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Bill McKibben’s Tweets This Morning

From the Siberian Times:

Forest fires arrive early as Siberia sees record high temperatures — New evidence of climate change as blazes come six weeks early in 2014.

By 2 April, 17 forest fires had been registered across 2,000 hectares. Among the areas now at risk after a faster-than-usual snow melt are the south of Siberia to the territory of the Far Eastern Federal District, to Baikal and the Amur regions.

'It was the hottest April 1 on record for several western Siberian cities, including Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul and Gorno-Altaysk,' said Renad Yagudin, of the Novosibirsk meteorological service. 'The average temperature in Russia increased 0.4 degrees every ten years. Overall, the temperature in the area is 6.5-16.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2-9 Celsius) higher than the record set in 1989.'

Some parts of Russia have shown even more extreme warming. In the Arctic, south Chukotka and Kamchatka regions temperatures rose 150 to 200 per cent more than in the rest of the country, reported RIA Novosti.

The great boreal forests of Siberia and Canada are dying faster than predicted.

In the US, the new dustbowl:

Joey Bunch, For southeast Colorado, a new dust bowl is blowing in

Topsoil blew into a dark cloud that swept across the flat landscape of southeast Colorado once again Monday afternoon. Footsteps leave dust in loose pockets and grit in the teeth of those who speak. The land pays a bigger price. After nearly four years of deep drought, wind-churned dust has become a slow-moving natural disaster. Comparisons to the Dust Bowl are no longer hyperbole — they’re accurate.

"The dust storms we had here a week or so ago are just about as bad as I’ve ever seen," Joe Rosengrants said. The 79-year-old farmer and rancher is part of a family that has worked the land in Baca County since 1910.

It will soon all be desert, all the way into Mexico and west to California.

And Sri Lanka has a killing drought and high temperatures, too:

Farming at standstill in north as skies stay dry | The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Agriculture in the north has come to a complete stop because of the lack of rain, an expert said this week as climatologists warned the current seasonal positioning of the sun directly over the island is intensifying the protracted heatwave.

Last week’s sporadic thundershowers might not soothe the scorched lands and hot conditions are expected to prevail.

Director (Forecasting) of the Meteorology Department, S.R.Jayasekare, said the worst affected areas are Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Moneragala, Mannar, Puttalam and Kurunegala, where the temperature ranged from 35-38C. On Friday, Mattala recorded the highest temperature of 37.7C.

37.7º C = 99.86º F.

Eduardo Porter, Old Forecast of Famine May Yet Come True

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/business/energy-environment/a-200-year-old-forecast-for-food-scarcity-may-yet-come-true.html?ref=todayspaper

excerpt

Recent experience suggests that the productivity of farmland won’t decline gradually as the world grows warmer. World food prices stopped their long secular decline around 2007 and have been on a roller-coaster ride since. More volatile weather patterns promise to bring sharp disruptions to agricultural production that can cause spikes in food prices.

“There is a rigorous correlation between food price spikes and urban unrest,” said Andrew Holland, who studies climate change at the American Security Project, a research group in Washington. “There was a food price spike in 2008, and you can see unrest spread throughout Africa. And there’s a relatively clear line that leads from the food price spike in 2010 tounrest in the Middle East and the Arab Spring.”

Instability spreads easily. When rice prices jumped in 2007, big producers like India and Vietnam banned exports to protect their domestic markets, while importers like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Iran went out on the market to hoard as much grain as they could. The combination wreaked havoc in commodity markets.

Since then big food importers, like China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, have tried to insulate themselves from future food shortages by buying or leasing agricultural land in places like Sudan, Madagascar and Uzbekistan. The strategy is still to be tested in a situation in which Africa or Central Asia were to suffer itself shortages of grain.

“I have run some war game scenarios,” Mr. Holland said. “The tendency becomes very quickly for a country to look after its own interests.”

Government and scientific data show that destructive sweep of wildfires covered an annual average of seven million acres in the 2000s, twice the totals of the 1990s. Michael Kodas, who is writing a book on modern firefighting, wrote in On Earth magazine last year that scientists believe that number will rise 50 percent or more by 2020.

Yet in fiscal 2013, more than $1.7 billion, or 38 percent of the Forest Service’s budget, was to be devoted to firefighting in general, with $537.8 million — a slight reduction from the previous year — specifically allocated for wildland fires. The Interior Department’s appropriation for wildland firefighting was $276.5 million, a slight increase over the previous year.

But the federal budget sequester eliminated $28 million from the Forest Service budget, although Interior’s remained nearly level. This occurred even though both agencies overspent 2012 budgets of similar size, and though federal firefighters are often first responders, working alongside their state colleagues during blazes like the Yarnell Hill fire.

“The Forest Service is being treated as a firefighter of last resort,” Dr. Pyne said. This, he added, “is not what the agency was set up for, and it’s not financed for it.”

Dr. Allen said that what was different in the recent fires — hotter, more enveloping — is that they are killing far more trees. “We’re seeing the size of postfire treeless patches merging into thousands of acres,” he said, “sometimes many thousands of acres.”

That could permanently transform much of the Arizona landscape as grasslands and shrubs fill in the empty space.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/07/02/us/experts-see-a-hotter-drier-west-with-more-huge-fires.html?smid=tw-share& (via grinderbot)

The Future California desert (see The Great American Desert, My California Dream: The California Territory).
Basically the Mojave will expand to include all of south and central California, and the entire Colorado River basin. And people will move.
In My California Dream: The California Territory, I outline a scenario where California is returned to direct federal control after social services are no longer being provided. 

The Future California desert (see The Great American Desert, My California Dream: The California Territory).

Basically the Mojave will expand to include all of south and central California, and the entire Colorado River basin. And people will move.

In My California Dream: The California Territory, I outline a scenario where California is returned to direct federal control after social services are no longer being provided. 


Michael Wines, An Underground Pool Drying Up
Portions of the High Plains Aquifer are rapidly being depleted by farmers who are pumping too much water to irrigate their crops, particularly in the southern half in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Levels have declined up to 242 feet in some areas, from predevelopment — before substantial groundwater irrigation began — to 2011. (via An Underground Pool Drying Up - Graphic - NYTimes.com)

Michael Wines, An Underground Pool Drying Up

Portions of the High Plains Aquifer are rapidly being depleted by farmers who are pumping too much water to irrigate their crops, particularly in the southern half in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Levels have declined up to 242 feet in some areas, from predevelopment — before substantial groundwater irrigation began — to 2011. (via An Underground Pool Drying Up - Graphic - NYTimes.com)

The West Is Returning To Grassland

The great drought is making ‘ranching’ beef cattle unaffordable. I put ‘ranching’ in quotes because it sounds old-timey, and conceals the fact that it’s industrial agriculture, based on low-cost oil, abundant water, cheap fertilizer, cheap grain, and the beneficence of the US Department of Agriculture. And now that water is getting scarce — and likely to remain scarce for decades — the system is falling apart.

However, some ranchers are doing pretty well, principally because the reverted to native grasses in the fields, and are raising grass-fed, not grain-fed, beeves:

Stephanie Strom, A Long Drought Tests Texas Cattle Ranchers’ Patience and Creativity

[…] the Prices have had to buy hay to feed their cows during only two weeks in the last three years. Their animals graze the “bunch grasses” that were native throughout the prairie when the buffalo roamed and that Mr. Price reintroduced on his ranch after admiring their resilience on a small patch of virgin prairie left on his property.

Those grasses, which grow to five or six feet tall, have long roots that can tap into water far underground. Though they live a long time, when such grasses die, the roots deteriorate, helping to aerate the land for better water penetration. The thicker, taller grasses also create a kind of webbing that slows runoff, keeps sediment out of lakes and tanks, and creates shade that protects lower growing grasses and helps the ground retain water.

At times, Mr. Price rotates his cattle twice a day to give the grasses a chance to recover. He has not had to cull his herd, maintaining about 200 head throughout the drought, though he has not replaced cows as quickly as he would have if rainfall patterns were more normal.

He also has developed another source of revenue: hunters from Dallas and Fort Worth who pay to shoot the quail that like to nest in the bunch grasses on his land.

The Prices have won several awards for their land management practices. “I believe this is the best way to do it, not just for profit but also for sustainability,” Mr. Price said. “But every ranch is a specific entity with its own resources — its own shade, its own water.”

Asked whether he thought the Texas cattle industry would ever recover its former glory, Mr. Price thought for a moment. “We’re all very concerned about the decline in cattle numbers and also about the losses of infrastructure, feedlots and slaughtering facilities,” he said.

Reminds me of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia, who has been advocating grass-fed cattle for decades as the best way to convert sunlight into protein. It requires more human interaction — moving the cattle from one field to another to allow the grasses to recover — but less of all other artificial inputs. 

The recovery of the grouse speaks volumes about the recovery of the grasslands. In a few years, the only ranchers left in the dry lands will be the ones that fall back on tending the grasses, and using the cattle to fertilize them, with a valuable by-product: beef.

U.S. farmers converted more than 1.3 million acres of grassland into corn and soybean fields between 2006 and 2011.

- Corn and soy wiping out America’s grasslands at fastest pace since the 1930s.

Update: This is more about America’s heritage landscapes - grasslands - and less about particular crops. Grasslands provide important habitat for countless species. President Theodore Roosevelt protected millions of acres of grasslands by including them in several National Parks. Converting them to crops destroys habitat for animals, changes and poisons the soil, pollutes rivers, devalues people’s properties, among numerous other environmental harms. Destroying nature for a quick buck is not the right direction for America’s future. The situation is worse when climate change is factored in.

And, the US Forest Service has an excellent overview of how grasslands are threatened by agriculture and climate change.

(via climateadaptation)

(via emergentfutures)

New Mexico Water Wars

The drought in the Southwest continues, and the region’s agriculture is being destroyed. In New Mexico, farmers — who use 80% of the water there — are using every means necessary to keep ‘their’ water flowing:

Felicity Barringer, New Mexico Farmers Seek ‘Priority Call’ as Drought Persists

How dry is it? In 2012, parts of the riverbed were dry for 77 days, said Mike Hamman, the area manager for the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Albuquerque. In 2011, with the drought sending feed prices up, the Clovis Livestock auction house, the region’s biggest, sold 144,000 head of cattle, 20 percent above average. “Some herds have sold out,” said the president, Charlie Rogers. Most ranchers have reduced their herds to 25 percent of their previous size, he said. Hay, he said, costs too much.

Higher prices, however, did not offset the losses that hay farmers like Mark Weems and Billy Grandi in Carlsbad suffered when they could not water their fields. Mr. Weems said he had to sell 22 acres to make payments on his farm and equipment. The buyer: an oil-related company that wanted the water rights.

As for Brantley Lake, the nearest reservoir, “Two months ago it looked like you could drive a four-wheeler across it,” Mr. Weems said. Mr. Grandi added, “If the drought continues, a lot of farmers will just have to sell out.”

Mr. Hamman understands that fear. “If indeed we are moving into a new climate regime that is going to limit the ability to continue the status quo,” he said “we may have to do something different — reallocate the system, or make adjustments to existing settlements.”

The climate and the economy on which existing compacts were based may have fundamentally changed. In the West, “the 1 percent of the economy that is farming takes close to 80 percent of the water,” Dr. McCool said. The Pecos feud, he said, is a prelude to wars on rivers like the Colorado, which provides water to more than 20 million people. A recent federal study showed that the Colorado will not have enough water to satisfy existing claims.

In a shakeout, farmers cannot prevail, Dr. McCool argued. “Let’s see, we could dry up some hay farms or we could dry up Las Vegas. Which one is it going to be? It’s going to be the new economy of the West with the focus on recreation and tourism and hunting.”

“There will be farming ghost towns,” he said.

At the moment, the discussion is about who gets the available water, the farmers or the cities. Relatively quickly though, it will be more obvious that we’ve moved into a postnormal dilemma, when the farmers are bust and there is no water for Las Vegas, either. This is not a ‘problem’ that can be ‘solved’.

Time for the farmers and ranchers to move where there is water, like the Ohio River valley, or here, in NY, along the Hudson. The Southwest is quickly reverting to desert, after a geologically brief period of wet seasons, and it’s just no place to grow alfalfa or make mozzarela cheese.

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