Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Fittest

Editor's Note: Published today to support Blog Action Day 2009 an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance. This year the theme is climate change.

Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Just how much of this planet is inhabitable? I suppose that as with so many other factoids, this bit of data is Googleable. On the other hand, it is a very sobering thought exercise to engage in as you travel. Since April, we've been traveling in the Sea of Cortez, up the Baja Peninsula, and through the American Southwest. And while much of it has been stunningly beautiful, very little of it is truly inhabitable. We are talking about a vast area stretching from La Paz to the Colorado Plateau, over to Death Valley, up through central Nevada, and all of Utah.

Of course, people do live here. Phoenix is the 12th most populous cities in the United States. Believe it. Wiki says so. There are oases of cool mountains and tree filled valleys. We tromped through ruins nearly 2,000 years old giving silent testimony to the presence of humans for millennia in these barren dry lands.

But I challenge anyone to drive across this countryside day after day without coming to the sober realization that most of the land is too dry to support and sustain life over the long haul. Communities like Hurricane and Farmington and Mesquite – booming now as snow birds flee south and subsisting on deep reservoirs of ground water built over the eons from the seepage of limited rains through thousands of feet of sandstone – these places terrify me.

What are these people thinking? The water will not last forever. It won't even last a generation. DrC just shakes his head as we drive by WalMarts and Burger Kings, Subway, Chevron, and Sonic Burger, “The shape of future ghost towns.” I can almost see the dust and sand and tumbleweeds blowing down the central street, the laundromat door creaking back and forth, a shopping cart catching the wind and rolling a few feet before banging into the wall of the empty casino.

Water is life, and there simply isn't enough to sustain the population here today let alone accommodate the vast numbers of people city planners seem hell bent in seducing down here. “Live where you vacation!” trumpets a road sign in Fredonia. “Retire in style!!” blasts another in St. George. The vivid green grass of these developments glows sharp and unnatural against the dessert background of tans, corals, pinks, and grays. People retiring from Indiana expect a lawn, those from Pennsylvania want to golf. Never mind that water falls in summer deluges to a depth of feet each year up north while these warm, sunny southern wastelands are prone to decades long droughts and the average in even a good year barely tops an inch.

Down Into the Canyon
Down Into the Canyon
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I don't expect these invaders to understand. They will recycle their cans and bottles, install low flow toilets, and call themselves environmentalists. All the cues of government, industry, and public policy encourage them in their delusional belief that they can endlessly flock down here each winter like a pack of wild birds to live harmoniously with nature during their declining years. No one is facing the harsh demographic hard stop date when the water runs out, and the land forces out all but the natives.

How many other places on our overburdened planet are like this? How many other myths are we spinning to comfort ourselves when we push into areas not meant to support our species? I see more clearly the disaster on the horizon than ever before. Even in the absence of global climate change, humans are fast approaching the tipping point. Driving across this great barren expanse, I am filled with a grinding horror at what my girls face in the coming decades. It is not enough to teach them math and science and history. We need to teach them how to survive what's coming.


Anonymous said...

What about reverse osmsois as other parts of the world are doing now to satisfy it's thirst for water. Dosen't your boat use RO? And can we tell people where and where not they can live?

Toast said...

To the first question, there are many methods to make water where there is none. Unfortunately, they frequently involve the consumption of some form of fuel -- whether it be electricity or fossil fuels. Water makers on most boats, for example, consume either generated electricity (gasoline) or action off a diesel engine. From this fairly substantial consumption of fossil fuels, boats can transform .5 gal of diesel into 30 gal of water. It works, but it's not infinitely sustainable. Very few cruisers use a form of water generation which does not involve a fossil fuel input.

This is beside the point, however. Water production requires moisture from somewhere. Where the climate is particularly arid and the humidity levels are low, water generated via reverse osmosis or dew collection or any other sustainable contraption is slow at best and an insufficient solution to the increasing demand.

To the second question, of course we can tell people where to live. We do so every day in a thousand different legal and supra-legal fashions. Zoning laws are only the most obvious method we use to influence population distribution. Public policy is a tool which could be used to discourage migration into unsustainable environments rather than the open invitation it appears to currently represent in most of these desert regions.

Let's be clear. I'm a fatalist. The barn door on "fixing the environment" is, in my depressed opinion, closed. I'm not going to demand that no one settle in the middle of the Colorado Plateau nor advocate laws to prevent anyone from doing so. I'm telling you that if you do this basically self-destructive thing, you are facing a hard stop date when the water runs out, when I stop supporting the wholesale draining of the Colorado River and other water sources in the name of fresh water for your toilet. Like the people who keep rebuilding homes in flood plains and hurricane zones, there is a finite limit to my patience with your learning curve.

protected static said...

Let's be clear. I'm a fatalist.

So by doing the whole boat thing, you're just getting a jumpstart on growing gills?

Toast said...

*laughs* Well, @protectedstatic, not sure about the gills but I swear I'm getting webbing on the feet. Does that count? or maybe my skin is just getting old and flappy... hmm.

Anonymous said...

The population Bomb myth came out in the 70's and we were told we would all be dead by now, ahem, here we are. The Man Made Climate change myth is the latest fad de jour to worry about for people with no real worries in life. What's the next myth to worry about?

Unknown said...

"What's the next Myth to worry about"

Heck that's an easy one, that swine flue or pirates will kill us all in Mexico!

Unknown said...

"What's the next Myth to worry about"

Heck that's an easy one, that swine flue or pirates will kill us all in Mexico!

Ruthless said...

Ha Ha, I think overpopulation isn't as much a problem in North America

As for climate change, here in Canada we definatly see the effects as each winter gets warmer, with less and less snow.

btw totally jealous of your southern climate atm.

Anonymous said...

The only thing constant about the earth’s climate Is CHANGE, so that fact that it’s doing what it has been doing for Millions of years isn’t something to lose sleep about people, unless the world timeline is thought to revolve around you and your life. Greenland wasn’t called Greenland for snow and ice. Now please excuse me, I have to go burn some additional fossil fuel and spew some more CO2, hey it’s Cold here!

Anonymous said...

Antarctic Sea Ice Up Over 43% Since 1980...did you know that?

Sea ice at Antarctica is up over 43% since 1980 and we hear nothing in the news, yet Arctic ice is down less than 7% and they're all over it! We've been waiting for the main stream media to pick up on the increase of Antarctic ice but so far they're been totally absent.

Read the full article at:

The truth is out there

Brian W. said...

Thank you for this thoughtful and articulate story. I agree wholeheartedly, and see that your primary points are separate from climate change but reinforced by it. Besides my heartbreak at seeing these precious and fragile places (West/SW) developed at all, it is all the worse when you consider the short time frame these people and places will have. Then again, my recognition of deep time and a 4+ billion year old earth is not an opinion shared by 40% of Americans who cling to the dark age notion that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that their "god" controls everything for the benefit of "his" chosen people. That view makes one perfectly sanguine doesn't it? Maybe we should all drink the cool aid and stop caring about the present or future?

Anyway, thanks again for your blog. I share your sense of "grinding horror" for my two boys, as much for sociopolitical futures as the likely ecological disruptions. But from this, I choose to celebrate life and wilderness with my boys at every opportunity! That's a large part of why we sail so much...

Toast said...

Brian appears to be one of the few who recognizes the basic point I'm making. This is not about a population bomb or climate change. This is about humans settling in places which are inimical to human survival, places where only the gross expenditure of non-renewable resources can sustain them. This behavior is not economically, environmentally, or socially defensible in the long run. This is not about maintaining a pure ecosystem, it's about recognizing the lie in the flood of hyperbole about our future. The lie is that we can live like this forever -- however and where ever we want. Our economic system is already adjusting our thinking on this subject. Just think of this as our environmental system sending us foreshadows of the coming credit crunch.

MoabJohn said...

Toastfloats folks, Thanks for your great postings. I'm with Brian. Great Blog Day column. I live in Moab, Utah and truly wonder where the folks in places like St. George and Mesquite think that their water and such will come from.

Glad that you came thru here and saw the natural beauty. Only wish that I could find the way to float a while off Baja, our favorite winter jaunt.

Good wishes and Thank You. Please keep writing.

svpleamar said...

Karen, thanks for introducing the subject to your audience. A couple of points:
-- The human-induced atmospheric changes are undeniable and the rates of change are unprecedented in the geologic record. Scientists are concerned about the potential for run-away warming but don't know enough to predict timing. People should do whatever they can for the sake of their progeny.
-- Agriculture consumes most of the water used in the western US (~80% in California). Considering that a lot of the crops are surplus or subsidized, it seems likely that water will continue to migrate to municipal uses in coming decades. Lawn irrigation is presently the major municipal use, and that will have to change.
-- Advances in membrane technology in the last decade have reduced the energy costs of RO watermakers, but it is still uneconomical at a large scale. (For instance, the city of Santa Barbara has an RO plant and seldom operates it because of the cost.) If the cost of municipal water continues to rise, RO will become more common.
-- I think you are training your children in how to live in a future world by living on a boat. They see everything that is necessary to live coming on board and being consumed.
We have to hope that many of our children will choose to work on these very real problems. We need more engineers and scientists and fewer lawyers and preachers.
Larry Smith

Anonymous said...

"-- The human-induced atmospheric changes are undeniable and the rates of change are unprecedented in the geologic record."

And it would also appear that the Cult of MMGW is alive and well because with "facts" like these, who needs Science!

Anonymous said...

Give up meat to save the planet

By Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor

People will need to turn vegetarian if the world is to conquer climate change, according to a leading authority on global warming.

In an interview with The Times, Lord Stern of Brentford said: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

Direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of greenhouse gases. Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas.

Lord Stern, the author of the influential 2006 Stern Review on the cost of tackling global warming, said that a successful deal at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December would lead to soaring costs for meat and other foods that generate large quantities of greenhouse gases.

He predicted that people’s attitudes would evolve until meat eating became unacceptable.

Ha ha guys are better than the 2012 fools believing the world will end due to some fake scam called MMGW. (Man Made Global Warming)

Larry Smith said...

I worked with a number of the scientists documenting the changes (Scripps, U of Arizona, US Geological Survey, NOAA, etc.), and participated in the Pacific Climate Workshop (Paclim) for more than a decade. The IPCC documents represent an unbiased concensus of the scientific community, and are consistent with the findings of the climate scientists with whom I worked. Documented physical, chemical, and biotic changes are not controversial unless you don't believe in modern science.

The effectiveness of individual energy conservation actions are ranked by David J. C. MacKay, in his book, Sustainable Energy -- Without the Hot Air, which is available for free online at

Larry Smith

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your confirmation Larry. I have worked in the pollution control and measurement field for my entire career of over 30yrs and I’m telling you as clear as crystal, MMGW (Man Made Global Warming) is the biggest scientific fraud since these SAME scientists told us we were to expect Global Cooling, or Alar was bad for apples, or than Bran Muffins were good for your health. Scientists only have the data they have and then try to fit such data into their preconceptions. Isn’t it interesting that the climate models that the IPCC sites with such authority confirming their fear of MMGW fail to accurately predict TODAY’S Climate when entered with Yesterdays Data!

It’s a Religion Folks, with measuring your carbon footprint akin to paying indulgences to the Church of Rome for your sins. The damage these alarmists are causing to the Scientific community IS A CRIME.

My PhD in Climate Science gives me a little Credibility…but not to those that worship at the fake alter of MMGW.

svpleamar said...

So please tell us who you are, and where you did your dissertation and under whom.