This article is just a glimpse at the disruptions the dry weather and drought in Midwestern U.S. is causing. But get used to this kinds of shocks because they will get more common and more severe in our future because we’ve politically decided huge wealth for the Kochs is more important than the food for most of humanity.
Even though climate scientists are reluctant (for fear of attacks by the denialists) to tie the recent drought and hot weather and corresponding reduced crop yields to AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) it is clear that severe adverse local weather resulting in food shortages are becoming more commonplace throughout the world and in 2012 especially in the United States in the corn belt. Even small shortfalls of production are then amplified by the rampant rigging of futures markets by Goldman Sachs to magnify price effects for their speculative profits (aka derivatives). So the farmer gets a bit more per bushel, for many less bushels, but the consumer pays a huge amount more because Goldman is sucking out the middle. Anyway for the U.S. this may mean a little less beef or bourbon, for other countries it may mean mass starvation. But we’re all affected, esp. as the rigged commodities markets will create shortages even if there aren’t any and so price soars disproportionately to reduced production.
Ever since Malthus warned of a crisis agriculture doomsdays have seemed to be around the corner, running out of land, diseases and destructions to the crops, running out of labor, static yields, running out of water, desertification due to overuse, and so forth. But thus far technological miracles have defied these predictions. We can farm on much more marginal land with higher yielding crops (both naturally and genetic enhanced) with harvested underground water. So total food production has risen; in fact, with hunger almost wiped out in the golden age of the late 20th century. But technology can simply push the limits not eliminate them. So now we’re extracting underground water faster than it can be replenished. We’re seeing topsoil loss that can only be replenished by major geological events requiring tens of thousands of years (basically glacier or increasing flooding). We using monoculture that is extremely brittle and the pests are evolving faster than we can create new GMOs. And population is steadily increasing. So Malthus may eventually be right, technology only postponed his doomsday.
Now we add in climate change. Part of what is hurting corn production in the Midwest U.S. is that much of the production is not normally irrigated. Irrigation is expensive and while widely used here in Nebraska it is avoided anywhere with adequate rainfall. Boom, now Indiana is getting clobbered with drought and unlike Nebraska they can’t just pump more water out of underground aquifers. So any longer-term change in climate could drastically impact production. And extensive use of irrigation, without the natural cleansing of ample rainfall, leads to salt buildup in the soil (a big issue in California where irrigation is now often the very efficient drip type). So all our technology that has increased production has also strained resources. With any climate change there simply is no unused resource to switch to, no more arable land (at least in North America), no more underground or surface water, etc. So when Indiana doesn’t get enough rain there’s not much to do about it. Plus the seeds are now highly optimized and it’s not clear how much better they can get. With hyper-efficient and smart machinery yields per acre are getting close to theoretical maximums. So simply, there’s not a lot more production can be grown, which is why we’re so vulnerable to any disruption in production due to climate.
And also this is where global climate change gets so nasty. Who cares if the average moisture per year doesn’t change much if it changes a lot during critical growing season but then rains like crazy at other times (which may then cause flooding that damages production)? Who cares if average temperatures only change a bit but that disrupts rainfall or snow patterns so enough to reduce river flows or provide moisture at key times in growing cycle? In short disruptions don’t have to be huge to have huge consequences to food production. They just have to happen at bad times or in sufficient quantity to damage these delicate and already max-ed out agricultural systems.
Whether the drought of 2012 is caused by AGW with 100% certainty is not the question. Is there even any connection between AGW and weather in critical food production areas, because as this article shows even a 7% shortfall in only one part of the world can disrupt world supplies. Now the Kochs may not care about the price of beef or bourbon but the rest of us have a bit more limited budgets. The average person in the U.S. is far from starving, but our food choices may be highly constrained, again while others may not have any food at all (and if there are billions of those can we in the U.S. sit here safely expecting them to all die without a fight, unlikely, so security is threatened as well).
With all these dire things that can happen and to the 99% (and I think ultimately even the 1% can’t hide from these effects) isn’t it time to ignore the Kochs and religious right denialist propaganda and start doing something about AGW while the fixes may be far less drastic that we’ll be required to do in a few more decades. The right believes in self-regulation – well, in the long-term they’re right in that nature, too, believes in self-regulation, otherwise known as extinction.