Reposted from RESILIENCE.ORG

“Human adaptation to prolonged, extreme drought is difficult or impossible. Historically, the primary adaptation to dust-bowlification has been abandonment; the very word ‘desert’ comes from the Latin desertum for ‘an abandoned place’.” –Joe Romm

“Adrift, drifting: what is left for the lone gull / adrift between earth and heaven.” – Tu Fu

“If the water were to drain entirely from a spent fuel pool, it could trigger a catastrophic radioactive fire that would spew toxins and render hundreds of thousands of square miles uninhabitable.  The devastated area would be larger than the wasteland that resulted from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.” – Robert Alvarez 

“In the clutter of facts, the destroyers / leave behind them one big story, / of the world and the world’s end, / that they don’t know.” – Wendell Berry (in Leavings)

SUMMARY:  If the end is indeed near – say, within the next 50 years — it will quite likely come in the form of extreme drought and/or nuclear contamination.  A couple key maps help us flesh out these possibilities.  …So is there something we can do about this?





I wrote this essay some months ago, but then I put it away.  The obvious danger with a topic like this is in fostering the seductive, broad-brush feeling that “we’re done and there’s nothing we can do about it now — so whatever!”  And while there’s a distinctly non-zero chance that this doomerish sentiment is true, there’s also a chance that it’s not true.

So we hang all our efforts and hopes on the chance that, despite our heinous industrial depredations and a likely fierce blowback from the earth systems, we just might have a future here on this planet.  And maybe what we do now can make that future a little more livable, more beautiful.

So we work to strengthen human and non-human communities and the links between them.  And we work to lessen the depredations and save what we can from the insatiable maw of industrial ‘progress.’  And we steel ourselves and our communities for the spastic convulsions of the industrial machine as it disintegrates.  And we try to shelve the hopelessness that lingers around the edges of our thoughts.

But now and then I think we need to take that hopelessness down from the shelf, put it in front of us, and look at it.  And we need to say, “Hmmmm…this COULD actually happen.”  And then we need to ask if there’s anything, anything at all, we can do to address it more directly.

And maybe we find there is nothing we can do.  But maybe we find that there IS something we can do – something we HAVE to do.

And maybe we do it.


Central New Jersey, mid June, 6:30 am, on my farm, out by the pond:  A good rain last night and the seasonally warm temperatures brought an intense green hue to the landscape.  Grass, trees, vegetables – they’re all growing like crazy.  Tadpoles wriggle thickly at the pond edges.  The verdant plants, moist soil, and warm water are sending up a rich bouquet of earthy scents, mixing with the strong fragrance of the chestnut orchard in full bloom.  The insects are everywhere.  The birds are singing.  The warm, wet air envelops my body.  There’s so much sensory information all at once, it almost feels obscene.

Deep breath.  I feel a deep, primal connection to where I am — a sort of ancient ecstasy wells up inside me.

And then it hits me.  That sick, sick feeling.

Waking nightmare #1:  I look down at the cracked gray clay of the pond, shimmering in the intense heat.  An unforgiving sun beats down savagely on the dusty yellow pastures and the dying trees; 500+ ppm CO2 enveloping the earth like a blanket.  No real rain for going on 30 months.  Mid-June temperatures in the 90’s and 100’s daily; upper 80’s at night.  The birds gone.  And us packing up to leave…for somewhere.  Not sure where.  Maybe the coast?

…Anywhere but here.

And then waking nightmare #2:  Same verdant, aromatic scene as present, but now haunted by what might as well be evil spirits — unseen, unheard, but methodically hacking away at us.  A fallout plume from, well, somewhere, must’ve settled over us two weeks ago – that’s when we first tasted the metal in our mouths.  Nobody knows anything about what happened or is happening.  We have no idea how bad it was, is, or will get.  A lot of us got sick right away; some have died already.  And now…well, now we’re just fucking scared.  Everything normal and beautiful is now shaded by an ominous pall – the fresh raspberry on the vine, the mockingbird singing in the walnut tree, the bowl of eggs from the henhouse, the baby’s bottle, the dust on the stairs.  All of it haunted by an invisible wickedness.  …Should we go?  Where WOULD we go?  …We’ve got to go.  …Somewhere.

…Anywhere but here.


Although I’m not debilitated by it, my waking hours are haunted by the very real possibility that my extended family will not be able to live in this land fifty or so years hence.

Everything I do — all my work with my farm, my family, and my community — is done for the purpose of establishing a lasting presence in this place.  Right here.  It is what I wake up thinking about and what I dream about when I lay down at night.  And my heart bleeds with the knowledge that there are gathering storms that may very well rip us from this place, and either crush us or scatter us like dry leaves.

In fact, there is a very real possibility that our culture is on course to make a majority of the nation unfit for human habitation.  And I’m not talking about just a future with stressed or difficult lives for the people here (although there are plenty of candidates for that).  I’m talking here about literal human extirpation – about NOBODY being able to live here; no humans at least.  Extirpation nation.

And while the toxic industrial cupboard is filled with candidates for making large swaths of land inhabitable, the two gathering storms that are perhaps most likely to fill the bill for ‘extirpation nation’ are (1) the mega droughts predicted for a 500+ ppm CO2, climate-destabilized US, and (2) extensive fallout from a cascade of nuclear power plant melt-downs and spent-fuel pool fires.

In the following paragraphs and figures I just want to outline where I think we could be headed here.  And again, I write this not to revel perversely in the doomishness of it all, but rather to say that, while this seems to be our course, maybe it doesn’t NEED to come to pass; maybe there is still a way out of this grim (yet increasingly probable) future.

But we’ve got to act.  Purposefully and effectively.

And we better start yesterday.


What do you do if it doesn’t rain substantially for a whole month at the start of the growing season?  And then another month.  And then another.  And another.  And then again for the entire next growing season.  And again for the next.  And the next.  What do you do?

Here’s what you do: you leave.  You can’t live in a place like that.  And you don’t return until the rains return.  And maybe the rains never return.  And neither do you.

Welcome to ‘dust bowl nation’.

Is this our future, here in the continental US?  The answer, unfortunately, is ‘somewhat likely.’  …And inching more toward ‘probably’ every day.

Read the rest of this article with graphics here

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