This rain is good news, but – really – not all that good

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It is raining and NOAA tells me that it will pretty much rain all week. Even better, it is cold – for here – so it is snowing in the Sierras. We need the rain and we need the snow even more. Living on the edge of the continent, in a semi-desert, we have based our survival strategy on storing water, as snow, in the Sierras during the winter so that we can have water for the summer.

But we are getting less snow. Here in Northern California – and Southern California, for that matter – the snow is much more important than the rain. We live on an ecological edge of a cliff; we have built our supersized Civilization on that edge. If we don’t get a deep enough snowpack, it will become very hard to maintain that Civilization. We need the snowpack not just to drink and waste in showers, but to grow food.

For a long time, we mined water from the aquifer to make up for the decreasing snow-melt, but the aquifers are going down. While our situation is not as serious – or fanciful – as Las Vegas or Phoenix, we are running out of water. The rain is great and the land is thirsty and stressed and needs the rain, but this rain is not really going to change much.

In Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond investigates several past Civilizations and their economic and social collapse. Civilizations as diverse as Easter Island, Classical Mayan, and the Greenland Norse – and I would add us – pushed their environments to the very edge of capacity and then they got slammed by ecological change that, in turn, pushed the Civilization into collapse.

It seems to me that we are still in a mindset that explains everything as if it were an exception rather than the new rule and that mindset – of everything is atypical – gives false comfort. It is easy to think that this has been the wettest start to the month of March ever for Seattle because they are getting our rain – that the same, temporary, high-pressure ridge, that is keeping California dry – but it is not our rain, it is our past weather pattern. True, it may not be our future weather pattern, but it is possible that it is. Near Seattle, the rain caused a mudflow that killed somewhere around forty people but the disaster was also caused by over-logging. It is possible that it was not over-logging based on past weather patterns – however, there is evidence that it was – but it is over-logging for what is happening this year.

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According to Diamond, that is typical; it is what happened to other Civilizations that collapsed. Those falls from grace were self created – over-farming, overgrazing, over-hunting, denuding forests, sucking aquifers dry – and, with Global Climate change and our refusal to correct for it, there is no reason to think that the result will be any different this time around.

4 thoughts on “This rain is good news, but – really – not all that good

  1. …….and the over-burning of non-renewable, global-warming fossil fuels. Diamond’s book didn’t include that because the civilizations he studied didn’t “drill-baby-drill”. At the rate we’re going, the cost of gasoline will pale in comparison with the cost of un-fracked, drinkable water. Yikes!

  2. Kirk, the good news is that the fossil fuels are non-renewable. I don’t think we will quit using them until we run out (I suspect that, when our Civilization collapses and we are living in caves, we will use coal to keep warm (although we may not need to keep warm, all we will have to do is go outside).

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