Monday, February 2, 2009

Groundhog Day Forecasting

Groundhog Day is rapidly becoming the most important day for reflection and celebration of the year. Will Spring come? It isn't just a question of whether there will be a few more weeks of winter. There will be more than that in Alaska, less than that in Florida. What will the weather bring? What strange tidings of global warming and human folly can be seen?

Most Americans have been enduring a fiercely cold winter. In Mendocino County, California, the opposite is true. It usually rains here most days in winter. This year we are in a drought, or have perfect winter weather, depending on how you look at it. There has not even been the usual ocean fog to obscure the sun. Highs in the 60's. Just plain weird. One of my apple trees began blooming in December. Jan and I have been taking Hugo to Schooner Gulch Beach to run in the sun and sand. Schooner Gulch, normally a strong stream in winter, is a trickle. Neighbors report that other seasonal streams are dry.

America is in trouble, friends, and I can't say we don't deserve it. We built our economy on false premises. "Free trade" and unregulated greed were supposed to bring us prosperity, instead they have brought us to grief. Too many Americans drove SUVs they could not really afford to places they did not need to go to buy crap they did not need to buy. Americans who were incapable of working within a budget rewarded themselves with McMansions. Now we have McMansion ghost towns to add to the collapsed city centers of the old mill towns. We won't let immigrants in to fill up the empty housing. If we did let them in, it would add to a population that is already environmentally unsustainable. The United States of America can no longer feed its own population, after centuries of being one of the world's great food exporters (we still export food, but we import more than we export).

Our government is set up to be conservative. It is very time consuming to make any fundamental change in the government's structure or even policy (See Is America a Democracy?). The government was not designed to change as fast as technology its consequences. Our "sacred" U. S. Constitution was designed to protect the property of the then nascent economic aristocracy, including their property in slaves. It has been improved by some of its amendments, but it was not designed for our modern society.

The Obama administration, while potentially an improvement on the Bush and Clinton administrations, is off to a pretty bad start. The good things President Obama has done [closing the extra-legal foreign prisons and allowing California and other states to set better miles-per-gallon car requirements] are just observing the basic laws of the land that W. had been breaking. Having the tax-and-spend Democrats trying to appoint tax-cheating jackasses to Cabinet posts sends a very bad signal to the citizens.

No President is preparing the United States or the world for what is coming down the line. The weather is going to get heavier. Ecosystems really are changing or collapsing fast enough to see within a few years. The economy needs a total reorientation. We need to think about what we want to produce and consume given the environmental impacts of that consumption. We need to design and implement a new economy that can do this. We need a plan to lower the size of the human population to a long-term sustainable level in a fair and humane manner.

Let me just predict we are not going to get those things from the federal government. The much heralded economic stimulus package only hints at solutions. It does not look to me like it will do much unless you are in one of the special interest groups, like construction firms and workers, that it targets.

At least maybe the frothing-mouthed Republican Party of the past 30 years is going into hibernation. Moderates are taking over the Republican Party in former ultra-right strongholds like Texas. Take away the evolution-denying, wife-cheating, IRS-cheating Christian hypocrites and there are some basic, ancient lessons in the culture of the Republican Party that should not be thrown out with the bath water. The most important one is personal responsibility. If you are not willing to take responsibility for your life and for your community, no amount of government bossing around is ever going to make things right. At the leftist end of the spectrum, Personal Responsibility is one of the Ten Key Values of the Green Party.

Things may change quickly, or they may change slowly. But the weather is changing. Most likely scenario: America looks like the Sahara in 50 years. On the other hand, higher temperatures mean more water vapor from the oceans, and it has to come down somewhere, so parts of America could be in for a Deluge. Maybe Obama can start building the giant irrigation canals that people once thought they could see on Mars.

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