great help!), you will be able to see through the thousands of lies passed every minute about Marxism and capitalism. Capitalism thrives on mystification.

    What died in the former Soviet Union was a variety of state capitalism, not Marxism.

    You are right, though, that there is no coherent alternative. Yet. But if enough people awaken from their commodified stupor (not likely), I’m sure one could easily be formulated.

  16. Ian Welsh:

    We’re going to hit the wall. We’re going to have fight a dystopic panopticon police state in which ordinary people are not allowed to own anything of real value, let alone keep any of the real value they create. We’re going to do this while the environment comes apart, while we get battered by “extreme weather events”, droughts, water shortages and hunger.

    Chris Hedges (in latest essay Let’s Get This Class War Started:

    The sooner we realize that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realize that these elites must be overthrown. The corporate oligarchs have now seized all institutional systems of power in the United States. Electoral politics, internal security, the judiciary, our universities, the arts and finance, along with nearly all forms of communication, are in corporate hands. Our democracy, with faux debates between two corporate parties, is meaningless political theater. There is no way within the system to defy the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry or war profiteers. The only route left to us, as Aristotle knew, is revolt.

    I think you and Hedges should knock heads. Things are beginning to accelerate, and we do need some saner ideology lying about.

    (Oh, and I hope that I do not ignite another discussion about Chris’ missteps with the Black Bloc during #Occupy. Yea, I know he never adequately addressed it.)

  17. I once got busy in a Burger King baffroom.

    In a Burker King baffroom!

  18. Compound F

    Have you read Greer’s The Wealth of Nature? I actually came to his writing via your blogroll, so I imagine you’re more than a little familiar with his content and style. He divides actual wealth between the primary economy (nature) and the secondary economy (human inputs), whereas the tertiary economy (wall street/financialization) is at best a yardstick for measuring wealth and at worst in a complete state of confusion about the meaning of wealth. It’s a very good book. My baseline scenario is closer to yours than his, ‘tho’ I do appreciate his historical knowledge and temporal sense of the “long slap-down.” All within the cone of probability, I suppose, but I’m afraid he underestimates the virulence of financial chaos. And perhaps overestimates what’s left in the larder of the primary economy. We’re much farther down the road of fragility than we think, and humans are far more refractory to learning and change than we fancy ourselves.

  19. Everythings Jake

    Denial is a survival mechanism and it will be our ultimate undoing. I forwarded this article to several friends and acquaintances because it’s powerful in the way great narratives are, but is it new info. No. How many articles have we read about the collapse of the ocean’s fish stock? And for how many years. For me, at least 5.

    If those who see and care want a new paradigm, it will require acts that scare the sociopaths into submission. I don’t know if that means violence, say on the order of wake up tomorrow and every employee of Goldman Sachs is dead, but it isn’t going to be pretty.

    If it isn’t that, then the technocrats will win, and it isn’t all that hard to see that elimination of significant swaths of the population so that the elite might perpetuate their existence is the evident amoral solution.

  20. Celsius 233

    Personally, I like how Ian compiled this information into a cogent narrative. Is it new?
    No. But instead of bits here and bits there; it’s the whole enchilada in one thread.
    Frankly, I’ll be shocked if the major powers act in any responsible way and, in a timely manner.
    Suzuki warned back in the early 90’s that if we turned off the pollution spigot the very next morning there were still 40 years worth in the pipeline. Well, that was more than 20 years ago and its (the spigot) bigger, with vastly more volume than the early 90’s.
    People? Ha! Move along folks, there’s nothing here…
    Yes, yes, I know; there are people doing things. But it’s too little too late, IMO.
    I do things, but that’s so I can live with myself…
    As long as the shiny has purchase, we don’t…

  21. markfromireland

    Very good post Ian thank you.

    I’ve just come back from a trip to Moscow at one point my host held a dinner party at which amongst the other guests were a pair of agronomists whom I knew slightly. The topic of climate change came up. They pumped me on the Kurdish headwater problem and I pumped them about the research the Russians were doing on the impact of climate change to Russian agriculture. (You may recall that there was a research programme that started under Andropov about how much extra agricultural land they could expect to get as the permafrozen North unfroze).

    The reply I got – and these were people who know what they’re talking was that that particular line of enquiry had finally been dropped because the conclusion that any gains made would be more than offset by desertification further South was inescapable.

    The next night my host and I had brief but a very interesting chat about Russian water resources and whether they were defensible should Russia’s more arid neighbours to the South and my host included China in that group become very arid.

    I agree with you about how important water is it’s a lot more important than oil you can’t drink oil but you damned well need to drink water to live. I’ve been preaching about how important water is for decades in the context of the Middle East. Anyone in my profession who lives and works there goes pale at mention of the word ‘desertification’ and desertification is an increasing problem in parts of what used to be called the fertile crescent. As one of my lecturers used to say back in the days when I was a cadet “wars about oil aren’t important, the big one will come when they start to fight about water”. He was right

    Tell me Ian how long do think Canada has before your neighbours to the South invade to seize Canadian water resources. A generation? Less?


  22. Invasion will not be necessary, it will be handed over for a pittance.

  23. Ian Welsh

    Assuming a non-worst case scenario, Canada is one of the only countries that might “win” from global warming. (Australia will not, they’re being idiots with their policies, even from a selfish POV.)

    But that, yes, does assume we are able to keep the resources, whether that means violence or not.

    I have long advocated that Canada needs a credible deterrent beyond the ability get nukes in 6 months to two years (which we have.) The US is too strong, all our industrial centers would be gone before we had a chance.

    That deterrent need not be nuclear, there are “conventional” weapons which can destroy the better part of a city. We make cruise missiles in Canada, we have the delivery technology.

    But Canada’s elites made their money by being cronies for Americans, with few exceptions (and most of those made their money by copying Americans as with the housing boom). Heck, prominent journalist Diane Francis just put out a book saying we should merge with the US (with 1/10th the population, they would swamp us, as any fool knows.)

  24. Celsius 233

    October 22, 2013

    Tell me Ian how long do think Canada has before your neighbours to the South invade to seize Canadian water resources. A generation? Less?
    Holy shit! Now there’s a scenario I had never considered.
    I wish I could say; impossible; never happen.
    But the resent past tells me it’s all too possible.
    Damn, I need to re-think a lot, no, everything…

  25. Celsius 233

    @ MFI
    Thanks for that post; it’s profoundly important and prescient…
    My naivete is disturbing.

  26. Formerly T-Bear

    Not a bang

    Not a whimper

    NAFTA will do the corporate trick

    that once took armies

    and National Flags.

  27. markfromireland

    @ Celsius 233 October 22, 2013

    I’m good at what I do. I started out as a felix (bomb disposal officer) a large part of which involves getting inside your opponent’s head a skill I’ve always had. I would say not so much that you are naive as that spending several decades in a water-poor and very violent part of the world has given me a particular way of looking at things.


  28. Heck, prominent journalist Diane Francis just put out a book saying we should merge with the US (with 1/10th the population, they would swamp us, as any fool knows.)

    To be fair, it’s obvious she has believed this for about 25 years or something. I mean, she’s Diane Francis.

  29. Formerly T-Bear

    markfromireland October 22, 2013

    A point for research on the subject of water for you. The state of New Mexico contains the headwaters of a number of rivers flowing through desert and shortgrass prairies to the east. Over time NM has been subjected to various lawsuits over water and water rights that have built up an interesting array of water compacts operative with surrounding interests to arrive at and maintain equity, mostly successfully (Not counting the Lincoln County War), and keeping the water flowing.

    Thanks again for that <a href trick.

  30. markfromireland

    @ Ian October 22, 2013

    I’ve actually heard of her and her book in passing – National Post? Toronto Sun? I hope to God her nostrums aren’t treated seriously. I agree you’d be swamped – various quaint bits would be kept for tourists but for the rest yes swamped is the right word.

    Agreed about Canadian military needs and that it needn’t necessarily be nuclear. You have the weapons and delivery technology to be able to hurt them. Especially if your military were as ruthless about targeting as their American counterparts.

    Alas I also agree with you about your current elites, we have the same problem over here. I’ve long advocated that European countries -including (especially!) the neutrals such as Ireland have credible armed forces.

    Multipolarity is a good thing in my book.


  31. markfromireland

    @ Formerly T-Bear October 22, 2013

    I knew about New Mexico but it’s not like with like. So long as the USA pretends internally to be a country of law they’ve got some sort of protection. Although I suspect that when push comes to shove that that protection will be increasingly threadbare.

    When it comes to getting their hands on other country’s resources or even just establishing hegemony/protecting our vital interests then the USA to quote the Tom Lehrer song ‘would rather kill ’em off by peaceful means’ if that doesn’t work they quickly resort to violence and overwhelming utterly disproportionate violence at that. In its external relations the USA is not a country of law.

    After nearly 4 decades dealing with them there is in my experience no difference absolutely none between what passes for the American ‘left’ and the American ‘right’.

    ‘We’re the good guys and refusal of our demands is both incomprehensible and unacceptable to us’.

    Followed by first the threat to run amok and then them actually doing it.

    You’re welcome re grabbing the link – it does make it easier to keep track of a conversation.


  32. Formerly T-Bear

    @ MFI

    I should have focused my remarks more on the history and development of water compacts governing New Mexican river water usage and how upstream and downstream interests are accommodated, it might be a useful model to be aware of in other arid climates. Totally agree that gun to head is a persuasive negotiating tool, but has drawbacks at the end of the day. What can I say about a country that has lost the run of themselves? Hopefully you’re not looking for me to become an apologist portavoz. All the best……….

  33. markfromireland

    @ Hairhead October 21, 2013

    Water is the new oil. Modern agriculture needs two things: oil and water (funny how in this instance, they mix). Oil for fertilizers and pesticides, water for growth. And we are spending both oil and water prodigally. The most egregious waste of water is the overuse of ancient aquifer water, viz. consciously exceeding the known inputs of the aquifer. And now this error is compounded by fracking which will make the remaining aquifer water poison.

    Yup, and this second lunacy is spreading. In the UK the government not supports fracking but has done so with an arrogance from their party grandees that could really be used as an object lesson in ineptitude. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as the Conservative party’s electoral base are up in arms about it. Reading the comments on the topic in for example The Daily Telegraph (fondly known as the Torygraph) or even God help us the Daily Mail is quite astonishing these are people of whom it used to be said that they’d vote for a rabid dog so long as it was standing as the Conservative candidate. Now they’re discovering that a rabid dog might be preferable to some of their party’s leadership.


  34. Ian Welsh

    The basic military doctrine, the first one, as far as I am concerned, is to plan for other countries capabilities, not their intent. There is only one country on earth which is a credible existential threat to Canada: the USA. Our military should be oriented around making that threat minimal. I would set it up with roving camoflaged missile launchers with weapons capable of taking out large swathes of cities. If the Israelis couldn’t even take out Hezbollah missiles in the tiny area of southern Lebanon, there is no way the US could take out our deterrent. And I would make it perfectly clear that if we are invaded, every major and minor city in America will lose its city center, every major military base will be hit.

    Don’t want that to happen, simple enough, leave us alone. The capability is no real threat to the US absent an attack, because they have plenty of deterrent themselves.

    I would train the Canadian military in (ostensibly) anti-insurgency, but really in insurgency. In the event of an attack, most of them would put on civilian clothes. Teams would be set up to infiltrate into the US and wreak havoc, as well. A few hardcore regiments filled with the glory or death types would make a last stand in some important places like Ottawa, but otherwise the plan would be to make extracting any value from Canada impossible. Occupy what you like, it doesn’t matter, Canada was MADE for guerilla warfare. You won’t get an ounce of oil or aluminimum or water without a gallon of blood mixed in.

    For more conventional needs I would emphasize the navy and airforce, since we have interests in the oceans around us. Other than the US, no one would be a threat to a properly configured air/naval force, since we can fly off land and any naval force trying to operate in whatever we decide to enforce our waters would be paying exhorbidant fuel costs.

    But that leads to the fact that some hard enforcement, international, is going to be needed for the seas. We are going to need armed military ships impounding trawlers and so on and executing the officers of those ships on the spot.

  35. Jeff Wegerson

    Since the 80’s I’ve been saying that we run out of air before we run out of oil. Of course, since I simply meant global warming I suppose refugee in some still livable corner of the world using the last drop of oil will say I was proved wrong.

    On the thoughts in this article I still have perhaps irrational beliefs that enough wind/solar/etc can cover the energy needs of a not overly ambitious civilization. The switch to clean tech has its own sets of tipping points and paradigm shifts that work irregardless of other effected affects.

  36. markfromireland

    @ Formerly T-Bear October 22, 2013

    Ah OK. The problem with the Middle East (generalising somewhat here) is that everything to do with water is treated strictly as a zero sum game. Egypt is currently having a conniption about the Nile’s headwaters. Then there’s the Turks, the Iranians, and the Kurds all of whom are of the opinion that those downstream can just put up with whatever they dish out. There’ve been riparian negotiations going on for decades I’ve yet to hear of even an iota of agreement. (This is incidentally THE obstacle to a Kurdish republic).


  37. someofparts

    Be just my luck that the local doodle heads I dream of escaping by retiring to Montreal will invade the place just about the time I settle in and start French lessons.

    Glad to hear that Stirling is making good progress.

  38. markfromireland

    @ Ian

    No argument from me on any of that with the exception of killing trawler officers on the spot. I have this thing about killing civilians without first giving them a fair trial I think it’s wrong and that it brutalises those who do it. I don’t like the idea of anybody’s military becoming like the US military which is what would happen.

    Why not just take the crew off gather evidence that they were in Canadian waters (a sworn declaration would do it aggravating factors would be nets over the stern or fish in the hold) and then sink the trawler?


  39. Ian Welsh


    you are, of course, right. The topic just has me a bit overwrought. As a teenager I used to work on my uncler’s fishing boat on occasion. (Though work is a bit of an overstatement.)

    What I’m trying to figure, though, is how to get through the message that you aren’t just dealing with financial losses. The problem we have today is that fines or other financial losses (including sinking a trawler) are considered a “cost of doing business”. If someone doesn’t go to jail or get hurt in a way that matters to them, they just keep doing whatever they’re doing. And if you’re Canada you can’t jail the executives making the decisions: they aren’t on the ships, they aren’t in Canada. You could still make it a criminal offense and throw the ship’s officers in jail, after a fair trial, of course.

    We are going to have create a force that has the right to police international waters, as well, however. We are going to have to get really strict with countries like Japan that are systematically overfishing (sea bottom trawling must be made illegal for anyone.)

    We’re also going to have to do away with most plastic packaging.

  40. Read your essay twice now, once aloud to Jeannie, my wife. It’s an incredibly tough read and, to be honest, I can’t fault your overall message. Nothing much more to say other than I’m 70 next year, living in a deeply rural part of Oregon, trying to minimise our pressure on this wonderful land (and planet), and deeply grateful I’m not the age of my grandson back in London (two and a half years old!).

  41. markfromireland

    I sympathise, anyone whose seen the devastation of fishing communities – the loss of that entire part of the culture cannot help but sympathise. It’s been done to the Irish fisheries to name just one country. This death of what was a vibrant part of Irish (or wherever) society is in many ways a far more important loss than the monetary losses. The same is true when a Newfoundland fishing community or one in BC goes under, or an Icelandic one (Iceland went under very early because Iceland lost what are now called the Cod Wars – Wikipedia the British fishing industry survived a bit longer courtesy of that ‘victory’ and in so doing fished out the cod. I remember hearing one of the Irish fisheries leaders saying on a radio programme that what happened to the Iceland cod stocks should have been a major cause of alarm to the rest of the world.

    Yes imprison the officers for the same reason you imprison any criminal, but if you sink enough trawlers/factory ships it stops being a cost that can be borne by the money men.

    Agreed about Japanese fleet and anyone else that overfishes. Enforcing fishing quotas let alone bans is going to be hard – the EU Commission tries, somewhat, but they haven’t been terribly successful.

    As to plastic the amount of plastic in the oceans and the amount of damage it does doesn’t bear thinking about – horrible is too mild a word.


  42. is there any point to worry about all this?

    the sun will burn up all the planets in this solar system in the not-too-distant future… everything on earth is temporary,

    and we’re all just going to die anyways, so whats the point in worrying about anything in your article?


  43. bob mcmanus


    I give it ten at most, but am expecting it in more like 5, when conversations like this will no longer happen because scarcity has gotten dire and Western gov’ts brutally repressive.

    I am already more cautious about what I say in comments.

    Look how relatively casually the Obama admin have taken the Snowden revelations. France, Brazil, and Mexico bugged and furious? Obama shrugs. Such stuff is trivial already compared to what is coming down.

    Probably they’ll let Republicans do the dirty after 2016. They have a base that will fight for them.

  44. Everythings Jake

    We’re all going to need to acquire a taste for jellyfish – which seem to be in postive feedback loop of their own, just to put one other heartbreaking and terrifying point on it:

    Flannery, Tim. “They’re Taking Over! A review of Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean by Lisa-ann Gershwin.”
    ” The New York Review of Books

  45. atcooper

    I had a fairly recent conversation with a friend regarding environmental issues. He has seen his small Ohio town reduced to poverty over the years, and in frustration, was angry at the EPA. The coke plant for the steel mill had been destroyed that day, and his anger at this triggered my conversation with him.

    I have some sympathy for his frustrations, the hollowing out of industry here and there, and the institutional rot at the EPA, mirrored in the country at large, so I took the tack of trying to argue the ideal reasons for such an agency, or at least the need to be caretakers of our home, and not merely dominate.

    It is a modern curse to be constantly fighting with one hand tied behind ones back in such conversations. There is almost nowhere to point to to show what the right thing looks like, so one always comes off as a worthless dreamer. But I’ve had some practice arguing for environmental issues as well, having grown up in another part of the country completely unconvinced of the need for environmental care taking. My family had managed to make a business of environmental issues, and like most money making ventures, we benefited from the misbehavior of surrounding industry – so I tried arguing, maybe convincingly, or at least counteracting some of whatever poison he listened to or read.

    I should not have let it become so personal. I ended up pointing out his first born grandchild had been born without gray matter, and the second born very underweight and premature, and that the unfiltered waste spewed into the sky by the coke plant, the very smell of which was everywhere, likely contributed to both outcomes.

    I really didn’t want to go Erin Brockovich on him, but the likely-hood that the whole area had had an increase in birth defects was very high, and would that be proof enough that environmental concerns were valid? If I showed the correlation, would that be enough? I told him of how when living in Houston, it was not uncommon to hear of the birth defects, three eyed babies like from a cartoon, all in the barrios near the refineries in Pasadena. In that part of the city, you could feel the particulates in the grass.

    I think my own anger was more convincing than the argument itself. I still don’t know how I feel about that.

  46. In my not so humble opinion, my present web site (and the one before that) has much, if not all, the answers (yes some well known people, like dear BO, have been reading it, and grabbing slogans from it).

    In particular many of the recipes out of our predicament were already found by the Romans, and that’s why their republic lasted 5 centuries….

  47. What happened to my comment? When I added it there were already 45 comments on this essay. I was suggesting that solutions were on my site. And I said more, but, if it’s to see whatever I write being erased…

  48. conryw

    My baseline prediction: In the year 2500 the name Nelson Mandela will be completely forgotten and the name Koch (as in Charles and David) will replace ‘pig’ as an epithet.

  49. Ian Welsh


    I haven’t manually deleted any comments. You may have gotten full-caught in the spam filter, if so, I apologize. I get hundreds of spam a day, though you’re the first real commenter I know who didn’t just get flagged, but got full in it. I’m afraid your comment is gone, because there are too many spam comments for me to go through them manually any more.



  50. I absolutely agree with you, and get called a pessimist pretty often. As a matter of fact, I’ve more or less thought these things for the better part of 50 years. You mention the next generation having to a) go through the worst of it (or perhaps the generation after that), and b) having to come up with solutions. I wish them success.
    I elected to never have children, cause I didn’t want to inflict any of [your future predictions] on anyone else. In my day, “Zero Population Growth” was a much-voiced idea – it obviously never caught on. At any rate, I’m glad I stuck with that commitment. At least I don’t have to anguish over the fate of loved ones in my immediate family, though I am sorry for the children and grandchildren of others.

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