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Monday, October 25, 2010

What to do


Now for the serious post -- and then back to our regular programming. (I know, I keep saying that).

A lot of bloggers in Risa's circle, and Risa will admit she falls into this category, are like passengers on the Titanic who, having read up on icebergs in the North Atlantic, and learned a little from confidantes among the crew -- concerning rate of travel, turning radius, inertia, and visibility -- and, having some awareness of risk management (as explained to them by the insurance companies who are always raising their rates), send a little note to the Captain: "Shouldn't we -- umm -- slow down a little?"

And we're Pollyanna enough to hope that the Captain might consider this plea. But he has orders from his own 'Captains" -- the Captains of Industry: full speed ahead.

So we see that our own painstakingly acquired risk assessment is not to be taken into account. Risk assessment is supposed to lead to a decision tree, which one consults in order to take some action. If there's no action forthcoming from the authorities, perhaps we creep back to our berths and think about ways to get our hands on a life vest and maybe even a seat on one of the boats?

There are damned few of these boats, though. And if you look at China's spending patterns over the last five years, you realize the seats are being bought up fast.

Why all the interest in lifeboats?

Okay -- and here Risa is mostly cribbing from a left-leaning but usually moderately cautious statistician whom she greatly admires -- let's think about this: there's this index, called the Palmer Index, thought up in the 60s, for studying drought. +4 is very wet conditions. -4 is very dry. Charts of this usually show light yellow and light green as near normal precipitation and soil moisture for the mean climate in any given location -- it's a relative index, not absolute precipitation.

The Palmer picture of the world in the 1950s looks like this:












There were some droughts. Farmers in Nebraska and Ukraine may still remember them.

Now: Stuart Staniford, Risa's statistician, calls attention in his blog to a post by Kevin Drum on a paper by Aiguo Dai (a scientist at NCAR) that reviews all the available peer-reviewed projections of drought given the rise of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere (yes, we're harping on that again).

The concatenation of those projections paints this picture for the 2030s:













This is the wet-areas-will-get-wetter, dry-areas-will-get-dryer scenario climate scientists keep talking about. The red areas are about the same as the Dust Bowl in the U.S. in the 1930s. But see all that purple? That's a Palmer Index of -8 to -20. Worse than the Dust Bowl. In about twenty garden years. Think about how many people live in those areas now.

For those who are young yet, here's the Palmer chart for fifty years out:













Think about how many people live in those areas now.

For those of us still interested in voting for Tea Party-type candidates, remember that nearly every one of those denies there is any truth in any of this whatever -- it's a "scam" by a "conspiracy" that wants your money and to return you to the good old days of Stalin. So to forestall Mr. Stalin they are all about "Full Speed Ahead" on our version of the Titanic.

But that seems to be true no matter who's in charge; as our world comes up against its limits, and our economic well-being is increasingly tied to borrowings that will never be repaid, risk assessment becomes social capital we no longer have -- a luxury. We mostly don't fix the dikes, even after a Katrina, because we don't see how we can afford it.

So everyone's life is now being placed on the line, based on the older risk assessments that were formulated under the conditions that prevailed in the 1950s.

Meditate on the first chart above, then the other two, again.

The projections, remember, are not worst-case.

They are an average of available projections -- the kind real insurance companies use. Iceberg right ahead.

So, uhh, what to do now?

Answer: not so much.

Dmitri Orlov has just posted on what kind of social order is likely to arise under such conditions. Here's a preview.

Nicaragua, 1979

Survivalists start their spiel here, and talk about "bug-out-bags" and "retreats" -- but those aren't really likely to be seats in the lifeboat, long term. Not with that much purple on the Palmer. Ultimately, all the successful testosterone-y survivalists will be on Toyotas. For however long that lasts.


For the rest of us, there will be two options: 1. Go back to the house and say our tearful goodbyes. 2. Go back to the house and Get to know the neighbors.

Risa likes the second one, though she admits she's been shilly-shallying. What she's doing in the meantime is learning how to adapt her water-conserving and food-raising habits to the already changing conditions. If she turns out to be good at it, she might have something to offer the neighborhood.

Oh, come on, the reader might say -- lame.

Well, maybe, but it beats riding the Toyota (she has a bad back) or trying to reach Canada (at her age?) or spending the remainder of her days watching record hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods on Fox News (and listening to the worse-than-inane commentary: "this is all Obama's fault"). When not adapting, she can (while circumstances allow) always play a few board games or pour some mint tea for a friend. Until, maybe, her kidneys blow out. Which, maybe, was next anyway, yes?

You there, in the far back, behind the sleepers snoring in the twelfth row -- you had a question? Louder, please -- very deaf. Oh -- about that adapting?

Okay, assume enough stability that you get to grow some things and harvest them. Kindest thing to do while waiting for a killer drought -- for yourself and others.

There's a read she can recommend so that you can make the fewest mistakes in pursuit of this commendable "adapting" goal: The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times.

Carol Deppe, the author, basically makes the case for attention, in most (formerly?) "temperate" climes, to five crops: Potatoes. Ducks. The Three Sisters -- Squash (winter), Beans, and Corn.

Get out of debt. Stay out of debt. Move, if necessary, to where you can do these things. Locate water. Double up, if necessary. It's not just selfish behavior. By doing this you reduce the burden on others elsewhere. Right now, for example, in Risa's county, an agricultural county in one of the richest valleys in the world, we're a quarter of a million producing about five per cent of the food we consume. So everyone who starts a potato patch is helping everyone else -- not just themselves.

Can't move? There's another way to approach this, and it doesn't depend on getting in line for a tiny plot in the community gardens.

Aaron Newton, an "edible landscape" designer who writes books with adaptation maven Sharon Astyk, wrote, back in March, my favorite all-time blog post. In it he talks about his neighborhood, showing first a map with only his own place marked in red.
I started by going across the street and asking my elderly neighbor if I could garden in her backyard. Then I recruited Eric who grows food in his backyard and is transitioning into a career as a farmer. Next I was able to start a garden in the backyard of the rental house next door to my property. It was part of a bartering arrangement whereby the landlord agreed to take down a few dying trees and in return I now grow food on her property. All of these active gardens are shown in dark green.

The green bits expand over time and several iterations of the map. Great, you say -- only not everyone has either a strong back or land they want to turn into a garden.

But! Everyone likes to eat.


Blue is those who would like to buy the produce. Orange is those who would be willing to contribute compost (grass clippings, for example). Perhaps we need purple -- for the Toyota that might just be willing to trade protection for our diligence in farming?

http://www.cinecultist.com/archives/big_SevenSamurai.jpg

Ok, so maybe we lost some of you there. But the rest ... got it now? This -- small farming, smaller farming, or even smaller farming -- or any neighborhood-based trade to trade for the produce of such farms -- is what to do.

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