Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Global Warming and the Drought of the Southern U.S.

I'm glad to see Peter Finnochiaro call the New York Times' hand re: its recent reporting on the horrific drought from Arizona to Florida.  Both in its article yesterday on the drought and its editorial today, the Times conspicuously omits any mention of global warming as a cause of the excessive heat and lack of rainfall across the southern tier of states, and suggests that La NiƱa is to blame.

But as Finnochiaro points out, we're not seeing merely an occasional fluke with this summer's drought: we're seeing a manifestation of an ongoing pattern that has been projected by scientists studying climate change for some time now.  We're seeing a pattern now fairly well-established in parts of the U.S., which is consistent with models of climate change developed by scientists studying global warming for a number of years now.

Since we're living right in the middle of the heat (and at the upper extremities of the drought map), Steve and I have been talking about these matters for some time now.  Since 1 June, there have been only three days in our area in which the high has been below 90F.  It's been at or near 100F, for the most part, for weeks now.  It was over 100F the last three days, with heat indices over 110F.

Summers in Arkansas are hot, it goes without saying--but not this hot in the past, and not this consistently hot.  The pattern we've now begun to see summer after summer is this: it becomes fiercely hot at the start of June, and the heat doesn't relent until October.  And the rainfall is at a minimum.  It rained in our part of Little Rock only once in all of June, and then only a few drops.  We've had no rainfall at all yet in July, save for a few drops this morning.

And here's the result: for the first time I can ever recall, from childhood forward, not even fig trees are holding their fruit this summer.  Our fig tree overhangs the roof of our neighbors' carport, and I can see the dropped figs all over the roof.  

Figs love heat.  This fig tree is a descendant of my grandmother's, a tree she cherished, which bore abundant crops for her for many years, in our hot Arkansas summers.  This is the first time--ever--I have seen the fig drop its fruit.

We planted tomatoes in containers in our back garden when June began, and quickly had to admit that they were doomed, when the heat set in and they began to wither and refused to set fruit.  The local tomatoes we have been able to buy in stores or at markets in our area this summer have been pitiful, for the most part--either pitted and overripe, or hard and tasteless.  The latter are clearly being grown in greenhouses, though they're being (deceptively) marketed as "farm-raised" local tomatoes.  

Tomatoes begin to stop setting fruit when daytime temperatures are too much over 90F or nighttime temperatures are too much over 70F.  We are beginning to conclude that we are living in a region that, increasingly, won't be able to grow the abundant fruit and vegetable crops for which it has been previously known--and that, if the trend to hotter, drier summers for the southern part of the U.S. continues, food we used to buy locally, which was grown locally, will almost certainly come from somewhere else.  Much of the local produce, both fruit and vegetables, that I remember from my years growing up is simply no longer easily available here.  And I suspect the primary reason for that lack of availability is that it is increasingly difficult to raise in the heat and drought.

When we drove into the countryside outside Houston early in July, I saw field after field of corn decimated by the drought--burned up.  The corn was standing brown in the fields.  Pastures were non-existent in much of the countryside.  I'd be very surprised if much of the abundant produce grown along the Rio Grande in some parts of southern Texas, including the pecan crops, are able to survive this summer.

No one is talking much about any of these matters, but they worry me.  What will our future be, when areas of the U.S. (and other areas of the globe) that once produced food consumed locally can no longer grow that food?  How will the earth support its population when food commodities grow scarcer and scarcer, if the global warming continues?

I suspect food shortages--and severe climate change--could happen far more quickly than many of us realize, and those without the resources to purchase expensive food shipped in from someplace else (which is to say many people in the developing nations) will experience serious hunger.  And I'm not sure there's any master plan at all to handle these eventualities, except the usual plan of greed, hoarding, and me-firstism of those who have the resources to manage while others go without.

And isn't it interesting--isn't there perhaps a tiny bit of karmic justice in the fact--that the areas of the country now hardest hit by this drought and excessive heat are the ones that have, in recent years, been most willing to walk blindly along to the big-business-will-solve-the-problems tune of the Republican party?  And that this part of the country contains significant proportions of religion-based climate-change deniers, who think that talk of climate change is a diabolical plot to interject silly ecological concerns into the gospel?

Just saying . . . .

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