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The town of Potosi, Venezuela was flooded in 1985 to expand the Uribante-Caparo Reservoir for a hydroelectric dam. For the next twenty-six years, the only visible trace of the town was the 85 ft tall steeple of the church, which usually poked above the surface and was used as the high water mark for the reservoir. Recent droughts starting in 2010 have caused the ghostly ruins of the church and town to reemerge.

Amid a continuing drought and persistent, intense heat waves afflicting South America, Venezuela is another developing country in the cross hairs of anthropogenic global warming. Like its neighbor Brazil, the country’s electrical needs are heavily dependent on hydropower which provides roughly two-thirds of demand. In recent days temperatures have climbed to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, making 2015 the hottest year on record for Venezuela in the last 60 years and forcing its citizenry to crank up their air conditioning. In response to a stressed electric grid, the government is now rationing electricity in order to avoid further blackouts. Scientists have known for some time that AGW would cause such blackouts due to hotter temperatures, more severe storms, as well as other factors of a warming atmosphere. In fact, such disruptions to the electrical grid have doubled since 2003 and 75% of heat waves are now attributable to climate change. Nevertheless, much of the population still thinks any serious effects of AGW are in the distant future even though today we are seeing the destabilization of weaker, marginal countries like Venezuela whose resilience to collapse was already compromised by long-standing mismanagement, corruption, and dependency on high oil revenue for government funding. Venezuela is estimated to suffer a 7% economic contraction due to the drop in oil prices. In The Middle East, climate change helped topple Syria and it looks like the 4,000 year old state of Iran is now in danger:

“Approximately 50 million people, 70% of Iranians, will have no choice but to leave the country.”…

Kalantari said that Iran and Egypt are two countries that due to excessive resource usage are currently “exposed to a serious crisis.” However, he said that Egypt’s water exploitation is only at 46%, a “big difference” from Iran’s 97%.

“To understand the depth of this tragedy, look at the water exploitation of other countries: Japan 19%, America 21%, China 29%, India 33% and countries such as Spain, which has geographical similarities to Iran; it’s only 25%,” he said. He added that according to international standards, surface water exploitation should not be more than 30%, and that most advanced countries have set maximum levels of 25%. – Link

Free-market ideologues believe Venezuela’s energy crisis is solely a problem of ‘isms’, socialism vs capitalism, and the improper pricing of commodities, but in a world of ecosystem collapse and resource scarcity, no type of ism that runs a fossil fuel-based civilization is going to work. Capitalist carbon man is incapable of monetizing the true value of the earth’s ecological systems because he operates within an economic paradigm that forces him to externalize costs at every turn, leaving the eco-costs of burning ancient carbon to present and future generations. As long as a good’s price signal fails to ‘internalize’ these eco-costs, then price signals will fail to alter social behavior on a scale necessary to avoid climate catastrophe and social collapse. There is no viable free market solution for irreversible glacial melt, acidifying oceans, exponential SLR, or the accelerated 6th mass extinction. Alternative energy will not stop what has already been set into motion. Climate change is market failure writ large for a bubble civilization that is so far off into overshoot that the marketing slogan of a “green, sustainable future” has become a cruel joke.

time off

Turning towards the so-called First World, Lake Mead registered its lowest water level in 78 years and Las Vegas will soon be sucking the dwindling waters of the lake bottom from a nearly completed third water intake pipe that cost roughly a billion dollars to construct. California’s air quality is deteriorating due to wildfires from bone dry conditions while Starbucks sells $1.95 bottles of spring water drawn from the state’s precious groundwater. Do we really know the value of water when we build megacities in the desert and irrigate crops on arid land? The UN reports that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.

I recently asked a real estate agent in Phoenix, AZ if she was aware of the looming water problem in the Southwest and she said she had recently attended a seminar on the topic and that state authorities were working hard on the water shortage because they anticipate problems within the next couple years. I then asked if any of her clients had brought this subject up with her and she stated, “Never, you are the only one.” We then went back to the business of finding me a home on the edge of town and overlooking the open spaces of the Sonoran Desert, a region I have lived my entire life and grown to love. This complete detachment from reality bothers me, but at the same time I feel a sort of comfort in letting go of my worries and getting lost in the madding crowd. I know the dangers are growing, but I’m at peace with the knowledge that nothing I do individually will make any real difference in the trajectory of the Anthropocene.

time off

I thought of moving to a place with ample water like the Pacific Northwest, but the California drought has crept into Oregon with nearly two-thirds of the state now affected and Gov. Kate Brown declaring drought emergencies in seven counties. Lots of drying firewood up in that tinderbox corner of the country. The water crisis is expected to spread across America. I think I’ll just enjoy the view from where I am rather than uprooting to far-flung places that are just as vulnerable to a rapidly changing planet. Better the Devil you know, right? There’s no escape for anyone except in our imaginations where we toy with the delusional thought that some sort of last minute techno-fix will come along to put the CO2 genie back in the bottle or that mankind will suddenly become enlightened and cooperate globally to rein in this growing cancer of capitalist industrial civilization.

In Native American culture, a ceremony is carried out when one comes back from war in order to cleanse the individual of the impurities and evil spirits that have polluted their mind. Spending time in the Sonoran Desert away from any human crowds and techno-crap gadgetry is the ritual I practice to cleanse my mind of the horrors we have unleashed on the world. How long before these little sanctuaries in the desert fall victim to urban sprawl, pollution, and a disfigured climate? I don’t know, but I’m willing to keep them secret and protect them with what little time we all have left on this planet.