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The United States is having its worst drought since ... when? Comparisons were being made to 1988, but as the drought continues and spreads, a government report says it is the worst since the 1950s, and one of the ten worst this country has ever experienced. We don't yet know the final outcome.
The drought that is delivering a punishing blow to corn growers, farmers, and ranchers across the Midwest and High Plains is among the most intense drought events to occur in the U.S. since the 1950s, according to a federal report released on Monday, placing it among the top 10 droughts in U.S. history.
According to the most recent drought outlook, the drought is likely to persist — if not further intensify — during the next few months.
On Monday, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released its latest State of the Climate report on U.S. drought conditions, finding that record heat and a lack of widespread rainfall during June caused the drought to rapidly expand and intensify...
Running true to form, the Bloomberg story Worst-in-Generation Drought Dims U.S. Farm Economy Hopes focuses on the economic costs of the drought.
A worst-in-a-generation [worst-since-the-1950s] drought from Indiana to Arkansas to California is damaging crops and rural economies and threatening to drive food prices to record levels. Agriculture, though a small part of the $15.5 trillion U.S. economy, had been one of the most resilient industries in the past three years as the country struggled to recover from the recession.
[Left: The dry section of the Morse Reservoir, one of three reservoirs which supply water to nearby Indianapolis, in Cicero, Indiana,on July 12, 2012.]
“It might be a $50 billion event for the economy as it blends into everything over the next four quarters,” said Michael Swanson, agricultural economist at Wells Fargo & Co. in Minneapolis, the largest commercial agriculture lender. “Instead of retreating from record highs, food prices will advance"...
The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared July 11 that more than 1,000 counties in 26 states are natural-disaster areas, the biggest such declaration ever. The designation makes farmers and ranchers in affected counties — about a third of those in the entire country — eligible for low-interest loans to help manage the drought, wildfires or other disasters...
[My note: No corn? No problem! Here's a low-interest loan ... we'll fix ya' right up!]
Corn for December delivery jumped 4.4 percent today to close at $7.725 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade. The grain has soared 53 percent since mid-June. More than three- quarters of the acres where corn is grown in the U.S. is in a drought zone.
The biggest U.S. crop, worth $76.5 billion last year, corn is the main ingredient in the feed of chicken, cattle and hogs. Meat, poultry and fish prices surged 7.4 percent last year and are expected to gain as much as 4.5 percent this year as rising prices make animal feed more expensive. Soybeans have risen 21 percent since mid-June and wheat has climbed 41 percent.
I guess there's not much to be concerned about. After all, agriculture is merely a small part of America's 15.5 trillion dollar economy in nominal terms, and the damage this year might only amount to a paltry $50 billion. The government could print that much up in a few seconds.
Writing in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert gives us the title of today's post in The Big Heat.
“You couldn’t choreograph worse weather conditions for pollination,” Fred Below, a crop biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Bloomberg News recently.
“It’s like farming in Hell.”
Last week, the U.S.D.A. officially cut its yield forecast by twelve per cent, citing a “rapid decline in crop conditions since early June and the latest weather data.”
Kolbert notes that Americans have their heads up their asses.
Up until fairly recently, it was possible—which, of course, is not the same as advisable—to see climate change as a phenomenon that was happening somewhere else. In the Arctic, Americans were told (again and again and again), the effects were particularly dramatic. The sea ice was melting. This was bad for native Alaskans, and even worse for polar bears, who rely on the ice for survival. But in the Lower Forty-eight there always seemed to be more pressing concerns, like Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Similarly, the Antarctic Peninsula was reported to be warming fast, with unfortunate consequences for penguins and sea levels. But penguins live far away and sea-level rise is prospective, so again the issue seemed to lack “the fierce urgency of now.”
The summer of 2012 offers Americans the best chance yet to get their minds around the problem...
It is unclear what American "minds" Elizabeth might be referring to. She then takes the long view.
... One of the most salient—but also, unfortunately, most counterintuitive—aspects of global warming is that it operates on what amounts to a time delay. Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. Before many effects of today’s emissions are felt, it will be time for the Summer Olympics of 2048. (Scientists refer to this as the “commitment to warming.”)
What’s at stake is where things go from there.
[My note: if we could radically reverse our CO2 emissions today, which we can't, we would not be affecting the climate until the 2040s because of the built-in delay i.e. the commitment to warming.]
It is quite possible that by the end of the century we could, without even really trying, engineer the return of the sort of climate that hasn’t been seen on earth since the Eocene, some fifty million years ago.
Ms. Kolbert finishes with a flourish, pointing out that the insanity of doing nothing about the climate has become increasingly obvious.
Along with the heat and the drought and the super derecho, the country this summer is also enduring a Presidential campaign. So far, the words “climate change” have barely been uttered. This is not an oversight.
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer.
And so, while farmers wait for rain and this season’s corn crop withers on the stalk, the familiar disconnect continues. There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious.
Welcome to Earth! Perhaps it has escaped Ms. Kolbert's notice that the interminable 2012 presidential election campaign is centered around the American economy. Hopey-Changey and the Mittster have not not mentioned global warming because it is just too big a bummer. Plainly, it is politically impossible to talk about the environment at a time when the economy has turned to crap. This omission is thus not an accident, or an oversight as Kolbert suggests, as I originally explained in For Humans, The Economy Is Everything. Humans regard preserving the environment as a luxury they can not afford, especially when times are tough. As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, such a stance is indeed insane.
I wish to remind Elizabeth that she writes for a magazine (the New Yorker) which is as mainstream as mainstream gets. I have never seen an article in that venerable publication which questions the status quo. Allow me to quote Gore Vidal from the novel Burr. The narrator Aaron Burr is describing America's 2nd president John Adams (pp. 216-217).
Yet Adams' intelligence, though limited, was profound. What he knew he knew well. Unfortunately what he did not know he did not suspect existed.
So it goes at the New Yorker and for everyone writing there. Convention thinking is the sine qua non of acceptance there. No serious writer attempting to delineate humanity's likely future will ever find a congenial home at the New Yorker, including me. Given the Human Condition, it is the hallmark of the serious questioner of sacred truths that he (or she) is marginalized. Thus Ms. Kolbert has no legitimate right to use the word "insanity" regarding the human situation in the 21st century until she fully grasps what that situation is. If she did fully understand it, her work would not appear in the New Yorker. Quod Erat Demonstratum.
In the meantime, I have a message for the farmers of America's Breadbasket: good luck farming in hell.