Dry and Drier Meets Dumb and Dumber

drought decal

(Photo by James Mallos/Flickr)

The consensus of climatologists (be warned, these are scientists, not real Americans) is that the drought now affecting almost all of the US west of the Mississippi River — more than half of the 48 contiguous states — will be at least as bad this year as it was last (when it was in many places the worst in a generation), and may well be worse. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, most agricultural operators in the worst-hit regions probably won’t pay any attention to the forecast. This is the equivalent of the captain of the Titanic, on being told there are icebergs ahead, saying “So what?”

The oracles at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with other practitioners of the dark sciences across the kingdom, have been assessing the signs and portents for the growing season about to begin, and have found:

  • That in February, 54 per cent of the country was already experiencing drought conditions, while last year only 39 per cent was;

  • That given such a start, this year will be drier than last even if rainfall and temperatures for the rest of the year are normal;

  • That there is virtually zero chance that rainfall and temperatures for the rest of the year will be normal — forecasters expect hotter for the whole country, and drier in big chunks of the drought-stricken area.

  • That the snowpack in California is about half of normal, while reservoirs lakes, rivers and aquifers throughout the stricken area are seriously depleted.

As the severity of the current drought approaches parity with that of the 1930s “Dustbowl” years, it is often said that, well, it won’t be that bad because “modern agricultural practices” have reduced the dust (those the words of NOAA climatologist Tom Karl, speaking with Inside Climate News.) Nothing could be further from the truth. While the use of no-till planting and cover crops have made spot improvements here and there, agriculture as a whole continues to over-cultivate, over-fertilize and over-crop, destroying several tons of topsoil each season for every ton of harvest.

Meanwhile, crazed by high corn prices, industry is plowing up marginal prairie grassland at rates not seen since the years just before the Dust Bowl. A study out of South Dakota University reported by IPS calculates that 1.3 million acres of grazing land in the semiarid plains have been ripped up in the last five years. Government subsidies, price supports, crop insurance and requirements for ethanol content in gasoline are accelerating the reenactment of the runup to the Dust Bowl.

How close are we getting? Last year, the hottest ever recorded in the US, 80 per cent of America’s farmland experienced drought, 2,000 counties were designated disaster areas, and 50% of the crops harvested were rated by the Agriculture Department as being in poor, or very poor, condition.

Yet nothing stays the industrial operator from his appointed rounds. The chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, Bob Young, told Inside Climate News that his members, who are real Americans, probably will pay no attention to the dire forecasts of the scientists, for two reasons. One, “they” said March was going to be warm and it wasn’t; and two, the operators, most of which receive their government checks in city high-rise office buildings, “know what is going on in their own dirt.”

Seriously. He said that.




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5 Responses to Dry and Drier Meets Dumb and Dumber

  1. Gail Zawacki says:

    A couple of days ago I was listening to NPR and they invited farmers to call in. The two I heard went on about how they are going to plant more this year than ever because the price of corn is good. Not one word about drought, not one word about climate change. I felt like I was listening to stark raving lunatics. What will it take for people to wake up? Perhaps, it will be this summer but they are more likely to find Jesus than understand that we are willfully destroying the biosphere that feeds us.

    • Lewis Cleverdon says:

      Gail – it’s good to hear you’re still marching on. Me too, if somewhat footsore.

      Your question – “What will it take for people to wake up” is pivotal. Intensifying climate impacts as the jetstream responds to the cryosphere decline is waking some and will wake more, but without the will to listen to the actual prognosis and the actual requirements for commensurate mitigation, all it does is increase the lemming herd, that is easily steered into dead ends – such as protesting Keystone, demanding wind turbines and recycling bottles. (Here in the UK a bottle-glass mountain arose because it didn’t pay to ship it to China, so now they grind the intake small enough to mix into the fill for our new roads…).

      I suggest that the factor capable of waking people to the point that they want to know the full story – both the prognosis and the consequent needs – is learning that they’ve been conned, that is, understanding just why, if the climate issue is existential, the US establishment from White House to Wall St to main St studiously ignores it ?

      The standard propaganda is that the circus of denial disables the POTUS, while fossil profits silence the financiers and business. Which is patently bullshit of course – opinion polls consistently show that climate was a classic wedge issue for Obama in the last election and yet he remained silent, and while the fossil lobby raises only about 8% of US GDP and all the rest of US corporations know their profits are right in the climate firing line – yet they too remain silent.

      I suggest that the circus of denial was fabricated in 2009 as a con specifically to excuse Obama’s inaction, and to deflect progressives’ interest from the question of just why he has, in practice, adopted Cheney’s 2000 policy of a brinkmanship of inaction with China. By increasingly disrupting China’s agriculture, the increase of climate instability directly serves US interests, with the prospect of crop failures, food shortages and civil unrest toppling the regime. This is the only non-military means available to the US establishment for upholding its paramount priority since WW2 – namely maintaining America’s global economic dominance.

      In historical terms it can be observed that if Washington’s intransigence over a binding climate treaty were accidentally disrupting China’s agriculture, then it would probably be the first empire in all of history to destabilize a rival empire’s food supply by accident.

      Given that there’s no prospect of starting the commensurate mitigation via a binding treaty without overturning that bipartisan policy, the public need to be informed of it – and their reaction to realizing they’ve been conned, alongside that to such an immoral and reckless strategy, may well be very strong. Certainly its exposure seems by far the best chance of changing course.

      There are many aspects to this thesis – of which I’ve got quite a few, but I’d be very glad of your perspectives on it as my view is from Britain rather than from within the US, and we veterans who refuse to give up and admit defeat seem to be getting rare – mostly for want of a plausible strategy for change.

      All the best,


  2. I wonder if there are any reliable estimates and charts that show the crossover point when decreasing yields translate into our farms being unable to meet our food demand? If conditions continue to deteriorate, does that crossover point occur in one year? Five years? Ten years? Be nice to have an idea…

    • Lewis Cleverdon says:

      Michael –

      I’ve seen no explicit charts of the trends of the destabilization of global agriculture (though we can be sure that cabals like say the NSA will be providing them to their govts) but back in 2010 the UK’s chief scientific adviser to govt warned publicly that by 2030 we’ll reach a “perfect storm” of global resource constraints, most particularly of water and of food production. As a hill farmer (with sheep at 52 degrees North in the Cambrian Mountains of Wales) I thought at the time that this looked a bit optimistic.

      However, a notable effect of just the present 0.8C of warming and its consequent climate destabilization is its already rising impacts on agriculture, with the consequent stresses on geo-political stability. A recent study (led by an IPCC lead author) into the drought prognosis for Asia give some foresight on this: “Food Security: Near future projections of the impact of drought in Asia” can be seen in the reports section at: http://www.lowcarbonfutures.org. Dr Lawrence Jackson, a co-author of the report, said: “Our work surprised us when we saw that the threat to food security was so imminent; the increased risk of severe droughts is only 10 years away for China and India. These are the world’s largest populations and food producers; and, as such, this poses a real threat to food security.”

      The study was only of Asia, so it is worth noting that according to Munich Re’s 40yr global database of rising extreme climate impacts, those impacts are rising far faster in the USA – with its formerly huge reliable grain exports – than in any comparable area of the planet. In this light, in the absence of an Albedo Restoration program restoring the pre-industrial global temperature and so stabilizing agriculture, it appears that we should expect the start of serial global crop failures and consequent geopolitical destabilization within 10 to 15 years.

      The critical impact of the latter is that it would very likely be the death nell for coherent global climate mitigation efforts. We thus have a rather limited window in which to overturn the US policy of a brinkmanship of inaction with China, to agree a commensurate global climate treaty that mandates Emissions Control and Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration, and to achieve the latter’s RD&D soon enough for its deployment to be effective.

      From this perspective, I rather think it’s time to focus implacable pressure on the White House. How about you ?



  3. SomeoneInAsia says:

    “Among men those born with knowledge are the very best. Next come those who acquire knowledge through study. Those who learn through painful experience are next, and finally those who just refuse to learn are the most hopeless.” (Confucius, Analects 16:9)