Are you ready for climate change? Because it’s not coming…it’s here.It seems there is always an extreme weather event or natural disaster of some sort headlining in the news. It’s become so constant that it’s easy to become inured to the devastation. Unless, of course, you are the village in the Philippines that got swept away by a typhoon, or a US farmer in the Midwest who had to slaughter his cattle early because he could not afford the rising cost of corn to feed them. But take a look at all of these events together and you may start to consider preparing for a world in which everyone’s lives—your life—is affected by climate change. In some ways, the signs that point to a climate moving away from stable norms can be distinguished easily just by looking at all of the natural disasters that have happened around the world in the past decade. In other ways, these signs are much subtler. For example, in 2010 alone, 19 countries around the world set national records for extreme temperatures. To get some insight into just how frequently extreme weather events take place, and how they affect food production, let’s look at droughts and severe heat waves that have taken place around the world in this new millennium. Tune in and feel the heat of Drought: Greatest Hits Of The 2000’s.
TexasThe drought that took Texas in 2011 was reported as the most expensive drought ever suffered by a state in the history of the US. In one year, agricultural producers lost a total of $7.62 billion. Among those hit the hardest were livestock farmers (losing $3.23 billion) and cotton growers (losing $2.2 billion). Texas is the largest producer of these two commodities, making up 15% of beef cattle and 25% of cotton produced in the US. As the drought ravaged the land, wilting grazing pastures and all other forages, some livestock farmers opted to pack their tens of thousands of cattle onto double decker trucks to be shipped up north where greener pastures lay in Nebraska and parts of Montana. The cause—like many droughts and heat waves you will read about here—was the climatic event La Niña, El Niño’s counterpart, which had pushed storm paths further north in the US. This greatly reduced rainfall in the South, stretching from Arizona to the Carolinas. Unfortunately for Texas, the state happened to be at the epicenter of the area impacted by this extraordinary dry weather.
Southeastern EuropeIn 2012, heat waves wreaked havoc in Italy all the way to the Ukraine. This long lasting heat spell greatly reduced corn crop yields, particularly in Italy, which is the EU’s third largest corn producer. The wildfires and numerous heat related deaths in 2012 were highly reminiscent of those that took place during heat waves that Europe had endured just five years previously. In 2007:
- In Hungary, heat related deaths reached up to 500.
- In Romania, 19,000 were admitted to a hospital due to symptoms caused by the heat wave, mostly respiratory problems.
- Raging wildfires spread throughout Italy, Greece and Macedonia.
- A state of national emergency was declared in both Bosnia and Macedonia when temperatures reached 45C (113F).
The Polar Jet StreamThe heat waves in southeastern Europe, the drought in the US, as well as the torrential rainfall that western Europe saw in 2012 have all been associated with the polar jet stream, one of the fast moving air currents in the atmosphere which pushes weather patterns from west to east around the Earth. Since the Arctic has been warming nearly twice as fast as the rest of the Northern hemisphere, there has been a major alteration in the course of the polar jet stream, making it increasingly wavier. This has caused weather systems to progress slower than normal, allowing for extreme weather events such as flooding, drought, and heat waves to persist longer. [/info]
IndiaIn 2012, India went through its fourth drought in the past dozen years. The copious rainfall that India normally experiences during the monsoon, its primary source of fresh water, dropped by an average of 12 percent, delaying the sowing of major crops such as rice, oilseeds and lentils.
Although agriculture contributes only 21% of India’s GDP, its importance in the country’s economic, social, and political fabric goes well beyond this indicator. The rural areas are still home to some 72 percent of the India’s 1.1 billion people, a large number of whom are poor. Most of the rural poor depend on rain-fed agriculture and fragile forests for their livelihoods.Crops were not the only thing affected by the weak monsoon. Water levels fell so low that water powered dams which supply part of India’s electricity were not able to generate their usual supply. Short supplies of electricity were exacerbated as heat stricken Indians turned up their fans and air conditioners and farmers turned to electric pumps to irrigate their fields with well water. It was reported by the New York Times that the lack of monsoon rainfall was an underlying cause for blackouts which caused over half the country to be without power in the month of July.