Steven Johnson responds to the Apocalyptic Schadenfreude of east coast news stories:
The question is whether that engineering is sustainable. What the Times piece explicitly suggests is that California has been living beyond its means environmentally. That’s the point of those extraordinary overhead photographs of lush estates, teeming with greenery, bordering arid desert. You see those images and it’s impossible not to feel that something shameful is happening here. And yet, picture a comparable view of Manhattan sometime in the depths of January, with a thermal imaging filter applied. The boundary between Man and Mother Nature would be just as stark: frigid air surrounding artificial islands of heat. It’s true that New York City distributes that artificial heat much more efficiently than the rest of the country, thanks largely to its density, but it’s still artificially engineering your environment, whether you want to make a dry place wet, or a cold place warm. And while the Northeast has an advantage over California in terms of rainwater, California has a decided advantage in terms of temperature and sunlight, particularly the coastal regions where almost all the people live. Coastal California enjoys one of the most temperate climates anywhere in the world, which allows its residents to consume far less energy heating or cooling their homes. California is dead last in the country in terms of per capita electricity use. Thanks to the state’s abundant sunshine (and pioneering environmentalism) there are more home solar panels installed in California than in all the other states combined. If you’re trying to find a sustainable place for 40 million people to live, there are plenty of environmental reasons to put them in California.
You’re either living on west coast with water shortages or living on the east coast with endless blizzards and flooding. Yay!