Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | November 19, 2009

The Top 10 Reasons Why Ithaca is Maybe not so Doomed

Just how doomed is Ithaca, New York?  In all actuality, Ithaca is no more doomed than any other place in this fading American Empire–which is to say totally fucked.  However, there are some glimmers of hope that might serve our area well in the coming tribulations.  In the spirit of this season of Thanksgiving, here are the top 10 reasons why Ithaca might fare ok in the coming collapse:

1) Abundant Fresh Water:  New York State is a land of fresh water and abundant rainfall.  Cayuga Lake, the longest of the 10 Finger Lakes, contains 2.5 trillion gallons of fresh water.  Unfortunately, this fresh water is also coveted by the twin evil industries of factory farming and natural gas drilling.  At a lecture on the likely effects of climate change to our area, the lecturer pointed out that many industrial sized pig farms have already looked at locating in the Finger Lakes.  This trend will probably accelerate as California and North Carolina dry up.  Natural gas drilling is already a looming threat to the Finger Lakes as much of the region sits atop the Marcellus Shale, one of the largest gas deposits in the United States.  Hydrofracking, the technique used to extract shale gas, uses millions of gallons of fresh water and has the potential to pollute ground and surface waters.  With thousands of wells in the works, all bets are off if the area gets turned into America’s next West Virginia.

2) Abundant wildlife, timber and foraging opportunities: There are an estimated 40-100 deer per square mile in New York State.  As the collapse wears on, people will probably start jacking deer in all seasons, but there might be enough to go around while people  transition to other food sources.  New York is also one of the most heavily forested states, making a switch to biomass for heating conceivable en masse.  Finally, there are many wild foods available in the area if the deer don’t eat them all first.

The large numbers of deer engender some bizarre conflicts, such as the situation in Cayuga Heights, an upscale Ithaca neighborhood, where the town governments has suggested a plan to cull and sterilize the deer.  This situation has had a polarizing effect and caused the kind of offbeat conflict characterizing Ithaca politics, such as pitting hardcore vegans against environmentalists.  All I can say is that it will be interesting to see how the pragmatic exigencies of raw human survival color conflicts like this one.

3) General Social Cohesion and Respect for Law and Order: In The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler predicts that Upstate New York and New England might fare alright in the coming collapse due to the residents sense of social cohesion and respect for the rule of law.  Perhaps he’s biased since he lives in Saratoga Springs, but his arguments make sense and he fleshes out this post crash Upstate New York world in vivid detail in his novel, World Made by Hand.  The Upstate town he portrays in the novel is relatively similar in climate to what Ithaca might expect, so maybe the world of the future won’t be so bad. 

On personal level, I have found that Ithacans are a very “live and let live” breed.  People just don’t get all up in your grill here about matters such as your sexual orientation, race, gender, or religion.  This is not to say that racism and other forms of discrimination are non-existent, just that they are not as pronounced and potentially socially deleterious as they are in other places.  In all the 9 years I’ve lived around here, I’ve never been proselytized to, for instance.  My basis for comparison is central Virginia, where I once had to deal with a jackass Fundie who wanted to argue with me about evolution in the middle of a goddamn National Park wilderness.

4) Abundant agricultural land:  The Finger Lakes region has some of the finest agricultural land in the country.  Organic farming thrives here.  Additionally, the land has not been overdeveloped like it has in other parts of the East.  My wife and I fled Virginia in large part because of the rampant over development there.  You’d commute to work in the morning past a forest and it would be turned into “Sherwood Forest Estates” by the time you drove home.  Suburban type development is so rare around here that it seems out-of-place when you see it.  There is one neighborhood of cookie cutter type mini-McMansions that I jokingly refer to as “the Suburbanite Reservation.”  It’s so incongruous with most of the houses around here, which tend to be small and a bit worse for wear, that it seems like a Preserve for people who want to live that kind of lifestyle.  Ironically, it’s located next door to a Hospice, so your family could just wheel you out the door in your Lazy Boy when it’s time for you to die.


The Suburban Rez, featuring the two types of house, garage on left or garage on right.

5) Strong Knowledge Base:  With Cornell University as the lynchpin our economy, Ithaca is blessed with the expertise of engineers, architects, DVM’s, landscape designers, and agronomists.  Ithaca is also home to solar power installers, the aforementioned organic farmers, and even a timber frame building contractor.  Perhaps, Ithaca will serve a function similar to Ireland in the last Dark Age, carrying the fruits of human civilization into the next century…
6) Talented Acoustic Musicians:  Don’t underestimate how important it will be to have good music in a post-Carbon world. Ithaca is blessed with tons of local talent.  From old-time to Ragtime, blues to country, Ithacans will still be able to boogie when the amps no longer go to 11.
7) Won’t be as bad as other places as climate change accelerates: At 381.9ft above sea level, Cayuga Lake probably won’t be too affected by sea level rise.  In fact, the lake level may actually fall by a projected 5feet, opening up more beach.  I have heard it said that our climate may come to resemble that of Richmond, Virginia in a hundred years.  If you think that’s bad, what will Richmond be like–Guatemala?  Winters here are already 4F warmer on average and some winters snow has even been rare to non-existent.  Dont’ take that as an invitation.
8) Lack of significant crime:  Crime is low in our area, usually drunk driving with the random crime of passion thrown in.  There are some gangsta wannabes, but they’re fairly inept.  Most violent crime is usually a matter of Lumpenprole versus Lumpenprole.  One recent revenge murderer sought vengeance over $5.00 worth of methamphetamine.  The random Tweaker going berserk could be an issue, but Mutant Zombie Hordes shouldn’t unless New York City gets nuked.
9) History is on our side: Thanks to the presence of an Ivy League University, Ithaca fared well in the last Great Depression and it has weathered the current one fairly well, too.  In a post-Carbon future, one might see a renaissance for the Erie Canal, to which Ithaca is connected via Cayuga Lake.  Underlying many of the lakes are salt deposits, so we could trade salt by barge with cities further inland.
10) Tibetan Monks:  Finally, Ithaca is home to Namgyal Monastery, the North American seat of his Holiness, the Dalai Lama.  This has got to be good for something.  For instance, if we do have to kiss our collective ass goodbye, Tibetan Monks are experts at navigating the After Death Bardo realms and could guide us toward a more positive reincarnation experience.
So how does where you live stack up?  Better figure it out now!  Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. On point 3, I don’t know if we can minimize the racial tensions that exist in the city of Ithaca. When we moved to Fall Creek, we had no idea how segregated the city was.

    • I didn’t mean to imply that racial discrimination is non-existent here. I’ve actually heard people say things that would get you killed in Virginia. It’s just more underground. Ithaca is sadly segregated, it’s true. I will write more about this in the future…

  2. Hey —

    hmmm…. a nice list, but there is one piece of the puzzle you did not quite address…. in a declining energy world the biggest single issue, I suspect will be this…. assuming we are not looking at a very quick and sudden blow out of civ, how many resources do you have that “they” will want… and how accessible are you to “their” remaining seats of power?

    In other words, how much have you got they want and is it more than it will cost for them to come and take it?

    Me? I’m way out on the margins. Middle of the rockies in a desert. They will not be looking at this as a place they need. 🙂


  3. Tp, Unfortunately you’re right. “They” being multinational gas companies, already want the shale gas that underlies our whole region. My biggest hope is that oil rises to such a cost that it becomes too prohibitive to extract it. Or somehow that our state leaders actually listen to us and pull the plug on this. The oil crash can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned:)

  4. it’s a great article!

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