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

Collapse Of Water Supply For Countries Around Tibet

Amu-Darya Watershed

Tibet is a water tower; its glaciers, snow packs and lakes are the source of many of the greatest rivers in the countries around it. Two of those are the Indus river in India and Pakisatan, and the Amu-Darya which flows along the border of Afghanistan.

A recent study predicts:

large declines under a mid-range carbon emissions scenario by the mid-twenty-first century. Excess water-loss projections for the Amu Darya and Indus basins present a critical water resource threat, indicating declines of 119% and 79% in water-supply capacity, respectively.

Wait? Over 100%?

Anyway, this sort of thing is why I’m so negative on prospects for India and the areas which rely on the Tibetan glaciers and snow pack for water, which includes much of China, Thailand and Vietnam (the Mekong) as well. Note that this same process is occurring elsewhere: in the European alps, in the Rockies in North America, and in the rivers fed by the great northern glaciers of Canada.

What happens here will lead to denialist stupidity: the increased heat will, in some areas, lead to some years where there are is MORE water, and floods and so on, until the glaciers, in particular, collapse. So we are likely to alternate drought with floods, until the rivers just dry up, and many of the lakes with them.

When the Tibetan water tower collapses, the countries around it will be devastated. The West of North America will suffer a similar fate, though those on the coast may be able to replace much of the water with desalinization (it’s expensive, but the numbers I’ve seen indicate it’s doable, especially if you decide to stop growing almonds and other water expensive crops), but those on the wrong side of the Rockies, or high up, are pretty much out of luck. The East is in somewhat better shape, but the Great Lakes, which are close to stasis anyway, will be put under great pressure and if we try to use very much water from them we will easily drain them.

On the other side of the equation, rain patterns will shift. Hotter air means more rain, generally speaking, but where it goes is likely to change. It’s reasonable to suppose that the Sahara might get monsoons again, for example, but we just don’t know the full effects. If the monsoon fails in any region, that region will be devastated.

Add to this the massive drainage and poisoning of aquifers, including in North America, India and China and we have a situation where it is entirely reasonable to expect an absolute collapse of food production. I suspect, as I’ve discussed in other articles, that as per the “Limits to Growth” modeling, we’re about at the per capita food production peak, though not yet the absolute peak.

This stuff appears to be me to be baked in. It would require much more radical restriction of CO2 and other climate change gasses than we are doing or likely to do to stop it, and there’s some reason to believe we may be at the point where processes are now self-reinforcing, as with methane release from permafrost and swamps and the Amazon becoming a net emitter of carbon rather than a sink. As these new sources emit, they cause climate change no longer directly driven by our current actions and in doing so cause more emissions and that loop will come to drive more and more change.

That’s the situation. If we keep deaths to a billion people, that would be an extraordinarily good result, because these processes will also drive political change, including vast amounts of violence and waves of refugees which make the puny European refugee crisis look like a pygmy.

Welcome to the future. It’s here, and it’s going to get much, much worse.



The Espionage Act Is Bad Law Even When It Is Used Against People I Despise Like Trump


Spring Of A Down, Chapters XVI-XVIII


  1. DMC

    Massive building programs of desalination plants are what will save us. Water from the coast can be piped inland. Now that even rainwater is too contaminated to drink, we’ll need purification even for fresh water. The time for debate on this passed 20 years ago and the government seems to have done NOTHING in this regard, probably at the behest of Nestle and other would be water monopolies.

  2. different clue

    Given how the ChinaGov is damming every river arising in Tibet upstream for where it crosses the Chinese border ( as well as every river remaining within China for its whole length), China will be pre-empting all that Tibetan water for itself long before the Tibet water tower itself collapses.

    Long after America has become a passing dream, China will make itself the most hated country in Asia, and will stay that way as long as it reserves unto itself all the Tibetan water which used to flow downstream into all the not-China countries downstream from Tibet. And destroys all the downstream river valley predictability and all the downstream fisheries on the way to doing so.

    That is my prediction. Am I right? Am I wrong? People in their 20s and 30s today will live long enough to find out.

  3. mago

    @dc Of course we won’t be around to see it, probably, most likely.
    It’s long been my contention that the Chinese Tibet takeover was about resources, especially water. Yeah, there was history and ideological considerations yada yada, however the primary driver is water water water—for governments and corporations alike (as if there’s a division).
    I’ve been preaching water issues since teenage years and now as an oldster I keep quiet, although it seems I’m preaching to an anonymous online choir at the moment.
    Thanks for listening.

  4. Astrid

    Everything is happening much faster than predicted. I think we’ll hit the climate and social walls within the next 5 years and others things will preempt the last glacial melt. I suspect for Russia and China (and Iran and India and Indonesia, etc), worries about climate and pollution comes after m they’re sure that the US is not going to take the world down as it circles the drain. After that, it could be competition or cooperation, they may have the wisdom to cooperate and yet perish anyways. I don’t expect success because we’re hitting physical constraints so fast, but at least any move outside of the US dominated regime that clearly does not work is a possibility.

    Post Blue Ocean Event climate is really anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t assume safety anywhere, but past records suggests that southern China is more climate stable than northern China. The long term solution is not mechanized agriculture that already stripmined most of our top soil. Presumably if humanity were to survive in large enough numbers, we’ll mostly be eating factory farmed algae and bug protein.

    China is hardly the only country damming every valley that they can. India has put in plenty of dams and hydro projects throughout Nepal, Bhutan, and Jammu & Kashmir. Plenty of hydro projects in SE Asia as well. At least with SCO, BRICS, etc., there are opportunities for cooperation and coordination.

  5. Joan

    I am in my 30s so I might live to see this. One thing: I don’t think the people of the Great Lakes will allow them to be drained for someone else. They’ll blow that sky-high.

  6. Trinity

    Don’t forget the ginormous server farms. They require massive amounts of water for cooling, and they always get good deals (paid for in cash to local administrators) for more-than-their-share of local water resources, leaving residents to be the ones to do without.

    The first thing to go when the water belt tightens is your cloud based photo collection, so think about printing/off server storing if you can. Even worse, the US gov is pushing for 100% digital, so that’s going to be interesting, as well as the corporations (who are “people”) versus actual human people who need water literally to survive. The final season of Goliath starkly illustrated how all this works.

    “especially if you decide to stop growing almonds”

    Ever notice how many food products now contain almonds, that didn’t before? It’s a loss on the books to uproot all those trees, and replace them with something else. That would definitely affect shareholder servicing. As always, we pay the price for their poor decision making skills based on greed.

    And finally, the climate migrations have already started. Small numbers, but still very real. Shipping by river is also affected (Germany), so this may catch some insane persons’ attention (economics). Although their usual response is to build an alternative at taxpayer expense.

    For the ongoing and latest (sometimes global coverage)

    To search for climate risk by home address (US only, sorry to say):

  7. Astrid

    This is me veering on stuff that will get me accused, perhaps rightfully so, of all kinds of nasty things…but I wonder if a depopulated western Ukraine could be the basis for permanently resettling Palestinians, Kurds, and several other perma-refugee populations under RF protection. No, it’s not fair to let the genocidal Turks or Zionists win. However, even if they do eventually win against Israel/Turkey, the prize is an already patched land that is likely to become completely unliveable in the coming decades. The wise choice is to emigrate and rebuild their nations in potentially more hospitable climes.

    This type of resettlement of alien population was extensively used throughout history and is a go-to tool of imperial pacification across pretty much every empire I can think of. It would defuse some of the Middleeastern fuses built up by Anglo-Zionists peacefully while keeping a fiercely loyal population on Russia’s western flank.

    Ditto SE Asia/India and Siberia. If the mass migration (into your big, beautiful, mostly empty spaces) by desperate climate refugees is inevitable, a wise regime would choose to channel and control it, and built mechanisms of long term control into that population.

  8. Purple Library Guy

    This is all very true. At the same time, I think it’s clear that in most countries it would be possible to use water far, far more efficiently than we actually do. We haven’t bothered because where water is plentiful it is really cheap and so there seems little point in conserving it. Once it gets scarcer it becomes worth conserving . . . but at that point you come to the question of whether the institutional structures allow for the kind of broad co-operation and effort required. To take a tiny example, ever since the first time Vancouver saw a noticeable drought in the summer a few years back, I’ve started seeing these little bags on the trees planted by the city in Vancouver and Burnaby; they’re, like, water bags that slowly drip water into the soil by the trees so you don’t have to use a bunch of water (and city staff time I suppose) watering them all the time. In the old days there was no point to spending money on water bags to make watering trees more efficient, but the spectre of summer water shortages caused the city to start thinking about how to deal with them.

    Free-market capitalism is almost uniquely unsuited to doing anything about problems of water scarcity, since it rather gives incentives for taking advantage of scarce water to charge more for it, corner and monopolize the limited supplies and so forth, in addition to being fractured and disorganized and generally undersupplying public goods.

    I strongly suspect that China will manage far better than India. China has the capacity and motivation to take action. India has neither–it doesn’t have the capacity because its state is determinedly a hollowed-out neoliberal one, where the “security” functions of the state remain intact or are stepped up, but the, you know, useful ones are deprecated wherever possible to allow for half-assed but profitable private substitutes. And it doesn’t have the motivation because you can be sure some rich Indian families will be making out like gangbusters selling expensive water and will use their influence to block changes. China on the other hand is controlled by a bureaucracy that has demonstrated over and over the capacity to do massive public works. And it is fairly clear that China’s government, while undemocratic, fears the people–they want to make things work because they feel in their bones that if they don’t, they’ve lost the “mandate of heaven” and the people will turf them out; their only legitimacy comes from perceived competence. So when the problem becomes apparent, the Chinese government will mobilize masses of resources and expertise to come up with solutions. They may be inflexible top-down solutions, but they will be relevant and well funded.

    India will just try to let “the market” take care of it, unless and until the peasants team up with the army to drag billionaires and parliamentarians out of their mansions and burn them alive. Similar things can be said for the US, and quite likely Canada.

  9. Revcon

    California’s Central Coast was once home to some of the most advanced hunter/fisher/gathers. They didn’t have to contend with water supply drying up. I posted this in April and it seemed like this could be a way forward: emulating these resourceful people. Now on out so sure… The Chumash once lived the good life from SLO to Malibu. Great spot for the post-climate-apocalypse-hunter-fisher-gatherer.
    “a people who at that time were among the most advanced hunter-gatherer societies in the world.”

  10. different clue


    You are correct. If anyone tries to build a water-suction pipeline to the Great Lakes, it will be blown up. Every time. Blowed up real good. Which is entirely right and proper, and hopefully those Canadians with Great Lakes frontage would agree.

    Someone will resurrect the undead zombie corpse of NAWAPA. I think the well-hydrated sacrifice-targets of America and the well-hydrated sacrifice-targets of Canada will unite to prevent its application, or physically destroy any part of it which gets built. I think Great Lakestan would join in any such ” strangle NAWAPA in its crib” initiative. Since the grandest visions of NAWAPA include damming the Yukon River and sending it South through a dammed-up McKenzie River, I think Alaska and NorthWest Canada would also join any kill-and-destroy NAWAPA effort. And in fact the link I offer below shows ” two different” speculative plans . . . NAWAPA and Grand.
    So someone is sure to think of combining them into Grand NAWAPA

    If any countrygov is able to survive the shortages, China should. China has the coherence needed to build a Great Seawall of China, for example.

    Tribal peoples like Kurds and some Jews ( and certainly the Jewisraelis now) and Palestinians with an attachment to “homelands” will try to stay in those “homelands” and will not look kindly on efforts to resettle them in Ukraine. Such well intentioned advice will likely be ignored by the targets of that advice. Just as it wasn’t fair to let the genocidal Chinese win against Tibetans, but that doesn’t mean the Tibetans will all want to move to Ukraine and rebuild themselves a New Tibet in Ukraine.

  11. js

    Why bother buying up and diverting the water when if you have money, you can just buy property near the Great Lakes or whatever, and price out anyone else there, at least anyone young who isn’t already on a property ladder, bid up a single family house to a few million, it’s nothing that hasn’t already happened elsewhere. And it might not even be rich Americans, overseas oligarchs could get in on it too. But very few parts of the country aren’t going to be near uninhabitable, it might not all be water (for which desalinization might be an option)

    If you believe these predictions all these places are predicted to have over 125 degree days:

  12. different clue


    I wonder how the global warming denialists will denialize the warming of the global when they themselves are living in 125 degrees in the shade at 100% humidity, and down to 115 degrees at night.

    I have every confidence they will still denialize it, at least to themselves. I just wonder what creative methods they will use.

  13. mago

    @dc “denialize”? Clever coinage.

  14. Astrid

    There are plenty of Palestinians living outside of Palestine (I heard Chile has the largest diaspora population and I know they’re well settled in Detroit), many of them by choice. Not sure about Kurds but there are certainly plenty of Armenians living outside of Armenia. There is more to one’s cultural inheritance than just the land, even if that land is as richly endowed by history as the Leventines. Nonetheless, resettlement and displacing populations is nasty business, even if it’s a toolbox used by every empire and definitely quite murderously by the US government against the natives, blacks, and other undesirables.

    Anyone who actually traveled to Tibetan areas or
    personally knew Tibetans living in Tibet (as opposed to those who have lived their entire lives outside) world be hard pressed to characterize what they endured under the CPC as genocide. Monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural revolution, but that true everywhere in China at the time and was followed by state supported restoration since 1976. Tibetans retain a good deal of their cultural heritage and identity, speak and write their own language, is well represented in the governance structure and receive preferential treatment for education and employment.

    It’s not perfect, as the state can be quite clumsy and heavy handed or local corruption cuts in (I have seen some truly dreadful expansions to some historic Chinese temples, though the Tibetan temples I’ve visited all appear very beautifully and tastefully finished), and there is probably a minority with loyalty to the Dalai Lama, but there’s nothing like what the population of Donbas or Gaza had to endure for the past 10 years. If there had been widespread oppression in Xinjiang or Tibet, it would be impossible to cover up as these are the two most heavily touristed parts of China with many millions of Chinese and foreign tourists. If there were bad things happening, it would have gotten out and Western media wouldn’t have to resort to fake news to put China in a bad light.
    Haters gotta hate.

  15. Ché Pasa

    Tibetan genocide? I don’t think so. Tibet was a shithole, to be blunt, prior to Chinese intervention in (I believe) 1959. The state — such as it was — was corrupt and monstrous. The people were little more than slaves to a rotten aristocracy that itself was incompetent, greedy, violent and cruel. Yes, these were Buddhists. The Dalai Lama was not the ruler, but he acted like one, and every now and then, he issued proclamations assuring outsiders (and Chinese observers) that Tibet was on the path to “modernization.” Well, it wasn’t.

    Nothing changed for the better for the majority of Tibetan people until the Chinese took control. You can certainly argue that what they did and how they did it was drastic, overbearing, and not particularly kind to the aristocracy and the lamas. Many lamaseries were destroyed, and much of Tibetan heritage (Chinese would say the bad parts) were tossed in the garbage. But much was saved, much was restored, and after a period of chaos, Tibetan society emerged as something far better than it had ever been, the people were materially far better off, and for the most part, the Chinese overlords behaved with respect toward Tibet and the Tibetan people.

    The continued colonization of Tibet by Han Chinese is an issue, however. Some Tibetans chafe under Chinese authority and control, and there are occasional protests, demonstrations, and uprisings. The Chinese are not particularly gentle in putting them down, but they also listen to and make some effort to accommodate the Tibetan’s demands.

    As Astrid pointed out, tourists to Tibet do not see anything like the appalling levels of oppression and official violence toward the Tibetan people that are commonly believed and reported in Western propaganda media.

    As for the Dalai Lama, he’s a nice man, very holy. He should not rule a country, not even his native Tibet

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