Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Exodus to Yellowknife

Once in a while I get a book in the mail that I haven't purchased. This is often a pleasant surprise, since I rip through books the way most people go through salted peanuts, and having more reading matter laying around rarely hurts. I do eventually read most of them. The exceptions so far have been a few self-published books sent to me by batshit-crazy authors who have zero chance of getting published. And when the book is a recent release sent to me by a publisher, I incur a debt of gratitude which I discharge by writing a review. And although the publisher is looking to pick up a ringing endorsement from me, I feel free-ish to actually express what I think.

Such is the case with my book du jour, sent to me by my contact at New Society Publishers: Gilles Slade's American Exodus, published just three months ago, cheerfully subtitled Climate Change and the Coming Fight for Survival. To get the unpleasantly honest part out of the way, let me just say that it is an uneven work—written well, edited badly. The same good points are made repeatedly in eerily similar ways throughout the book. Each chapter reads like a conversation with Slade, focusing on some specific topic, but meandering to encompass the rest along the way. A good editor would have taken a scalpel to this manuscript, eliminating the repetitions.

That said, the book is quite interesting. It is the result of an attempt by Slade to answer a simple question: Where should his son live should he wish to survive? You see, after absorbing a large volume of information on the expected results of climate change, Slade came to the conclusion that his options for survival will be *cough* circumscribed. But he does arrive at answer. Slade looks at rising ocean levels, at fossil aquifer depletion, at the disappearance of glaciers and of rivers fed by glacial melt, at the probability of various extreme weather events, and, taking it all in, makes a recommendation: his son should resettle in Yellowknife, capital of Canada's Northwest Territories. The 2011 Canadian census puts its population at 19,234. With the addition of Slade's son, that would make it 19,235. Where the rest of our children should move to should they wish to survive is left as an exercise for the reader. I have worked that out for myself, by the way, but I will save that bit of good news for last.

Slade is a West Coast Canadian who loves California, and his focus is the northern half of Western Hemisphere. He does mention the heat wave in Europe that killed thousands, and another in the Moscow region, but these are tangential to his pursuit. When he says “we,” he means “we the North Americans.” His world view consists of two slices of whole grain bread—Canada and Mexico, with a fat, juicy slice of baloney sandwiched between them. According to his research the climate of the future does not bode well for the lower slice or the baloney.

Bottom to top, Mexico will turn into a scorched desert where no food crops can be grown. The prairie states of the US will likewise turn into an unproductive dustbowl raked flat by ever-larger tornados, and the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer will spell the end of agriculture even in places where climatic conditions permit. Agriculture in the Central Valley of California, where much of the country's produce is grown, is likewise going to shut down due to lack of water for irrigation. Meanwhile, rising ocean levels coupled with increasingly energetic North Atlantic hurricanes will destroy much of the East Coast, where half the population and much of the wealth is concentrated. Similar effects will be felt in Canada: the Maritimes will partially submerge, and the prairie provinces will wither in the summer heat and blow away. But Canada, being the country with the second largest amount of land (after Russia), with much of it far to the north, where temperatures will remain moderate, will, Slade thinks, remain survivable longer; hence his plug for Yellowknife.

Photo credit: Matt Conti
In case you believe that nothing particularly dramatic will happen within your or your children's lifetime, perhaps you should look around. I have: above is a picture of what a part of Boston waterfront looked like during the New Year nor’easter: Boston is becoming like Venice, where Piazza San Marco is routinely awash during winter storms. A few more feet of sea level rise, and seawater will circumvent Charles River Locks, at which point high tides will inundate Back Bay, making Downtown into an island once again. The problem is much the same up and down the coast. In 2012 we had pictures of cars smashing about in the storm surge in Lower Manhattan and the Jersey Coast transformed into a pile of debris by Hurricane Sandy. Manhattan, where a great deal of wealth and activity is concentrated, is connected to the mainland by tunnels; rising sea levels will put the tunnel entrances below the high tide line, putting a damper on the activities. Further down the coast, Charleston is perhaps just one major hurricane away from being wiped out.

Taking all of this in, Slade makes an important point that goes beyond just anticipating all of this destruction: he thinks that as each part of the North American continent ceases to be survivable, their populations will relocate to more survivable places—hence the term “exodus.” First, Mexicans will flee to the US, in a well-rehearsed pattern. Then California and the prairie and desert states of the US will lose the rest of their populations (they have been depopulating for some time already, and this trend will only accelerate). Finally, all of this displaced humanity will slosh across the border into Canada, completely overwhelming the relatively tiny Canadian population.

Slade avoids discussing the practicalities and the mechanics of these mass migrations—what sort of military action will accompany the opening of the US-Mexico border, for instance—but the outline is visible. Projections are that 2050 US will be a majority-Hispanic country. That majority is unlikely to favor maintaining the Great Wall of Mexico. As far as Canada's chances of controlling immigration, they are scant: most Canadians live along the indefensible US border, well within artillery range of it. Most of their trade is cross-border. Faced with a crisis of the magnitude Slade foresees, the idea of making a stand for Canada's sovereignty will no doubt come to be seen as silly.

Most life forms tend to be preoccupied with the continuation of their blood line, and I assume that you are no exception. You may or may not concur with Slade's dire prognosis, but if you don't then I assume that you have done your own research and, if it happened to be fact-based, inevitably came to similar conclusions, in which case your disagreements with Slade's analysis are likely to be minor. And in that case you would probably like to know where to resettle your children before entire countries set of on a death march to lands unknown.

I do have such a plan, and it is simple. My son has a certain piece of paper, which I have gone through some pains to secure for him, and which grants him the birthright to some 17 million square kilometers of prime real estate, much of it quite far to the north (compared to Canada's paltry 5.4 million square kilometers). That piece of paper is called a Russian passport.

Slade's analysis concentrates just on North America, but I think North America will be a basket case and find it more worthwhile to look at the planet as a whole, and sort countries into three columns: “destroyed,” “devastated” and “damaged.” A lot of countries definitely belong in the “destroyed” column: island nations like Palau or Kiribati that are in the process of becoming ocean shoal nations, as well as nations irrigated by rivers that are fed by rapidly disappearing glaciers, like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh and quite a few others. They will experience a decade of floods as the glaciers rapidly melt, followed by permanent drought. Next are the “devastated” countries; these are perhaps survivable, but for a much smaller and much more miserable population. I suppose that Slade is right and that Canada will be “devastated” because of incursions by its “destroyed” neighbors to the south across its long and tactically indefensible southern border. Russia, I believe, will be “damaged:” yes, there will be huge environmental problems—peat bogs and boreal forests on fire, gigantic floods, loss of coastal cities (St. Petersburg won't be able to hide behind its dam forever)—but Russia will, by and large, remain survivable for a great many people. Nor is it likely to be invaded: every invasion attempt since Genghis Khan's has gone badly for the invader. There will be large numbers of people moving into Russia's vast empty spaces from abroad, but only to the extent permitted by the Federal Migration Service.

If you don't like this analysis, or if my plan doesn't appeal to you, then do your own analysis, and make your own plan. And if you don't know where to start, then maybe Slade's book will get you started.


Unknown said...

I'm afraid that that 1.5 billion Chinese might disagree with you with regards to their "stolen territories" in the Russian Far East, not to mention the issues with Caucasians as per your post on Chechens some time ago.

Don't get me wrong, you did a good thing to get your son a Russian passport, I also made the effort of keeping mine, because an extra passport never hurt anyone(with the only exception being the US one, courtesy of the IRS) but I don't think I'll be any more screwed living in Canada when SHTF and it's certainly more pleasant right now.

Anonymous said...

I think your plan sounds very good - but you are a Native Russian.

As a child, each winter I cursed my ancestors for migrating to America and then deciding to settle in one of the coldest parts of the country (western Great Lakes).

I wonder if my descendants will curse my decision.

To migrate ? To be a stranger in a strange land - to look, sound, smell and taste so differently from the natives... ???

I guess I will stay put and defend my local supermarkets to the death...


Dmitry Orlov said...

Russia-China relationship is a close one. There are Russian communities springing up in China and vice versa. The Caucasus has been troublesome, but less so now that Saudi and American meddling is at an ebb. I think your comment is an attempt to spread FUD, perhaps unknowingly, while failing to see what Slade sees. Emigrants are notorious in their inability to question their decision to emigrate.

Darkstar said...

If any of your readers want to read excerpts from this book, some of it (not sure how much) is available on Google books.

Personally, I can think of much worse fates for the US than to become largely Hispanic. Many of the Hispanics I've known have had a culture of valuing family and close community ties and of cooperation with each other. That makes me think they are more likely to build resilient communities than many other groups, such as the Transitition folks.

I know I won't be staying in my current town for too much longer. I'm pondering where to go next. Somewhere with a reliable supply of water is at the top of my list. I have limited influence with my grown son and daughter-in-law, but they already know the importance of being somewhere with a good supply of water.

Best of luck to everyone in finding their home.

Sixbears said...

It feels strange to read this on a day when I'm freezing in Florida. However, I understand that weather is not climate. A few weeks ago Florida had record breaking warmth. That is quickly forgotten on a below freezing morning.

I'm 55 with three adult children and 9 grandchildren. Yes, I worry about them. My home is in NH and most of the family is in New England. The rural town in which I live is as isolated as anything can be in New England. If it has any protection in the future it will be that there are better places to run to that are easier to get to.

However, there is something to be said for living in the mountains with abundant clean water.

I'm not fooling myself in thinking it's a safe place. I doubt any place on earth is.

I'm about to head out for several months of sailing on a small boat. The nomadic life on a boat shows promise, so I'm checking it out the best way I know how -by living it.

Andrew Butt said...

Does Slade mention the changes his son wil face due to the latitude, specifically the day/night cycles? I often hear about heading up north as a means to escape climate change, but it seems that most folks think in terns of heat, not light. Early in my engineering career I worked on cogeneration projects for greenhouses in the north, and it was light that seemed to trump most considerations about growing typical crops.

On the other point on what prompts emigration, it is unsettling but compelling to see how the local environment here in the eastern foothills of the Rockies is changing. This has been the strangest year of my 50. One day bitter cold, next day near zero, large snowstorms, then clear skies. The familiar winter pattern seems to have left us.

Owen and Bonnie said...

As a Canadian I agree with "heading north" as we say here. As the Methane releases and we go into full blown climate change I think there will be a dance as the tundra become the new Forrest / prairie. Dmitry , what is the likelihood of people walking all the way north because there will be no gas to be had ?

John D said...

I'm hoping to be fertilizer by the time this truly unfolds in earnest, but in the meantime I live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia at about 12 feet above sea level. It's a lovely, lightly populated cove facing west into the Chesapeake Bay. Storm surge from the ocean (from the east normally) is well attenuated by the long slopes of the agricultural lands...for now. However, sea level rise is alive and well and a part of our current experience here. Old Indian burial sites are being unearthed by the erosion, for example. Sandy was an interesting storm in that the damage here was from the NW to SE winds and storm surge, so it ran right up our cove. I think I'd rather live with the sea as long as I can than try to live with humanity. If the grocery stores in the cities are closed for three days all semblance of public order will disappear. I'm doomed here, but the heck with it, I'm staying. -jd

William Hunter Duncan said...

Wouldn't end up well for Russia or Canada if we trigger a new ice age.

Jacob Gittes said...

I have seen little real scientific data or theories on the possibility of humans triggering a "new ice age." I guess anything is possible.
However, for that to work, you'd need to see some interesting negative feedback loops for climate change - something akin to:
1. Warming causes glacial melt which
2. Causes sea-level rise which
3. Allows more ocean surface to absorb CO2 which
4. Causes cooling.

Cloud formation could also increase, which might reflect more light.

I got this feedback loop idea from this 1959 Scientific American article. Yes, this stuff has been known for a long time!

The time scales are pretty large though - it would take a LONG time for the oceans to absorb the CO2 and to cause cooling.

The oscillations of ice-ages versus interglacial periods are on the order of tens of thousands of years. I doubt we'll see a "sudden" ice age. But again, who knows? There are theorists on the fringe who claim that ice ages have arisen very rapidly...

So, the optimal strategy does not exist.

Jacob Gittes said...

@Dmitri: nice little essay. I looked up the author. He doesn't seem to have his own web site, which is rather... Ludditish of him!
But I did find some chapters of what seems to be the same book online, as Darkstar mentions.

Coincidentally (or maybe not?), we (as in my wife & I, and by extension, our child) are considering emigrating.
My main targets are the nations that my grandparents left in the early part of the 20th century. These nations are much further north than even we are now in the northern Great Lakes region of the USA.

It will be very interesting to experience the reactions of my family. My own brother just texted me last night, "Where is Al Gore lately, Lol," meaning, of course, that the current cold snap invalidates AGW. Ah well.

It honestly did take much psychic energy to contemplate leaving the USA, despite the fact that we've both traveled somewhat extensively, and even lived elsewhere.

I think some of it is due to the fact that we do love the land here... it gets in your blood. You've been to our favorite place, Dmitri, when you gave a talk up at North House. However, we are developing a few parallel plans that involve migration and "dropping out" within the USA, and actual emigration. Unlike you and your son, I don't get automatic citizenship just because my grandparents were Scandinavian... but it is possible. I am starting to update my skillsets, and getting back in touch with relations over yonder ocean. As a young college student, I took great interest in my foreign relations, and am hoping to warm those relations up again. Perhaps a trip there this year. If funding allows.

Keep up the good work, Dmitri. Keep adapting, everyone.

Kevin said...

Reading this back-to-back with sites like the Automatic Earth or Peak Prosperity, I find myself experiencing some confusion, or maybe it's cognitive dissonance. According to Nicole Foss, public employees like one I know in San Jose CA should be worried about whether that city will be able to fulfill its pension promises for the next 15 to 30 years. But according to Gilles Slade, my friends who live there should maybe worry more that their condo might be under the Bay well before that time. Which to fear most, and prepare against most avidly - progressively tightening economic contraction, or catastrophic environmental devastation?

Unknown said...

As a Canadian, I have contemplated this dystopian scenario for a number of years. I can imagine the US military dismantling a couple of heavy crude refineries, in Louisiana and or Texas, and reassembling them along with a giant military base right next to the Tar Sands in Alberta. Of course it does not matter where you go, unless thousands of people can be convinced and supplied to remain in the "uninhabitable zone" for 30 to 40 years to decommission all the nuclear power plants there. It will only take one complete meltdown to kill most life.

Anonymous said...

I'm a west coast Canadian planning to immigrate to Russia. Nice to see there's one person in the world who doesn't think I'm definitely bat shit crazy.

If you're not steeped in bourgeois ideology, fairytales of endless progress etc, Russia doesn't seem so bad as the western media and most liberal Russians make it out to be. It is a deeply troubled place, but in a collapse scenario this could be a relative advantage. The mob wars and other power struggles after the Soviet collapse have been decisively resolved with the supremacy of the Cheka. Good luck living through collapse and the power-vaccuum mob wars elsewhere. Dzherzhinskii's boys aren't to be shifted. Probably every Russian family has someone who knows how to grow food. As soon as the supermarkets are empty in Canada 95% of the population will simply piss themselves and die or eat each other. Russians already have the mentality that you gotta be tough, life is a struggle for survival. Canadians are mostly effeminate pot-smoking video-game junkies or the like. Besides, contrary to popular wisdom of both countries, on average Russians are nicer, warmer people than Canadians.

Fringe benefit: Russia has culture. Canada is just an evolved form of a commercial entity originally called the Hudson's Bay Company.

Someone commented here on China. First there are no stolen territories, there are no remaining Sino-Russian border issues. Second China is doomed within 36 months max to permanent irrelavence and weakness. It had an economic model designed to keep the CPC in power as long as possible, not designed for national well-being or sustainability. In the past new dynasties rose out of cyclical chaos. Now the soil and water is permanently toxic. No threat to Russia.

Choose for yourself who you think is better equipped for collapse:

kleymo said...

While at OVIR with my wife to get my Russian green card (it IS green and looks like a passport) we asked the attractive, pleasant blond apparatchik about citizenship for kids in our situation. She said "the girls are Russian and the boys are not."

Russia has the draft. I am leaning more towards residency for my son.

Unknown said...

I think your plan sounds as good as any of the many I have heard. I would think the sooner the better, so you have time to become a member of a community and learn as much of the language and culture as possible before the SHTF. Although it sounds like you have been there and know this already. One would not want to be perceived as an outsider in bad times because this is when nationalism and xenophobia are at their worst. If you have not read Morris Berman before you might like him. Great American writer who moved to Mexico to live among real people with an actual culture. Best of luck to you what ever you decide.
I also grew up on the coast, all over the lower mainland.

Glenn said...

A major limiting factor in the Boreal regions is lack of topsoil. If all you Northern bound emigrants want to eat, you need to figure out a way to move the soil from the Mississippi Valley onto the Northern Shield.

And we will continue to adapt in place on the Olympic Peninsula where we've been building soil for the last decade.

And yes, the "big one" (Richter force 9 subduction zone quake) could cut us off from the rest of the world sometime in the next 150 years. We don't all see that as negative.

Anonymous said...

I took a look at the book's Amazon page. I will have to read this book but I am wondering why the author concludes it is best to move north of the 49th parallel (or presumably south of the southern 49th parallel (although only a small portion of Chile and Argentina are available for this purpose, which is perhaps why the author doesn't spend time analyzing prospects in the southern hemisphere). Since it gets cooler as one ascends in altitude, why doesn't he recommend that his son simply move "higher up"? This would seem to open up a lot more territory e.g., in the Andes, where various peoples have lived time out of mind. Is everything below the 49th parallel going to become desert? At least in the mountains in the (now so-called) "temperate zone" there will be more direct sunlight for growing crops and maintaining human sanity (such as it is).

Of course, these analyses are interesting, but IMHO Mark Sebela hit the nail on the head with his comment, "Of course it does not matter where you go, unless thousands of people can be convinced and supplied to remain in the "uninhabitable zone" for 30 to 40 years to decommission all the nuclear power plants there. It will only take one complete meltdown to kill most life." Since a lot of nuclear reactors are on the coast this problem will eventually get on the radar screen of the oligarchs as something they have to deal with. Perhaps there will be lots and lots of homeless people available at that time for the Yakuza in the East and the Mafia in the West to round up and put to work on this important project, that the rest of us who saw the handwriting on the wall early will be able to count on to save humanity.

My donkey said...

I lived in Whitehorse, Yukon for 19 years, and my friends and family there would be tickled pink to hear that great southern hordes will be migrating to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

If you want to experience breathtaking failure at trying to grow food on the Canadian Shield, know the thrill of 19 hours of darkness a day in December, and feel the warmth in -50 temperatures in January, move to Yellowknife!

Whatever you do, don't go to Whitehorse, please!

Unknown said...

Given the strong possibility that the numerous northern hemisphere nuke plants all eventually go Fukushima, Southern New Zealand would be my first choice globally.


I'm on the Olympic Peninsula as well (PA) and also think it is as good a place as any for me and my family to stick it out (at least here in the lower 48). Absent the "big one", I've often fantasized that destruction of the Hood Canal bridge and a blockade of 101 would due just as well.....

HeyZeus said...

gee thanks for the good news Dmitry.. and happy new year to you too... from Pakistan.

Des Carne said...

I'm looking into southern Chile. The glaciers may be melting and the capital Santiago will be without a viable water supply by 2050 unless icepacks further to the north and south (5000 metres and above) are hooked up to existing retic. Chile also has a proud history of defending its long and very high altitude mountainous border. Land in the south is cheap, I'm told - and village life may still exist that can withstand the influc of social problems of the major cities as climate changes. Speaking Spanish (easiest language in the world to learn) and permanent residence are the only requirements.

michigan native said...

Kinda reminds me of the scene from The Titanic where the ship is sinking and everyone is still trying to climb to the last part that sinks, the stern, yet you will drown or succumb to hypothermia anyways. There are not enough lifeboats.

I reside in the "Great Lakes State", my father drawn to the metro Detroit area by the lure of the auto industry, my mother also from the Upper Peninsula to teach school that compensated teachers fairly well.

We used to have an abundance of fresh water game fish. You could go anywhere along the Detroit River and catch all the lake perch, walleyes, bass, pike, etc you wanted in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even up until the 80s. You could go to any of the Great Lakes or the rivers that fed it and catch them by the hundreds. (Although because of industrial pollution, it was well advised to catch your fish in northern Lake Huron and Superior.)

All of that seems to be thing of the past, the fish have all but vanished. The only asset I see this state as having is an abundance of fresh water. The immediate life threatening concern will be how to stay warm here when the supply of natural gas runs out.

The new "great lakes republic" trade fresh water for coal or firewood or some other necessity with the new, break away republics? I am thinking I would be better off in Russia as well. I could hang with people that like their vodka and ice hockey. How do I get a green card?

lostinthewoods said...

It's a bit of a coin toss as to what climate change will bring us...with the Earth's heat pump (ocean currents) disrupted I'm thinking more along the lines of somewhere between a little ice age and a major one. Where to go? I've found a place to make a stand and to take it easy...don't have children, make community.

Etyere Petyere said...

Yeah Right ! The ruccky passaporta will help ..No kidding ! ............NOT !

the way it goes :

"All species walk their way
towards extinction


if you are in your teens or 20s and think that you have a great future
ahead of you, or you are businessman and have kids of your own
and are worried about their future or the future of their children, I
hate to spoil it for you...

if you are a preservationist, environmentalist, or conservationist and
are worried about pollution or about global warming or about saving
the pandas and the whales, or about the thinning of the ozone, or
about nuclear war, you can stop worrying now about these issues too.

We are a herd of buffaloes stampeding towards a precipice which is
only a few inches away. We have no way of changing course. We will
not make it to the 22nd Century. So you may want to take my advice:

Live today like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't.
The socioeconomic structures we have painstakingly developed over centuries
are about to disintegrate across the planet. When that happens..."
you're on your own!

Unknown said...

Gee you all are so optimistic! The arch druid has a post this week on technology to bring to the future. Its a diff topic than this but I think it relates.

As for me my plan is plants. I think any plan other than cultivating a huge amount of biodiversity is not very constructive. Plants provide ALL of life's necessities except maybe stone tools, and the things of course that plants rely on.

As others have said its really all a crap-shoot. I would only say to those who believe in imminent extinction aka human apocalypse, that they are simply looking for an excuse to do nothing, and are under the mistaken impression that their time period is something special. I wouldn't argue apocalypse can't/won't happen but I will say that its been predicted for ages, and they were always wrong. To waste time predicting it now is just selfish hubris, and lazy.

michigan native said...

Not only the potential shut down of the Gulf Stream as mentioned above, the other major factor that may put the brakes on people trying to jump off the sinking ship is none other than the US government. According to this guy, who sounds like he could have been the author of a previous blog "The Grim Reality", the US is making it harder for people to emigrate using nefarious strong arm tactics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovKSQ7pGrKc

That as a prelude to outright violence while the size and scope of illegal spying on all US citizens and the purchases of "the department of homeland security" (e.g, thousands of mine resistant armored vehicles, untold billions of rounds of hollow point bullets, etc) would strongly imply they know the collapse is imminent, although they probably haven't factored in what the role of energy/energy shortages will have long term, they seemed determined to make people to stay put, shut up and obey, pay your taxes, and let the banks steal your assets (your money will be worthless)

manray said...

Great post. Whenever I bring up this subject to friends or family they stare blankly at me.
James Lovelock depicted similar scenarios in his Gaia books several years back. Another good read on the subject is Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer.

My wife and I have been talking migrating north for some time now as the water situation here in Texas is quite dire. We're in our 50's so we might be able to hold out for a couple decades but it is unlikely.

It's a fascinating albeit sorry situation and I wonder what will happen when tens of millions of climate refugees from the Americas are clawing at the Canadian border and desperately trying to gain entry to a country that can no longer take in another single human being.