World Food Security Slides into Red Zone as FAO Index Jumps to 213, Russian Special Forces Continue to Destabilize Breadbasket Ukraine, and Climate-Change Induced Extreme Weather Ravages Croplands

Feeling impacts from a broad range of stresses including widespread heat and drought from the US West, to South America, to Australia and Southeast Asia, the ongoing Russian invasion and destabilization of breadbasket Ukraine, and the growing threat of a strong El Nino emerging in the Pacific, world food prices made another significant jump during March of 2014.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food index prices surged from a value of 208 in February to 212.8 in March. The 4.8 point increase from February to March followed on the heels of a 5.5 point increase between January and February.

Values above 210 are considered to result in enough stress to ignite conflict as an increasing number of regions begin to see scarcity from lack of ability to purchase or produce food. For the time being, these prices remain below the 2011 high water mark of 229 which was linked to a broad eruption of conflict and food riots from Libya to Egypt to Syria and throughout a smattering of other impoverished or vulnerable regions in Asia and around the globe.

But with the world climate situation worsening, with chances for a strong El Nino emerging later this year increasing, and with global conflict over dwindling and endangered stores of food-related wealth and resources intensifying, there remains a substantial risk that global food prices will continue to see strong upward pressure throughout 2014, pushing and maintaining levels high enough to continue to ignite instability, unrest and, in some cases, open warfare.

(The first episode of Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously” provides a close look at two regions suffering directly from crop losses, economic impacts and hunger due to extreme droughts related to climate change — Syria and the US Southwest. It provides a view, in close-up of what happens due to years-long droughts and related food and resource shortages. In the US, loss of grazing land resulted in the closing of meat packing plants supporting local workers and in severe stress to communities even as religion and political beliefs impeded an effective response to the rising crisis. In Syria, a ten year drought spurred armed revolution against a government that turned a blind eye to the needs of its suffering citizens.)

Global Hot Spots

Western US: March saw a brief weakening of the, now 13 month long, blocking high pressure system off the US west coast. This slight interlude unleashed an extraordinary surge of Pacific Ocean moisture that set off record floods and one-day rainfall events throughout Northern California, Washington and Oregon. Pulses of moisture did briefly touch the US Southwest, but the Jet Stream configuration had shifted somewhat northward, resulting in less water relief for the most drought stressed zones.


(The April 8 US Drought Monitor shows drought continuing to intensify over the US despite some moisture reaching affected areas.)

As a result, the epic California drought is probably still the worst seen in 500 years and is now likely to intensify and/or persist on into late this fall. By April 1, snow cover had fallen to 25% of a typical average for the Sierra Nevada. Combined drought and water shortages have led to an unprecedented complete cut off of federal water supplies to many local farmers. In addition, Silicon Valley, has been forced to ration its drinking water supply.

Meanwhile, sections of Texas have experienced their driest 42 month period since record-keeping began in 1911. Regions near Lubbock received only 33 inches of rainfall in the three and a half year period since October of 2010. A normal rainfall for this zone would be around 64 inches for the same time-frame. This makes the current 4+ year Texas drought worse than any previous dry time during the 20th Century, including the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s.

With the emergence of spring, a typical post-winter dry period will likely be enhanced by a continued formation of a powerful dome high pressure system blocking moisture flow to California and the US Southwest. In addition, amplified heat in the up-slope of a high amplitude Jet Stream wave will likely drive drought conditions to rapidly worsen as spring runs into summer. Sadly, the primary hope for moisture comes from the emergence of El Nino, which is becoming more and more likely for later this year. However, if the El Nino comes on as strong as expected, rainfall events are likely to be extraordinarily intense, ripping away top soil from the likely fire-damaged zones and making it difficult for water planners to capture and store water due to its velocity. In the worst case, Ark Storm-like conditions could emerge due to a massive heat and moisture dump that could result in very intense rivers of moisture forming over western regions.

Brazil: Ever since 2005, Brazil has been suffering from a series of persistent drought episodes. By this year, the nine year long drought series reached an ominous peak. Like California, this drought series is now likely the worst seen in decades and possibly as far back as 500 years. The result was widespread fires and blackouts throughout Brazil together with extreme impacts to farm production. Particularly hard hit were coffee and sugar production, sending prices for both markets rocketing to record or near-record levels.

Brazil Drought Rainfall Anomalies

(South American rainfall anomalies from Jan 23 to February 24, 2014. Image source: CPC Unified.)

Indonesia and Southeast Asia: From Thailand to Malaysia to Indonesia, drought resulted in significant reductions in palm oil production, a main crop for the region. Throughout March and into April large fires were reported over a wide drought-stricken zone even as smoke choked both cities and countryside. Some of the fires were suspected to have been illegally set by large palm oil conglomerates seeking to clear new land for an ever-expanding set of palm oil plantations. But the plantations may now be in danger of a drought fed by both their destructive practices of land-clearing and by their overall contribution to an extraordinary and excessive global greenhouse gas overburden.

Fires Malacca Strait 2014

(MODIS shot of widespread fires near the Malacca Strait during March of 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Drought related heat and fires not only threatened crops but also resulted in multiple school closings, numerous dangerous air warnings, thousands of calls reporting peat fires and, in Indonesia alone, more than 20,000 people hospitalized for respiratory problems.

The Ukraine and Russia: An ever-more expansionist Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine also resulted in higher food prices as speculators purchased grain stores over projections that Russian forces could disrupt Urkaine’s food production and exports. First phase invasion into the Crimea did not block key grain ports. But tens of thousands of troops massed along the Ukraine border and likely continued incursions by Russian special forces units into Eastern Ukraine resulted in an ongoing destabilization of one of the world’s key grain producers.

In this context, it is worth noting that global harvest figures showed Russian wheat production falling from 61 million metric tons per year in 2009 to 38 million metric ton per year in 2012. Throughout this four-year period, Russia has been forced to curtail or cut off grain exports on numerous occasions as increasing periods of drought, fire and extreme weather resulted in loss of crops.

Meanwhile, wildfire season began early in Siberian Russia perhaps presaging a fire season that, when combined with the effects of an emerging El Nino, could be the worst seen since 2010 when Russia first cut off grain exports to the rest of the world.

Global Problem: Though the above list provides examples of where global food supply is most threatened by extreme weather related to climate change and/or a related set of conflicts over resources, it is important to note that the current food, resource, and climate crisis is now global in nature. Droughts and severe weather have left almost no region untouched and now result in substantial damage to crops at least once a year in even the most tranquil locations. Instances of ongoing and systemic drought are now common throughout various areas not mentioned above including: Australia, China, South America, Central America, The Middle East, Africa, India, and sections of Russia and Europe. So though blows to important “bread baskets” provide the most impact to overall food price and availability, a general state of agricultural disruption due to increasingly extreme climates blanketing the globe result in a far more challenging than usual base-line for food producers and consumers everywhere.


FAO: World Food Situation

US Drought Monitor


CPC Unified

El Nino Update: Monster Kelvin Wave Continues to Emerge in the Pacific

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

Thirsty West: Where’s the Snow?

Persistent Drought Still Reigns in Much of Texas

Arkstorm: California’s Other Big One


Hat-tip to Colorado Bob

Hat-tip to Miep

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  1. Bearing in mind that the regions that experienced substantial social instability following the last food price spike have been unable to recover to a position of stability (and indeed are still highly vulnerable – arguably even more than before due to the negative effects of conflict) – and that the prognosis for food supply vs demand looks extremely bleak even without major climatic effects (which we are not seeing yet), there is a good chance that the food price index remains above conflict triggering levels permanently.

    The degradation of societies under these stresses will expand with increasing positive feedback effects – disrupting by implication the rest of the world in greater measure, the consequence of a fragile web of global interconnections. The process is probably essentially permanent and one way with increasing acceleration to be expected (until the pool of available regions to fail is exhausted).

    I think we are almost certainly out of time for any realistic response to avert the problem and almost out of time to do anything to minimise the ultimate long term damage (ie we stand to lose civilisation and lack of planning implies a low collapse floor). If we couldn’t ensure the future of our species in the best of times, we certainly won’t do so in the worst of times (as a collective mass at least, but as far as I can see almost entirely the same applies to individuals too).

    On the flipside though, there are meaningful actions that can be taken all the way to the end – we just need to actually take them…

    • Raising the collapse floor would help a little. I’m not at all encouraged by the situation in Crimea or the state of global cooperation at large.

      • I cannot say I am discouraged by the lack of global cooperation or current global politics – as I must admit to having always had rather low expectations on these areas, and so far – what we’re seeing seems about par – normal behaviour.

        Taken to the logical conclusion raising the collapse floor all the way up would have the same outcome as transiting to sustainability – excepting that it provides a fall back in the event of collapse in the interim (which looks increasingly likely) where an attempt to transit without planning around collapse may fail to provide such a safety net (for controlled regression and accelerated recovery).

        However, if I have one caution to make it is this – this is not going to come from the top. For people to wait in the vain hope that their leaders, the socioeconomic elite monkeys, will do this for them – is a collective suicide pact (and to be sure one that the collective masses have participated in for decades now). In fact I would caution that the powers that be may well oppose any efforts by individuals and groups to organise as it represents a threat to their order.

        We do this ourselves, as individuals at first, hopefully forming into ever larger groups with larger capabilities (and by implication higher collapse floors) – or we do not do it at all. That’s my thinking – and really where I’m trying to take the CCG stuff, even if it still feels very much like pissing into the proverbial gale…

    • Action we can take as individuals includes taking responsibility for our consumption. But it also involves direct opposition to the bad actors and holding them to account.

      It’s worth noting that, post collapse, it tends to take a long time to put the pieces back together. If such a situation were to arise in the context of worsening environments over the short and long scale, recovery becomes far less likely.

      If you have effective leadership (big if) you can manage transition while mitigating impacts and that’s what we really need to be serious about now, if we’re to have much hope of facing down this crisis.

      • Given how low I think the collapse floor is shaping up to be (and there is still room to improve this), I expect recovery to take millennia. I don’t expect to live to see it – but should that excuse inaction? (my own mother said once to me “what’s the point if you’ll never see it?” – which I thought nicely expressed the generational issues, albeit unintentionally).

        From a personal perspective though, it makes sense to go down this route. I grew up poor (and have never been especially wealthy) and I have heard too many times people talk about the poor being those who will bear the brunt of the suffering as though they can easily be discarded and cast off – disposed of, written off.

        Identifying with that camp as I do (albeit still rather wealthy by third world standards) makes it illogical to throw my support behind any collective standard that expresses such views.

        And so, when I hear people tell me how a nation (the US for example, but it could as easily be any other developed nation) can transit to nuclear or renewable energy, but their plan requires a resource footprint that locks out the rest of our species from being able to follow suit – I know it is not a plan worth supporting. I know many of us would be deemed disposable simply through accident of birth, even by many relatively better informed people.

        I can find almost nobody in the west who would be willing to sacrifice simple things like heating and air conditioning to improve the prospects of the future of our species and their own descendents. When we live in a world where so many people do not have those things – what does it say that they are perceived as still being a necessary thing to retain even as our future disintegrates due to our energy profligacy?

        • I think we need to start seriously talking about a global climate emergency protocol and what needs to be done in all countries to make that work. In my view, the rich need to give up the most so that others may live and be happy.

    • Mark from New England

       /  April 14, 2014

      Yes, I too can see civilization being pushed down a few rungs on the catabolic collapse stairway in the near to medium-term future. As most economic collapses / depressions have resulted in a strong, albeit temporary, decline in fossil fuel demand, I wonder how that factor (reduction in demand for oil, gas and coal), if it occurs, could help to ameliorate the build-up of GHGs.

      In short, could the inevitable speed bumps (recessions) leading up to the end of Growth, as described by Richard Heinberg, say, reduce fossil fuel demand enough to make a difference in the preservation of the biosphere? Or will the wealthy powers that be see to it that every available drop of oil and lump of coal is burned until a hard shut down occurs?

      • I think collapse, in this case, hurts. The reason is that the systems of sustainability are never developed and a long, slow bleed of fossil fuel emission continues. There’s more than enough unconventional fuel in the ground like brown coal, tar sands, and fracked gas to keep burning the stuff for hundreds of years. Without the global climate monitoring bodies, as you’d almost surely lose those in a global civilization collapse, you’d have very little in the way of tracking of the ongoing crisis. During collapse, you tend to lose support for things like the sciences and so most of the possible rational response would be buried.

        You’ll have nations continuing to consume these dangerous resources — the ones who manage to maintain integrity longest or to exploit the collapse of neighbors and prey on resources.

        Unless you have a counter-civilization that takes up sustainability at the instant of collapse and subsumes the collapsed, then there’s really very little good that comes of it. The machine runs along without a driver for just long enough to do a lot more damage.

      • mikkel

         /  April 14, 2014

        Not to mention that collapse without any organization leads to almost instantaneous destruction of local ecosystems. We would all become Haiti in short order.

        The only way to protect the biosphere is either to have the vast majority of humanity die off or get people to transition to living off the land so they have an incentive to not destroy it. With the latter, you still have the tragedy of the commons issue that Robert brings up.

        Which is why I have become “evolutionarily competitive” in my thinking about sustainability. I have given up on waiting for consensus — particularly when bad actors can win out in the short term — and instead view changes in lifestyle as providing better resiliency so that at the moment of collapse (hopefully just financial collapse, not civilizational) the counter-civilization can rapidly gain influence by providing concrete opportunities and “riches” of basic needs met in a healthy way. At that time it’ll become a power struggle as well, including the need to stop trading with parties that remain dirty.

      • Mark from New England

         /  April 14, 2014

        Robert, well put and unfortunately realistic. I also imagine the Powers That Be (TPTB) will attempt to strive off revolutions and insurrections for as long as they can, at first on a world economic level and then regionally; and that will require providing people who are use to it, a steady supply of food, electricity and water – or at least trying to do so. But as we’re seeing, that’s not always possible, so far mostly in the ‘Third World’ / MENA / Africa.

        It looks like the ‘Brown Tech’ / corporatist scenario described in David Holmgren’s book “Future Scenarios” will play out for a while.

        Unfortunately, this is the scenario that leads to the deepest collapse eventually, due to the damage to the biosphere and the carrying capacity. And how ironic that House and Senate Republicans are already seeking to hamper our ability to get the best available data on climate change from satellites, etc., when it’s needed most. Heck, I think they outlawed global warming in South Carolina. Good luck with that. (note: I’m not a Democrat either, and am pissed at them as well for being enablers of – the rapacious Wall Street banks / rule by multi-national cooperation / the Bush Republicans when they were in power – and too stuck in the old ways to represent much in the way of a viable alternative.

      • Mark from New England

         /  April 14, 2014

        In my post below, I did not intend to have a nearly full sized book cover displayed! Damned Amazon (not the rainforest), I should stop buying there for multiple reasons… but for hard to find books, where to go?

      • It’s OK, Mark. Future Scenarios looks like a good read, one I may need to pick up. I wouldn’t mind regular fast links, but the full size book links are annoying and excessive. Amazon should probably rethink how they code their links as I suspect more get pulled down for this reason.

        Worth noting that, as I posted below, Russia’s wheat production has fallen from 61 million metric tons to 38 million metric tons from a period of 2009 to 2012. Mostly due to climate related harm. My opinion is you can’t take this factor out of the context of current conflict. Ukraine’s production have been about steady, though shifting between 22 million metric tons and 16 million metric tons during drought years. Russia’s been forced to halt exports sporadically over the past 5 years while Ukraine remains the 6th largest food exporter. Russia likely faces a very difficult fire season this year…

        My labeling of Russia as expansionist is not intended to be political. It is simply an observation of fact. A country that invades another and claims its lands for its own is, by definition, expansionist. The conduct of war in this fashion is illegal and has set against international precedent since World War II ended. Failure to respond to such aggression sets a dangerous precedent as other potentially expansionist regimes may seek to take advantage.

      • Personally, I think the increasingly high price of fossil fuel as supply becomes constrained (for oil and possibly gas) will make the operation of modern civilisation unfeasible long before we entirely deplete supplies (even without the increasingly hostile effects of climate change and depletion of other resources in the mix). I think the peak oil camp is likely ultimately going to be proven essentially correct (if nothing else knocks us down first) – we’re just buying a little more time with tar sands and fracking, and steepening the downslope in doing so.

        I don’t think economic effects can be relied upon to substantially affect emissions of greenhouse gases – if you look at history recessions can have a mild effect but seldom significant (of the order of a few percent typically) and not long lasting (even the recent “great recession” has not put an overall dent in the rate of release of greenhouse gases really – any slack supply got taken up fast enough by industrialising nations.

        Hence I think the only thing that will limit human source emissions is collapse – and we can only hope it comes early enough to avoid triggering the full range and severity of natural feedbacks that are starting to smolder.

        • Well I think that is particularly true when you have fossil fuel interests working as hard as they can to maintain dependence on those fuels. It’s not just that the fuels become higher cost as they deplete, but that the industries continue to stymie alternatives whenever possible. The economics don’t really act in a vacuum and under a system closer to pure capitalism, the destructive monopolies seek to hold dominance regardless of ultimate outcomes.

        • Which is really the story of why we’re now in such a mess. Theoretically we do still have the choice to walk away from our lifestyles and make the sacrifices required to maximise our chances in the hope positive feedbacks aren’t too deeply entrenched in our future – but in practice I see no signs that people are prepared to do so (except where forced by poverty). Hence the very best outcome on the table seems to be an eventual slow and patchy transition to renewables once they become cost effective enough to compete with fossil fuels. Unfortunately this is a rather slow process as by reducing demand for fossil fuels the price is stabilised and the slack supply taken up again (at least to the price support implied by alternatives).

          Rather more unfortunately, such a path has no real prospects of ultimate success (indeed most paths now do not – even the IPCC apparently now saying we must take carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere), which is the story of how I come to my viewpoint (preparing post collapse strategies).

        • I entirely agree with the IPCC. We need means to effectively take CO2 out. This can be achieved to some degree with biomass powerplants equipped with carbon capture and storage. But if destructive land use for biomass harvesting remains, then it’s a bit of a wash as the net negative isn’t very high. With good land use and equipping all biomass plants with CCS we could, at a near zero emission state, start pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. The problem here is that equalization from the oceans keeps the level high for longer than one would expect.

          It’s worth noting that renewables were 43% of new power generating capacity in 2013. That’s a rather huge achievement. Total renewable capacity now, if it were fossil fuels, is equal to about 1.2 GT carbon per year not hitting the atmosphere.

          The problem is that the rate of new power systems added is still enough to rapidly ramp up carbon emissions. To get to where we need to be, total new capacity needs to be all renewable, old fossil fuel plants need be shut down at a very rapid pace, the entire transportation chain needs to be on rapid transition to non-fossil fuel dependence, the practice of burning to clear forest lands needs to be halted, and the current meat industry (based on ruminants) needs to drastically contract.

          In my view, we need to be at the point of high implementation for these policies some time between 2020 and 2035, depending on how sensitive the Earth System is.

          So there’s every reason to doubt whether this is achievable. My view is to push as hard as possible for it.

        • It certainly makes sense to try – as it will not make anything worse to cut emissions and try to limit future levels in the process, and may well help in some measure (even given eventual collapse).

          The real problem is the scale of the carbon dioxide added – when we say x amount is sunk of our emissions, that’s mostly into the oceans (and hence it will return). I think minimally we need to remove 500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? And 800-900 would be better.

          Since we’re still adding tens of billions of tonnes a year, that’s a pretty tall order to achieve on any useful timescale. How many billions of tonnes per year do you think we can realistically sink (and for how long?) using which methods?

        • So far we’ve added 600 gt carbon approx.We’d need to draw down approx 2/3 to hit 350 ppm co2e.

        • Hmm, the number I looked up must have been off then – but I was trying to quote carbon dioxide, not carbon – so my value would’ve been over 1000 GT in that case for your 350ppm co2e target…

          Either way the basic point stands, exactly how can we remove it at a useful and significant rate? It’s a lot easier to burn something than to reverse the process, and a lot easier to diffuse than to concentrate.

          Given centuries, sure – but modern civilisation hasn’t got centuries. We also have the increasing natural sources to consider – they’re highly likely to make some contribution to things and would need to be removed also and could exceed human emissions if we weren’t pretty sharpish about dropping the first portion.

          All that said I don’t see why it should be impossible for our species (the portion that survives collapse, over thousands of years) to gradually work on bringing levels back down and reclaiming more of the planet.

  2. Burgundy

     /  April 14, 2014

    “Russian Special Forces Continue to Destabilize Breadbasket Ukraine”

    As an European it is blatantly obvious who destabilised the Ukraine (in fact the director of the CIA was there last weekend) and what we’re seeing from Russia is blowback. Unfortunately the neo-cons appear to be in control of US foreign policy which has grave implications for us all.

    But it doesn’t detract from your overall message, regardless of reason or who is responsible, we’re all in deep trouble.

    • I’m not a fan of the US (nor really of Russia, though I think I see their side more than most in the west), but in this particular case nobody has their interests served with the Ukraine becoming destabilised. The fallout can be deceptively large – even global to some extent – from this. There will be no winners here.

      • Rather than moving to a warfare footing, I think it would be helpful to build a forum in which the US, Russia, Europeans and Ukraine could hash issues out. Clearly Russia has need of a certain influence over Ukraine to feel secure and to not have all of Ukraine’s resources diverted west. I think Europeans and the US would like to see western type businesses expand into Ukraine. I think there might be some common ground if the US and Europe were willing to share some renewable energy tech, sustainability tech, and to validate some of Russia’s concerns about its borders and sphere of influence.

        At the same time, I think it entirely appropriate to expect Russia to remove troops.

        That’s my opinion on a best possible outcome. Do we have the grace to engineer it? I don’t know.

        • No real reason why portions of the Ukraine shouldn’t be allowed self determination – and they might well vote to return to Russia (except it ought to be a clearly transparent election to get a proper mandate).

          I don’t think we’ll get anything more than partisanship and short sighted political games though – the world is seriously short of leadership, with very few exceptions. Unfortunately that’s the hand we have to play from.

      • Burgundy

         /  April 14, 2014

        It’s as if the US, with the EU in tow, has been playing Jenga. Covertly removing blocks from the tower to gain dominance of their world view, but unfortunately pulled the wrong block in Ukraine. The resulting chain reaction is causing the whole tower to begin an uncontrolled collapse. Strangely in Jenga there is a winner even though tower ends up as rubble.

        Trouble is the Ukraine has been destabilised and millions more people are being tossed into the Periphery. For Europe this means the shadow is creeping ever closer to the Core as state after state is destabilised by various elements (eg. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Cypress).

        • I see the main vulnerability the Ukraine poses to be energy transit from Russia to Europe, followed by agricultural output in relation to vulnerable nations, which will impact resource supplies back to the affluent western nations. If energy transit is affected one can expect economic damage to the EU – and in turn onto it’s major trading partners (including the US). The EU, if memory serves, is actually a larger economy than the US – and as the old saying about sneezing and colds goes…

    • I don’t think it’s clear to all Europeans that the CIA is running the Ukraine, if that’s what you imply. Nor do I think appropriate response by Obama represents Neo-Con foreign policy. Perhaps the CIA meddled in affairs there. That’s a bit unclear. If they did, they shouldn’t have. Unfortunately, with the Russian presence involved and clearly growing, and with Russia continuing to pursue an obvious agenda of annexation and expansion, my bet is CIA presence is now a certainty…

      What I do know is how Russia invaded and attempted to annex Afghanistan and that what we are seeing in Ukraine is very much like what happened there. What I do know is how Russian special forces are trained to perform covert regime destabilization operations. Further, I don’t think Europeans will be happy to see a land grabbing Russia gobbling up larger and larger chunks of Ukraine and possibly other Eastern European states.

      Did Russia feel it had strategic reasons to move in? Were they desperate and did they feel they had no other choice due to economic and resource reasons? Did the US paint Russia into a corner via Ukrainian foreign policy?

      These are questions that are worth asking. But let’s not muddy the issue with ‘Neo-Con’ agenda language that’s clearly more appropriate to previous administrations. If the US was run by neo-cons there’d probably be US boots on the ground in Ukraine right now, not just economic response through sanctions, escalation control, measured build up, and lobbying the international community to hold Russia accountable.

  3. mikkel

     /  April 14, 2014

    It seems like decades of economists chanting that there can never be true shortages because the market will just clear at a higher price has paralyzed the elite into believing it’s true. They spend 100x more time on financial system issues than energy or ag. Even the West’s primary response to the Ukrainian situation is to talk about how large to make the loans.

    This article about how California farmers are buying their own drilling rigs to pump as fast as possible is a synecdoche for the world’s citizens at large ( The conclusion in which a farmer states that he knows they are destroying the future but don’t know what else to do is both chilling and accurate of what we’re doing on a fractal level.

    • mikkel

       /  April 14, 2014

      This reminds me of a paper I found about El Nino/La Nina effects in the US. From an aggregated perspective, El Nino had a slight benefit, but it varied significantly on a regional level with long tails. Thus, from a risk analysis point of view, El Nino is negative for farming.

      Looking at localities and distributions will become an increasing necessity as climate disruption strengthens.

      • Part of the issue is increased extremes. The rainy extreme tends to become too rainy, which results in disruption. The dry extreme, the same.

  4. james cole

     /  April 15, 2014

    Food prices have historically set of violent revolution. You need only turn to one of the biggest The French Revolution. England over centuries saw civil breakdowns when food prices soared. In most cases it was weather that cut food production. One very ignorant man, I happily forget his name, called the end of the cold war the end of history. That bloody fool is a world class dupe. History is alive and it is spinning out of control very quickly. I feel certain that global climate instability, and who can doubt it after reading Robert’s posts for any length of time, will be the trigger to spin History back to center stage. And in a world where Nuclear weapons are about and on hair triggers, well you see the potential.

    • Russia’s food security isn’t too hot. They’ve sporadically cut off exports over the past few years due to drought and fire.

      Looking at a few sources that show Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine appears almost to be a foregone conclusion. Special forces taken locations now cut off the region from interior Ukraine. The question remains — will Ukraine put up a fight.

      So it appears another chunk of the country is about to disappear down the Russian gullet.

    • It’s also worth looking at both Russian and Ukrainian food production over the past few years of record.

      Ukraine currently stands as the 6th largest wheat exporter. Total production was about 16 million tons during 2012 putting it in the 11th largest producer spot worldwide. Over a four year period, from 2009 to 2012, production had remained about level, fluctuating between about 16 and 22 million metric tons. Although, it’s worth noting that drought years 2010 and 2012 were both 16 million ton years respectively.

      Russia, on the other hand, has seen steadily declining grain production over the period. Wheat production in 2009 was 61 million metric tons while wheat production in 2012 had fallen to 38 million metric tons. From 2010 to 2012, Russia experienced a series of extreme heat and fire seasons that disrupted food production, ruining large swaths of farmlands.

      I don’t think we can take the current conflict out of this context.

      And, you’re absolutely right, there’s no way history ended at the Cold War’s finale. We saw a slowing of progress, a rise of greedy special interests and a consolidation of dictatorships. We saw a steady erosion of quality of life in the western world and increasing degrees of political and social instability due to income inequality and, later, resource constraint.

      Now we have an initiation of what appears to be major world conflict over the backdrop of resource depletion and rapidly amplifying climate change. Not a healthy situation.

      • Mark from New England

         /  April 15, 2014

        Yes, first came the oil wars, now we’re seeing the first food wars. I think you’re on to something with Russia wanting to ensure access to some of Ukraine’s agricultural production. They know another massive fire season is coming.

        I hope cooler heads prevail in this new cold war. As much as I fear global warming, nuclear winter would be worse.

        • Shorter. But more immediately intense. And after an interval of about a decade, the warming returns.

          I suppose we can take heart that the conflict, thus far, hasn’t seen much blood and that the West’s response is primarily economic with only very mild military escalation.

          But we are early, the conflict is still hot, and satellite shots show a mobilized force of Russian military totaling 80,000 including 40,000 directly on the border. That, and the Russian information warfare campaign continues with apparent attempts to make legitimate further aggressive action.

  5. Bernard

     /  April 15, 2014

    Regarding the Malacca strait fires:

    “Some of the fires were suspected to have been illegally set”

    The locations of burning are the same as last year:

    Only now it’s 2 months earlier. If they’re the result of drought we’re going to see major fires there this summer. My gut tells me the majority are illegally set.

  6. Tom

     /  April 15, 2014

    Posted this on NBL. Great update Robert.

  7. WMO Update Indicates Possible onset of El Nino Around Middle of Year

  8. Andy

     /  April 15, 2014

    I believe there is a “number” associated with each region (country, land mass, area within a country etc…) which implies a vulnerability to a mass reaction to survival stress.

    The “Arab Spring” (I’ll still call it simply hunger, not a desire for anything else) occurred along areas that were closer to their “number”.

    Texas from the show on Sunday appears to be marching towards their “number”.

    If anyone says “that can never happen in the USA” needs to stop and think of the dust bowl. They reached their “number”.

    Determination of what constitutes this “number”, and then feeding in a regions inputs would be helpful for people (they can self determine before crap hits the fan). It would also be bad as govt’s would use it to determine how much pressure to apply.

    I think too many areas are heading towards their “number”.

    • The loss of resources adds a distorting stress that increases the risk of conflict, violence, and exploitation. Ideologies and belief systems tend to become more rigid and inflexible as scarcity deepens. I think we can see this happening throughout the southwest now. The level of violence remains low, thank goodness.

      Some within this region push for separation from the US system. This push, I find to be extraordinarily irrational as loss of access to broader US resources would very rapidly impoverish these states.

      My opinion is that we are on the verge of a large-scale migration out of the drought zones.

  9. james cole

     /  April 15, 2014

    I’de love informed comment on this story I just hit upon on a new site. “Increasing levels of pollution in Asia are strengthening storms over the Pacific Ocean, a study has revealed. Scientists warned these changes could have a radical knock-on effect on climate systems around the world if left unchecked.”
    Remember that globalization makes every commodity, even food, subject to world market forces. In shortages, speculation drives prices higher, those with hard cash are the ones who can afford to bid on the commodity. Thus Japan and Britain don’t have food security but buy on the world markets. Once finance capital begins to speculate in food commodities, the nations with hard capital will be the ones able to buy. Often starvation occurs right in the presence of food, but food too expensive for people to buy. See the Irish Famine of the mid 1800’s.

    • james cole

       /  April 15, 2014

      Found the source , a Texas A&M study: “There appears to be little doubt that these particles from Asia affect storms sweeping across the Pacific and subsequently the weather patterns in North America and the rest of the world,” Renyi Zhang, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station, said in a press release.

      The study identifies the most common aerosols as sulfates which predominately come from coal-fired power plants. Other pollutant particles released by vehicle emissions were also detected. Once in the atmosphere these particles reflect and absorb sunlight and can have both a cooling and warming effect on climate zones.

      “[Particles] tend to make storms deeper and stronger and more intense, and these storms also have more precipitation in them. We believe this is the first time that a study has provided such a global perspective,” said Zhang. He added “it’s almost certain that weather in the US is changing.”

    • Oh, absolutely. Speculation compounds the problem of shortage due to the fact that it holds a portion of the item in reserve at the time of greatest need.

  10. JPL

     /  April 15, 2014

    Regarding the farmers in Cali that are pumping aquifers to get their water, they aren’t the only ones with their eyes on that water. There is shale in them thar hills and its going to take a whole lot of water to get it.


    “The leading edge of the exploration boom is pushing Bakersfield’s oil patch — which has reliably produced oil for more than 100 years — into long-established agricultural tracts. Oil companies are now paying farmers for their water rights, land and, in some cases, buying their homes outright to get at the reserves that might lie underneath.

    Exploratory wells are sprouting near homes, schools and in the town of Shafter, where the city charges drillers to hook up to corner fire hydrants for the water they require. Companies are searching for the best well sites with 3D seismic “thumper trucks” that send shock waves underground to create a picture of subterranean deposits.”

    So… yeah. Race to the bottom.

    • james cole

       /  April 15, 2014

      “hydraulic fracturing and acidization” That sounds like a good idea. The atmosphere is now loading with CO2 at an alarming rate, and we are going to use all the fresh water to extract more oil to burn? The madness is now totally out of control, but I already knew that when I saw Canadian Tar Sands mining become Canada’s top energy priority. This does not end well, while we sleep the methane in the arctic is slowing beginning to destabilize. Perhaps the main stream media will begin to investigate and report, but being corporate shills, they are dubious sources at best, liars at worst.

      • Andy

         /  April 15, 2014

        I don’t believe it will be the media, UN or governments driving the reaction in the end. It will be the population being the catalyst.

        The population will respond to food shortages (or in our times the shortage/cost) in a predicable manner. They will eat at all costs. They will fight for food and family.

        The government will respond to this in their predicable manner. They will try to keep order at all costs. They will externalize the problem if possible (see Russia now, they have externalized the problem, thus the west is the bogeyman. We do the same). Failing that, they will force order.

        The media will respond in their predicable manner. Sensationalize anything for an advertising buck. Feed the party line as needed, whip up sentiment.

        In this respect Russia is smart, they are pushing their trigger further out as far as they can (Putin is a brilliant chess player). The Chinese are working on the same. In the west, our special interests are muddying our focus so we are paralyzed by inaction. This may put us in the West into a more perilous position. Hedge funds, commodity traders have no allegiance to anything but profits. They will torpedo the country for a buck.

        I think the tar sands at this point are a footnote to a 100 year long story. In the event of a war, we’ll dig that crap up as fast as we can, and fuel the war machine. Last man standing wins (or in this case loses last).

        In 12 to 36 months we should have a degree of instability that should give pause, and shake people, tribes, nations out of their slumber. And they’ll react in a predicable manner, they’ll fight.

  11. I was going to ask if anyone here knows how much the US Gov. has in it’s strategic reserves, but decided I’d google it. I am now distressed to realize that we don’t have any and that the program was disbanded years ago. Cargill, et al, essentially holds the reserves (quantity unknown) in private silos. With a strong El Nino combined with climate change, I could see things rapidly heading south on the production level. Plus, with so many rural folks so blind to climate change, the farmers won’t see what hit them. Genetically engineered seeds will only take you so far since, at some point, proteins denature at high temperatures and the plants die. Funny, I always assumed I’d go in some sort of natural disaster, or heat prostration, but I never considered starvation.

    • The US has no remaining strategic grain reserve. I’m thinking this is bad policy based on tax cuts and some ‘evil government’ ideological concerns.

      In a food crisis, first comes the poverty, then the starvation…

    • Andy

       /  April 15, 2014

      “Cargill, et al, essentially holds the reserves (quantity unknown) in private silos.”

      But just think of the profits! And with those juicy profits, there is payola (be a lobbyist if you want) contributions to reelection campaigns, kickbacks, consulting fees, lobbying. And with those reelection campaigns, they spawn more sell outs like this. And these of course guarantee payola and contributions and profits and CEO bonuses and golden parachutes.

      Best government money can buy!

      I agree with you 100%, I fear our well being has been put in the hands of those who view us as lemons to squeeze profits from. Those silos are driven by greed, not a social conscience.

      They are still strategic reserves, it’s just that the strategy has changed.

      • That’s what privatization gets you 😉

      • Mark from New England

         /  April 15, 2014

        Expect more and more “Disaster Capitalism’ a la Naomi Klein to be enacted as severe weather events unfold.

        • I’m thinking we need a renewed campaign to get the republicans out this year. Sure, some of the big money’s on their side. But I’m betting they’re move vulnerable than people think due to the soft underbelly exposed by these all too crucial issues.

      • Mark from New England

         /  April 15, 2014

        We need to decentralize grain production as much as possible in the US. I can grow quite a few vegetables in raised bed enclosures on my 1/4 acre lot, but not much in the way of wheat! But that said, the more diversity in agriculture in areas that can support it the better, provided it doesn’t entail the clearing of forests or important natural habitat.

        • The big farm conglomerates need to be broken up. Too much corruption in big ag or big anything for that matter. You’d think republicans would want to break up these companies…

      • Andy

         /  April 16, 2014

        I don’t see a strong push back on the republicans (or any party) yet. When people start to abandon property and assets, lose their lifestyle and become marginal they will realize that they have been fleeced.

        They will then be called “47%”, “freeloaders”, “go get a job”, “democrats”, “bums”, “lazy”, “liberals” etc…. It won’t matter what they say at that point, they have no voice.

        Mark: I completely agree with you. I’ve always grown my own food in a garden in my back yard. Why pay $1 for a crappy tomato with no taste or texture that was picked green when $2 buys you a plant that will give you more tomatoes then you know what to do with?

  1. Another Week of Climate Disruption News, April 20, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered
  2. Another Week of Climate Disruption News, April 20, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette

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