Is it time to roll over? 121210
Can we continue to justify living in rural areas?
There is a shrinking amount of fresh water and a demand that grows daily. The micro thin layer of topsoil is being salted by over fertilization and decreasing ground and surface water, and is being saturated with the breakdown products of pesticides. Though technology is straining to provide more function with less energy use, the growing demand for energy continues to grow even as the accessible hydrocarbons dwindle. In each area, the carrying capacity of the system is being overburdened, and efforts to mediate the problem bring new problems, and on top of it the oceans are filling with trash and chemical pollution and are dead in some places, and the sky is so full of crap that when you eat snow you’re eating diesel soot and coal ash.
The single family home is remarkably inefficient, even a duplex is more efficient. Living at the edge of town is more costly in terms of utility lines and roads, and in increased auto emissions. Living in the sticks is very inefficient, and erodes the quality of the remaining natural watersheds.
There was a time in the west when a person felt a little sorry for someone who might have to live in an apartment. Not having your own house, preferably with some acreage, was a sign of trouble. It means you were just leaving home and young, or waiting for death and old, or divorced, or troubled in some other way. That time has passed.
The apartment complex, which is very like a bee hive or termite mound, is a very efficient way to store people while they aren’t working. Take away cars and give everyone mass transit to centralized services, and you’re on the way to reducing the amount of energy each person needs.
Roof and window box gardens will offer some locally raised food, and will add a small amount of oxygen, and most of all satisfy the vestigial animal need for greenery.
Should we roll over? For the benefit of humankind and the little animals in the forest should we all go to town, and I don’t mean Loyalton or Downieville, I mean a real town like Reno or Sacramento, to live in a rat cages?
It would be the socially responsible thing to do. And we’ll stop eating meat, which requires a lot of petroleum, and start eating beans and lentils grown on the roof of our hive?
This is where California building codes, and “carbon footprint” environmentalists, are leading us. The math they use in their calculations are exactly right. Living crowded into apartments will save resources.
Save them for whom, though? The entire point of this line of thinking is to make room for yet more people. If we all reduce 20% there will be enough for another person. More people, crowded closer, each using less.
If you follow the math out, and don’t stop with the assumption that “we’ll save 20%” if the population stops growing, you’ll come to the conclusion that there is very little point in any effort to reduce the use of anything because population growth will swamp any benefit.
Since sacrifice for the common effort is likely to be futile, why should we give up living where we like, and driving a rusty SUV, and eating the flesh of other mammals? Why should we surrender the peace of a night’s sleep for the unavoidable realization that one is packed into a cube of humanity, that one is inevitably surrounded by strangers on all sides?
Here’s another kind of math.
There are two scenarios that will reduce the need for those now living to move to a hive. There certainly are others, but the most likely two are:
1. Corn blight. Almost everything we eat, directly or indirectly, comes from corn. The U.S. only grows a few kinds. If (when) some critter evolves that drastically reduces the corn harvest for just two years, most of our income will go to food and people will be starving in the streets. Most of us can’t imagine how hard it is to raise all the food your family needs for a year. It’s difficult and highly uncertain. Still, those in rural areas will have the best chance of doing that.
The likelihood of some corn based food shortage is very high, because of the way we grow corn, monoculture, field after field. The likelihood that more than a million will die is low. Most of the million would likely be poor and young, old, or ill. Most would be urban.
2. Plague. Actually, pandemic is more correct. The likelihood of a pandemic is huge. The most likely scenario, the Prospect predicts, is not a “flu” style epidemic. It will be another epidemic of a disease which is resistant to antibiotics and doesn’t kill its victim right away. Typically diseases like these slowly reduce population, generally depleting the population. Diseases which kill quickly, as bubonic plague did, must infect their next victims before the first victim dies. That works best in very crowded areas.
Some favor the epidemic of simple viruses, but that ignores the slowly growing epidemics we’re already experiencing. One is AIDS, which is slowly becoming less devastating than it once was, but which continues to spread worldwide. The second likely contender is TB, which once killed quickly (it was called the White Plague). Currently, a new person contracts TB every second, sixty a minute. Some consider that a pandemic. Malaria is also a good choice in warmer areas, and resistant strains are emerging.
Whatever the next pandemic, it will likely surge back and forth across the globe as the Black Death did Europe. You can keep people clean, and you can sterilize your hands, but people have to breathe.
Whichever poison you choose, rural areas will fare better, as they traditionally do in times of plague or famine (though if the famine is bad enough, everyone suffers).
And, in times of drought. Lack of fresh water has been cited as the next world crisis. It is a looming crisis in California. We have water and it will become a crisis for us because when you have what people want, they’ll generally take it from you. That’s what is happening now, our looming local crisis. We’re poised to lose water from the Little Truckee, and to have our local agricultural water uses more highly regulated both for flow and quality.
Other impending catastrophes include the end of cheap oil. That will hit us hard; get out to the garage and convert your truck to burn wood.
It should be said that there are those who like living in an apartment. They have no sense of the crushing claustrophobia that grips some cousins in city conditions. They like knowing old Mrs. Fishbine in 1236, or the nice young couple in 1238. They like it when, twice a year, there’s a “Twelves Party” and everyone on the floor opens their doors to make the floor one big room. Only non-movable glazing could confine some of us in that situation, though. For some of us, going to the Yuba Pass Chili Cookoff satisfies our social needs for the year.
Should we roll over? Nah. We sure should hunker down, though.