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

Much of Western America Will Be Uninhabitable in 40 Years

Large parts of the US will be riven by permanent drought in the rather forseeable future. And fracking is making it worse… much worse.

The game-changing study from Duke University found that “from 2011 to 2016, the water use per well increased up to 770 percent.” In addition, the toxic wastewater produced in the first year of production jumped up to 1440 percent…

… first generation wells used three to five millions gallons of water, current third generation wells use ten to 30 million gallons….the federal government “forecasts a million more such wells in the next 20 years.”

Moreover, many of these wells are in western areas of the US, which are already water-stressed.

Plus, fracking tends to poison groundwater and aquifers, making those sources permanently unusable, no matter how much remains.

This is the sort of insanity which is routine today: Burning seed corn to heat the house. We know what we’re doing is insanely short-sighted. We know it will come back to burn us badly later on. We do it anyway because it makes money in the short term.

And, of course, in addition to the hydrocarbons it produces, which will increase global warming, fracking produces methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

What we should have done, in the 80s, is pushed hard on renewable energy, but we didn’t. What we should be doing now, oh, is the same thing, but we aren’t nearly as hard as we could be.

As an aside, the hidden truth of the solar miracle, is that it happened because of German subsidies. Solar wasn’t feasible, Germany made it feasible.

If the US had done that, it would have been feasible far, far sooner. But Americans wanted Reagan and “Morning in America” and endless suburbs full of SUVs.

And that’s what the US got. And so a large part of the US is going to become uninhabitable within the next two generations.

Meanwhile, hundreds of fires burn on the west coast of the US and Canada. This is climate change changing the ecology of local areas. This change will be permanent. The new ground cover will not be what was there before the fires.

Climate change is here. It is making itself known. It started with the great storms–more frequent and more powerful than in the past. It continues now with record high temperatures, especially in the arctic, and widespread forest fires. The arctic heat puts us in danger of massive methane releases from the permafrost and the ocean floor. If these releases happen, we can bend over and kiss our asses goodbye.

More on that soon.

This isn’t a disaster, it is a slow motion catastrophe. And it is going to become much worse and much faster…

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The Creation of New Worlds Examined Through Myth


No, the World Isn’t Getting Better for Everyone


  1. Herman


    Now that you mention Ronald Reagan and “Morning in America” do you think the 1970s were perhaps our last chance at stopping all of this environmental damage? It seems to me that the environmental movement reached its peak in the 1970s and then declined dramatically once Reagan became president. In the 1970s you had both Democrats and Republicans supporting environmental measures. Think of the positions of Edmund Muskie and Richard Nixon, for example. The EPA was signed into existence under Nixon.

    Today the environment doesn’t seem to be much of a priority for most Democrats and Republicans are now rabidly anti-environment to the point where most of them refuse to even consider any evidence that we are damaging the planet. On top of that I think we are in a new era of techno-utopianism where many people think that technology will save us and that we can trash the planet and just move to Mars. I think this is wishful thinking and not very realistic. I used to be a techno-optimist but now I think this stuff about space colonization is just fantasy that lets people kick the can down the road when it comes to destroying the Earth.

  2. Brian A. Graham

    Considering the last time the planet had a month of below average temperatures was February 1985, I think it is safe to say that the climate has changed. The weather I remember from the 1960s and 1970s is gone, and I think the ruling class who blocked efforts to prevent this catastrophe should be held accountable.

  3. Hugh

    You can find a quick summary of regional climate change impacts in the US based on the 3rd National Climate Assessment (2014) here:

    The 4th National Climate Assessment is slated to come out this December. The most update to it (July) can be found here:

    The North American impacts chapter from the 5th IPCC report (2014), the most recent, can be found here:

    It takes years to put together these reports so it is not unusual for the science to have moved on before the next one comes out. The role of methane is the big new factor in climate change. As for other stressors, we are already seeing their effects. The Southwest is burning up before our eyes. Last year, we saw major hurricanes devastate Texas, Florida, and especially Puerto Rico. And then there is the algae bloom off South Florida. In the Great Plains, we see the overuse of fossil (non-replaceable) water from aquifers and as Ian notes, the poisoning of the water table from fracking. And then then there is extreme weather, once in a century or even 500 year events are now occurring every few years.

    The five warmest years in the global record have all come in the 2010s
    The 10 warmest years on record have all come since 1998
    The 20 warmest years on record have all come since 1995

    And the biggest climate changes aren’t even happening here but in the Arctic and Antarctic as well as the oceans.

    Our timeline to effect meaningful mitigating strategies with regard to climate change (and overpopulation) runs from around 1980 to 2030. Trump wants to bring back coal (nahgonna happen), roll back environmental regulation (delayed mostly by the courts), and pull out of even weak climate agreements like the Paris Accords. Meanwhile, again as Ian notes, our SUV culture is completely at odds with dealing with climate change, as is the slow motion collapse of our political system.

  4. Webstir

    Ok, well. I just posted this in response to Linda Amick on the last thread. But it seems more pertinent than ever here, because as already been mentioned, were not getting out of this unscathed — it’s now about how bad the scathing will be, and whether we learn from it or not.

    Linda Amick said, “We need a new mythology in the West.” To which I replied:

    The one hope I hold to in the face of climate change is that the impact will force humanity to complete it’s third ethical evolution — what Aldo Leopold called the development of a “Land Ethic.”

    The impacts could be so great as to create the new mythology you speak of. Indeed, it would seem the only thing that could create a new mythology capable of serving as the foundation for a land ethic.

    More on Leopold’s Land Ethic here:
    One of America’s greatest thinkers in my humble opinion.

  5. Webstir


    Read that this morning in the links. It’s chilling. I studied the epigenetic effects of stress on rats as a psych student in a biopsych class, and the study seems to build on the work I read. I wish the good professor luck in his quest to further expose it.

    Makes one want to get tested for the presence of glyphosate in anticipation of the class action.

  6. Hyman G. Rickover called it “oxcart thinking.” The kind of military thinking that would, he said, result in the most heavily armored and armed oxcarts imaginable, capable of doing nothing more than killing the oxen that were pulling them.

    We are designing ways of delivering trivial amounts of “renewable energy,” and building millions of cars annually that get marginally better mileage from each gallon of fossil fuel. We should be finding fundamentally different ways to structure our society in order to use orders of magnitude less energy for everything we do.

    Do we really needs 20 different brands of corn flakes in 10 different size boxes, sold in fifty different stores in every town, with every family making five trips to those stores four times a week to bring those corn flakes to the table?

  7. someofparts

    webstir – I’m thinking that a land ethic sounds like some of the indigenous belief systems we supplanted. I fear that Abrahamic culture will go full Ahab on us if we presume to find our way back to anything that wholesome.

  8. someofparts

    This is completely off-topic but, as I notice the recurring hoopla over presidential sex scandals, I am astounded that our misleaders don’t see that their hypocrisy is so extreme as to be visible from outer space. People, if you continue to sanctify the Kennedys, you forfeit the right to complain about sexual improprieties forever.

  9. Robert Callaghan

    Plus 2 c arrives there 20 years ahead of earth average.

    Schellnhuber: The End Game

  10. Peter

    The Duke study states ” the overall extraction of water for fracking is negligible when compared with other industrial water use” We have huge underground lakes of saline water in the SW ideal for fracking and not much else.

  11. Dale

    The air quality index in Spokane this morning is 158, unhealthy. Early this weekend it hit 386, hazardous. When my wife and I moved out west 40 years ago massive forest fires were rare. Now they are the norm. Fire season begins earlier and runs later with each passing year. For the past three years our summer air has been choked with smoke and ash. Bird and insect numbers have dropped significantly. We are a part of the great extinction. Appreciate what we have had while you can. I don’t believe that humans are intelligent enough to change even when presented with the facts. I am reminded of Jerrod Diamond’s book “Collapse”. What is occurring is not new to the human condition. What is new are the tools at our disposal to exasperate the situation.

  12. StewartM

    This is the sort of insanity which is routine today: burning seed corn to heat the house. We know what we’re doing is insanely short-sighted. We know it will come back to burn us badly later on. We do it anyway because it makes money in the short term.

    This is why I’ve turned anti-capitalist. One of the most striking things about capitalism is how it gets even smart people to do things that they fully admit are foolish, short-sighted and destructive. I am pretty sure that many if not most CEOs would say “yes, we need to invest in more private and public infrastructure”, “yes, we need to take urgent action against climate change”, “yes, we’re frittering away our antibiotics for short-term profit”, and even some will at least pay lip service to “yes, growing inequality is a problem” but, when it’s time for the next quarterly report, all the good capitalist lemmings go running off the cliff together. This is because, starting in the 1970s, the kind of blended capitalism we had became more ‘pure capitalism’–capitalism is the direction and control of the economy by those who have capital (money) to invest, and Milton Friedman’s adage of ‘stockholder value trumps everything’ essentially turned the de facto decision-making over to the investor class.

    What’s ironic about this is that many of these types (more openly or not) are fans of Ayn Rand, who constructed stick-figure tales of the heroic “individualist” struggling against the unthinking, greedy, short-sighted, stupid “herd”–a “herd” who often appealed to the guv’mint for intervention—yet there is not better fit for her portrayal of the stupid “herd” than the capitalist investor class, who’ve made getting freebies and bailouts from the ‘guv’mint’ a fine art.

  13. Ché Pasa

    Smoke from the fires in California and Oregon reached our area of central New Mexico a few days ago causing severe air quality warnings and a kind of WTF reaction from people who assumed there must be nearby wild fires, though there aren’t.

    Fires in Arizona, Colorado and Idaho have sent their smoke our way from time to time, but nothing on the scale of what settled over us the other day.

    The point being, even when you think you’re protected from some of the worst effects of climate change, you’re not.

    If the fires and smoke don’t get you, drought will.

    We’ve had a relatively wet monsoon season (yay) but there was practically no winter at all. Hardly any snow (3″ total for the season, if that), and very few cold days. Our heating bill was a third of that of “normal” winters. The flip side is that the summer hasn’t been that hot…

    It’s not true that “nothing has been done” to mitigate climate change and its effects. Plenty has been done, but it’s not enough, and the current regime in Washington is eager to stall or reverse the inadequate measures that are in place. No doubt a reversion to incandescent light bulbs will be next…

    And you can bet Our Betters care not at all about what happens to the Rabble when the shit really kicks in. They’re ready — as ready as they can be — and even if they have some losses, they still plan on ruling the wreckage in the end.

  14. Bill Hicks

    This would be the most just desserts ever served, but for the fact that the rest of the world will not escape the same fate. America was never going to switch over to renewables because the “American way of life is non-negotiable” as our former Dr. Evil veep once put it, and going to renewables would have still required that Americans forfeit quite a few of the luxuries they refuse to live without.

  15. When I suggest “you can’t stop the migration, ask the Neanderthal” I am not necessarily referring to south of ‘the border’. People will move, no stopping them.

  16. If you really want to be anti-capitalist, then you must be anti-automobile. The automobile is corporate capitalism most important commodity. Every automobile that has ever been built has put out about 44 tons of Co2 into the atmosphere during its lifetime. Traffic violence kills about 1.25 million people around the planet every year, mostly people in the third word. It’s the great taboo to speak truth about our diseased, addictive preoccupation with the automobile. No one wants to listen to anyone bad-mouthing something that they love.

  17. someofparts

    The bad news so far is that, to the extent there is recognition of the need to stop using cars, it is being put into practice as something only available to the wealthy, while public transportation is drastically limited in ways designed to keep the poor out of wealthy areas where the best jobs cluster.

  18. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    If Murphy’s Law holds true, we will defeat the problem of anthropogenic global warming–only to learn that AGW was the only thing holding back the next Ice Age. 😛

  19. brian

    They’ll regulate fracking – or outlaw it – once it’s no longer profitable.

  20. StewartM

    Alan Coovert:

    If you really want to be anti-capitalist, then you must be anti-automobile.

    I’m against our car culture, for sure (going to Taiwan opens one’s eyes to the beauty of a really well- done mass transit culture), but making cars or any other item isn’t necessarily ‘capitalist’. We made cars before we turned uber-capitalist, and the Swedes and Soviets and others made cars too.

    Capitalism isn’t about making stuff and marginally is about selling stuff (consumerism). Capitalism as I define it is the direction and control of an economy by the investor class, by those who can put up money. These are given de facto the rights to tell how organizations who actually *do* make things what should and shouldn’t be made, and how it should or should not be made. And nearly always this class is utterly clueless about the technical merits or failure modes of their decisions and willfully blind to the long-term consequences. They are numbers-in-an-excel spreadsheet idiots, whose vision is no farther than the next quarterly profit report.

    If you just happen to be a leader of such an organization making things who has real insight and vision and a view of the long-term consequences, well, then you probably won’t last. The stockholders will stage a coup against you, and/or your stock will fall and you’ll be bought out (and fired). Everything you do must be done with an eye on the stock price. This is why Henry Ford–admittedly a very problematic person–ended up crashing his own stock in the 1920s so his family could buy a controlling share, because “I can’t make cars with a bunch of idiots who know nothing about making cars looking over my shoulder and second-guessing my every move”.

    Increasingly, capitalism isn’t about making stuff at all. It’s about “enclosures” and figuring out ways to charge people for things once free, and not adding any real value at all. Our economy becoming more “pure” capitalist in the past 40 years is also why wages have nosedived, because if you sell money for a living, then the poorer most people become, the more customers (i.e., borrowers) you will have. Passing out the credit cards was a way to maintain consumer spending in the face of declining wages. Now selling things like reverse mortgages and insurance policies on things breaking in your home is a way to address declining savings (a logical consequence of declining real wages).

    The profits from all this in turn go into things like stock buybacks and company purchases and other paper transfers that once again do not add anything of value to the real economy. And while I fully concur with you that for environmental and overall human well-being our car culture is a disaster, and that mass transit is much preferable for a whole host of reasons, at least they’re real things. Capitalists, who live in a world of paper, think their paper manipulations are more ‘real’ and valuable than cars.

    (And FWIW–while I live in fairly rural Appalachia, the company I work for used to run a bus service to come pick workers up to take them to and from work. So yes, even here, mass transit is possible if there is political will to implement it).

  21. scruff

    If Murphy’s Law holds true, we will defeat the problem of anthropogenic global warming–only to learn that AGW was the only thing holding back the next Ice Age.

    There is already some consideration to this idea; William Ruddiman suggests that early agriculture led to enough greenhouse gas emission so as to forestall an incipient ice age.

  22. Willy

    Oil companies would simply get to work at influencing mindless minions to embrace the coming ice age, so they could sell more product.

  23. Willy

    Speaking of the 60’s hippy movement, I read somewhere that that movement originated with rational intellectuals (tiny percentage of the general population), was taken over by idealistic intellectuals (small percentage of the general population), was taken over by fun-seeking latest-fad non-intellectuals (significant percentage of the general population), then fell flat before it did much to influence the bulk of society which is hardwired for traditional attitudes.

    Yet the oil/auto industries have done so well at influencing the masses when the hippies failed.

  24. different clue


    I remember the predictions of coming Frosty Chill Age being made in the 1970s, based on running the cycles-as-best-known from the past into the future. Just lately those predictions are made the basis of mockery for climatology today. Look how wrong the “Frosty Chillists” were! Ha! Ha! Ha! Does anyone think the Warmists are any more right today? Ha! Ha! Ha!

    What I think happened is that the Frosty Chillists were not “wrong”. They were overtaken by events. Carbon/NOX/methane/other-gases skydumping trapped/is trapping/will trap so much heat as to drown out the “natural cycle” cooldown.

    So if manmade global warming cancelled out a coming Frosty Chill Age, will we like the Steamy Heat Age any more than we would have liked a Frosty Chill Age? Perhaps we would have preferred the Goldilocks Age we were in till recently. If we know roughly as much as I think we know about how to force climate hotter or cooler based on light-blockage or heat retention, then I think we can predict that IF we were to get the Greenhouse Skyload back down to where it was in 1960 or so, then we would get the Earth’s heat-budget setting back down to roughly that level.

    If it can still even be done any more, it is worth doing. Otherwise, we accept the Steam Heat Age to come, and maybe the Autoclave Future after that.

  25. different clue


    The oil companies and the car companies had/have the budget, the lobbyists, the propaganda machinery to buy influence, attitudes and policy. The hippies didn’t have any of what the oil companies and the car companies have.

  26. scruff

    @different clue,

    What I think happened is that the Frosty Chillists were not “wrong”. They were overtaken by events. Carbon/NOX/methane/other-gases skydumping trapped/is trapping/will trap so much heat as to drown out the “natural cycle” cooldown.

    I am intuitively inclined to agree, but I must caution that I also think this idea may be seriously oversimplified. I cannot find it right now, but there is a particular graph I am thinking of which shows global temperature averages over the past billion years or so, and a glacial cycle (recurring ice ages) is clearly present towards the more recent time period. However, interestingly, that same graph seems to show that the regularity of the ice age cycle was “broken” before the agricultural influences would have been possible, so it may be that although we are still technically in an interglacial period, the natural cycle might be longer than one would expect from previous cycles. Still, there are confounding problems with my caution as well, one being that I am not entirely certain that the graph in question was scaled so as to accurately represent timing of cycles visually identically, another being that the earliest agricultural influence keeps getting pushed back as archaeology advances. As always, there is too much to read for anyone not getting paid to read it.

    will we like the Steamy Heat Age any more than we would have liked a Frosty Chill Age? Perhaps we would have preferred the Goldilocks Age we were in till recently.

    To the extent that I care what humans would prefer (it’s a very, very small extent), I would say that since we know we have survived an ice age previously, given the choice between hot or cold we should choose cold. The devil you know, as the saying goes. My longshot hope is that the North Atlantic current that keeps Europe warm will shut down, and resulting snow and ice buildup will increase the albedo enough to counteract the temperature increase pressure coming from the atmospheric changes, thus plunging the globe into another ice age, ending civilization and giving the biosphere a chance to continue indefinitely. Of course if this actually happens, my current home will be totally glaciated but oh well.

  27. Willy

    But the hippies were more fun. And the love was free.

    So money is the only path toward buying the hearts and minds of traditionals? Okay, maybe religion. And what mother says. I’d like to think I was never that easily influenced. Maybe I’m projecting.

  28. Brucie A.

    Mars Today – A ‘Business-As-Usual’ Model for Earth Tomorrow

    Parallels between methane explosions in the Yamal and on Mars – by Dr. David Page

    Arctic News, from April.

    These explosions on Mars and Earth, both new-to-science, offer a unique opportunity for climatic inquiry across two worlds, having already occurred on Mars and now underway on Earth. Can this ‘snapshot’ of an abrupt, mass-devolatilisation event in-progress tell us anything about current events in Siberia? There is reason to believe that the Siberian explosions are only just beginning as neither the 1000s of onshore lake depressions across the Yamal-Pangody region nor the methane-venting ‘pockmarks’ of the various Arctic sea-floors show any evidence of explosive genesis, having thermokarstic- and subsidence-origins, respectively. What Mars shows is that once a certain permafrost stability threshold is passed, either through increasing temperature or decreasing pressure, the explosive ‘reaction’ appears to cascade.

  29. Brucie A.

    While I’m at it: Great Barrier Reef headed for ‘massive death’


    The ‘Godfather of Coral’ predicts a ‘planetary catastrophe’

    “Somewhere between a quarter and a third of all marine species everywhere has some part of their life cycle in coral reefs,” he says. “So, you take out coral reefs and a third to a quarter of all marine species gets wiped out. Now that is ecological chaos, it is ecological collapse.”

  30. Mojave Wolf

    Not sure whether to put this comment here or in the creating a new paradigm post, since it’s equally relevant to both, but this post is newer so here goes:

    By coincidence, these posts appeared as I was reading Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”, which backs up in great detail and with much documentation everything Ian is saying. (I’m not sure he & Klein agree on everything, but on most of the important points, they do; likewise I disagree w/Klein on population explosion being a “distraction”, but I suppose everyone has a tribalistic bandwagon/myth they are unwilling to question)

    Among the most interesting thing I’ve read so far was the breadth and speed of Germany’s transition away from fossil fuels to wind & solar — when this came out they were apparently already at 60% renewables in a very short period of time. Of course, this took massive government action, of the sort you would reasonably expect necessary to fight an odds-against-you war for survival, rather than waiting for energy companies to do something on a pure, short-term profits motive (as Klein points out, quarterly reports and long term salvation are at odds in this crisis).

    No time right now to go into more detail on a bunch of subjects, and don’t have the book in front of me to quote, but I *highly* recommend it based on what I’ve read so far.

    As to the SW US, contributing to the climate change caused problem is another, distinct one that climate change is exacerbating but which would exist independently–water tables vs. population, lawns, golf courses and agriculture. And more recently, as Ian correctly points out, fracking, which is ruining groundwater that we’re already short of, and contributing to climate change on top of that. Nice destructive feedback cycle.

    Best reference I know of to SW US water crisis is Cadillac Desert. Written long ago, saw where we were headed, explains how we got here, and where we are going, even w/out climate change increasing the problems).

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