Joe Romm in his seminal book on climate change ‘Hell and High Water‘ described how human caused global warming was likely to ravage both the US and the world, if left unchecked. It is an alarming revelation of the immediate problem posed by climate change that shows many of the effects and impacts resulting from greenhouse gas emissions are far more current than initially thought. These impacts occur within the span of our generation, not just as a nasty form of generational sabotage foisted on our children and grandchildren.
This year, as climate scientists around the world acknowledged the fact that global warming was having a direct impact on weather, causing it to worsen, the first strong effects of human caused climate change began to take shape. These first outliers of ‘Hell and High Water’ climate change are now being visited upon the United States. Off the East Coast, as described in a previous blog, it appears that a storm to rival the Perfect Storm of 1991 may well be forming. Meanwhile a severe drought that began this Spring continues to ravage the heartland.
Currently, over 62 percent of the United States’ landmass continues to struggle under the assaults of a historic drought. By mid-October of any normal year you would have expected dryness and drought to have slackened its grip on our country. But this year the drought that peaked at 65% of the total continental landmass has barely even paused. Enormous swaths of the country remain under drought with the most extreme drought burning a hole directly in the country’s center.
Overall, extreme conditions have mainly shifted north and west. But the coverage and impact of drought areas remains substantial. According to this week’s Drought Monitor:
Significant precipitation was limited to the eastern Dakotas, while the High Plains’ hard red winter wheat belt received little or no rain. As a result, soil moisture shortages continued to limit wheat emergence and development across the northwestern half of the Plains. In addition, mid-week wind gusts locally in excess of 70 mph raised dust and temporarily closed major roadways across parts of the Plains.
Overall, the risk to the nation’s wheat harvest remains high with more than 60% of the nation’s wheat under threat. That said, wheat is a much hardier crop than corn and may well show less impact from the ongoing drought. However, stakes remain high as the US is a major wheat exporter and UN food analysts are saying the world may enter a food crisis if any more climate-driven shortages crop up.
Russian and Ukraine wheat output is at a nine year low. EU stockpiles are at a 14 year low. Argentina, the world’s sixth largest wheat exporter, has experienced a 16 percent fall in production. Though US wheat prices are running $20 per ton higher than the world average, the world may turn to the US as EU and South American wheat stocks set aside for export begin to run low. In such an event, any damage to the US wheat harvest would cause serious difficulties for importing countries like Egypt and other Middle Eastern and African nations reliant on world trade to supplement their people’s nutritional requirements.
Persistent US drought could pose a problem for next year’s crops as well. Back to back years like 2012 would result in severe consequences for both the US and the community of nations reliant on international trade to prevent hunger.