Monthly Archives: September 2015

Handling the slide down

In re-reading JHK’s World Made By Hand (WMBH) novel A History Of The Future for my mapping project, it made me think again about how the legal process might devolve as things in general go pear shaped, and in a broader sense, how folks will handle these losses.

With regards to the legal process – what will happen when resources become limited, and basic things like exotic forensic investigation are not possible?  The tricky bit here is that if we are to go back to a level of 1950s or even 1850s crime investigation, we will still (at least for a short while) have memories of exotic CSI-like technologies like DNA sequencing with huge databases, voice recognition, and video surveillance to help convict (or free) people accused of crimes.   What happens when a known technology exists, but is no longer possible to be used in routine investigations, due to communication, cost, or infrastructure failures?

Like many other things in the WMBH (of whatever lower energy version of a future you chose), it is going to be a lot harder going down from ‘peak technology’ to a lower plateau of energy usage and technology.   I recall hearing about a psychology experiment where a fictional person’s income rose from something like 50, 100, 120 and then to 150K, versus a change from 150 K, to 130 K, to 100 K, and then to 100 K, and although the net amount received was less in the first case, people felt worse in the second case, because of the decline.

This process is like aging; as we get older, our bodies begin to betray us in novel (and yet predictable!) ways, and we have to cope with the reality that we won’t live forever, and yes, we will die.   On a personal basis, this is quite real, and no amount of bargaining will convince you otherwise.  One morning you wake up, and your vision is going; another, you can’t run as fast as you used to, or you start to see gray in your hair.  No matter how much you try, your body will start to fail, and eventually, fail in a big way.

For societies (especially such as ours, which worship youth and youthfulness), this is a bit trickier, because even as people die, we have generally believed that things will always get better, in spite of any small personal setbacks along the way.  At one point, however, our society won’t have the capability of doing routine DNA tests, paternity tests (!), or basic forensics (like toxicology reports), except for in a few extraordinary cases.   What happens then, and how will we handle it?

A few questions:

  • How do you cope with concrete examples of decline in your personal world?
  • What loss of technology will irk people the most?   The loss of the Internet, hot water, cheap food, and video games are guaranteed to happen, but what will really upset folks the most?
  • How can we prepare for the decline?  “Collapse early, and avoid the rush,” is a classic strategy; are there any others?  Can we live believing in a bright future plus prepare for the worst, or will this just strain our cognitive dissonance filter to the breaking point?

Why Cli-Fi matters

The existence of “climate fiction”, or Cli-Fi, has always been around. What happens when the very weather, the coastline, or the climate changes in the (not-so-distant) future?  According to Wikipedia, the genre has been relatively recent, but films decades old such as Soylent Green (based on the novel “Make Room, Make Room!“), and Silent Running show that this topic was on people’s minds for a while, although more with an ecological slant.

How those films dovetailed with the environmental movement of the time is open; I can’t speculate too well on the zeitgeist of time, and if this nudged people to think about environmental issues in any substantive way.  After all, the environmental movement didn’t give us an environmentally cleaner future, and in 1980, Ronald Reagan was taking solar panels off the White House.

The recent crop of cli-fi, using up to date knowledge and projections, ranges from JMG’s Star’s Reach and JHK’s World Made By Hand series and from big budget films like The Day After Tomorrow to small productions seen on Guy McPherson’s site (the name escapes me – anyone remember it)?  Now, you may disagree with the science (The Day After Tomorrow caught some flack for that) and timeline of some of these works, but the essence of them – the climate is changing rapidly, and changes are upon us are their common themes.

But it seems in our society, very few people can look at a scientific report or finding (or a simple graph):


and think about what it means for them personally.   We live our lives, day to day, not thinking about what it really might mean for us.  400 pm?  Who cares?   450 ppm?  What is a number?

Stories, however, no matter how fanciful, change that.  They put us in the action, and in the environment, and make us think what getting up in the morning, going to work, meeting friends, finding food to eat, and all the sundries of life may look like, surrounded by these real changes.  Of course, these are stories; not predictions, and by their very nature – they aren’t true.   They do give a glimpse of possible futures, and that’s probably enough to get people thinking about things.  A few folks have written about this as well; a good list of pieces to read is given there.

Questions for the audience (yes, you’ve been increasing, since the Star’s Reach maps were published):

  • What piece of cli-fi (or sci-fi) changed your worldview?
  • What piece of cli-fi would you recommend to a newcomer, or to convince someone of these realities?
  • Can cli-fi be damaging to the cause of awakening people?


This will be a short post, because most of my Peakfuture time has been spent updating the map of JMG’s new multi-part story, Retrotopia.

This weekend, I had to travel, and in my travels, I went through the great State of New Jersey.   In the lovely Garden State, I saw this most remarkable sign.   Another sign we live in a mad, mad, mad, mad, world:


This truly blew my mind.

Less than $2 for a gallon of gas?   Yes, this the effect of cheap oil, brought on by the fracking boom/bust and tepid economy (in detail here) but less than $2 a gallon, adjusted for inflation, is on par or less than I was paying when I started learning how to drive.

When prices of a basic commodity like gasoline varies that much (and plummets to such low levels), no wonder we can’t get a public rail system going in this country, much less talk about the effect on the climate that burning these fossil fuels cause.

The Federal Reserve controls one of the most fundamental drivers of our capitalist economy – the interest rate.   If you suggested that they (or anyone else) control any other prices, you’d be laughed at, and considered a socialist or communist (never mind that this has been done in the past,in peacetime).   But the Fed is allowed to control the interest rate, because it is felt that they are “keeping the economy on an even footing.”

If we want to keep the environment on an even footing (although at the rate things are going, this may be impossible), why aren’t fossil fuels subject to the same restrictions?

The idea of a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend program is a great one.  There seems to be some support for it too.   British Columbia seems to have done it, and it might be working.  What are our chances of ever seeing such a thing implemented?


Retrotopia – A primary survey (more maps…)

Ah, and in keeping with the amazing story brewing over at the ADR, we’ve got… a preliminary an (even more) updated map, from JMG’s Retrotopia.

The latest updates on the map of Retrotopia will be here, since JMG has been tweaking the map a bit.  

I drew the split in Idaho at the Salmon River Mountains, which seemed reasonable.  Stuff that hasn’t been colored in hasn’t been defined just as yet; the blue is the Lakeland Republic, of course, the star of the show, and which JMG will be outlining for us in the weeks ahead.   He’s said he wants to concentrated on Lakeland, so don’t pester him (generally, unwise!) about what else is going on.  My unwritten hunch on Nevada and Arizona being abandoned was right; those places are in trouble *now*; in a few years, yes, they’ll be abandoned.

The status of Kansas and Missouri are currently unknown; perhaps they are disputed, or despoiled.


My bet is that New England, as in other possible futures, is united, but who knows?  Maybe JMG will throw us a curve ball or two.

Along with this map, I’m posting current freight rail and passenger rail maps of the US, which might be of some interest to the story.   Rail traffic may increase, as well as inland waterway traffic in the coming years.



These maps were originally here.

Intercity rail was reduced dramatically in the 20th century; perhaps it will make a comeback.  There’s a good chat here about the rise and fall of rail in the US, and of course, the ubiquitous YouTube video showing the rise and fall of railroads.

It also might be worth looking at some canal maps – some of these may not exist, or be in disrepair; a quick search on some of them (the Wabash and Erie, for example one of the longest canals ever built), shows that they aren’t all in operational order.


Divorce, American Style – Part 3 (More maps!)

We labored a bit a few days ago so we could take the day off, but I wanted to add a few things.  This original post shows some imaginings that various authors have thought about with regards to the future of the United States.   Once I get JHK’s latest World Made By Hand novel in hand again, I’ll update the list of maps with his imaginings.

JMG was kind enough to post this response with regard to the border of Meriga and the surrounding regions in Star’s Reach:

Peakfuture, the sea level rise in Star’s Reach is 50 meters. You might also consider putting in the new national borders: Meriga extends from the Appalachians to the Missouri River; Nuwinga is the current New England; Genda is Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes; the Coastal Allegiancies extend down the eastern seaboard from Maryland south to where Florida used to be, up to the Appalachian crest; the Meycan empire has expanded into California, Texas, and those other parts of the Southwest that aren’t completely uninhabited; there’s an empty zone extending between the Rockies and the Sierras and Cascade ranges, which is as dry as the Sahara and a lot more polluted, and nobody lives there; and then there’s the Neeonjin country, which runs along the coast from far northern California up to the Alaskan panhandle, and is inhabited by the descendents of Japanese boat people.

So, the map of the Star’s Reach world looks approximately like this, as far as I can tell.


Between the Missouri and the Rockies, things may be a bit dicey, as the Ogallala aquifier, a main source of agricultural water will most likely be gone by that time.  The black line on the map is the approximate ridge line of the Rockies, so the Empty Zone might extend more to the east of that line, as shown by the dotted line.

Of course, things are going go be a lot more fluid, with a lot less straight lines.  For example, Nuwinga may not run in a straight line down the old man-made New York border, but the flooding of the Hudson, Lake George and Lake Champlain will give a more defined border set by Nature.  Note how Boston is completely gone; my bet is the city of Worcester, or some other city on the Connecticut river will become the capital, but cities like Hartford are only 50 feet above sea level.   It is tough to predict things, but given that sea level rise will start to take chunks out of Boston slowly, people might move to places as close as can be.   Also, if state governments are still functioning, they’ll want to remain in the state, and that might be a natural new capital for Massachusetts, as it once was connected to Boston and Providence via canals (again!).


Divorce, American Style – Part 2 – The New Map

All things that have a beginning, have an end.

Many authors have posited, in both alternate history and future history ways, that The United States of America will at some point either morph into something larger, something smaller, or become something as significant as a postal address.   In the classic bright-future Star Trek, for example, the United States existed until 2150, when it joined in a planetary wide government.  Heck, it is even a good long trope.

The granddaddy of all breakups, of course, is one that has already happened – when the Confederacy declared independence, and we wound up with this:

civil_war_statesmapHow the United States may break up has been discussed many a time, but what I’m finding is that many of the new versions of the US split along state lines, and that may not be realistic.   There is a great book (and a corresponding video version) of “How The States Got Their Shapes” which is highly entertaining and engrossing, and shows that a lot of what we’ve got now is based on some pretty random events.

Years ago, I read The People’s Almanac, and in it, there were two proposals for restructuring the existing United States into something more “workable,” as the old borders of the states (especially the earlier ones) were drawn far before modern life emerged, as noted above.   Now, this may have been a pipe dream (how many state legislatures would voluntarily dissolve, and how many governors would give up power?), but in the reality of a diminished resource world, new ways of administrating things may be needed.  Some may come about peacefully (we hope), and some may not, but in the end, things may be reshuffled a bit.

Here, are some of the restructurings that were imagined:

The first restructuring, with 38 states:

38statesThe second, more radical restructuring of Stanley Brunn, with 16 states;


This sort of restructuring has been revisited from time to time, again, in more academic ways; the Nine Nations of North America breaks the US up into these regions:

360px-9nationsThere are variations on this theme; here, by Colin Woodard, are eleven nations, with some finer detail at the county level:


Now, this is all well and good, but some of these maps and re-imaginings were done years ago, and with a vision that this would be an administrative shuffle, not something brought up by the stresses of a changing environment and energy.   They do point out that our current administrative divisions are arbitrary at best, and practically no states have been untouched by these imaginings.

In 1998, a Russian predicted that the US might break down in this way:

russian_versionHaving Canada rule over the CNAR, or China ruling over California seems a bit far fetched; and for people in Tennessee joining the European Union, it might be a bit of a stretch.

The fictional versions of a reshuffled United States of America are based on different stressors; a limited nuclear attack, economic collapse, and/or environmental changes.  For example, from the television series “Jericho”, a simple map was made after a whole bunch of nuclear devices went off in a few cities, and we wound up with this:ASA-USA_Jericho_Map_Capital

From John Michael Greer’s “How It Could Happen” (the web version), we’ve got the Republic of New England, a smaller thirteen state America (with the District of Columbia becoming the newest small state), Confederacy 2.0, and California, Texas, and Florida going their own ways; from his blog, it was unclear on how the western states would go; might they form up to be something like the Allied States of America, from the Jericho map, minus Texas and California?   It was unclear how some states went (for the smaller America; Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. makes 14; perhaps Virginia joined Dixie 2.0?  The quote from How It Could Happen, Part 5 gives:

The senator filled him in.  “We’ve been at the Senate Office Building on the phones with the states all morning. The seven eastern states that voted against ratification are in. So are Ohio and Delaware—they called off their conventions once Nebraska made it moot. New Jersey only ratified because of Trenton; they want in, and Kentucky talked it over and decided they’d rather be with us than with the South… …marking off twelve states across the eastern core of the continent:  from New York and the mid-Atlantic westward through Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky to Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, linking the Atlantic, the Great Lakes, and the upper Mississippi.  It was, Bridgeport realized, a viable nation.


From James Howard Kunstler’s World Made By Hand series, (A History Of The Future) (To be done!):


From Whitley Strieber’s and James Kunetka’s Warday, where a very small nuclear attack renders modern America a shell of its former self, California goes its own way, and the nation of Azltan in the Southwest starts to emerge and flex its muscle.  Some candidates for Azltan are shown below (in dark red), and clash with the idea that Texas and California will have their own independence in that fictional treatment.


Some of the issues that may make this moot are the ones that have nothing to do (or mostly nothing to do) with human agency; for example, ocean level rise.   In JMG’s Star’s Reach, ocean levels have risen significantly; at 30 meters and 60 meters, a lot changes on the East and Southern coasts (and Florida goes away!), making the 16 state US a pretty dicey proposition:



Another problem may be the issue of nuclear power plants.  If they fail catastrophically, natural transport routes and agricultural lands that we’ve known in the past may be unpassable/uninhabitable, and may make for unnatural boundaries.  Here are the locations of the nuclear power plants in the US, and what their fallout patterns look like:


A few common themes:

Texas – Texas seems to go its own way.  It has always been the “Lone Star State,” and it may live up to its name (or not).   Strong influences from the south of the border may make part of its territory become part of Aztlan.

California – California will either become a republic again, or divide into northern and southern regions.

New England – These states seem to stick together, and have a common culture; they may want to band together.

Not shown on these maps are two US states that will have a few interesting choices to make:

Alaska – Alaska has a lot of natural resources, and who knows how this “Texas of the North” will go.  Given its proximity to Canada, it might cosy up to regions in western Canada, which might be going through its own convulsions.   Correspondingly, the Maritime Provinces might join a Republic of New England, and the Quebecois could get their wish of independence.

Hawaii – I once visited Hawaii years ago, and during my tour of the Iolani Palace, it was shocking to find out how it became a part of the US (essentially, it was stolen).   If the US starts to break apart, Hawaii might find itself as a lucrative trade stop (perhaps too lucrative, to nations west of it), and might go back to an independent kingdom, or be subsumed into a Californian or Alaskan nation.

Questions, as always:

  • Which of these maps seems the most realistic?  The most impossible?
  • Which states are most likely to fragment?  The 16 and 38 state maps show that many states aren’t really cut out to be states in the best of times; in the worst of times, will we see things like Northern and Southern California come into being?  Who goes first?
  • There are legal issues for simple state splitting, but even in the simplest of splits (Northern and Southern California seem logical), how does it happen politically?   What are the day-to-day mechanics of this?  This all sounds like the mechanics of a divorce, and even in amicable ones, this can get complicated!
  • The flags of California and Texas are well known, and might be the de facto representations of new nations or regions.  There’s even a flag of New England.   Who will take the flag of the US, and modify it to suit their purposes?
  • There should be some talk of Mexico and Canada in all this; after all, if the borders of states dissolve, perhaps even the borders of nations will become fluid.  Thoughts?