Betwixt and Between

32 thoughts on “Betwixt and Between”

  1. Having read Mark Reisner, Cadillac Desert, and Kuntsler I can see the migration away from the west coast of the USA increasing. People are moving now due to the high cost of living within 100 miles of the Pacific. With rise in sea level and more storms there will be more movement and conflict with the Central/Willamette Valley agriculture areas. So people will look further east into hotter and drier areas.
    I can see a time when the Bureau of Reclamation plan, from about 1950, to build a pipeline/canal from the Columbia river to Lake Mead might be revived. With all the conflict predicted more than 30 years ago.

  2. Also, Hong Kong does a cool thing with parallel water conduits — they use untreated water to run the toilets, treated water for washing. They’ve been doing this since at least the 1960s.

    1. Hong Kong has separate water lines for fresh and sea water. Sea water flushed all the toilets in the city. The fresh water is recycled for other uses. It’s a great system for a tiny city-state with no hinterland. See also: Singapore. But there are problems. Hong Kong and Singapore (also Dubai et al) are value added centers that are highly dependent on import/export economies. If international trade ever breaks down (as it did during WWII) these hyper efficient centers fail immediately. Failure in that context meant starvation and rapid depopulation.

  3. Yes, and don’t forget that Florida has a LOT more H2O per cc. of air than Israel does — all year round.
    No matter. Haven’t any of these people every heard of PIPELINES? — California has them Florida has them to bring them Natural Gas from Oklahoma and the Louisianna.

    I now see Kunstler as one of Nassim Taleb’s “Intellectual-As-Idiot”s — the guy is like the Population Bomb guy who is serially wrong but never reflects — perhaps because people with the same brain imbalance keep on enjoying his thoughts.

    Kunstler, when am I going to no longer be able to drive a car? October?

  4. Desalinated water is affordable for personal use in first-world urban areas. Miami might have to give up watering its lawns, but it could continue to exist with seawater infiltration. Armoring OTOH is not realistic on that limestone and when the floods come it will have to be abandoned. Agriculture will have to go with seawater infiltration; I don’t know how much that will damage Miami’s economy. My impression is that it’s much more tourist driven and would survive.

    So I’d say the reality in this case is in between Kunstler and Farr. That Kunstler is too alarmist is no shocker – here’s an interview where he’s predicting the breakdown of suburbia to start by 2015. He gets the direction of unsustainability right but he tends to be well off on the magnitude.

      1. Just last night I was at a boardgame group with a woman who has had several falling spells recently. The urgent care doctor said she shouldn’t drive but she can’t realistically comply (because we are in such a place), so she’s still driving around. For medical insurance reasons she hasn’t gotten a thorough workup to try to determine what is the underlying cause. Hopefully whatever is wrong with her won’t cause a crash, but that’s a grim situation to be in.

        My quite elderly stepfather was also driving around until quite recently and again, really should not have been but, again, had no choice if he wanted to have any life outside of his house. Interestingly, both these people made excuses for continuing to drive. I don’t think people want to acknowledge what a trap living in a car-dependent area can easily become.

    1. Armoring doesn’t have to involve building sea walls (which in Miami would be useless since the water would percolate up through the limestone.) But it could include reorganizing the first couple of floors of towers as indoor/outdoor lobbies that get a bit wet during special conditions. Venice, Italy manages during acqua alta. But Venice is an extraordinary place and worth the inconvenience. Hialeah? Meh.

      But if a building is close to being fully amortized and if insurance companies start to get picky with their policies, and the municipal infrastructure for sewers, electricity, and such become funky… it’s more cost effective to cut and run.

    2. Yeah — I don’t fault Kunstler so much for his timing though — I fault him for his CERTAINTY.

      Not only has the “End of Cheap Oil” been shown to be Just Not True (now, it’s “we have to stop burning oil”) — but the USA is closer to energy independence than ever — we are producing so much oil and natural gas now that we are exporting loads of both — meanwhile, the price of solar and wind are competitive with energy from just about everything as long as the price of Natural gas doesn’t get too low.

      I personally feel that Kunstlerism is a largely a product of the time he wrote GONW and wishful thinking.

      Suburbs WERE pretty soulless in those days and had been for a while. I grew up in Kunstler’s area around Albany and I knew PLENTY of older usually left-of-center type people who LOATHED bedroom suburbs (though many of them lived in 18th century farmhouses in the country and had equally long commute-times.) — they would call places like Clifton Park “Velveetaville” — and I understood, somewhat —- what I Didn’t understand was the need to define these people’s choices as “stupid” — if they borrowed too much money, sure, but you could do that to buy a townhouse in downtown Albany if you wanted to live in the desirable parts…

  5. There are “quasi-religious” arguments, and then there are explicitly religious arguments.
    Scott Pruit, several years ago, said something like “God gave us energy resources, and so we should use them to relieve the miseries of the world.” As far as I can tell, it is just as likely that “Satan put coal, oil, and gas on the earth, and God buried them deep underground to protect us from them.” From a religious perspective, I’ll call it a draw.

  6. Crap. I accidentally deleted a comment that was left (Errrg) as I was attempting to respond. FYI, Apple’s iPad doesn’t play well with WordPress.

    Okay… I think the climate is changing. And I understand the science that proves humans are contributing to the changes. So why don’t I have an opinion about it? Because we (as a species) aren’t going to do anything about it. We’re going to dig up every last sour crumb of oil, coal, and natural gas and burn it in the pursuit of economic growth. We don’t have to. But we most likely will since the political cost of curtailing energy use is a recipe for revolution. That’s true in the U.S. and it’s true in China and India and Nigeria and Brazil… So talking about climate change is pointless.

    Taking personal responsibility for your own actions is actually really hard and almost no one does it – not even the people who argue the loudest about anthropogenic climate change. “I drive a Prius” or, “I recycle” isn’t going to cut it. “I just flew to five rallies to protest air travel!” We all need to change our way of life dramatically. And I just don’t see people taking enough action to make a difference. So why have an opinion on the topic?

    I’m more interested in organizing my life in such a way as to ride out the consequences of ongoing climate change. A big part of that includes seriously insulating my home to use radically less energy – not to “save the planet” but to protect myself from future price spikes. I live in a walkable bikable town – not to reduce my carbon footprint, but to ride out international supply chain disruptions. I tend a large productive food garden and orchard – not to be organic, but to help stock a deep pantry for economic hard times. And I’ve loaded up on insurance… In a very real way I’m walking the walk more than most of the people who criticize me for not “fighting climate change.”

    1. Thanks for the reply to my (now) phantom post… I appreciate that you’re doing more than the vast majority of people to give yourself and your neighbors a more resilient life, which is why I’m a huge fan of your blog (even though I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need to respond before).

      I also think that you are probably right that the most likely scenario is that we dig up and burn every molecule of fossil fuel that we can get our hands on. But, I’m actually a lot less pessimistic than I was five years ago or so, because the economic case for fossil fuels is much less compelling than it seemed at the time. Advances in solar, wind, and battery technology means that fossil fuels no longer have a huge advantage over renewable energy.

      But the problem can’t be solved through individual virtue. If I burn a little less carbon, then at the margin the cost is a little bit cheaper, and someone else will just burn it instead of me. The only thing that will enable a switch away from fossil fuels is regulation of some kind, which is a political question. My preference would be a carbon tax, but other methods would work as well. I think that the costs of switching are small enough that this political goal is achievable, similarly to the way the world banned CFC’s in the 1980’s.

      So in that case, I think that no matter how virtuous someone is at an individual level, it is still important to be clear that this is a human caused problem, and can be solved with human actions. Because if we really do burn all the fossil fuel that we can get our hands on, the world is going to be a hellish place in a few centuries.

      1. The fundamental problem here is that neither the “drill baby drill” folks nor the “green techno alternatives” will permit business as usual to continue forever – although everyone will try everything in the short term. And the short term will extend well beyond the rest of my life.

        More extraction and burning of fossil fuels creates all sorts of funky side effects, not least the kinds of prolonged droughts, devastating floods, forest fires, famines, et cetera that disrupt entire populations, cause mass migrations, political upheavals, and war. And since it’s all indirect with no immediate cause and effect there’s no motivation for anyone to take action other than defend their own specific prerogatives.

        Solar panels, windmills, hydro, and organic farms can run a respectable civilization – just not the one we currently have. New York, London, Shanghai, Dubai, and Melbourne can only function in their present form on a steady diet of oil, natural gas, and coal with a supplement of nuclear power. Ain’t no one gonna run Houston on solar panels.

        So we’re going to keep on keepin’ on and absorb the consequences year after year. I’ve made my peace with that reality. Big fun.

        1. I’m not so glum as you, a lot of the behaviours that are causing climate problems came about in a short period, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them disappear quickly as well. I know there isn’t much will in America right now but these things go in cycles, it will change.

          Cities aren’t particularly bad on a per capita basis, it’s normal to live without a car, housing is smaller so needs less energy to heat/cool, the opportunities for sharing are better. It’s the suburbs that will struggle.

          Also it’s becoming clearer that not doing anything has a huge cost, multi-nationals and the military have already figured this out. Politicians just need to catch up.

          1. As Johnny and others have mentioned, so long as the government doesn’t interfere, insurance companies will inflict sufficient pain to change behavior too.

        2. Actually, I think Houston is far more likely to be able to be run on renewable power than those other places — less heating, abundant wind power (like Iowa), abundant solar energy.

          You ain’t ever gonna run NYC on solar panels!!

          1. There’s what “could” be done and then there’s what is more likely to unfold. Houston “could” get all or most of it’s electricity from wind, solar, etc. And the majority of the buildings could be retrofitted in all kinds of ways to reduce energy intensity. But transportation? That’s currently 99% oil based. Converting to anything else for the cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes… That’s just not going to happen. Could Houston change absolutely everything about how it does everything? Sure. Kinda like how Detroit “could” have changed everything before it crashed and burned. But it was easier for people to move away instead. Things can change, but they tend not to in the ways people expect.

            1. But, first of all, Texas leads the USA (with Iowa) in wind power:

              Couple that with solar and a lack relative lack of need for BTUs, and you can start charging electric vehicles.

              Other good places for EVs — Kansas City, Iowa, Seattle area (hydro-power)

              I really don’t think the car is going anywhere — it will change, yes — Ford is planning on making most everything (including pick-em-up trucks!) hybrid — and both they and GM are rolling out EVs with something resembling enthusiasm….

      2. It all comes down to storage. If we get batteries that are (a) cheap to use and (b) made out of abundant elements such as iron (lithium won’t cunt it, or lead – there’s just not enough available), then it’s game over for everything except solar, at least as major players. Perhaps nuclear and biofuels for shipping and air travel, respectively.

        If we don’t? Well, we can still maintain a technological civilisation, but it’s going to be a lot more austere than we’re used to, and involve more manual labour.

      3. “The only thing that will enable a switch away from fossil fuels is regulation of some kind, which is a political question.”

        If it comes down to politics, it won’t be solved.

        1. Luckily, it can come down to economics, too. Coal is already dying, even without regulation, in favor of natural gas, which releases much less CO2 when burned (although methane itself is a particularly potent greenhouse gas). Unfortunately, carbon-free nuclear is also being replaced with cheaper natural gas. My hope is for a carbon tax, not individual regulations, and then let the various energy sources duke it out fairly.

      4. I don’t think we’ll drill and mine until every last drop of oil and piece of coal has been extracted and burned. Even without any regulation, we’d only extract until it becomes prohibitively expensive compared to other options. Like any resource, we choose the easiest and cheapest option first. For instance, we had already been past ‘peak oil’ in the US until someone invented directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which lowered the price of shale oil enough to start pumping it. If renewables (or my personal preference, nuclear) become cheap enough, or if regulation drives up its price (perhaps through a carbon tax), we’ll leave the rest of it in the ground.

        1. You and I are on the same page. The two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. The “last sour crumbs” can be defined as the last remaining physical deposits or the last economically extractable resources. Same same.

    2. Dear Johnny,

      Thanks for blogging with such clarity and objectivity. You always provide lots to ponder.

      About water harvesting: From what I have seen in dry-dry-dry Far West Texas, one can indeed harvest a surprising amount of water from a roof. But to live out there requires a lot of long distance driving.

      My sense about Florida is that much will depend on what insurance companies are willing to cover. And fiscal considerations, of course.


  7. “If the climate is changing and sea level is rising (for the record, I have no particular opinion on the topic)”

    I might add if the Earth is round and people are mortal (for the record I have no particular opinion on these)…….

    1. People on all sides of the climate change debate get fired up on the topic. Personally, I think the climate has always changed and always will. It just happens so slowly that humans don’t live long enough to notice.
      If you get in to the weeds about anthropogenic climate change you’re inviting a quasi religious debate where folks cherry pick their facts (or the lack therof) to support their predetermined conclusions. So why bother arguing? Change will come and people will adapt. The floods and droughts will do all the heavy lifting when it comes to persuading people to act.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.