Welcome William deBuys (WilliamdeBuys.com) and Host, Brad Johnson (Think Progress)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest

William DeBuys’ A Great Aridness is a love song and keening lament for the American Southwest in our era of man-made climate change. He manages to capture the romantic allure and the scientific observations of the desert, transcending both perspectives in a fiercely living narrative. His search for wisdom takes him from reservations to mountaintops, from university halls to boom-and-bust exurbs.

“There’s nothing that looks good for the Southwest, I’ll tell you that,” Debuys quotes Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona.

“What’s going to happen to the West can be summed up in three things: fire, dead trees, and dust,” Dave Breshears, professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Arizona, tells the author.

The Southwest is a land of growing population already stretching the limits of water resources, and climate change models are practically unanimous that the region will grow much hotter and drier as the planet warms and rainfall patterns change. But that picture of an arid landscape tipping into desert hides great complexities.

A Great Aridness is a master class in narrative, leaping nimbly from moments that capture the region’s colorful history to clear descriptions of how the transformation of our climate by the unlimited burning of fossil fuels is shaping our future:

The prospect of bigger, more violent storms coupled with increased effective aridity is part of the bundle of effects predicted for the Southwest as a result of climate change. . . .

Notably, the interdependence of energy and water assures that the droughts of the future will sorely limit the availability not only of water, but also of kilowatts. Future brownouts in people’s lawns will likely be mirrored—with far more consequence—in the regional electrical grid.

DeBuys contrasts the coherent picture he builds of a complex, interconnected ecosystem in which man plays a crucial role with the simplistic, blindered perspective most people use to try to address problems.

Climate change is not a ramp. Its increments will not necessarily be linear and smooth. More often than not, its effects will be choppy and chaotic. If the cycles of algae and shrimp, or a plant and its pollinator, fall out of phase, if the cues for mating, migration, molting, feeding young, or some other essential function “decouple” from the timing of phenomena vital to the activity’s success, a cascade of negative effects can ensue. Under such pressure, systems can and will collapse.

The uncertainty about the future lies less in the climatic trends — the Southwest will get significantly hotter and drier — than in how its people respond.

“History has shown repeatedly that famines result as much from warfare as from lack of rain, and that wars are often the spawn of environmental stress,” he writes.

DeBuys doesn’t mince words, finding little reason for confidence in the wisdom of our collective decision-making in our present track record. “If one were to write a survey of all the instances in the history of civilization when societies accepted difficult medicine in order to spare their descendants worse pain in the future, it would make a very short book,” he writes.

Present-day decision makers don’t seem to have learned that lesson. “Las Vegas, a city built on odds-making and risk-taking, is betting the moon on its water projects, even though its billfold is suddenly slim.”

Instead of facile hope or nihilistic despair, however, DeBuys describes the responsibility we share to build resilience through a mature acceptance of reality. To survive the wind and fire of climate change, DeBuys writes, we need to do what we should have been doing all along:

In a way, our decisions for the future should be the same, no matter whether we are a few years inside a megadrought or lucky enough to have decades of relative abundance ahead of us. Deep, crushing cycles of drought are part of the natural history of the Southwest and, for all practical purposes, they always have been. Building resilience against drought into the region’s water systems and cultural practices would be a wise course, irrespective of the cause or timing of the next emergency. Perhaps the dangers now arising from anthropogenic climate change will goad us into doing the things we should have been doing all along.

“Growth must be limited; the train must be stopped,” DeBuys warns. “But who is willing to stand on the tracks and flag it down? The economy of the region is predicated on continuous growth. Conversion to a new paradigm will require revolutionary economic change. In all likelihood such change won’t come until the train runs out of track. And—although saying so causes the metaphor to melt from sight—the track won’t end until the water does.”

“There is only the age-old duty to extend kindness to other beings, to work together and with discipline on common challenges, and to learn to live in the marvelous aridlands without further spoiling them,” DeBuys concludes.

Part cowboy poem, part analytical travelogue, A Great Aridness communicates through silences — the inhuman vistas of Arizona desert, the secrets of disappeared Native American civilizations hewn into New Mexico rock, the uncomfortable pauses of scientists asked what climate change models foretell, and the uncomplaining resilience of the people who have embraced the harsh beauty of the Southwest and look unflinchingly to an even harsher future.

128 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes William deBuys, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest”

BevW April 8th, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Bill, Brad, Welcome to the Lake.

Brad, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Thank you, Bev. It is great to be with you,
and thank you, Brad, for the wonderful intro post.

dakine01 April 8th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Bill and Brad and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Bill, I have not read your book but have been noticing a number of ‘scarce water’ type news stories these last few weeks.

I keep wondering if lack of viable water sources around the globe isn’t the most immediate affect of climate change.

Is the southwest in drought right now? Are there places in the southwest (mountain ares) that are maybe getting more precipitation than in past years?

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

William’s book is a great read. Welcome everyone!

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

i am so thrilled that bev took my suggestion to have bill on discussing his wonderful and sobering book, A Great Aridness.

apologies in advance for typos – my arm’s in a cast with a broken wrist and typing one-handed isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:05 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

things are spotty but overall this has been a fairly decent winter for water, still below recent averages, but, hey, if the peaks are white, people are happy. Where i live, we had a full foot of snow just 6 days ago. The crunch will come if temps stay high and the snowpack vanishes fast.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:05 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 4

So glad to be here with you, in the ether, anyway.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

welcome bill and brad. and thaks, brad, for the great intro.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 5

So sorry you have a hitch in your tickler. hope you mend fast.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Bill — Why do you think there’s a disconnect between the evident wisdom, passion, respect for history and care for the future from the people you profile in your book and the seeming lack of concern from society writ large?

Margot April 8th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Bill, I’m from New Mexico originally. I’m now in Ohio. What do my remaining NM family and friends have to look forward to? Xeroscaping is a long-accepted fact of life with them, but how about air-conditioning? Will there be brownouts? (I’ve got to read your book.)

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:09 pm

after last summer’s fires in nm and central tx (where i live), i can’t help but think that what you’ve written will also apply to texas. what do you think?

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 9

thank you. i hope so too.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:11 pm

There are so many reasons. some psychologists will say that human beings are cognitively ill-equipped to deal with a slow-developing challenge like climate change. Then there is the tragedy that the climate change debate has been swept into the American culture wars. And there is also good old inertia–that give a chance to avoid change, people will take it. But all in all it adds up to a profound tragedy, especially for the generations who come after us.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Bill, what struck you the most about the immense amount of research you did for A Great Aridness?

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to Margot @ 11

the connection between higher temps, power demand and water availability is the most under-reported part of the overall story… I think eventually heat waves will bring on “complexity crises” in which various systems simply break down. Brownouts will be part of that.

Kelly Canfield April 8th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I’ve been waiting all week for this Salon! Haven’t bought the book yet, but plan to soon.

Bill – have you been following the Colorado water tables for this season? 98% of the state is forecasted to have drought conditions this year, and that ripples through out the SW ecosystem, particularly the CO River basin.

I think this might be the year for some devastating and overdue fires due to the beetle killed trees in Summit County and other CO Mountain counties.

Thoughts?

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 15

Great question!

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:16 pm

thanks for the genius of including so many regional maps for the different areas you describe. It made it so much easier to understand the issues you were discussing.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 15

always the most striking think was the enthusiasm of the scientist i spoke with for their work, contrasted with their deep pessimism about how bad things are likely to get. It brings to mind Scott Fitzgerald’s famous comment about a 1st class mind: the two contradictory ideas he was trying to hold in his mind was the hopelessness of the future, but the necessity of acting as though hope were there.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 17

A followup — in the midst of the drought, hydrofrackers are actually outbidding farmers for water access at public auctions… http://thinkprogress.org/green/2012/04/05/458478/frackers-outbid-farmers-for-water-in-colorado-drought/

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Bill, greetings. Care to comment on the business-as-usual approach of the federal land and water management agencies in the West, with no apparent regard for the (clear to some) changes afoot? Particularly the renewal of the Peabody Coal Black Mesa Mine and its awful water waste, 3,000 fracking wells and counting in 4-corners, with lots of bad production water going where(?), continued grazing of public lands at old stocking rates which almost assures soil and vegetation loss…

We just saw, in NM, an AZ-like attempt to tie up groundwater for interbasin transfer, the state Engineer killed that (Datil Wells).

At times, the state looks wiser than the feds. When will there be leadership for new Federal Agency view? Of course when the water runs out…

BooRadley April 8th, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Bill, Brad, thank for coming.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 17

two things: first that the snowy winter last year bailed out Lake Mead with a nice increase, so the crisis in Colo River water wont some right away, but second, that the disaster of beetle kill in Colorado is likely to generate the mother of all wildfires pretty soon. Could happen any time.

Kelly Canfield April 8th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 21

You beat me to it!

Lorraine Watkins April 8th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

But all in all it adds up to a profound tragedy, especially for the generations who come after us.

I fear you are correct. I am a Dust Bowl baby and still have the lungs to prove it. I grew up with the knowledge that man is capable of doing great harm to his necessary living space. Somehow I have expected our nation at the least to have learned from that. We have not.

Though I have an understanding of average not so well educated in science will just go along trusting the system. But it is truly beyond me still the mindset of those in the energy industries who should know better and who stand to lose along with the rest of us. Yet they have pouring enormous sums of money into obscuring facts. It worked to corporate short term advantage for lead and asbestos and coal dust and any number of “small kill” chemicals. I guess they just expect some kind of technology will come around and rescue the planet.

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

And they threw that guy in jail when he bid on public grazing leases and won. Different rules for the favored corporations…

Tammany Tiger April 8th, 2012 at 2:21 pm

William, I really enjoyed your book (ironically, I read it while Michigan was having an unprecedented streak of 80-degree days in March).

In his book Climate Wars, Gwynne Dyer described a scenario that might unfold in the Southwest 20 years from now. Global warming causes agriculture to collapse in Mexico and Central America, a flood of refugees heads north, and the U.S. adopts a shoot-to-kill policy toward illegal immigrants. What are the chances of this happening?

hpschd April 8th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

I am in Canada. I wonder how long it will take before they build pipelines from Canada to the SW US to carry *water*.

Do you address the issue of water wars and water commodification?

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to pajarito @ 22

No we really cant wait for leadership from the feds. The poor Forest Service is not just the Fire Service. Years of gutting the agencies leaves them in a mainly reactive state, just handling crises. The leadership really needs to come bottom-up; it’s pretty much the only hope, i think.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:22 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 24

We’re already seeing a very early and aggressive start to the wildfire season. http://thinkprogress.org/green/2012/03/21/448988/winter-that-wasnt-fuels-deadly-wildfires/

One of the most powerful lessons of Bill’s book is the idea that “drought” is something of a misnomer, since it implies less humidity than the norm — but global warming means that we’re headed to a drier norm in the Southwest.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:22 pm
In response to pajarito @ 27

i think you are thinking of Tim deChristopher; he bid on gas drilling leases. He’s a hero.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

have i said yet how much i absolutely love this book? just enough science to understand what’s happening in language that makes you want to keep reading. plus storytelling about the people involved.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 31

Exactly: we are headed to a new “climatology,” a downshift to a much more arid version of “normal.”

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

grazing meant oil

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 33

Many thanks. it was my hope to have the book be a positive, enjoyable reading experience, even if the subject matter was gloomy.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to hpschd @ 29

Is the scale of climate change in the Southwest just too great for our institutions — political systems, legal systems, engineering, etc. — to grapple with honestly? You talked with Brad Udall. Do you know if the Udalls in the Senate are working on this?

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to hpschd @ 29

Water issues are a big part of the book, including the idea of bailing out the SW with “augmentation”–big imports of water from elsewhere. This has long been the dream, but practically speaking, the possibilities grow smaller and smaller, as people everywhere come to their senses about costs, energy budgets, and environmental impacts.

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I think young people coming up are interested and aware, want to change the status quo. However the federal land/water management agencies are still locked into the exploit era of the past. Deck is stacked, alas. And lobbyists own these agencies.

Tammany Tiger April 8th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 33

The author also did a great job of weaving the Southwest’s history into his book. For example, most people in the eastern U.S. know very little about the complex politics surrounding the Colorado River and its water.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

can you talk about how over allocation of the colorado river came about and how warming will affect the allocation?

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 37

The Udall cousins are well aware of these issues–i personally give a copy of the book to Tom–but as you suggest the problems are not susceptible of silver-bullet solutions. In this respect (and others) water politics are much like climate change politics. We really have to change our expectations and ways of doing things, and that’s the toughest thing of all for a society to do.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 41

the lower basin of the Colorado (CA, AZ, and NV) are looking at a stack of game changers, none very good:
present overuse to the tune of 1.3-1.4 million acre feet
possible return to long term average flow
upper basin development
And climate change will reduce surface flows on top of everything else, speeding the arrival of crises, when they come

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 40

the chapter on colo river water law and politics nearly did me in. I took to my bed when i finished it!

Kelly Canfield April 8th, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 41

The effects are amazing over the years. We moved to Phoenix when I was a little kid, and I graduated high school there over 30 years ago.

I have spent numerous, numerous hours on that river, in every major chunk of it, from Grand Lake, Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon and particularly the last continuous part of it from Bullhead City all the way to the Sea of Cortez.

And the river doesn’t, usually, flow all the way there anymore. It used to be a rich system down there, very reedy, lots of blue gill and crappi to fish.

No more. And that’s in a period of about 35 years. I can’t imagine what it will be like 35 years hence.

BevW April 8th, 2012 at 2:35 pm

I grew up in northern California and have experienced the tensions between the SF bay area and the LA area on the water distribution. LA can out vote the rest of the state on water regulations/distribution. LA has taken a large portion of the Colorado River and the northern CA water. I now see this tension playing out between states in the future.

Your thoughts…

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:37 pm

My understanding is that, if we seriously address greenhouse pollution starting now, we can have a Southwest landscape of the future that resembles that of northern Mexico of the past. That means that at the local level, that’s what people of the region should be designing towards. One problem, of course, is that the level of human habitation and agriculture that northern Mexico used to sustain is inevitably in long-term decline, which means that immigration pressures will continue to increase.

In my opinion, one of the first steps to surviving change in the Southwest is — as Bill gets at in the conclusion of his book — recognizing that we can’t survive if we refuse to help our neighbors.

People like me on the outside (though I have family in Tucson) understand that the Southwest is famously a place for individualists and loners. But is there also a tradition of community?

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:37 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 45

the colorado delta is a magnificent but tragic place. i wrote about it in another book, Salt Dreams. There is nowhere with more potential for ecological rehabilitation, however. Just add water.

hpschd April 8th, 2012 at 2:37 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 38

I am concerned that water will become a commodity under NAFTA and once that happens, there will be only limited control over the export of vast quantities of water from Canada.

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 43

That and the period of the Colo. River allocation to compact members was one of the wettest periods in the known history of the river. I think that was shown by Tree Ring Lab at U of A. Swetnam, et al.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:39 pm
In response to BevW @ 46

North and south CA will be a big drama, but perhaps even bigger will be CA vs Arizona, whose key water rights are junior to California’s.
Another area to watch is agriculture vs urban, everywhere. AG still uses c. 75% or so of all surface water.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 43

my understanding from the book is that historically the upper basin (wyoming, utah, colorado) hasn’t been using all they’ve been allocated. that has, up until now allowed the lower basin (arizona, nevada, california) to overuse.

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 48

Bill, we should talk about my days at Reclamation in Yuma, and the delta issue.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 47

the SW’s sense of community was part of what made john wesley powell think the region could set an example for the rest of the country: communalism of Mormons, new mexico hispanos, and most of the tribes. Afraid that corporations and the zeitgeist have stomped all over that, though. Time for a renaissance.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 45

it must really sadden you to have seen such an abrupt change in such a short time.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 52

Exactly right. and the lower basin let itself become dependent on flows it had no right to, which now are at an end. Recipe for trouble.

Margot April 8th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 42

That reminds me of people from out of state who just didn’t think a yard looked right without an expanse of grassy lawn.
You want a lawn, go to a park. It just isn’t necessary or feasible for every house to have one.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 56

there is no shortage of things to be sad about, but i like to say i am an intellectual pessimist but a neurochemical optimist:
The future looks grim, but the sunrise, every sunrise, is beautiful.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 55

Although there are Mormons who accept the science of climate change — like climatologist Barry Bickmore and the contributors to LDS Earth Stewardship — there doesn’t seem to be much if any leadership from the church to deal responsibly with the issue. Certainly Mitt Romney’s embrace of the far-right fossil-fuel interests that have a stranglehold on the Republican Party does not bode well. As Bill says, it’s likely that leadership is going to have to come from the grassroots.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to Margot @ 58

that’s right but it is changing. The S Nevada Water Auth and other utilities have successfully paid their customers millions to pull up their lawns. Tricky thing is, when drought comes, if everybody has pared back as much as they can, there’s no flex in the system, no savings that can be easily made. It’s called “demand hardening.” Hard to finesse.

Kelly Canfield April 8th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 56

It’s really unbelievable.

There’s a weee bit of estuary on the north and east to Isla Montague, and it was very striking, like the Nile Delta maybe? Because you could see the Sonora coming right to the edge of the river, but this jewel of an estuary behind you.

It was just dried cracked mud and smelly for huge areas, which there was always a little, but now big giant swaths of that condition.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 60

Yes and the Mormon church is today as ossified as any institution you can name.

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 57

I’ll have to get your Salt Dreams book. Wasn’t long ago that Reclamation was up to some real slight of hand to allow Las Vegas to take more water in a deal with Metropolitan Water District (L.A.). Shorted was the river and the delta, even more. See All American Reservoir….and related actions.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to Margot @ 58

astonishingly enough, we were in severe drought in central texas last summer and still allowed to water our lawns. in their texas brilliance, they’ll cut off the rice farmers (growing food) before they cut off the lawns.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 62

one of the best natural areas down there is santa clara cienega, which is sustained by saline waste flows from the US, and those flows are in the crosshairs of some who want to clean up the water and use it in the US

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 65

A propos of texas, the drought last summer killed 2 to 10% of all trees in the state over 5″ in diameter, says the state forest division…. this is apart from fires…. if drought continues, cumulative effect this summer could be quite spectacular

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 59

There was a great passage in Taylor Branch’s biography of Martin Luther King (2nd volume, Pillar of Fire) that talks about how to deal with inexplicable calamity without falling into nihilistic despair or depending on false hope:

What brought King and Heschel together was a prescription for the dilemma that plagued the Chicago conference. Most of the delegates searched for ways to overcome a stubborn avoidance of race in religious discourse. To break such a barrier, nearly all the theologians felt the need for a calming approach that labeled racial prejudice a feeble anachronism, a holdover of premodern irrationality, but this very impulse to soothe and minimize opened them to charges of false engagement from realists such as Stringfellow and Campbell. Yet, the realists’ tinge of fatalism reminded Heschel of a ghostly legacy from the Jewish past — the defiant urge to abandon hope of any divine presence in the face of inexplicable calamity . . .

As proof that human beings could engage the most deadening crises without falling into either of the classic polar traps — nihilism or blandness — Heschel held up the ideal of the Hebrew prohpets. While facing, even welcoming, the destruction of themselves and their own people, the prophets remained suffused with redemptive purpose. Far from soaring off in to saccharine self-persuasion, however, they made biting symbols out of daily pains and predicaments. “Moralists of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue,” wrote Heschel. “The distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression…”

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:52 pm

can you expand on what part drought played in the collapse of the ancient pueblos?

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Comment on the project to pipe groundwater from Northern Nevada and neighboring states to Las Vegas. Aided and abetted by Congress, and directions to the public agencies. Water flows up hill to money.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to pajarito @ 64

it’s kind of a case of nature abhorring a vaccuum…. any water, anywhere in the SW becomes essential to someone or some thing, so that when the big interests pursue efficiencies, someone else loses.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 68

beautiful passage. in many religions, the greatest, most unforgivable sin, is the sin of despair.
Best lecture i have hear in my life was by Taylor Branch on why MLK should be considered a founding father of the US.

tuezday April 8th, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 65

We aren’t even allowed to properly irrigate a lawn in central Florida, due to drought. Hence I have no lawn. Can’t believe Texas allows such watering.

pajarito April 8th, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 71

Happens when only the market dollar value is considered. Ecological, social and cultural values go out the window. Markets abhor a vacuum, nature has use for it…

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 67

i also really resent it that we allocate so much of our water to our nuclear power plants. we need that clean water more than we need nukes making it radioactive.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to pajarito @ 70

Well, that’s it exactly: water flowing uphill to money. It’s a grab, pure and simple, but the Golden Rule is in effect: He that has the gold, rules.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

A practical suggestion for people in the region — run for local office! There are too many Tea Partiers who were mobilized by Glenn Beck to seize local positions, and fueled by the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, they’re trying to dismantle local systems that allow for community control of resources and planning. They’re so afraid someone’s going to take away their exurban golf-course retirement communities that they’re actually accelerating their destruction!

seaglass April 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

How much of the Colorado goes to LA these days?

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 69

the big lesson for me about the ancestral puebloans is that they worked very successfully with drought, except or until social strife broke them down.

When war accompanied drought, civilizations collapsed. When it was drought alone, people pretty much found ways to tough it out.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 77

Good point!

We’ve got to get more voices out there, challenging the magical thinking of the ideologues.

wbgonne April 8th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 30

Thank you for your work and for being here. Would you please expound on this statement?

No we really cant wait for leadership from the feds. The poor Forest Service is not just the Fire Service. Years of gutting the agencies leaves them in a mainly reactive state, just handling crises. The leadership really needs to come bottom-up; it’s pretty much the only hope, i think.

Specifically, what do you think of the Obama Administration’s environmental policies?

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to seaglass @ 78

Interestingly, very little of the Colo goes to LA itself, but the Colo river aqueduct carries, as i recall, 800,000 acre feet or so to the communities of s Cal, including the other municipalities w/in the LA basin.
LA’s water is older: mostly from the LA Aqueduct (per Chinatown, the film) and the California aqueduct.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 80

I nominate William deBuys…

norecovery April 8th, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I lived in Arizona for many years, and recently I escaped back to SoCal. There’s probably as much climate change denial there as anywhere. A friend of mine thinks people in AZ have “baked brain” syndrome making them so “conservative” in the political sense, and I have to agree with him. As conditions continue to get hotter, drier, and more turbulent, doesn’t it look like AZ (and other Southwest) residents will increasingly exhibit “baked brains”, so they will continue their denial in spite of all the science? It may sound crazy, but I think it’s real — after all, we see the same symptoms (CC denial and pol cons) throughout the South.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to wbgonne @ 81

Well, i miswrote in what you quoted: meant to say the FS is today not much more than the Fire Service. I does very little that is proactive.
And as to budgets, the agencies have been cut and cut (from Bush One onward) to such a degree that they are hard pressed to handle day to day routine business.
Western lands have obviously not been a priority of the present administration, although Salazar has done a good job of avoiding collisions that would be costly politically–I think that was his main task, from the point of view of the White House.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 83

But i will not serve! :)

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to norecovery @ 84

Denial is a very human response to the climate crisis — it’s extremely hard to face the truth that we have poisoned the future, so it’s no surprise that people rush to accept the false comfort offered by the “large cast of senatorial ideologues, right-wing bloviators, and modern-day Iagos lobbying for Big Coal and Big Oil” that Bill so eloquently describes.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to norecovery @ 84

Actually i have a lot more hope for SoCal than Ariz. Just have been both places, and in LA encountered a lot of creativity, energy, and awareness. Meanwhile the scene in Phoenix is deplorable on so many levels. The recession gave urban arizona a last chance to change its ways of using land and water. the chance has been passed up.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 85

Unfortunately, I expect Salazar’s legacy, notwithstanding his work to accelerate the development of renewable projects, will be that of continued expansion of fossil-fuel drilling and thus increased carbon pollution. There’s still a little time to forestall Shell’s exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea, though as each week goes by it’s looking like it’s going to get final approval.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 87

Speaking of Big Oil a very good article in the current New Yorker explores Exxon-Mobil’s approach to CC. They’ve actually expressed support for a carbon tax. Wont happen so i guess it is safe to do so, but they’ve ceased funding the CC denial shops.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 89

Completely agree.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 90

Unfortunately, that’s not true. Exxon Mobil has a clear record of funding deniers even after it claims to have stopped. http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/news-and-blogs/campaign-blog/exxon-continued-to-fund-climate-denial-in-200/blog/26100/

And Exxon Mobil is actually funding more powerful climate deniers than it used to, like the Republican Party and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Margot April 8th, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 61

I didn’t see this response, sorry. This does sound very bleak.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:17 pm

One of the enjoyable things I learned from the book is about the phenomena of Hadley cells. As the earth heats, the tropics also heat sending up warmer air into the atmosphere. when the air rises high enough it cools, releasing rain. the dry air then moves at altitude to the subtropics and drops its dry air there in places like the sahara, the southwest, the kalihari and the australian outback. as warming increases, these cells are apparently getting bigger giving us more aridity further north. there are exceptions in places where there are oceans to the east, like florida.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to Brad Johnson @ 92

point taken. i didnt mean to suggest they’ve put on angel wings, but, in the words of the article, they’ve finally left the 19th century for the 20th. Trouble is the world is in the 21st.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 94

further north in the northern hemisphere and further south in the southern hemisphere.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 94

the more you learn about the natural history of the planet, the more you realize what a marvelous and serendipitously Goldilocks place it is: not too hot, not too cold, just right. CC is the big challenge to that: we’re moving outside the range of natural climate variability of the late Holocene, which is the only period human civilization has know. The Anthropocene is upon us. Looks like a rough ride.

Let’s see if this will paste in (the article referenced is a free download, just google the title) very important summary of new work:
Perceptions of Climate Change: The New Climate Dice
James Hansena1, Makiko Satoa, Reto Ruedyb
aNASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute, bSigma Space Partners, New York, NY 10025
“Climate dice”, describing the chance of unusually warm or cool seasons relative to climatology, have become progressively “loaded” in the past 30 years, coincident with rapid global warming. The distribution of seasonal mean temperature anomalies has shifted toward higher temperatures and the range of anomalies has increased. An important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (σ) warmer than climatology. This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface in the period of climatology, now typically covers about 10% of the land area. We conclude that extreme heat waves, such as that in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010, were “caused” by global warming, because their likelihood was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming. We discuss practical implications of this substantial, growing climate change.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to William deBuys @ 97

What i hamhandedly pasted in is the title and abstract of new work by James Hansen of NASA.
In it he says the recent drought in TX, for instance, is the result of climate change. Until now, he has pretty much only said if CC is happening, this is what we’d expect. Now he has the data and statistics to establish causality.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

the beauty of nature takes my breath away. and the southwest is a particular treasure. my first experience of the southwest was a sierra club trip to bryce and zion. i’ve since been to sedona and hiked down to the bottom of the grand canyon. most recently my brother takes me on excursions to some of the pueblos when i visit him in santa fe. i love that part of our world.

Brad Johnson April 8th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I want to thank everyone, especially Bill, for joining this book salon! I hope it’s given everyone a taste of how good A Great Aridness is.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

i also enjoyed the section on keeling’s accidental discovery that CO2 has been increasing and that the result is trapping the heat.

BevW April 8th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Bill, we discuss the CC effects in the Northern US – but will the severity be the same south of the equator? Will the southern hemispheres be hit harder?

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 99

I agree. So many places (all of them, from a certain point of view) are almost heartbreakingly beautiful, and it’s that beauty, and the duty of protecting it, that provides purpose to so much that is worth doing, even as we know that as places change, our hearts will break.
Some say, we should not fight the pain and the breaking: it just leaves our hearts more open.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to BevW @ 102

Good question. It’s tricky. Australia, which is one of the places where the southern Hadley cell descends is experiencing big impacts, but one of the things in the s hemisphere’s favor is that it has much more ocean, and therefore more potential moderating effects than the land-heavy north. But still trickier is what kind of non-linear changes might manifest in the oceans: if any of the big currents shift, the cascade of effects will be colossal.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 101

yes, i was blown away by his discovery of atmospheric CO2 waxing and waning with the seasons: a kind of respiration of the planet.
In january i visited the sampling site on mauna loa… current CO2 was 392 ppm. When Keeling started in 1958, it was 315 ppm.

BevW April 8th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Do you cover the history of Mono Lake in your book, the boom and bust of a “planned community?

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

probably misquoting che guevera: leaving our hearts open in hell.

Kelly Canfield April 8th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

I understand the Zen of that, but, you know it’s not very easy to observe.

I remember distinctly the first summer the Eisenhower Tunnel opened up here in CO, 1973, and the view when you came into the Summit County side was unbelievably beautiful. It was like you dropped into Switzerland.

And it’s still pretty, but unbelievably heartbreaking as the whole South Side of the range/bowl when you pass through the tunnel is dead trees. Dead. Just brown and waiting to flame out.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

it’s astonishing! i love your simple graph of the seasonal fluctuations and the over arching curve up up up.

tuezday April 8th, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Are the currents expected to shift with CC or will we humans be long gone before they do?

Also, haven’t they shifted a little, at least temporarily. Last summer all the hurricanes bounced off the NE and went to England and Ireland. We haven’t had a good hurricane in 6 years. Now mind you, I live in central Florida and don’t have much use for them, but I am well aware that the SE US depends on them for water.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to BevW @ 106

I devote a chapter to development issues in the Phoenix-Tucson corridor, and one of the starting points is a gated community (one of my favorite oxymorons). I dont know if that qualifies as “planned.”
About Mono, it is not in the book, but is a very interesting story in its own right, as it very slowly refills. The future of that refilling is jeopardized forecasted future years of low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, but LA Power and Water has made a pretty big commitment to bring it back.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

in the greenbelt behind my house, many cedars have died. these are the kind of trees that explode when they burn. with warming and last year’s fires nearby fresh in my mind, i am very apprehensive for my home.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Yeah, none of it is easy, a very hard yoga indeed. I dont know what i will do if/when my country burns. It is a bad time to be a big old tree in the SW.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:51 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 112

For what it is worth, my biggest project at home is fire defense for my house. Very impt for all of us to have that defensible space, if we live where there are fuels.

BevW April 8th, 2012 at 3:51 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Bill, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the climate change effecting all of us.

Brad, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Bill’s website (WilliamdeBuys.com) and book (A Great Aridness)

Brad’s website (Think Progress)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you want to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to tuezday @ 110

I dont know the answers to those questions… and i am not sure anybody really has a handle on what the big currents are likely to do, under what conditions. The drivers behind the circulation of the oceans, currents like the Gulf Stream, are not well understood. The patterns are well know, but what controls them is somewhat a mystery.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to BevW @ 115

Thanks for having me. Really enjoyed it!

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

agree, i’ve been working on that too. even had installed a sprinkler on my roof. grab photos and credit cards, turn on sprinkler, get out.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

thanks for the wonderful book. and for getting out of bed after the colorado compact chapter to finish it!

Kelly Canfield April 8th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Thanks for being here! Was a great chat.

Kelly Canfield April 8th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Oh and always THANKS TO BEV! She rocks, you know. :)

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Yes, thanks to all of you. Great questions, a great group.

greenwarrior April 8th, 2012 at 4:05 pm

thank you so much for hosting, brad!

Lorraine Watkins April 8th, 2012 at 4:29 pm

This guy is IMO a ringer. This climate change we are inducing is not just another “cene” where ordinary problems of water and sufficient air conditioning are just magnified. His comment about Exxon Mobil is revealing. They have been pouring gazillions of dollars into denial, funding fake science and media blitzes of denial for years.

William deBuys April 8th, 2012 at 4:46 pm
In response to TalkingStick @ 124

Who on earth are you talking about? If it is me, you are out of your mind. Read the book.

Lorraine Watkins April 8th, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I apologize for if perhaps too impulsively labeling your motivations. If I am wrong in that I however must say I find your approach naive in relation what the science is telling us. But I have made a fool of myself before and await reading the book to experience that once again.

Your approach makes it sound like maybe it could be fun learning ways to adapt etc.

I wish it were only another of those steady incremental things that will give us time to adapt and develop technology that will mitigate the effects. Biologic systems are in the simplest composition complex. Many compensatory and adaptive functions are aspects moderating relatively strong challenges to stasis but once those are overwhelmed, and I believe we are seeing the beginning of that, then there is often a sudden cascade of catastrophic failures and what was once incremental and reversible becomes moot.

Lorraine Watkins April 8th, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I particularly found your comments about Exxon disturbing. There is no way they or big industry is going to change course until they have extracted the last squeeze of carbon product out of the planet. They say out loud that is there plan. I also hear it will just take some good old geo-engineering developed if it gets too hot. I am visualizing one huge sheet of reflective foil stretched over the arctic to serve the purpose of the once white ice.

Brad Johnson April 9th, 2012 at 11:40 am

I just want to leave a followup that TalkingStick needs to read the book. Bill in no way sugarcoats what we face. As I quoted, “There’s nothing that looks good for the Southwest.” and “Climate change is not a ramp. Its increments will not necessarily be linear and smooth. More often than not, its effects will be choppy and chaotic.”

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