The Fall Of California

Over 4,000 years ago, the Harappan Civilization of the Indus Valley faded and disappeared. Never heard of the Harappans? Theirs was a Bronze-Age civilization located where Pakistan and northwest India are today. With large, well-planned cities, municipal sewage systems and writing that has never been deciphered, they had a civilization equal to Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. But the Harappans fell victim to what most view as a modern horror—climate change. Sometime around 2,100 BC the monsoon cycle, vital to all of South Asia, faltered. The reliable rains stopped, and man's earliest civilizations fell. Now we are told that California—that progressive paradise on the Pacific—is poised on the brink of its own drought spawned disaster. So desperate have things become that one restaurant chain has threatened to stop serving guacamole and vintners are turning to witchcraft. Can the total collapse of Californian civilization be far behind?

It has been well established that several of humanity's earliest civilizations suffered significant decline around the start of the second millennium BC. This reversal of human fortunes has been attributed to a long-term drought that began around 2400 BC and peaked around 2100 BC. In a new paper in the journal Geology, a team of palaeoclimatologists suggest the enigmatic Harappan Civilization suffered a similar fate. Based on isotope data from the sediment of an ancient lake, Yama Dixit, David A. Hodell and Cameron A. Petrie claim to have found an interruption of the yearly monsoon cycle 4,100 years ago. In “Abrupt weakening of the summer monsoon in northwest India ∼4100 yr ago,” the researchers document a climatic smoking gun. They state their case in the paper's typically understated abstract:

Climate change has been suggested as a possible cause for the decline of urban centers of the Indus Civilization ∼4000 yr ago, but extant paleoclimatic evidence has been derived from locations well outside the distribution of Indus settlements. Here we report an oxygen isotope record of gastropod aragonite (δ18Oa) from Holocene sediments of paleolake Kotla Dahar (Haryana, India), which is adjacent to Indus settlements and documents Indian summer monsoon (ISM) variability for the past 6.5 k.y. A 4‰ increase in δ18Oa occurred at ca. 4.1 ka marking a peak in the evaporation/precipitation ratio in the lake catchment related to weakening of the ISM. Although dating uncertainty exists in both climate and archaeological records, the drought event 4.1 ka on the northwestern Indian plains is within the radiocarbon age range for the beginning of Indus de-urbanization, suggesting that climate may have played a role in the Indus cultural transformation.

The authors claim that the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Early Bronze Age civilizations of Greece and Crete, and the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia are linked to a similar decline in the Indus Valley—a widespread aridification event that occurred ~4.2 thousand years (ka) before the present. “The 4.2 ka aridification event is regarded as one of the most severe climatic changes in the Holocene, and affected several Early Bronze Age populations from the Aegean to the ancient Near East,” they state in their concluding remarks. Imagine, an instance of natural climate change that brought down civilizations all over the ancient world.

The paleoclimate study was based on proxy data gathered from a dried lake site known as Katla Kahar, shown on the map above. “Holocene paleoclimate records suggest that Indian summer monsoon (ISM) variability occurred at centennial and millennial time scales, but the instrumental record (post-1871) is generally too short to document the full range of variability,” the authors state. “Thus, paleoclimate studies are necessary to evaluate past changes in ISM intensity and their potential societal implications.”

This highlights one of the problems with climate change and associated human disasters—our records just don't go back long enough to make accurate judgments. The same can be said for the current drought in the great state of California. As reported in this blog, conditions have been parched in the Golden State for several years, leading to the predictable cry of “global warming!” from climate alarmists everywhere. The trouble is, California is a semi-arid region that is prone to drought, some times lasting for decades and even centuries. Scientists have documented ancient Megadroughts that occurred between 850 to 1090 and 1140 to 1320.

Things have gotten so bad all sorts of people have taken to blaming unrelated problems on climate change. Supposedly the demand for water witches has gone through the roof (see “California’s drought is so bad people are turning to witchcraft”). Even those who do not believe in the mystical arts are panicking. For instance, the west coast restaurant chain Chipotle stirred up the media and guacamole lovers with news that it could “suspend” guacamole from its menu due to global warming. For those unfamiliar with Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, guacamole is made from avocados, a large fruit that grows on trees.

“Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients,” the chain opined in its annual report. Chipotle uses 97,000 pounds of avocado daily to make its guacamole and salsa, which translates to 35.4 million pounds of avocados yearly. That is a lot of avocados. Is this the end for California? First the indigenous cuisine is destroyed; soon there is no longer enough water to grow food or water lawns in Beverly Hills; surely the collapse of civilization (such as it is) will soon follow. Or perhaps not.

According to PBS, avocados have shrunk in size in recent harvests but the number of fruits have actually increased. Avocados seem to be in plentiful supply despite vagaries of climate change that have resulted in “lemon sized” Hass avocados. Chipotle, which recently absorbed a significant price increase in beef and introduced a new vegetarian tofu option, might be taking proactive steps to address how the climate could affect its business long term. After a flurry of unwanted attention in the media, the company has walked back the guacamole crisis.

Besides, global warming does not seem to be a direct threat to the world's avocados. The condition most limiting to growing an avocado tree is cold weather, according to the Texas A&M System AgriLife Extension website. All three primary avocado species are tropical plants: West Indian (P. americana Mill. var. americana), Guatemalan (P. nubigena var. guatamalensis L. Wms.) and Mexican (P. americana var. drymifolia Blake). Mexican varieties are the most cold-hardy, but they can tolerate cold temperatures to only about 20°F (-6.7°C). So it is global cooling that the guacamole aficionados should be concerned with.

But what about the global warming drought connection? Should we fear a return of the dust bowl that ravaged the southwest in the 1930s? According to the US government, “The most widespread and severe drought conditions occurred in the 1930s and 1950s. The early 2000s were also characterized by severe droughts in some areas, notably in the western United States... The trends averaged over all of North America since 1950 are similar to U.S. trends for the same period, indicating no overall trend.

Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conducted a survey of global drought in 2012 (pdf), and concluded:

There is not enough evidence at present to suggest high confidence in observed trends in dryness due to lack of direct observations, some geographical inconsistencies in the trends, and some dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. There is medium confidence that since the 1950s some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts (e.g., southern Europe, west Africa) but also opposite trends exist in other regions (e.g., central North America, northwestern Australia).

If the IPCC finds no compelling evidence of a link then those espousing one are on the fringe of the fringe of climate science. The chaos continues, however, with all sorts of scientific ignoramuses—John Kerry and Barrack Obama to name two—continuing to spout unsupported nonsense at every opportunity. This public prattle is driving real climate scientists to distraction, and pissing quite a few of them off. Here is how Roger Pielke Jr. put it on his blog:

The amount of nonsense in public debate on extreme events and climate change remains at a high level. This is great news for me because it provides plenty of opportunities to discuss what the actual science says and how we think we know what we know. As I have long argued, accurate representations of the state of science of extremes is far more important as a matter of scientific integrity than to the hyper-politiczed debate over climate change. Put another way, it is highly unlikely that misrepresentations of the state of science will do much to move action on energy policies, but they could damage the integrity of leading institutions of science.

For more from Dr. Pielke, check out his “Handy Bullshit Button on Disasters and Climate Change.” It should be required reading for all politicians and news reporters.

The bottom line on all of this drought nonsense is that droughts happen. Indeed, sometimes they last for centuries. There is nothing we can do about droughts because we do not control the climate, no matter what green agitators and climate change alarmists say. California will have to muddle through regardless. The only thing its people can do is adapt to the changing conditions. I suggest they all have some guacamole, a couple of margaritas, and chill out.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.


Grab some guacamole, a margarita and chill out on your favorite beach.

The Fall of California

"It has been well established that several of humanity's earliest civilizations suffered significant decline around the start of the second century BC." Don't you mean second millennium?

Correct

You are correct. Fixed. As you can see, we humans just have a hard time with time spans of more than a few years :-) Thanks.

Drought not due to Global Warming

According to a report in the New York Times, Martin Hoerling, who studies climate extremes for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says the CA drought is natural, not due to global warming.

    This drought has many of the attributes of past historical droughts over the region — widespread lack of storms and rainfall that would normally enter the region from the Pacific with considerable frequency. It resembles the 1975-76 and 1976-77 California droughts, when two consecutive years were at least as dry as the last two years have been for the state as a whole.

    The bottom line is that this type of drought has been observed before. And, to state the obvious, this drought has occurred principally due to a lack of rains, not principally due to warmer temperatures.

Article here: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/a-climate-analyst-clarifies...

California vs Harappan

Harappan has been one of my interests for years and in 2012 I had the opportunity to work for 6 weeks on an urban development project near the center of what was once the Harappan civilization.

True both Harappan and California suffer from long natural droughts, and true these long droughts pose a threat to civilization.

But the analogy can be pushed too far. The Harappans did not have the technology that California has, nor scientific knowledge about either its paleoclimate or the contemporary climate. So the Harappans had little control over their fate.

Not quite so with California. The state and the nation mismanage the available water resources in manifold ways.

At the very least, the water under hydraulic control is under-priced. How else can we explain the export of water in the form of hay?

Further, the value of smelt fishery is over-priced. How else can we explain the diversion of water to support sport fishing?

Adapt or die

I am in general agreement with your remarks. California and its drought are certainly not the same as the 4.2ka megadrought that took out the Harappans and other bronze age civilizations. My main point is that droughts, often lasting extended periods of time, are not new nor are they unusual. What makes them seem "unprecedented" is that the time scale and frequency of such events is much longer than a human lifetime. Whether our greater technology makes us more adaptable than our primitive ancestors is a matter for debate. There are many who say that our technology makes us more inflexible and less inclined to move when regional climate goes to hell. We shall see in the future, because the climate is always changing.

All ready gone

To quote the old Eagles' song, California is all ready gone. Didn't you see the Oscars? Did anybody see one of those films? Who needs 'em.

California Gone?

Anonymous, there appears to be some sketchy logic in your reasoning.

First, you conclude no one is watching movies produced by California.

This is based on two assumptions:

1) The movies featured at the Oscars represents all the movies produced in California. Not true. Movies no longer produced exclusively in California, nor exclusively produced by California based studios. Also, there are many California produced films never nominated for an Oscar.

2) Everyone shares your tastes in movies. Also not true. Both my wife and I enjoyed the movie Gravity. We've seen it twice. My wife enjoyed Blue Jasmine. Our tastes diverged at that point. I was afraid the movie would be too depressing.

Even if your assumptions were correct, movie making is not the only thing going on in California. One case in point, a lot of food is produced there. I find it hard to believe you don't eat food originating in California.

You are correct in one statement. Who needs 'em. Movies are entertainment. So are sports. So is television. Music. Etc. All can be eschewed with no impact on life. Yet, billions are spent by people engaged in these activities.

California does a lot of silly things hurting their economy. But wealthy people have a lot of room for error, and California is very wealthy.

For example, California would prefer to have natural oil seeps continue to pollute the Santa Barbara channel rather than do some land based directional drilling to intercept those leaks and produce some useful petroleum products. See http://www.soscalifornia.org/problem.html.

Speaking of Gravity, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the host on Cosmos, was quick to point out one of the scientific errors in the movie. Almost all the satellites in orbit around the Earth go West to East. The premise was the Russian satellite forming the basis of the entire story was going the wrong way.

However, Tyson never points out the scientific errors forming the basis of CAGW. He would lose his job in minutes if he did so.

Errors?

Tyson will get his salary increased several times in another job!