My favorite style of fiction is what I call near-future sci-fi, anything set about 50 years ahead of the present. Setting a story just a few years ahead is simply tweaking current trends, whereas anything 100 years or more in the future is fantasy as much as it sci-fi. So David Brin’s Earth, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (Red, Green, and Blue), Marge Piercy, Margaret Atwood, William Gibson: that’s my favorite kind of stuff to read.

So I love it when I come across a non-fiction attempt to do the same kind of extrapolation into the future. I own, but haven’t yet read, Marc Reisner’s A Dangerous Place, which concludes its study of earthquakes and earthquake preparedness in CA with a hypothetical description of the Big One. And now, on a smaller scale, check out this SFGate article about the future of water in California after global climate change.

I don’t just like it because it’s sci-fi-like. It demonstrates very well that “global climate change,” though perhaps a less-scary and less-motivating term than “global warming,” is a more accurate description of the expected shifts in temperature and precipitation that are likely to occur over the next century as a result of human activities. In this case, warmer temperatures mean more winter precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow, washing right down the rivers of the Sierras instead of being stored as snowpack and doled out during the spring melt to the reservoirs below. And it’s not just a question of water shortage: a good Pineapple Express or two falling as rain in the Sierras instead of snow (although it has now been surpassed, the world record for snowfall in a year was once held in the Sierras) would be a disaster for everyone downstream. After all, Sacramento in second place on the list of U.S. cities in danger of innundation, and we all know what happened to #1 in 2005.

The article also reminds us that long-term climate data show that California has been in the wet part of a wet-dry cycle throughout its Euro-American habitation. Usually things are a lot drier than they have been for the past few hundred years. Global warming for California, as for the rest of the world, doesn’t just mean warmer temperatures, but changing precipitation patterns as well. And as the article also points out, CA is better equipped resource-wise to deal with these changes than most other parts of the world.  Scary stuff.

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