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Posts Tagged ‘climate change and drought’

Is Iowa Prepared For A Megadrought?

State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City)

State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City)

State Senator Joe Bolkcom, member of the natural resources and environment committee, spoke last Tuesday at the capitol about environmental issues.

“Is there anything related to the environment you would like to see covered in greater detail?” I asked.

“There are some questions around megadroughts coming mid-century,” he said. “Have we dedicated enough attention and resources to protecting underground water systems?”

Bolkcom pointed to a number of concerns: recent defunding of the Department of Natural Resources underground water monitoring system; gaining an understanding of the water withdrawal rate for ethanol plant operations; a needed review of policy by the Environmental Protection Commission; a review of DNR regulations pertaining to water permitting; the need for a geological survey of water resources, the Silurian and Jordan aquifers specifically; and the impact of water usage by data centers such as Google and Facebook. He had given the matter considerable thought.

“Should we have other thoughts about the Jordan and Silurian aquifers as we head toward 2050?” Bolkcom asked. “Today, once an industrial user secures a permit, they can withdraw as much water as they want.”

There were more questions than answers during my brief time with Bolkcom, but his thrust was that Iowa needs to do more to ensure resiliency during extended drought conditions.

It is difficult to forget the severe drought of 2012. Governor Branstad called a special meeting of agriculture groups in Mount Pleasant that July. (Read my coverage of that meeting here.) Climate change was completely absent from the discussion, even if farmers had to deal with its enhancement of drought conditions. To paraphrase the reaction, farmers planned to plow the crop under, capitalize the loss, and plant again the following year.

What if the drought extended more than a season or two? What if it lasted for decades? According to a study released this month that’s what we can expect.

“Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years,” according to a Feb. 12 press release issued in conjunction with a new study led by NASA scientists.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, and lead author of the study. “What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

When Bolkcom referred to megadroughts, this is what he meant.

The potential exists for megadroughts more severe than any in recent history, according to the study published in Science Advances by Cook, Toby R. Ault and Jason E. Smerdon.

“Future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100–1300 CE),” the authors wrote. “The consistency of our results suggests an exceptionally high risk of a multidecadal megadrought occurring over the Central Plains and Southwest regions during the late 21st century, a level of aridity exceeding even the persistent megadroughts that characterized the Medieval era.”

Whether Bolkcom’s questions find answers is uncertain, however he is alone among legislators I spoke with in asking them. He was correct that members of the public haven’t engaged on something the legislature should be taking up during its 86th General Assembly.

Hope For A Turning Point On The Climate Crisis

Al Gore

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

(Editor’s Note: Al Gore’s article in the June 18 issue of Rolling Stone is hopeful about the climate crisis in a way we have not heard lately. As members of Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps, we see the former vice president receives his share of criticism. He is also on the leading edge of advocacy to mitigate the causes of global warming and related climate change. That makes this article a must read).

The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate
It’s time to accelerate the shift toward a low-carbon future
By Al Gore

In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place. The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail. The only question is how quickly we can accelerate and complete the transition to a low-carbon civilization. There will be many times in the decades ahead when we will have to take care to guard against despair, lest it become another form of denial, paralyzing action. It is true that we have waited too long to avoid some serious damage to the planetary ecosystem– some of it, unfortunately, irreversible. Yet the truly catastrophic damages that have the potential for ending civilization as we know it can still– almost certainly– be avoided. Moreover, the pace of the changes already set in motion can still be moderated significantly.

To read the rest of the article, click here:

How Long Before We Have A National Conversation About Climate Change?

We Only Have One Earth

I swear, the way some people treat this planet they seem to think humans can hop in a boat or spaceship or something and in a couple of days they will be on another habitable planet just waiting to be plundered. We can’t.  Of course, most of those seem to be the same rich and powerful that not only run most everything in this country but also run the whole world.

The lack of a grounding in reality that the Republican Party has exhibited for the past 30 years has infected our country. At one time some of their antics were comical at best, but the delay they have caused in addressing quite serious long range issues is now forcing humanity to come face to face with grave consequences.

We recently took a little  trip south to Mississippi. During our trip we had to cross the river of the same name. The Mississippi River, the nation’s highway for over 200 years, is so low that it is about to be closed to barge traffic. This will cause a huge bottle neck in the nation’s commerce, especially moving farm products to port. At the same time reports are coming out that the Ogallala Aquifer has maybe a few decades of water left at  the current rates of usage. The Ogallala is used mostly for irrigation, so as it dies, so does much of the farming in the plains.

The water in the Ogallala does not appear through some miracle. Water just isn’t dumped into underground storage through the act of some super human entity.  No, it is refilled by a very slow trickle through the ground process that will take tens of thousand years or more. There is no other way. The rate of rainfall that will be used to recharge the aquifer is slowing due to climate change. Thus the recharge may take even longer.

The Great Lakes are losing water also.  All are down many inches, which is billions of gallons of water. Governments around the Great lakes have already formed a sort of defense force to keep their precious resource from being stolen from them. Water is slowly becoming the forefront of the climate change. At some point decisions will have to be made on who will get the most precious resource we need to live, next to oxygen.

The problem has been slowly coming to a head. Rather than initiating some tough policies to slow or stop the waste and loss of our water, we have as a people chosen to ignore the problem. Like many I thought we may still have some wiggle room until I read this op-ed on Juan Cole’s Informed Consent blog this morning. Briefly, guest poster Tom Giesen cites a potentially much warmer climate coming much faster than we expected. So what we thought was some wiggle room has disappeared. While we have been talking of a 2degC rise in temperatures in a century, changes of 4degC or more may happen in a few short decades.

Here are some excerpts, but I recommend you read the entire story.

“Global warming’s disasters once seemed far off and science-fictional. It is now becoming clear to the scientific community that, to the contrary, very bad things could happen beginning relatively soon. For Baby Boomers, from the the Cuban Missile Crisis or the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s till now does not seem like such a long period of time. But in a similar span of years, taking us to about 2060, the world could well experience an increase in global average temperatures of some 4 degrees Centigrade[1]. If we consider the likely effects of this steep warming trend carefully, it becomes clear that the resulting “four degrees” world (as scientists call it) is far less hospitable for humans than our own, a world so inhospitable that we must avoid creating it at any cost.

Consider these scenarios, thought highly likely by scientists:

A temperature increase of 4 degrees C. will cause a 40% reduction in corn and rice crops, and loss of other agricultural produce, as well. The world doesn’t have fewer mouths to feed over time, and a decline in these key staples will likely produce widespread starvation..

People will be forced from their homes, like so many Syrian refugees, on a grand scale — from coastal areas because of rising seas; from areas no longer habitable due to high temperatures or drought; and from changing industrial and commercial practices.

Other effects include ice melting, weather extremes, ocean acidification, loss of coral reefs, changes in stream flows, large losses in biodiversity, water shortages, forest dieback and fires, and so on – the list is very long.

A temperature increase of 4 degrees C is now thought likely to cause the disintegration of an organized global community. A four degree world will likely be so altered that human society cannot adapt to it.”

Wish I had some comforting words, but I do not. Science has known of climate change for a hundred years. Lyndon Johnson warned of the effects of climate change nearly 50 years ago and urged action then. We were warned and have done nothing thanks in major part to those who make money effectively stopping any action.



Tell Tom Vilsack: Farmers Deserve The Facts About Climate Change And Drought

Forecast the Facts petition:  Tell Secretary Vilsack: Farmers Deserve the Facts about Climate Change and Drought

“The US is facing one of the worst droughts in our history, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he doesn’t want to ‘opine’ as to the role of climate change.* That is not acceptable. The scientific links between climate change and drought are well established by his own Department, and it’s Secretary Vilsack’s responsibility to share that information with farmers and the American public.”

Sign this petition to tell Secretary Vilsack to help America’s farmers by giving them the truth about manmade climate change.

Here’s what Secretary Vilsack said at a White House briefing:

Q:  Could you talk a little bit about the drought itself?  Is it very unusual?  Did anyone see it coming?  Is it from climate change?  Is there anything you can do to prepare?

SECRETARY VILSACK:  I’m not a scientist so I’m not going to opine as to the cause of this.  All we know is that right now there are a lot of farmers and ranchers who are struggling.  And it’s important and necessary for them to know, rather than trying to focus on what’s causing this, what can we do to help them.  And what we can do to help them is lower interest rates, expand access to grazing and haying opportunities, lower the penalties associated with that, and encourage Congress to help and work with us to provide additional assistance.  And that’s where our focus is.

Long term, we will continue to look at weather patterns, and we’ll continue to do research and to make sure that we work with our seed companies to create the kinds of seeds that will be more effective in dealing with adverse weather conditions.

It’s one of the reasons — because they have done that, it’s one of the reasons why we’re still uncertain as to the impact of this drought in terms of its bottom line because some seeds are drought-resistant and drought-tolerant, and it may be that the yields in some cases are better than we’d expected because of the seed technology….

Q:  Mr. Secretary, I want to follow through on the climate change question.  Is there any long-range thinking at the Department that — you had the wildfires and the heat wave and the rise in sea levels, and now this drought — that there’s something more going on here than just one year of a bad crop, and you need more than better seeds, maybe do something about climate change?

SECRETARY VILSACK:  Our focus, to be honest with you, in a situation like this is on the near term and the immediate, because there’s a lot of pressure on these producers.  You take the dairy industry, for example.  We’ve lost nearly half of our dairy producers in the last 10 years.  They were just getting back to a place where there was profitability and now they’re faced with some serious issues and, again, no assistance in terms of disaster assistance.

So that’s our near-term focus.  Long term, we obviously are engaged in research projects; we’re obviously working with seed companies.  Don’t discount the capacity of the seed companies.  These technologies do make a difference.  And it’s one of the reasons why, at least based on the yields today, we’re looking at potentially the third largest corn crop in our history.  Now, that may be adjusted downward, it may be adjusted upward — depends on the rain, depends on circumstances.   But even with the difficulties we’re experiencing, we’re still looking at a pretty good crop as of today.  Tomorrow it could change, obviously.  (click here to read more)

Here’s what Vilsack said in an interview by Jeremy Hobson on Marketplace Morning Report:

… Hobson:  Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you one more question before I let you go. This is — as you said – the worst drought in decades, the first half of this year, according to the government, was the hottest in 118 years of record keeping across the country, the U.K. just had its wettest June since records began there. Is it the view of theU.S.government that this is climate change?

VILSACK:  Well, I’m not an expert on climate change so it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for me to respond specifically to that question. My focus and I think the focus of the USDA and the President, right now is on making sure that we get help to these folks, making sure, for example, that people know that they got to contact their insurance agent, if they have crop insurance, that they may have a damaged crop so that they won’t lose rights under their policy, that’s our focus.

It’s not to trying to figure out, today, what may be causing this or what may be impacting it. We know it is impacting farmers and ranchers. Our hearts go out to their families and these hard working folks. We just want to be able to provide them some help and assistance.

Sign the petition