I call this scenario “market based”.

Farmers go broke and abandon land as they individually retreat from high fuel costs and scarce water. We can assume the marginal lands go first, unless mortgage decisions or loans for tractors turn out to be more important than soils or water. Individual growers bear the brunt of the pain. Land doesn’t get joined into wildlife refuges. Untended, the random parcels scattered among active farmland becomes banks for weeds and invasive species. Some of it becomes sprawl.

People confront high prices at the register in unmodified spikes, followed by gluts from other countries. Higher quality dairy products and organic produce aren’t supported, so a large market for those doesn’t develop. The cheap-food ethic continues and a race to the bottom in other countries strips their environment and feeds us instead of their own peoples. Besides that, though, California urban dwellers won’t notice very much. They’ll absorb what is left of California production and other regions will switch to truck crops and cattle to fill the rest of the country’s demand.

California meat and dairy will shrink as well. Internalizing the costs of confined-animal-feeding-operations will become too high. In the near future, dairies are facing the costs of controlling the nitrate they leak into groundwater, disposing of cow shit, rising costs of feed crops from climate irregularities, and building emissions controls. One or the combination of these will force them out of business. California raised meat will be in smaller herds on pasture, perhaps in the foothills of mountain ranges.

If the state defaults to augmenting built storage, pieces of environmental laws will yield, or become irrelevant when salmon and smelt are gone. Depending on how fast it all happens, there will be continued conflict within California about construction fixes. It’ll be a shame if the pointless ones get built, but continued rancor is another real cost.

Many islands in the Delta will go out of commission as levees fail. A few people will die in those floods. The west side of the San Joaquin will go out of commission from salt build-up, but not before becoming too toxic to recover as arid grasslands in decades. A few growers will kill themselves. Fuck if I know what’ll happen in Imperial or Coachella. I never pay attention to them. Since I’m guessing, I’ll predict that San Diego and LA will suck their water away. This leaves major ag production in the Sac Valley and the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, which is a decent place for it.

The people who will be hurt first and most will be agricultural laborers, mostly of Mexican descent. They already are. Their established communities and small towns will disintegrate. I do not know where they’ll go after they leave Great Valley agriculture. I assume it will be rough for them, as they are already poor.

This, for California, is not a vision of complete collapse. We’ll have enough water for some continued industrialized agriculture. The interior valleys will continue to be places people drive through. CA will produce less food overall and much less meat. Farms will consolidate further. Cities mostly won’t notice, except in food prices.

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