Thursday, December 31, 2009

He who builds his house by the sea builds on sand

If California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will
I predict this hotel will be standing
Until I pay my bill.
-- Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves

Here we see two brave little backhoes attempting to hold back the Pacific ocean,

which is undermining the bluffs upon which stand some typical California cheap-ass apartment buildings.

The analogy to the attempts of our weak, corrupted, and dysfunctional government to deal with its sea of troubles is too obvious. Economic collapse and climate change lap inexorably at the sandy foundations of our civilization. A line from one of the news stories could be the epitaph for the current era: They had a great view while it lasted.

Oh well, nothing abides*. Let's hope this coming decade is better than the last one and that whatever tides lap at our well-being, they do it slowly enough that the human talent for adaptation can successfully operate.


Anonymous said...

John McPhee's Control of Nature is a hoot, particularly the bit about LA's subdivisions. Vast boulders in the front yards that rolled down off the mountain and out onto the flats at some point. etc. etc.

mtraven said...

John McPhee wrote about this very spot in the opening of Assembling California -- it's very near where the San Andreas fault meets the coastline.

This blog got started as a response to Katrina, and John McPhee had something to say about that too.

TGGP said...

I know Climate Change is supposed to kill everything if the linear extrapolation continues uninterrupted (albeit centuries from now), but the recent economic downturn is hardly a threat to civilization. There was much to gripe about this decade, but I suppose there always is. Much ruin in a nation and all that.

mtraven said...

Maybe. The long-term trends of our economy do not look encouraging. I don't suppose that economic collapse will bring down civilization, but there's a fair chance of serious shittiness. The recovery programs enabled us to dodge a bullet, but it's a temporary patch at best. Our utter dependence on imported energy and foreign credit, and our lack of domestic industry, seem to me to be grave vulnerabilities that could cause havoc at any time. I suppose our enablers (China for debt and OPEC for energy) will always decide we are too big to fail, but there are limits.

I should outsource the doomsaying to the professionals like Orlov and Kunstler. Whether I believe them depends on what kind of mood I'm in.

TGGP said...

The long-term trends of our economy do not look encouraging
Which are?

Our utter dependence on imported energy
Energy producers/exporters don't tend to be all that.

our lack of domestic industry
Industrial output keeps increasing.

will always decide we are too big to fail
I doubt they're that stupid.

jlredford said...

Love the picture of the brave little backhoes!

re: "the attempts of our weak, corrupted, and dysfunctional government to deal with its sea of troubles is too obvious"

I'm hoping that the analogy is more to CA than to the US as a whole. Other states seem to be riding this out better - Mass. just cranked its sales tax from 5% to 6.25% and will probably be able to close a 7% budget shortfall ($2.5B out of $34B) through that and cuts.

Things are actually happening at the federal level too. They're happening too slowly for my taste, but a heck of a lot faster than two years ago.

And I'm actually getting optimistic on the climate change front. The US peak CO2 emission was already two years ago ( There are a lot of good technologies pretty close to fruition, and a fair amount of cheap and easy things that individuals can do.

mtraven said...

TGGP: Those industrial output numbers are interesting but in contradiction to the everyday observed facts that almost all consumer goods are imports, so I'm not sure what's going on there. What is it we are manufacturing to get those numbers? Industrial equipment?

JR: I am tempermentally attracted to doom-mongering. But I don't know how much I believe it. See here for an attempt to at least cover the spectrum of prediction. It appears to me that there are some fundamental problems with the world that patching will not solve, but who knows. I think the biggest variable is the speed of change; ie, if global warming or economic restructuring happens slowly, it gives people time to adapt, but if it happens quickly we are in trouble.

jlredford said...

re: is the US making anything

The link in TGPP's comment has a graph that shows manufacturing output increasing steadily. Unfortunately, it stopped at the last peak, in 2006. Here's the current data from the same source:

Series: OUTMS, Manufacturing Sector: Output

Current output is down 10% compared to 2000. Even the peak in 2006 was was only a couple of percent above that in 2000. Basically, output grew steadily in the 90s and did nothing in the Zips. There are more detailed breakdowns elsewhere in the same site, and they show the same pattern for sectors like consumer or durable goods. So, yes, the US is not making as much as it used to.