The ductus of American history is, supposedly, North/South. However, perhaps the real prime fact about America, the one upon which its prosperity has been built and by which its prosperity will be buried, is the East/West divide. James Lawrence Powell devotes a chapter in the Dead Pool, his book about the water that the West is running out of, to John Wesley Powell’s fight to prevent the government from doing what it did – supporting a vast infrastructure of water-using projects in the West. As head of the Geological Survey in the 1880s, Powell produced a map of the U.S., differently colored according to the annual rainfall received by the land. Gray meant that the land received more than 20 inches of rain per year. More than 20 inches meant that there was no need for irrigation. White meant that the land received less than 20 inches of rain per year. Given a European diet heavy in meat and grain, the Gray areas of the land would be where you would predict that most of the agriculture would lie. The map shows an almost evenly divided country. Gray goes west from New England to the Mississippi, where it stops. From the West side of the Mississippi to California, white takes over, save for the Pacific Northwest.
Using that map, and our knowledge that it is precisely in the white areas where American agriculture is now predominantly located, you can make a prediction: the State must have a giant hand in shifting agriculture to country which is inherently inimical to it.
And so it happened. Superimpose the gray and white over our political blue and red, and you can see, too, that the white is very red. Why? Such has been the success of the state in becoming a natural part of the political landscape that it has disappeared in the consciousness of those who depend on it most. In a technical sense, you could call them freeriders, but that would not quite cover the complexity of the culture that has grown up in those vast, barbarous tracts.
One thing is for sure, though. Just as the state has fallen below the surface of the consciousness for this region, so too, has climate change. One of the funnier – as in ha ha, the end of the world is funny – things done during the Bush regime was the directing of the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency charged with managing water in the west, to pay no mind to science. Thus, the Bureau decided, to its own satisfaction, that Colorado’s river flow would perhaps increase in 2040, filling our good reservoirs up to the brink. Unfortunately, during the past eight years, the Colorado has flowed at 60 percent of its flow, in relation to the Bureau’s standard. In reality, most scientists believe we do have very good evidence for the average flow of the river, which is different than it was when back in the extraordinarily wet years of the 1910s and 1920s. So even if the flow was normal, it would be much less than the Bureau projects. But, given the fact that the amount of CO2 now in the atmosphere will lift temperatures over the next two to three hundred years to heights never seen before by humans, it is probable even that even average flow is way too much to expect. Given the rises in temperature so far, by 2100, Phoenix will have the average temperature of Death Valley, for instance. Arizona Republicans, if there are any still around in the ghost town Phoenix will surely be by then, will have a hard time twisting these facts into the pretzel logic they so love.
B-B-B-B-B-B-BOOM! We’re all gonna die!
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