Living In The Up-Down, Hot-Cold, Dry-Wet Future

antique great lakes map segment.jpg
TreeHugger occasionally has taken a "scenario" tact in its posts. This story caps them. Scenario thinking and writing is not just for fun: it's a vital skill. Ever notice how the decidedly un-TreeHugger types are able to steer things toward a "he said/she said" sound byte? We say "Kyoto", they say "ruins our economy". We say "conserve resources", they say "takes away individual freedoms". Our reactions look "out there", and TreeCutters look reasonable by juxtaposition. The way out of this bind lies not just in "framing" with carefully spun words, nor in silently waiting for dreadful events to turn people around, but in scenario thinking. We'll illustrate with some climate change impacts recently modeled for the US' Great Lakes area. The goal is to outline some "predetermined elements" (PE's): things bound to happen in all modeled future scenarios. PE's by definition can't be easily denied or made to look insensible. Within them lie opportunities to live, work, or design for a better future. Turn the page for our example.Let's start with the top lines of a Detroit News story of August 17, 2005. Based on a research report from the Ann Arbor Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory "Global warming could suck enough water from the Great Lakes to send their levels plunging several feet, wiping out wetlands and wounding commercial shipping...Or the water line could rise a little...Torrents of rain and hordes of new bugs brought here by a reshaped climate could devastate the region's farms...Or soybean harvests could be better than ever".

"Most of the time, computer models predict that lake levels will drop by a foot or more during the next century because warmer weather will cause more water to evaporate off the Lakes...But a few newer models suggest lake levels could actually increase a little because the climate is likely to get wetter, too...And, it could dim [or brighten] the amount of electricity produced by the region's hydroelectric plants".

Your head is exploding, right? Take a deep breath, look away from the computer, and turn off the news. What things are common to the conflicted outcomes?


Two high level examples: 1.) water resource managment counts in every outcome. Whether its flooding, and the commensurate property and crop damage, versus the opposites of drought, potable water, and agricultural losses, the need for better water resource planning, conservation, control projects, and emergency response is common to all modeled outcomes. 2.) Corollary: extended drought outside the Great Lakes basin will surely bring waves of new migrants to the Great Lakes area: when a crisis comes...we're making an analogy to the mass migrations caused by the Dust Bowl in the early 1930's.. it's going to be faster, easier, and more logical for people to move toward the water, as opposed to trying, in crisis mode, to move Great Lakes water to widely dispersed populations suffering economic decline.

If long term climate shifts continue and expand the already extensive drought problems, 'leading the horse to water' becomes the PE, whether the Great Lakes are "up or down". What's left hanging is who moves to the Lakes first, the wealthy and middle classes, or the poor and alien immigrants.

What's a TreeHugger to do?

tent city in midwest winter.jpg

Think about the prospects for: locally produced foods; changing uses of parks and recreational lands (hint: tented refugee camps); housing with resource efficient appliances; solar powered wells; biodiesel supply and demand volatility; water saving technologies to invest in, or design; your education or career plans; electoral platforms; States rights v.s. Federalism; and, International water treaties. All flow from the predermined element.

Beat the Pundits at their own game. They cite fantastic or contradictory sounding hypothetical outcomes: you focus on the pre-determined element. A similar process ought to work for whichever region you live in. Look for the climate modeling scenarios.