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Entering the Mega-Drought Era in America


Entering the Mega-Drought Era in America

William deBuys

Long ago, I lived in a cheap flat in San Francisco and worked as the lone straight man in a gay construction company. Strangely enough, the drought now strangling California brings back memories of those days. It was the 1970s. Our company specialized in restoring the Victorian “gingerbread” to the facades of the city’s townhouses, and I got pretty good at installing cornices, gable brackets, and window hoods, working high above the street.


Here in eastern Ohio in the Upper Ohio River Valley we experienced the wettest June on record. Historically we receive 3-4 inches of rain for that month; this year we measured 11 inches. This daily deluge lasted through mid-July and then the spigot was abruptly closed. Since then we have received here just 0.12 inches. The exceptionally wet period allowed all the vegetation to grow to a very full extent. Even before this year’s events this area, despite periods of rain and drought and compared with some other parts of the world, we still resembled a time that reflected a more predictable and stable regimen.

If we were to experience a severe long-lasting drought here and things really dried out our forests contain so much standing and downed fuel that any forest fires would probably be unlike anything seen so far.

We know that the jet stream is “out of whack” and what this may mean going forward is as yet unclear. The situation is changing so rapidly now that I doubt the climatologists can keep up with revising their models to get a handle on where we’re going.

All of the politicians here, from local to national, deny climate change or just do not speak of it. When climate change is in the news the talk here is of the threat to jobs and the economy through the loss of coal mining and the new gas and oil in a “misguided response to a non-existent problem.” It is quite bizarre.


I remember that drought. Moved to San Francisco from L.A. the year before and then unexpectedly became a single father by taking on the care and keeping of my then 3 year old son (the other option being to toss him into the Foster Care system to fend for himself).

San Franciscans were such good followers of all the water use recommendations: no obligatory glass of water with restaurant meals, showers done the wet your body water off to soap up, water on to rinse, no repeat shampooing despite the instructions on the shampoo label, no unnecessary pee only toilet flushing, bricks in the toilet tank to displace water. And every night on TV film of Southern Califonians wastefully watering lavish lawns as the gutters ran wet with that precious bodily fluid as if saying “Screw you sissy ass Northern Californians with your self congratulatory conservation bull pucky!”

Of course all those personal chcices really didn’t matter when seen against the percentage of water used in agribusiness and industrialized manufacturing.

That experience led me to sadly conclude that change on the scale and in the time that’s needed can’t come about by individuals awakening voluntarily and one by one coming to make ecologically correct responsible consumption choices.

How these desperately needed course corrections in the whole of the industrialized world could come about remains unseeable in my aging, discouraged imagination.


Is it bizarre or is it the product of those who rely on paychecks that are issued by corporations that rely upon (thus far) or do business with Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Fracking, etc.? You know, that little thing known as a “gag order.”

Up until quite recently The Weather Channel was mum on this point. And I listened to a one-hour interview with a woman who went out to Montana, I think it was, to ask why the subject was never brought up. The head of whatever department was tasked with planning for agriculture and cattle-ranching didn’t want to upset his Republican voter-citizens.

Look at the clown show of Republican governors who–in spite of evidence simulating a Horror Film of natural disasters–STILL pretend there’s “nothing to see here.” Perhaps it’s code for their God-the-father loves his children so much that he’s sending fire, hell, brimstone, and End Times. There IS no reasoning with this faith-based deluded flock that numbers into the many millions. THAT sect is holding humanity back!


“How these desperately needed course corrections in the whole of the industrialized world could come about remains unseeable in my aging, discouraged imagination.”

Really? Ralph Nader certainly has mapped it all out, as have others.

It would start with corporate responsibility and the revocation of those corporations’ charters that pollute rivers, destroy the air, and poison the commons. But of course none of that is done. For while the subject of bankers who fixed the system to supply their own cash geysers and never spent a day in jail is discussed, virtually little is said about all those Energy Corps (along with Big Agri.) that do inordinate damage to the webs of life and get off scot-free. In fact, most retain enormous tax advantages and direct (from us taxpayers via “the govt.”) subsidies.

Token fees are paid when courts don’t whittle them down… but the same strains of malfeasance continue. Count the oil spills, the train accidents, the pipeline ruptures… ongoing.

If legal systems of accountability and redress were in place and operational, you wouldn’t have to wonder out loud.

The mechanisms that would solve this problem have been disabled as Big Money has bought up the media, the courts, congress, and too much of academe to thereby anesthetize any would-be options to its mass suicide (amped up ecocide) business-as-usual modus operandi.

There is not one magic bullet energy cure-all, but the various clean options–solar, wind, geothermal, etc.–taken together CAN wean humanity from the substance that is killing its planetary home.

It’s not citizens that stand in the way of this shift, although it’s true that a SEGMENT of citizens (the right wing Christian fundamentalists along with the money-is-all business sectors) fits that bill. Essentially, the MIC, the bankers, AND the Energy moguls “own the place,” and that place is Congress and U.S. govt. decision-making channels.


Maybe not too hard: (a) take over government (b) box up the psychopaths © replace Capitalism with a global economy of open-handed sharing and stewardship of Earth (d) limit reproduction to 0.5 live birth per person, followed by medical sterilisation, no special pleading for any reason (e) crash programs to re-forest and reduce by tech methods the global energy/water demands to a level that can be met by natural means (f) eliminate all laws that work to privilege the few at the expense of the many, for example the laws that forbid turning one’s property into a veg garden.


Well done you!!


Only a repressed homosexual could compare sexual preference with drought. A literary crime if there ever was one. Common dreams you should be ashamed. Climate and drought are real problems.


The water use restrictions you list are trivial and ignore the elephant in the room. Avoiding meat saves much more water than not asking for a glass of water in a restaurant, fast showers, limited flushing, etc. If a problem requires a solution, go to the core of the problem instead of nibbling around its periphery. Mainstream water-saving measures are always the latter and the heart of the problem is ignored.



“Repressed homosexual”?! I think that it is time for you to move to the 21st century.

I thought the analogy - the promiscuous lifestyle of gays in the 1980s leading to deadly AIDS/HIV infection, and the promiscuous internal combustion engine suburban lifestyle so associated with California, to be followed by deadly climate change, was quite apt.


The core of the problem in this case is the amount of human water-consuming “meat” on the planet, not the number of carnivores.

Were the human population still only 100M, as it was when Poplicola decreed the Republic, Cleistenes was experimenting with democracy, and Laozi was telling people to be authentic and non-oppressive, we wouldn’t be in trouble even if some humans did eat the flesh of non-humans. (If you’ve read RHB, you know that many Japanese ate/eat “mountain whale” despite being at least nominally Buddhist and committed to vegetarianism).


I disagree. The earth can support 10 billion vegetarians, according to scientists who study the population problem. On average it takes about 2500 gallons of water to produce an ounce of beef so sitting down to a meat-based meal and declining an eight ounce glass of water is pathetic. Laozi was the founder of Daoism which is of course strongly vegetarian. Adolph Hitler was a self-identified Roman Catholic. People who self-identify as Buddhists while killing whales are not evenly slightly Buddhist.


My mother grew up in the dustbowl area of Colorado during the 30’s. She described a phenomenon that the ranchers called “upside down thunderstorms”. That is, after the prolonged drought had killed off most of the vegetation the land would get so hot that the people could see a raincloud pouring out rain but the rain evaporated before it even touched the ground. Prolong drought is the worst national disaster their is, responsible for more deaths than all of the rest put together.


Oh yes Yunzer, the rest of the country has suburbs populated with people primarily on bicycles.

So have you had any California craft beers lately?


Cap and Trade is not much of a solution. Fossil fuel companies and even the old guard republicans and dems support it… All the big players will tell you “Look at how environmentally responsive we are! We’ll do Cap and Trade so cut us some slack”

The problem is that Cap and Trade looks like it does a lot but actually does very little. One coal fired plant produces 3.5 million tons of carbon added to the atmosphere per year. The state sets a goal for reducing carbon emissions by some future date. The goal mentioned here is to cut emissions 35% below 2005 levels. Think about that BTW. Scientists say 2005 levels were too high and have asked that levels be reduced to below 50% of 1990 levels. All those new coal pants and cars in China post 1990, all the trees cut down in the Amazon, all our own additional carbon production etc etc… and 35% of 2005 levels is a goal that is already way too high from the get go.

So the state sets this goal and assigns a number to carbon production and says if you produce more carbon than this amount you’ll have to buy permits that will allow you to keep polluting .Then the state pockets the money (which has been passed on as higher energy costs). As new energy production facilities are built, the understanding is that they will either pay more for producing carbon or they will build less carbon polluting facilities.

So by …hmn? When was that target goal for achieving that reducton in carbon set for? Most cap and trade programs set 2050 for their target but others set even later dates like 2080!. By 2050 most coal plants in use today will have already reached the end of their useful life and would be slated for replacement.

Still a 35% reduction is something though right? It would be if that 3.5 million tons of added carbon per year per each coal plant were actually reduced by a third to 2.3 million tons per year… but it won’t be. From now until that 2050 target date each coal plant will continue producing 3.5 million tons of carbon every year - year in and year out without change. There will be no actual reduction of the carbon produced by coal plants in operation now.

So how does cap and trade reduce emissions by 35%? As new energy production is constructed, whether solar, wind or nuclear and… natural gas, it gets tabulated as a reduction in the states overall carbon production.

Why isn’t fracking mentioned as a major component of cap and trade schemes because it plays a big part since natural gas is considered less carbon polluting than coal?

It is a reduction on paper far more than it is a reduction in carbon production but it sure sounds good. It makes it look like more is being done when it isn’t. Which is why even climate change skeptics like cap and trade just as much as does Exxon and other fossil fuel companies.and of course… our politicians.


Here in Oregon there news reports of “about 2 dozen fires”, out of control, one of them covering 137 square miles, another 81 square miles. Similar situation in Washington.


California led the nation in dismantling of public transit, freeway construction and car-dependent suburbia. Like everything else, it later spread through what would be called “the sunbelt” eastward to the DC area, and much of the Midwest. But if you travel to the northeast, you will find the cities are more dense, therefore walkable and transit served - with suburbs served by extensive commuter rail like New Jersey Transit SEPTA and the Long Island RR. Where I live her in Pittsburgh, we only have a few areas that would be recognizable as “suburbia” by California or DC-area standards.


That’s why allowing polluters to keep polluting by buying cap and trade ‘permits’ to keep polluting is such bullshit. We need to get off fossil fuel plants that spew out climate changing gases not allow them to pollute like they are for another 30 years. The powerful and the wealthy will not change willingly. They want business as usual and that is that.

I fought forest fires back when I was young. I know the danger and the risk to the fire fighters. Bad fucking news what is happening man. Serious shit! Look at how fast the change is happening everywhere! The deniers say they don’t believe but they’ll keep saying that till the whole fucking place goes up in smoke. This fire season is so fucking awesome! Epic in scope. It will continue probably throughout the winter and into next year and on and on.

Ash fell like snow… hour after hour… day after day. … God bless and preserve them one and all.


Hello Dubet. I agree with you that the climate change events still on there way are going to see many people dying. However, I expect our clever species will not suffer the same fate as the other 90% of the mammals. Assuming some level of survival, I thing preparing for the changes (and fighting to end emissions) are the appropriate response. Better to be a hummingbird. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGMW6YWjMxw


I live in Pittsburgh and do all sorts of stuff to keep my own CO2 emissions down - notably my unfashionable mostly Chinese 2 wheel EV commuting most of 9 months out of the year, eschewing AC, outdoor line-drying of clothes, and recently a leased Smart EV - because I could not cajole my wife to use the bus to her full time job 15 city-street miles away (15 miles and two river crossings is a long commute around here.

I’ve given up explaining to co-workers or neighbors why I do this stuff - I just say thing like “the scooter is much more fun than a car” which it is.

Western PA is incredibly hostile to most things “green”. The US Rep. and Chevy dealer owner Mike Kelly (R-Butler) fired his sales manager when he ordered a Volt for the showroom. The Bobby Rahal Mercedes/Smart dealer practically treated me like a trespasser when I inquired about a Smart Electric Drive. I had to go all the way to the DC area (Germantown, MD - a place I’m glad I don’t live) where I was received like a king and got one for $1200 down and $84 a month - including delivery to Pittsburgh.