Saturday, January 18, 2014

System Change, Not Climate Change

We read all manner of statistics about volatile weather wreaking havoc around the globe . Too much rain in northern China damaged crops in May, three years after too little rain turned the world’s second-biggest corn producer into a net importer of the grain. China shivered through its coldest winter in at least half a century in 2010. Three years later, Shanghai was suffocated by its hottest summer in 140 years.
Dry weather in the U.S. will cut beef output from the world’s biggest producer to the lowest level since 1994, following 2013’s bumper corn crop, which pushed America’s inventory up 30 percent. Rainfall last year in the contiguous U.S. was 7 percent higher than the 20th century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Yet it was difficult to draw broad conclusions because of regional variations. Michigan and North Dakota set records for wetness, while California set its own for lack of rain. Record flooding hit the Mississippi River in 2011. The next year, record-low water levels stranded barges, choking the flow of coal, chemicals and wheat.
British farmers couldn’t plant in muddy fields after the second-wettest year on record in 2012 dented the nation’s wheat production. In 2012, Britain had its second-highest rainfall going back to 1910, according to Britain’s meteorology office. England and Wales had its third-wettest year since 1766.
 Flood waters in Passau, Germany, in May and June reached the highest level since 1501, doing $15.2 billion in damage in parts of Central and Eastern Europe. A July hailstorm in Reutlingen, Germany with hailstones the size of babies’ fists led to $3.7 billion in insured losses. December marked the worst blizzard since 1953 in Jerusalem, dumping 15 inches (38 centimeters) of snow on Israel’s capital. December was also Norway’s wettest month in history.

Don’t heed the environmentalists. Listen to those whose business is to predict. Fast-changing weather patterns, such as the invasion of Arctic air that pushed the mercury in New York from an unseasonably warm 55 degrees Fahrenheit on Jan. 6 to a record low of 4 the next day, will only become more commonplace, according to the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.
“There’s no question, while there’s variability and volatility from year to year, the number and the cost of catastrophic weather events is on the rise, not just in the U.S., but on a global scale,” said Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of the insurance Institute. “It’s all but certain that the size and the magnitude and the frequency of disaster losses in the future is going to be larger than what we see today.”

Research points to a culprit: an increase in greenhouse gases, generated by human activity, that are forcing global temperatures upward, said Thomas Peterson, principal scientist at the U.S. National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The warmer the air the more water it can hold.  he said, “What we’re finding worldwide is that heavy precipitation is increasing.”

Such fluctuations were reflected in food prices. In the past three years, orange juice, corn, wheat, soybean meal and sugar were five of the top eight most volatile commodities. Higher food costs pushed 44 million people into poverty from June 2010 to February 2011, the World Bank estimated. The three years in the past two decades when global food costs were highest all occurred after 2007, according to the UN. Historic drought on four continents over the last five years is partly to blame.

“A drought is really all-consuming,” said northeast Texas rancher Phil Sadler. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be on your place to feel the impact.” The record Texas dry spell in 2011 was followed the next year by the most severe drought in the U.S. Midwest since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Texas cattle herds dwindled, driving the price of beef to a record in the U.S., the world’s biggest producer. As of the beginning of last year, ranchers in Texas had reduced their herds to the smallest since 1967, according to the Agriculture Department. The U.S. herd has shrunk for six straight years and last year was at its smallest since 1952, government data show.

Russia suffered its worst dry period in at least 50 years in 2010 and two years later lost about 25 percent of its grain harvest in another dry spell. In 2012, Spain had its driest winter and second-driest summer since at least 1947, cutting olive oil and wine volumes to the lowest in at least a decade. Authorities declared a drought in 2013 across the entire North Island of New Zealand, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, as some areas were the driest in as many as 70 years, according to the government. That pushed the price of whole-milk powder to a record in April last year.

A temperature of 110 degrees in Melbourne halted tennis matches yesterday at the Australian Open. The violent ups and downs of the weather in the last few years have vexed agricultural producers, said Ross Burnett, who farms cotton in the northeastern Australian state of Queensland. A drought there, in the country’s biggest sugar- and beef- producing region, follows flooding in 2010 and 2011 so bad it stopped the steady rise of sea levels around the world, according to the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The scientific consensus tells us that we are headed towards catastrophe on a planetary level if we don't alter our relations with nature.  To deny this is to deny science itself, and the reality is now all around us so we know it. Water shortages and drought in one region and flooding in another causing crop failures are becoming ubiquitous realities. People's lives are being affected in dire ways. We are facing a certain disaster if we continue along the lines of business as usual.  We require a necessary radical shift to a sustainable society. What is really making it difficult for the population to act in response to this crisis is the power structure of capitalism itself.  

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