Heavy Weather, Megacities… A Failed Future. Opt Out.


My friend, the writer Bruce Sterling, suggests that the future boils down to this one simple statement:

Old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky.


It’s hard to argue with that assessment based on current trends:

  • Afraid of the sky?  Increasingly so.  Our weather is becoming more extreme.  Not only are we getting hammered by epic weather events, I haven’t run into any knowledgeable farmer, nursery owner, or gardener that doesn’t see a substantial change in the climate underway.  That’s a bad thing since this negatively impacts the core agricultural and environmental systems we rely upon.
  • The demographics point to continued, but aging, population growth.  We’re growing, but not only in the way you think.  Births have been declining since the late eighties.  So while the population is growing, it’s mainly because we are living longer than ever before.  We’re aging.  fast.  The average age of the global population is expected to be 35 years by 2050 (and 46 years in the current developed world).
  • Cities are growing, mostly in the developed world.  Already, half of all people live in urban environments and by 2025 there will be 27 cities with populations over 10 million people.

It gets worse.  It’s hard to see how this future avoids universal poverty, plutocratic totalitarianism, and frequent bouts of chaos.

It doesn’t sound attractive, does it?

Of course not.  But we don’t have to participate in that negative future.

While we can’t do anything about growing old, we can opt for a better place and way to do it.

A better future.  A resilient future.

We have the smarts, the work ethic, and the passion.  We have a global network filled with the information and compatriots required.  We have a host of new techniques/technologies to make resilience easier than ever before.

It’s time to get started.  Let’s build a resilient system that puts the current system out of business, before it does the same to all of us.

Sincerely Yours,



PS:  Today’s Resilient Strategies roundtable is a short course on how to crowdsource investment for local solar projects.

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  • John Robb


    That article doesn’t dispute what I said. Just the rate of change in a dynamic system.

    Regardless, I think it’s smart to plan to be resilient against extreme events, particularly events with a high likelihood of occurring.

    Unfortunately, this issue has become political. It shouldn’t be.

    So, what do you do?

    I don’t think it’s possible to patch the current system (by counting carbon or reducing consumption markedly) in a way that will solve this problem and others. The design is inherently inefficient and nothing will change that.

    The real solution? Compete with it. Produce everything you can locally, and network for the rest. Do that, and the problem and many of the other problems I’ve identified solve themselves.

    Think: vacuum tube computers (very hot, large, energy hogs) being replaced by microprocessors.



    PS: I’ve given up on the toxic debate that passes for politics today. It’s non-productive spin.

    • GoneWithTheWind

      Climate change is cyclical and has been going on since there was a climate. What the data in question does show is that in the last 15 years the temperature did not rise (yes there were seasonal and yearly increases and decreases but the average temperature remained the same or slightly lower). The signifcance of this is that during this time period the CO2 increased as it has since 1850. The logical conclusion is: 1. That CO2 is not as great a factor in global warming as has been claimed. 2. That the long accepted and more logical explanation of these cycles are the naturally occurring cycles in solar output from the sun, the earths relative position to the sun in; orbit, axial tilt, axial precession, absidal precession & orbital inclination. As well as volcanoic factors and smaller natural earth weather patterns/cycles.

      • John Robb

        GWTW, Where did you get your PhD?

        Just kidding, but when so many scientists think this is happening, it’s not prudent to waste time denying it. For example.

        If we were standing in a tunnel and a big light is moving rapidly towards us. Do you:

        a) join me in getting out of the tunnel? or
        b) launch a heated debate on whether the light is a train or not?

        PS: The Republican and Democrat spin on many issues, is constructed to waste mental cycles. It’s circuses for the chumps. Use your available mental energy on building something new. It’s completely wasted in heated debates over the best way to take advantage of a system in terminal failure.

        • Dave B

          I think this is the most relevant argument for action.

          1/. Either climate changes is real (REAL), or it isn’t (FAKE).

          2/. Either we take action to mitigate/combat effects of climate change (ACTION), or we don’t (INACTION)

          We end up with 4 outcomes:

          FAKE-INACTION – status quo largely. We can presume there will be increased regional wars for increasingly limited resources spurred by simple demographic changes and business as usual (i.e. limited focus on improving efficient use of resources)

          FAKE-ACTION – possible decrease in economies, or possibly a spur to economies from ‘green’ industry. Certainly an improvement in resilience through distributed power generation (renewables) and increased local orientation.

          REAL – ACTION – similar to the above outcome, but we end up taking reduced damage from climate change.

          REAL-INACTION – this is the scary scenario. Collapse of the economy and ability to feed large numbers of peoples. Global refugee crisis in all (or nearly all) countries. Globally there will be regional wars fought for declining resources.

          In my mind, it’s similar to buying insurance. You don’t EXPECT to be involved in a car accident or have your home destroyed, but it behooves you to cover your bases and hedge your bets by investing in a scheme that will reduce the negative outcome if it happens. We should be pitching climate change mitigation actions as an INSURANCE SCHEME against possible climate change.

  • ryan

    there are a few spots in the temperature data that show no increase if data is plucked out in short (~10 year) periods. the overall trend is warming – see graph and explanation here: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/05/25/2061891/trenberth-global-warming-is-here-to-stay-whichever-way-you-look-at-it/.

    much of the recent heating has been going into the deep oceans and has not been recorded in many of the global temp data sets. the physical observations of climate change are obvious and far beyond just warming – http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/.

  • Cavolonero


  • https://marcuswynne.wordpress.com/ Marcus Wynne

    “I’ve given up on the toxic debate that passes for politics today. It’s non-productive.”


    Despite my love of gloomy dystopian fiction (and Bruce Sterling rocks…) I agree the “future is not fixed.” We don’t have to survive in the cracks of the crumbling Old World, we can thrive adjacent to or somewhat-distant.

    Some case studies might be in order. I’ll touch base with Shlok and you about some of the already extant “resilient communities” working today and see if we can’t parse out the critical path elements that are already working to make this a broader reality.

    cheers, m “The Resilient Nomad”

  • https://marcuswynne.wordpress.com/ Marcus Wynne

    Here’s a link from a snapshot from one in Vermont: http://www.resilientcommunities.com/how-to-bootstrap-a-local-barter-economy/

  • Jeannie

    I’ve had probably 45 vegetable gardens in my 56 years on the planet all grown in Connecticut..from little girl with my mother and sisters till today. It’s getting different and it’s getting differenter faster each year. I don’t know if it’s man made, the mega long cycles of the planet , a combination of a whole bunch of variables or what. Even the bugs are getting different..the look, their behavior, the works. I’ve been scrutinizing garden minutia my entire life. I can do NOTHING to change any weather reasons why my gardens are different but I can change my mind. My gardens don’t curl up in a ball and quit growing they adjust and if I want to be on board with the veggies I too will be flexible …altitude above me and runway behind me kind of thing..so one big feature going on is stuff grown under ground…potatoes, beets, carrots, garlic, onions and most recently sweet potatoes. The vegetation comes blasting out of the ground and the produce has been remarkable… carrots are even juicy..I’ll always grow a variety of stuff but I’m liking not having to only eat what I always did. When I was 17 I lived in the woods ( by no means by choice) it was cold, I had no gear to speak of, it snowed like mad and absolutely was the best lesson I ever had(didn’t seem like it then) in resiliency and how being resilient is actually , for me, the direct opposite of surviving. My favorite phrase…when you hit a wall Jeannie , take a left.

    • John Robb

      Thanks Jeannie, love your pithy quotes! JR

  • illuminoughtu

    You will find many opposed to your attempt to withdraw from the syndicate. Like a ‘made man’, you aren’t allowed to ‘quit’.

    Is there a medium solution? Somewhere between: a) staying 100% dependent on a failing system, hoping that the operations (food, utilities, transportation, shelter, healthcare, etc., etc.) designed to function on 20$/barrel oil will just naturally morph into a system that can function on 120$/barrel oil? and b) going off grid from a doomed system, far enough away to dodge the carnage if (when) it fails catastrophically?

    Weather volatility is every bit as bad as a fixed change in temperature. But this likely has more to do with solar cycles than anthropogenic sources. Humans are chauvinistic in their assumption that they even CAN understand what is really happening. We are NOT intrinsically more intelligent than our forefathers. Our attitudes and beliefs are NOT more enlightened and rational. We have only neglected certain realities, choosing to believe that we are above it all, because we have been fortunate, so far. Illumination is coming.

  • William O. B’Livion

    Whatever your feelings on CO2 and “Climate Change”, the statistics show again and again that major weather events are not increasing in frequency or amplitude. Weather researchers who are not Micheal Mann or James Hansen (or one of their acolytes) repeatedly say that AGW does NOT influence the formation of Atlantic hurricanes, nor is it a major factor in the formation of large tornado systems. People like Barbara Boxer, and TV meteorologists spout off, but frankly anyone who thinks Boxer has anything intelligent to say about anything pretty much deserves what they get.

    What IS happening is that as we continue down government handout route is that we are building more expensive and larger stuff along the hurricane coasts and in flood plains.

    I spent 3 months in 2006 at Kessler AFB (I presume our host is familiar with it :) ).

    They were in the process of tearing down the remains of the coastal casinos from the wrecking ball that was Katrina.

    It doesn’t look (at least from Google Maps) that they’ve rebuilt the floating casinos, but http://goo.gl/maps/ZXrCq they did rebuild the beach front casinos. Knowing the sorts of people who build these things, do you THINK they went for cheap and sturdy?

    If you were to drive through the Gumbo Flats just west of Chesterfield Missouri between the bluffs and the Missouri River bridge in 1985 you would have seen (at least from memory) a prison, a small airport (Spirit of St. Louis) and a tavern/inn up on a levee.

    In 1992 you would have seen a truck depot of some kind added there. In late 1993 after the flood waters receded you would have noticed a high water line about 8 or 10 feet up on the wall of that truck depot, and a trailer upside down.

    Today this is what that area looks like http://goo.gl/maps/UCuoi

    The same flood–just in that “little” area today will cause probably 2-3 orders of magnitude more damage.

    There has been–to my eye and knowledge NO buildup of the levee or anything to prevent a re-occurrence.

    I spent a couple days in Christchurch New Zealand last year. As most of you know they’d been hit by a *hell* of a earthquake in 2011. They still hadn’t finished tearing down some of the bigger buildings in Christchurch, but they *had* prohibited rebuilding in those areas. In the *CENTER* of the city, what they call the “CBD”, Central Business District. They didn’t allow for new technology, they just said “no, not here” for areas where chances of liquefaction were higher. (BTW, if you don’t mind living in a moderately socialist economy with heavy restrictions on guns, New Zealand’s south island is a very, very livable country.)

    But while the timing of earthquakes is hard to predict, the effects are not, it’s fairly straightforward physics–relative to weather related phenomenon.

    One interesting thing is that for much of the country–and relative to “Heavy Weather” (which was an interesting work of fiction, BTW) our host appears to have it wrong. Tornadoes and blizzards seem to vector *around* major cities like Chicago, New York and Oklahoma City. The storms tend to hammer the suburbs while minimizing impact to the city cores. I don’t know if there’s been a formal study of this (and frankly given the amount of fraud and sloppiness in them over the last decade you have to wonder if what you know is really the case http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/oct/01/tenfold-increase-science-paper-retracted-fraud )

    I tend to think that living *in* big cities is a bad idea for lots of other reasons–people don’t get to know their neighbors (as a general rule), folks are more suspicious of everyone around them, and when things break down it’s harder to tell who “belongs” and who is a passing opportunist. Heck, if I had want I wanted I’d be living about 30 miles outside Portland, and intend to in the near future.

    And I’m not saying the environment is fine, but there’s little evidence that CO2 is on *net* a bad thing. Most of the fearmongering around it comes not from the primary “green house gas” effects of it (which are rather small, require a doubling of the concentration to get the same measurable effect), but from it’s effect in creating a feedback loop where more water vapor (a MUCH stronger temperature forcer) is pulled into the atmosphere.

    Modeling a dynamic system is VERY, VERY tricky. Modeling the climate is not a “dynamic” system. It is an incredibly complicated dynamic system that not only includes the earth, but the sun and (we’re finding) interstellar radiation (affects cloud formation).

    This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t *worry* about the storms though. We need to understand that storms, floods and hurricanes (and non-weather events like earthquakes and wild fires) are stochastic. We do this by understanding local risks (Oklahoma has a LOT more tornadoes (frequency and amplitude) than does northern California. In Oklahoma you need to build for 250 mile an hour winds. In CA you need to landscape for wildfires. Colorado has heavy snow storms and such.

    There is no need to bring Anthropogenic Global Warming into this at all. All doing that does is turn off a certain percentage of the people you’re trying to help because they disagree with your premise and then tune you out.

    • John Robb


      Great post. Totally agree with the premise that the growth of the built environment is accelerating the damage we experience.

      However, I do think that there is reason to worry about climate change given the number of scientists (many of whom I’ve met) that are convinced that it has merit.

      Also, I’m a pragmatist. If there is a significant chance of certain type of failure, I’ll factor it into my thinking. It’s been my experience that people that don’t follow that approach usually fail.

      So, in sum, people shouldn’t read this site if they want to find ideological purity ANY issue.

      In my view, all ideologies are dead and all political debate/spin is a waste of my/your time.

      This system is in decay and the future is going to be found in building something better/new, from the ground up.


      PS: Why is denying climate change so important? I don’t get it.

      • Devin

        Maybe you believe humans are the effecting the climate, and your concern is about weather extremes (late frosts, droughts) and higher average temperatures.

        Or maybe you don’t believe it one bit, but still want to increase your water resilience – could be water tables dropping locally due to agriculture, or a local grid in poor repair going down (and with it your well pump), or prolonged power outages or deferred maintenance in your city resulting in pumping stations failing.

        In either case, sourcing more water locally is a good thing, with less dependence on distant or limited sources, remote pumping systems, and the even more distant generation capacity often required to get you that water.

        If your priority is improving your resilience and quality of life, the ideological debate is spinning your wheels. My grandfather on climate change:

        “Whatcha talkin’ ’bout Global Warming fer? Haven’t they seen that it is rainin’ more than ever in the mountains, and we got snow in damned July down here? Pffff…. They should give that low-life David Suzuki a one-way ticket to Iceland.”

        My grandfather on rainwater harvesting:

        “Well that’s just common sense.”

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