Category Archives: Environmental Apocalypse

The Canal System: the marvel of the desert


That canal system in time became the most elaborate and well-engineered in all of North America if not the world.  The Ancestral People cooperated to build and manage a vast canal system that diverted waters from the rivers to irrigate their croplands.  Because these croplands were located in land that was lower than the surrounding rivers the canals were started about 17 miles away to divert water by gravity flow. Where there were croplands without nearby rivers, they diverted storm run-off or tapped groundwater.

The canals were amazing. First of all, they were constructed entirely by human labor without any draft animals. The only tools they had were made of wood or stone. They had no shovels. The ground was true hard pan that made digging very difficult. The slope of canals was 2 ft. for 1 mile.  That is a very gentle slope, but it is more than enough to lead the water to where they wanted it. The canals were also surprisingly large. They were about as tall as a man.

This was very sophisticated agriculture. They farmed the area for about a thousand years. At its height the canals irrigated 1,900 acres of land. The canals stretched for 220 miles in this area alone. What amazed me was that these Ancestral People were extremely successful farmers. They produced higher yields than modern farmers with modern equipment and techniques. Modern Hohokam farmers see people as their main resource.

Following their ancestral heritage, they became what they call “scientists of our environment.”  Like other nations in the Americas, they used and continue to use meteorological principles to establish planting, harvesting, ceremonial cycles and they developed complex water storage and delivery systems.

I was also astonished to learn that there is evidence that the ancestral people were about 2-3 inches taller than the Europeans who arrived in the 17th century. Like the indigenous people of the Great Plains who relied principally on bison, that meant they were better fed than the Europeans who came here to civilize them! Perhaps the ancestral people ought to have civilized the Europeans! After all, the period of 300 to 1450 A.D. was the period of the Dark and Middle Ages in Europe.

When Father Keno was the first European to see this land in 1694, about 200 years after the Ancestral people of the Sonoran Desert left, he was struck by the beauty and ingenuity of the building. That is why he called the main structure that was left. Casa Grande (Great House) because he said he had never seen anything comparable in Europe.

Humans are Sleep walking towards the edge of a cliff


It doesn’t take much thought to realize that nature is the basis of all life on the planet. And everything we have constructed is built out of the building blocks of nature. Without nature we are done.

Yet there is little evidence that we understand that. Our actions indicate that we do not understand this simple fact or we just don’t care. Either way it is clear that we are dismally ignorant.

Our current attitude to nature stinks. That’s why we urgently need a new one.

In recent years the World Wildlife Fund (‘WWF’) has reported on the astonishing effect that our species has had on all other species. As reported by Damian Harrington of The Guardian, recent study by the WWF reached this uncomfortable conclusion:

“Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.”

Let that statement sink in please. In other words, since Chris and I met in 1970 humanity has wiped out more than half of all mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.[1] That conclusion was reached in a major report produced by the WWF and 59 scientists from around the world. They also say the cause is the enormous and growing massacre of wildlife as a result of humans expanding consumption of food and resources that is destroying the web of life that nature took millions of years to produce. We are destroying “the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else. We are destroying what we most need!  As Mike Barrett the executive Director of science and conservation at WWF said,

We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff. If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done. This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is he said…This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.”

It is astonishing that we are  doing this. But we are.  We could do something about this, but we have chosen to ignore it. This reminds me of the people at Easter Island that kept cutting the trees on their island which they desperately needed for their survival until the trees were all gone. They actually did that. Is that what we are doing on a planetary scale? It sure looks like it. How can we deny that our society is declining? Is it surprising that I call my current tour “the Grand Finale Tour”?

 To say that we need a new attitude to nature seems hopelessly understated.

[1] I should mention that the numbers are little more subtle and not quite as grim than this suggests as Ed Yong demonstrated in a fascinating article for The Atlantic in Oct. 31, 2018

Insects are important pollinators


One of my first bosses,  Al Boily, my supervisor at Manitoba Hydro where I worked while going to university  taught me two very important lessons. First, he taught me how to work. The said the company paid us fairly so we had to work hard to earn that money. Until then, I thought money should fall into my laps just because I was a nice guy. I was as lazy as grass and needed to learn that lesson.

Secondly he taught me that ‘what is bad for insects is bad for people too.’ He was referring to the Vapona No-Pest Strips that caught flying insects on sticky paper and killed them. I thought they were great. I hated biting insects. He taught me differently. Again, a valuable lesson.

I realize that a lot of people have no sympathy for insects. Insects be damned is their attitude. Who cares about insects? Does that really make sense.

Without insects most foods could not grow. How would we survive without foods? Yet many farmers, and citizens too, believe we ought to be destroying as many insects as possible. I know I feel that every time I venture out into the forest or bog on years in which mosquitoes are in abundance. I must remember—as must you—that insects are vital to our food chain. About two thirds of foods require insect pollinators.

We already have a serious problem producing or harvesting enough food to feed the people on the planet/ Do we let 2/3 of them disappear?  Is that a rational solution?

Notwithstanding that, most people and many farmers believe pesticide use is essential for feeding the growing human population. As George Monbiot reported in The Guardian:

“A recent study in Nature Plants reveals that most farms would increase production if they cut their use of pesticides. A study in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions shows that the more neonicotinoid pesticides were used to treat rapeseed crops, the more their yield declines. Why? Because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which the crop depends.”


Why are so many people so wrong about insects?  Monbiot explains that this way:

“Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. A massive media onslaught by this industry has bamboozled us all about its utility and its impacts on the health of both human beings and the natural world.

The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders? At the moment, shareholder value comes first. And it will count for nothing when we have lost the living systems on which our survival depends.”


We should not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the pesticide industry. After all, our lives depend on it!

We have declared war on nature. Insects in particular. It is an ugly unjustified war that is leading to our own destruction. As the Indigo Girls said, “we are gluttons for our doom.” That is most unwise. Here is what Monbiot says we should be doing instead:

“To save ourselves and the rest of the living world, here’s what we need to do:

1 We need a global treaty to regulate pesticides, and put the manufacturers back in their box.

2 We need environmental impact assessments for the farming and fishing industries. It is amazing that, while these sectors present the greatest threats to the living world, they are, uniquely in many nations, not subject to such oversight.

3 We need firm rules based on the outcomes of these assessments, obliging those who use the land to protect and restore the ecosystems on which we all depend.

4 We need to reduce the amount of land used by farming, while sustaining the production of food. The most obvious way is greatly to reduce our use of livestock: many of the crops we grow and all of the grazing land we use are deployed to feed them. One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic). This would allow us to create huge wildlife and soil refuges: an investment against a terrifying future.

5 We should stop using land that should be growing food for people to grow maize for biogas and fuel for cars.”

I admit I would have a problem going vegetarian or vegan. I like my burgers.

This is the problem. Humans have declared war on nature, particularly insects,  on the false basis that this is needed to feed the world. This is a crucial mistake. It is time for us to smarten up. We need nature. Even insects! We need to change our attitude to insects. If we don’t give them respite from our assaults we probably won’t get through this century. And in the meantime we will make life here very difficult and dreary.


My Bad: Insects are Important


I don’t know about you but I have never been that fond of insects. I tend to have an aversion to them.  My bad. That is a bad attitude. Insects are very important and if we fail to recognize that we have been taking bad advice.

Yet, even though insects are important we have not been treating them kindly. In fact, we have been treating them badly.

The English environmentalist and Guardian correspondent George Monbiot asked a very intriguing question:

“Which of these would you name as the world’s most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdown, air pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.”


One that is not on this list is soil loss which is also incredibly important, is soil losses According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization because of poor farming practices we have only 60 years of harvests left. If that is true, my granddaughter will not be as old as I am now when the world runs out of the ability to produce most foods because of soil disappearance and degradation. Yet that problem does not make Monbiot’s top 3.

 The missing problem is this: “Insectageddon: farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown.”

 As the Monbiot said,

The shocking collapse of insect populations hints at a global ecological meltdown.” That global meltdown won’t just affect humans either, it will affect everything on this planet. In fact, Monbiot said that global productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.”


Here is what a scientific study discovered a few years ago:

“flying insects surveyed on nature reserves in Germany have declined by 76% in 27 years. The most likely cause of this Insectageddon is that the land surrounding those reserves has become hostile to them: the volume of pesticides and the destruction of habitat have turned farmland into a wildlife desert.”

We are turning farmland into a wildlife desert! Monbiot pointed out that scientists who are studying ways to kill insects more efficiently find themselves showered with grant monies, while those scientists who are studying what the impact of this war on insects might be get almost no funding at all.

Yet insects are, as Monbiot said, insects are “critical to the survival of the rest of the living world.” Insects are critically important, yet we only spend money on figuring out how to kill them. Without insects “a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive. The wonders of the living planet are vanishing before our eyes.”

We are destroying precisely what we need for human life to thrive on this planet. Is this not ecocide? That is why we need a new attitude to nature.

Strange Fears


All unreasonable fears are strange, but some are stranger than others. Some fear environmental collapse. Not such a strange fear at all.

Some of the people who put down $3 million to purchase a condo in a former missile silo in Kansas have strange fears. In the land of conspiracy theories that should not surprise. Maybe they all do. Evan Osnos interviewed Tyler Allen a real estate developer in Florida who bought a unit in the Kansas silo. He worries about future “social conflict” in America. That really is not so strange a fear.  Allen also thinks that the government will deceive the public, as it has done in the past. He even believes that Ebola was allowed into the country “in order to weaken the population.” Unsurprisingly, he is transfused with fear and conspiracy theories. But I am not putting down $3million. Of course, I can’t put down $3 million, but if I did, I would think that there must be a better way.

Allen claimed that when he started suggesting ideas like this people thought he was crazy, but they don’t anymore. He said, “my credibility has gone through the roof. Ten years ago, this just seemed crazy that all this was going to happen: the social unrest and the cultural divide in the country, the race-baiting and the hate-mongering.”

Of course, how will people get to their bunkers? The buyers don’t live next door. Tyler lived in Florida. That is a long way from Kansas. Tyler thought he would have 48 hours to make it to Kansas. Most people he believed, when the crisis came, would head to the bars while he headed towards Kansas. I guess they would be watching from “Sports bars.” Of course, if a nuclear bomb hit American, such driving would be difficult. Did you see the images of the highways around New Orleans when the people there were told to evacuate because of impending Hurricane Katrina? We would not want to be in the line-up. Pretty messy!

As I have said, all of this is driven by fears–in particular fears of the very rich. Osnos does not disagree,

“Why do our dystopian urges emerge at certain moments and not others? Doomsday—as a prophecy, a literary genre, and a business opportunity—is never static; it evolves with our anxieties. The earliest Puritan settlers saw in the awe-inspiring bounty of the American wilderness the prospect of both apocalypse and paradise. When, in May of 1780, sudden darkness settled on New England, farmers perceived it as a cataclysm heralding the return of Christ. (In fact, the darkness was caused by enormous wildfires in Ontario.) D. H. Lawrence diagnosed a specific strain of American dread. “Doom! Doom! Doom!” he wrote in 1923. “Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America.


Do these doomsday fears not tell us something important about the über rich? This is what they are bringing about! They have no one to blame but themselves. Can’t they do better? Their own actions are creating these fears. Their own actions could forestall them.

There must be a better way and its not being brought in by forest fires from Ontario.

Collective Action or Collective Suicide



United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has been getting increasingly strident about his chiding the international community about not doing enough to stop climate change. For good reason of course.


Guterres said this to the assemble representatives in Berlin:

“We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told leaders from more than 40 countries who had gathered in Berlin for the Petersberg Climate Dialogue.”


He seems to have taken a cue from Greta Thunberg that this is an emergency but no one is treating it like an emergency. In reaction to the recent wild fires in Europe and the UK suffering the highest temperature in its history Thunberg tweeted as follows:

“This is not “the new normal”. The climate crisis will continue to escalate and get worse as long as we stick our heads in the sand and prioritise profit and greed over people and planet. We are still sleepwalking towards the edge.”


Guterres also said:


“Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction.

What troubles me most is that, in facing this global crisis, we are failing to work together as a multilateral community. Nations continue to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility for our collective future. We cannot continue this way”.



What troubles me most is that nobody is complaining  about what he said. The leaders and the countries around the world, including Canada, are treating the climate crisis as business as usual. No one seems upset

Those are all pretty strong words. Where is the pretty strong action? Does anyone care? This was the theme of the brilliant recent film Looking Up–i.e. no one cares.  In that film which is a spoof on the climate crisis,  the world is coming to an end  literally no one cares. No one takes it seriously.  TV newspeople try to make it into a fun fact. How is that possible? Nobody cares about environmental apocalypse. Can it be true that no one cares?

It must be true.

Global Warming on Life Support


The COP26 conference in Glasgow is into its last day of negotiations and deliberations. And as always happens, progress is made on the last day. Usually that means minimal progress. I think that is the correct characterization again.

Today I heard Michael Mann a widely respected climate change scientist say he was optimistic.  That shocked me. He said the Americans and Chinese made an agreement whereby they each committed to do more to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. That was good. But was it good enough?

According to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is “on life support” as UN climate talks enter their final days, but he added that “until the last moment, hope should be maintained.”

The youthful protesters outside the conference walls have been protesting the lack of progress. Greta Thunberg said it was just so much “Blah, Blah, Blah.”  That’s what I thought too. I hope Mann is right and she is wrong. I was very pessimistic when I learned the fossil fuel industry had more representatives at the conference than any one country!  No wonder I saw a photo of one of the youthful protesters with a sign that read, “Why is the fossil fuel industry inside?”  That is a pretty good question.

A few years ago already the countries of the world promised to provide $100 billion dollars a year to undeveloped countries to compensate them for damages and losses they incurred as a result of climate change largely brought on by the wealthy countries of the world. So far, despite the promises they have not ponied up with the promised cash. The UN Secretary had the right response to this uncomfortable fact: “promises ring hollow when the fossil fuels industry still receives trillions in subsidies… or when countries are still building coal plants.” Such promises don’t just ring hollow; they stink.  Guterres as right when he said this gap exposed a “glaring injustice.” After all, the undeveloped countries have not caused the global warming, but they have been suffering the most. Not fair! Not helpful!

Code Red  for Humanity


The reports of the International Panel on Climate Change (‘IPCC’) are written in pretty turgid prose. After all, they must be agreed to by a large panel of scientists who are accustomed to talking in very dry scientific language that each member must agree to.  Then all the member countries must also approve. Some countries like the United States and Saudi Arabia and others are always alert to how they might be criticized so are careful about approving.  Inflammatory language is unlikely to ever get approved.  As Elizabeth Kolbert said in the New Yorker, “The process seemed guaranteed to produce gridlock, and, by many accounts, that was the point of it.” After all, entrenched interests want to remain entrenched. That is why they send delegates to the meetings to ensure that stays that way.

Every 5 or 6 years or so the IPCC updates its reports. The latest report prepared this year just before the meeting of the parties in Glasgow Scotland is not just turgid, but according to Kolbert, “pretty much impenetrable. Still it manages to terrify.” The U.N. Secretary-General was more clear and blunt. He called it a “code red for humanity.” That does not pull any punches.

The report  says it is “unequivocal” that the climate change is caused by humans. It has removed its slight qualifications from early reports such as “highly likely” or words to that effect. Doubt has been removed. Global temperatures are already higher than at any time in the past 125,000 years.


A few days before the report came out the Dixie Fire in northern California became the largest single fire on record. The one last year was bigger but it was made up of several fires that joined up. The day it was issued “two hundred million Americans were under some kind of heat advisory.”

Of course, what did the political leaders do? As Kolbert reported, “As the world fried and boiled, Washington continued to do what it does best, which is argue.” Let me make clear Canada of course was no better,. Politicians have been arguing for decades as the world gets hotter. Kolbert put it this way:

“Every day matters. Three decades have passed since the I.P.C.C. released its first report.  During that time, annual global emissions have nearly doubled and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere put there by humans has more than doubled. As a result, the world is rapidly approaching thresholds that no sane person would want to cross.’


We all wonder what will happen when temperatures continue to rise.  Kolbert said this about that:

“In the carefully vetted formulations of the I.P.C.C. ‘many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming.’ In other words, we really don’t want to find out. But unfortunately we are going to.”


Somethings it might be better not to know. The effects of climate increasing by 2ºC are one of them.

Reverse Dust Bowl-Lake Mead’s Changing Climate


This is what Oliver Milman said in the Guardian about recent weather that has already occurred:

“The heat has been otherworldly, with Phoenix recently enduring a record six straight days above 115F (46.1C). A “heat dome” that settled over usually mild Pacific north-west pushed temperatures to reach a record 108F (42.2C) in Seattle and caused power lines to melt and roads to buckle in Portland. A few hundred miles north, a fast-moving wildfire incinerated the town of Lytton in British Columbia the day after it set a Canadian temperature record of 121F (49.4C). Barely into summer, hundreds of people have already died from the heat along the west coast.”


We all know climate has changed before. The climate is constantly changing everywhere. After all, at one time Manitoba had alligators growing in the far north, but that was hundreds of millions of years ago. And now the climate is changing fast—incredibly fast.

You might not notice by looking at all the swimming pools in Arizona or California, or green golf courses, with brown rough around each fairway, or the many new lawns grown by Canadian snow birds who think a desert deserves a well-manicured and well-watered lawn, but the American southwest, that I love so much, has been in a megadrought for about 20 years! The lawns don’t show it, but Lake Mead sure does. Lakes don’t lie like lawns do.

Oliver Milman described it this way in his Guardian article:

“The west has gone through periods like this “megadrought” , with only occasional respite, for the past two decades. But scientists have made clear the current conditions would be virtually impossible without human-caused climate change, pointing to a longer-term “aridification” of the region. All of the water conservation efforts that have kept shortages at bay until now risk being surpassed by the rising heat.”


Water in the American southwest has always been scarce. Well at least for the last couple of hundred million years. Before that much of this area was under water in an inland sea. Milman interviewed someone who knows what is going on:

“The amount of water now available across the US west is well below that of any time in modern civilization,” said Park Williams, a hydro-climatologist at Columbia University. Research by Williams and colleagues last year analyzed tree rings to discover the current dry period is rivaled only by a spell in the late 1500s in a history of drought that reaches back to around 800, with the climate crisis doubling the severity of the modern-day drought.

“As the globe warms up, the west will dry out,” said Williams. “The past two years have been shocking to me, I never thought I would see downtown LA reach 111F as it’s so close to the ocean, but we have some of the driest conditions in 1,200 years so the dice are loaded for more heatwaves and fires. This could be the tip of the iceberg, we may well see much longer, tougher droughts.”


I want to emphasize that this has already occurred. The environmental apocalypse is already here. It is really just a question of how people will adapt to it now that it is here. Yet the future is far from rosy. As Milman reported,

“Even with these adaptions, however, the decline of Lake Mead has caused the amount of hydro power generated by the dam to drop by around 25%. The drought is expected to cause the hydro facility at Lake Oroville, California, to completely shut down, prompting a warning from the United States Energy Association that a “megadrought-induced electricity shortage could be catastrophic, affecting everything from food production to industrial manufacturing”. The association added that such a scenario could even force people to move east, in what it called a “reverse Dust Bowl exodus


I have friends of mine that have already sold their properties in Arizona. Not because they fear drought. Some got spooked by Covid-19, others were tempted to cash in good prices when the Canadian dollar was high. That wasn’t that long ago. Perhaps some of them might be grateful they left before the start of the reverse dust bowl. Time will tell. It always does.

A Shrinking Lake Mead

The decline of Lake Mead is obvious at first glance. One only has to look at the white bath tub ring in the reservoir which clearly shows where water levels used to be. We saw it clear as day when we were there a couple of years ago.  I took a photograph in 2016 a mere 5 years ago which I showed in a previous post.( When I saw a photo in the Guardian I was shocked how much farther the water level had dropped. It was stunning.

As Oliver Milman reported in the Guardian,

The decline of Lake Mead is apparent even at a cursory glance. The US’s largest reservoir is now barely a third full, the dark basalt rock of its canyon walls blanched by a distinctive white calcium ring where the water level once was. This level has plunged by about 130ft in the past 20 years and is currently receding by about a foot a week as farms hit their peak irrigation period.

A lot of people go to Lake Mead for recreation including boating, fishing and swimming. According to Milman,

“The pace of change has been jarring to the millions of people who regularly boat, fish and swim on the lake, with the National Park Service recently laying down new steel platforms to extend launch ramps that no longer reach the water. Some marinas have been wrenched from their moorings and moved because they have been left marooned in baking sediment.”


Meanwhile Las Vegas, which gets nearly all of its water from Lake Mead, was recently the fastest growing city in the United States. Last year it had a record of 240 days without rain, but it is still growing. Now it has to worry about where it will get its water.

The Colorado River is the source of the water for Lake Mead and it is fed mainly by snow melt from the mountains but that snowmelt has declined by 19% since the 1950s. Because of that, and because so much of the water from the river is siphoned off for lawns, golf courses, drinking water, and above all agriculture in California, the Colorado River rarely reaches the Pacific Ocean anymore. Kayaks have to be carried on shoulders to get there. According to Milman,

“Only 1.8% of the west is not in some level of drought, with California, Arizona, and New Mexico all experiencing their lowest rainfalls on record. Lakes in Arizona are so low they can’t be used to fight the fires spurred by drought.”

Do cities like Las Vegas really make sense in a desert? How about Phoenix? Or Los Angeles? I don’t know what the future will bring, but it is bound to be interesting.