Thursday, November 14, 2013

More Ominous Climate Indicators .....and Consequences.

In my New Year's Eve blog post one of the predictions I made for the new year was:

"Over the year another  ¼ C increase in mean global temperature will bring us closer to the first 'year of no seasons'.  The oceans meanwhile will become at least 10% more acidic than they are now and people around the world will see the ominous 'red tide' defiling their beaches."

Both of these have been met as well as the other prediction of massive new storms, such as the recent typhoon that hit the Philippines. While it is true that this single super typhoon can't specifically be traced to global warming (since the latter is statistically based) it is clear then when you see a massive storm with 195 mph sustained winds common sense dictates that warmer oceans - much warmer- would have a primary role in the origin. As climate researchers have pointed out, while the "flat Earthers" (those who deny there's been any increase in global mean temperatures for the past 15 years) have declared a rising temperature  'flatline' - they have taken their attention off the oceans which have warmed significantly.

None of this so far touches on the ravages to global food supply, including in the U.S.   To fix ideas, at the beginning of 2012, the Agriculture Department projected the largest corn crop in the country’s history. However, a savage heat wave and drought struck over the summer. Plants withered, prices spiked, and the final harvest came in 27 percent below the forecast. The situation bore a striking resemblance to what happened in Europe in 2003, after a heat wave cut agricultural production for some crops by as much as 30 percent and sent prices soaring.

Several researchers concluded that the European heat wave was made more likely by human-caused climate change; though some scientists are still arguing over the 2012 heat blast in the United States. Whatever their origin, heat waves like these give us a taste of what will certainly be in store for us all in a future with global warming.

Among those who are getting nervous are the people who spend their lives thinking about where our food will come from.  And they should! A report issued earlier this year from researchers at the London School of Economics and a Washington think tank: the Information Technology and & Innovation Foundation, noted:

The negative impacts of global climate change on agriculture are only expected to get worse,”

The report  went on to cite a need for “more resilient crops and agricultural production systems than we currently possess in today’s world.”

Apart from northern migrations of tropical insects and diseases (i.e. dengue fever) this may be the greatest single fear about global warming: that climate change could destabilize the world’s food system to the extent of leading to mass starvation.

Two weeks ago, a leaked draft of a report by the United Nations climate committee, known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggested that the group’s concerns have grown, and that the report, scheduled for release in March, in Yokohama, Japan, is likely to contain a sharp warning about risks to the food supply. The tone is strikingly different from that of a report from the same group in 2007, which discussed some risks, but saw global warming as likely to benefit agriculture in many important growing regions.

Recall at that time, assorted Pollyannas like the authors of Freakonomics and the denizens of Right wing think tanks, predicted warmer climate and more precip would see crops flourish. An abundance of food would become available. Now, those rosy speculations have been tempered.  In the years since, new scientific research has checked those assumptions.

One group of scientists has pioneered more sophisticated ways of analyzing the relationship between agriculture and climate. David Lobell at Stanford and Wolfram Schlenker at Columbia, for example,  have used elaborate statistical techniques to get a detailed picture of what heat does to crop yields. Their work suggests that rising heat stress in some major growing areas is already putting a drag on production, and raises the possibility of much more serious effects as global warming continues.

Some scientists had long hoped that the effect of heat and water stress on crops might be offset by the very thing driving global warming: the sharp increase of carbon dioxide in the air. The gas is the main food supply for plants, and a large body of evidence suggested that the ongoing rise could boost crop yields. But a lot of that evidence came from tests in artificial environments like greenhouses. Younger, more savvy scientists, who insisted on testing crops in open-air conditions more closely resembling the real world, found that the bump in yield, while certainly real, was not as high as expected.

Thus, it likely would not be high enough to offset other stresses from global warming, and certainly to meet ever increasing population demands.. . The findings indicate the draft report issued in March next year will serve notice on world leaders that the risks could be substantial. Those political leaders have tended to take the security of the food supply for granted, until a crisis hits. As opposed to plowing trillions into fighting terrorist phantoms with robes they'd be better served amping up  global food security.

Recall the  previous biggest food scare of this century occurred in 2007 and 2008 when several years of lagging agricultural production, caused in part by weather extremes, collided with rising demand. Prices for major grains more than doubled, entire countries slammed the door on food exports, panic buying ensued in many markets, and food riots broke out in more than 30 countries. Rich countries tripped over one another to help poor countries and their small farmers, pledging $22 billion. But a recent report by the Group of 8 industrialized nations found that only 74 percent of the money has been disbursed, and some aid groups say the food supply is once again falling on the world’s priority list.

But never mind, the money was likely blown for increasing global mass surveillance, such as fortifying accommodations for NSA spying at Bluffdale, Utah. Meanwhile, a paranoid military- national security runs amuck spending trillions while we're all at risk of a global food crisis emergency. Who's paying any attention? Not the ones who love the fact that chasing terrorists is more profitable, and besides ....they can keep tabs of any angry Americans.....who might complain one day that fracking is also fouling up food and water.

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