The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Limits to Texas Growth

Texas appears to be exceptional in the matter of limits to growth!

The population of Texas, close to 25 million, increased by 20% in the past decade, at the expense of pretty much every other state. My wife and I are included among that 20%, debiting Wisconsin where we lived at the time of the last census. It's easy enough to understand on a glorious shirtsleeve weather winter solstice day like today; what's more, unlike Florida we actually have some resources and industries, and unlike California we have plenty of flat land to expand our population onto.

Of course, this is unsustainable. At this rate the population of Texas will be 127 million by 2100, and will exceed a billion just after 2200. I have heard that reaching 50 million in the foreseeable future is considered a best estimate by the Texas Water Development Board.

Texas, of course, is the source of much climate skepticism. This may be real estate boosterism, Texas being hot, dry, and flash-flood prone with much of its infrastructure and property value barely above sea level. Texas is foolish in this regard, with its access to wind and solar power and energy infrastructure expertise. We ought to be leading the world in the transition to sustainability. Nobody here is willing to face the fact that when the really big problems start to get handed out, Texas will be near the front of the line.

But the culture has never had much respect for the land, which is harsh, scrubby and inhospitable, or the fauna, which tend to be as ornery as the short-tempered folk who famously first occupied this territory not too terribly long ago. The idea of farming was never to create a legacy for future generations. The early farmers would "use up" or "wear out" a farm and move on. And of course the real cowboys spirit opposed the fencelines in the first place.

This is not a place which takes kindly to limits. It respects its peculiar legacy but doesn't go out of its way to respect its posterity, and never has. Texans have somehow managed to prosper (mostly due to the happenstance of fuel-rich geology, though the mythos speaks endlessly about persistence, diligence, and effort, and hardly at all of dumb luck). That this prosperity is barely a century old, that it carries no warrantee, that it stands to vanish as a result of the very activities that began here and are the source of the present prosperity, warnings like these are unwelcome. The sky, we say, is the limit.

The world sees the northeast and California as the sources of American culture. Indeed, in a remarkable way they are the source of Texas culture; the myth of the west having grown up simultaneously with the west, first in newspaper reports and then in movies and television. GeronimoSitting Bull went from being a real chief to being a circus entertainer, seemingly hardly missing a beat. But the mythical Texas they created lives on, stitching together the cultures of the west and the south, to a remarkable extent forging the identity of the strange, isolated, proud and arrogant, joyous and angry, pious and profane, vicious and generous culture of the American heartland.

Convincing this boisterous, extroverted culture that it is leading the world in a headlong rush to crash against its actual limits is tricky business.

34 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

"(...) unlike California we have plenty of flat land to expand our population onto."

Well, *more* than California, but unfortunately the latter still has (operatively) plenty, although now accompanied by a swelling awareness that continuing such development may not be such a good idea.

IIRC Geronimo never went into performance as such. (WP says "In his old age, Geronimo became a celebrity. He appeared at fairs, including the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, where he reportedly rode a ferris wheel and sold souvenirs and photographs of himself.") Were you thinking of Sitting Bull?

Adam said...

Texas being ...dry...scrubby and inhospitable,

No doubt you'll get to East Texas eventually, MT. ;)

Michael Tobis said...

I stand corrected; except for the part that is dank, swampy and inhospitable, of course...

Michael Tobis said...

Seriously, the point stands that Texans even in the east don't have major landmarks, and don't have special affection for any particular landscapes, the way people in more crowded and more geographically intricate environments do. This leads to a certain indifference to the landscape compared with what others may be used to. Certainly there's nothing like the environmentally correct fussiness of Californians or the quaintness of the northeast, both of which I think are more representative of European civilization.

We have to credit Lady Bird Johnson and the "Don't Mess with Texas" campaign for overcoming this to some extent, but it's still superficial. The point of land to a Texan is to be owned and exploited, if possible, and to be traversed as quickly as possible otherwise.

John Mashey said...

In support of Michael's general idea, I recommend reading the book The Nine Nations of North America, noting that part of California is actually more akin to Texas than some other parts, like here in Ecotopia. I was especially amused that his detailed map put Dallas and Fort Worth in different nations :-). Of course, I've also been told by residents that Austin was not really in Texas, just surrounded by it, so one never knows.

I used to recommend this book to European colleagues accustomed to Boston, and then through they knew the USA, who then became a bit disoriented on their first trip to Silicon Valley.

I also recommended that just once, instead of flying to San Francisco, which just seems like a longer flight, they fly to BOS or NYC and then *drive* out here. One route certainly can catch a bit of TX and OK.

David B. Benson said...

Big Bend National Park
Three parks in one but best visted in the springtime.

David B. Benson said...

Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Has a fine little museum worth visting.

Tom said...

Population density of Texas is lower than Afghanistan. Mid level projection for US pop at 2100 is 570 million. Population estimate for Texas in 2100 is 99 million. Size of California Central Valley is 22,500 square miles, slightly smaller than West Virginia.

Of course if Texas for some reason adopts total fertility ratio of some developing countries or becomes more welcoming of immigrants its population rise may be greater. At which point it will still have a lower population density than the US does overall today.

But maybe sea level rise will have reduced the size of Texas! Then you will all be standing on each others' shoulders! Yeah, that's it! Texas will shrink!

Jim Bouldin said...

"I also recommended that ... they fly to BOS or NYC and then *drive* out here. One route certainly can catch a bit of TX and OK."
________

I've yet to meet a European who wasn't fascinated by the terrain between west Texas and CA, especially if it includes any of the Colorado Plateau or Death Valley. I'll second the nomination for Guadalupe Peak and environs.

Any state that produced the Austin Lounge Lizards can't be too bad. I know there was ZZ Top as well, but hey we all make mistakes.

EliRabett said...

The EPA just blew TX a ripe strawberry

EliRabett said...

Sorry, this appears to be a plaint that because the place sucks the people can behave like assholes.

Michael Tobis said...

Eli, it is not intended as absolution, just as description, and perhaps some humanization, which all sides could use.

EliRabett said...

Speak for yourself, Eli is a fuzzy bunny.

Michael Tobis said...

Anthropomorphization, then.

EliRabett said...

Seriously MT, Eli summed up what you said very well, because the place sucks the people think they can behave like assholes.

This actually goes way back in European thought, with the idiocy of the noble savage and ignores the fact that people can only survive as part of a community, something that is obvious given our long childhood. It is, as it were, the root of libertarianism, people who think they can survive without the support of others and without supporting others, and it explain why much of economics is nonsense

Jim Bouldin said...

The place doesn't unilaterally "suck" rabbit. Like CA or Montana, it's just too big for all of it to do so. Get your tail out west of the Pecos River (especially) and you'll see some damn cool stuff--and nicely spaced out in true Texas style.

I'm interested in that map Michael--do you have a ref for it?

Michael Tobis said...

All I know about the map is that I found it here. (Note the inset at lower right.)

Michael Tobis said...

Eli, I'm sympathetic to your observations about libertarianism. And the place sucks in the raw, no doubt; this is why it was still thoroughly unoccupied in 1840 and practically so in 1900.

On the other hand, a lot of people have gotten very wealthy here since; that's also very much a part of the puzzle.

I hardly spared a thought for Texas before moving here. It is now a very complex set of conceptual nodes for me. I feel better off for it, and feel I understand the riddle of America better.

Alas, understanding the riddle doesn't mean knowing the solution. But I don't buy just grumbling at this amazing mess and its unlikely history and shrugging it off. A lot happened here in its short and bizarre history, and it is a major driver for what happens in the rest of the world.

You can be sure that if Texas continues to get its way, the familiar oddly-shaped slice of the map will get its comeuppance. I'm not sure that is enough justice. I wouldn't raise kids here even if the schools weren't in a battle with Mississippi's for 50th place.

But no lie, it's not just a matter of a few compensations. The place is just amazing (though inhospitable) and the people fun-loving and delightful. Just not in ways we northern urban types are used to.

The mutual misunderstandings are tragic, and are not all on ones side. Hardly anybody means any harm.

EliRabett said...

Frankly, Eli don;t much mind the crazy, its the arrogance of the Texas elitists that ticks him off.

Salt of the earth they are, which accounts for all of the wasteland.

Michael Tobis said...

Connecticut elitists being modest and self-effacing, or what?

Michael Tobis said...

“Let no man deceive himself; if by vulgarity we mean coarseness of speech, rowdiness of behaviour, gossip, horseplay, and some heavy drinking, vulgarity there always was wherever there was joy, wherever there was faith in the gods. Wherever you have belief you will have hilarity, wherever you have hilarity you will have some dangers. And as creed and mythology produce this gross and vigorous life, so in its turn this gross and vigorous life will always produce creed and mythology.”

- G.K. Chesterton, ‘Christmas and the Aesthetes’ (1905) in Heretics.

Michael Tobis said...

Besides, my town looks pretty much like this. I can't see how I'm supposed to manage being arrogant.

EliRabett said...

Connecticut elitists being mostly banksters who deserve what they get.

Point being that TX politicians are pushy elitists. Loud and wrong, a toxic combination that does not help the land much.

Besides, why should Eli not mess with Texas, he bought the damn thing in the S&L bailout

Michael Tobis said...

I'm not here to defend Texas politicians on the whole, Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan and Kinky Freidman notwithstanding. But even for the worst of them, "elitist" is an odd word with which I would quibble.

Think Gore vs Bush, if you can stomach the memory. Although America, and notably the red states, made a tragic choice that will echo through the ages, you can;t call Bust the elitist of the pair. In fact, it was Gore's patrician demeanor that lost him the redneck vote which Clinton managed to get a slice of, and we are suffering the consequences. Yes, it's absurd and doesn't speak well of red-staters. But "elitist" misses capturing the flavor of the blunder.

Wishing you a meretricious and a happy new year.

EliRabett said...

TX politicians are the elitists, always claiming that they are the true blue whatevers, and that we in the real America should listen to those in the empty wasteland.

Bag that. Bush vs. Gore was a great example. Bush, scion of a rich Yankee family managed to make fools believe that Gore, whose dad and mom pulled themselves up out of poverty was the elitist because he didn't slur his vowels or whatever. You fell for it to MT??

EliRabett said...

MT, think about how the right wing elitists operate. Don't let them get away with it

David B. Benson said...

The latest issue of Sierra has a graphic comparing US states's CO2 emissions with whole other countries. Texas = Canada+Syria.

Michael Tobis said...

Look all I am sayin is there are25 million of us here. So please try not to stereotype too hard.

I was just in a carload of texans and southerners passing by the general vicinity of Karl rove's house. Many northerner have never been privileged to hear such eloquent cursing and general caterwauling as immediately ensued.

Nobody here is about to let anybody get away with anything. But you sell your product to the public you have not to the public you wish you had. I had no great sympathies for Texas a few years ago and I now feel that Texas will always be part of me. There is much here that is twisted and disappointing but is also much that is admirable.

I love scrambling the locals minds by saying I am a Trudeau liberal who thinks big government can be liberating and fun. But if you don't respect oradmire anything in the person you're talking to, you probably aren't the right person to be convincing them that they should be listening to you either.

The Texas i-35 corridor is perfect for high speed rail and it's hard for me to imagine I will live to see it. This is stupid and tragic blindness to the power of a popularly supported engaged and empowered government to achieve. I don't imagine that Texans will ever do anything about it. Thus is dumb. I have no plans to shut up about this.

We Texans are not a shy or retiring folk insofar as our opinions are concerned. I think nobody in texas remembers the days of big government very clearly. Even rural texans, very much the beneficiary of a massive rural electrification program a few generations ago seem enmeshed in an alternative history where that never happened. I wish I knew what to do about this above all.

I can't see generalized contempt as the solution. Anyway these are neighbors and families of friends. I can disagree but I cant write them off. I suggest you don't either.

EliRabett said...

No, the fact that there will never be high speed rail in the I-35 corridor is because the state is controlled by a bunch of swaggering elitists.

Michael, Eli is trying to teach you something about this sort of thing, and you are trying to be Obama. Don't

David B. Benson said...

Fayette, Texas, Power Project, Coal Plant, Blamed For 'Environmental Catastrophe'

John Mashey said...

In defense of Texans:

Today I noticed a book about Molly Ivins and was reminded of some TV talk show a few years back with her in conversation with Ann Richards.

In addition, folks at TAMU like Andrew Dessler do good work TX politicians should listen to, likewise Katharine Hayhoe @ Texas Tech.

Michael Tobis said...

It is too soon to characterize Obama, never mind to judge him.

Most of the present day leadership of the Republican party is disastrously dangerous and confused, Eli, on our core issues and on not a few others. Nevertheless, old Texas continues to support them. I cannot justify it and am not making any attempt to do so.

Two things that can be done are to make Texas hospitable to cosmopolitan people and to reach out to old Texas in a respectful way. I completely support both of these actions. If Eli is not arguing otherwise, we have no disagreement.

This doesn't mean saying anything too kindly about the present party of government, or being happy about the almost unanimous alignment of indigenous white population with them.

It is good to remember though that white Texas had a strong progressive streak not too long ago (much as did the rest of the high plains - Texas was more western than southern in this regard). Again, witness governor Ann Richards.

Again I very strongly recommend the documentary "The Unforeseen" as a good cure for an overly narrow view of Texas as well as an overly narrow view of environmental controversy.

EliRabett said...

What Eli is trying to say is that the people who are controlling TX are a bunch of swaggering elitists, who have contempt for everyone and everything.

byron smith said...

I am no expert, but I've just been reading about Sitting Bull, and it seems that according to some accounts, during his years as an entertainer, he would sometimes break from his script of faux-Indian greetings to curse his audience and all white people, but the official interpreters would stick to the English script. Not sure how well documented this is.

Thanks for the insights into your experience of Texans, Michael. Very interesting.