What is happening to Australia will happen everywhere. Brace yourself.
I have come to Australia to see what a global-warming future holds for this most vulnerable of nations, and Mother Nature has been happy to oblige: Over the course of just a few weeks, the continent has been hit by a record heat wave, a crippling drought, bush fires, floods that swamped an area the size of France and Germany combined, even a plague of locusts. “In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions,” Andrew Fraser, the Queensland state treasurer, told reporters. He was talking about the floods in his region, but the sense that Australia – which maintains one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints on the planet – has summoned up the wrath of the climate gods is everywhere. “Australia is the canary in the coal mine,” says David Karoly, a top climate researcher at the University of Melbourne. “What is happening in Australia now is similar to what we can expect to see in other places in the future.”
As Yasi bears down on the coast, the massive storm seems to embody the not-quite-conscious fears of Australians that their country may be doomed by global warming. This year’s disasters, in fact, are only the latest installment in an ongoing series of climate-related crises. In 2009, wildfires in Australia torched more than a million acres and killed 173 people. The Murray-Darling Basin, which serves as the country’s breadbasket, has suffered a decades-long drought, and what water is left is becoming increasingly salty and unusable, raising the question of whether Australia, long a major food exporter, will be able to feed itself in the coming decades. The oceans are getting warmer and more acidic, leading to the all-but-certain death of the Great Barrier Reef within 40 years. Homes along the Gold Coast are being swept away, koala bears face extinction in the wild, and farmers, their crops shriveled by drought, are shooting themselves in despair.
With Yasi approaching fast, disaster preparations are fully under way. At the airport, the Australian Defense Force is racing to load emergency supplies into Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. Entire cities have shut down, their streets nearly empty as I drive north, toward the center of the storm, through sugar plantations and ranch land. Dead kangaroos sprawl by the side of the road, the victims of motorists fleeing the storm.
With the winds hitting 80 miles per hour, I’m forced to stop in Proserpine, where the windows are taped and sandbags are piled in front of doors. Palm trees are bent horizontal in the wind, and the shingles of a nearby roof blow off and shoot into the darkness. It’s as if civilization is being dismantled one shingle at a time.
"Welcome to Australia, the petri dish of climate change," an Aussie friend e-mailed me the day before. "Stay safe."
Go read this. It’s is deeply terrifying.
In case anyone still doubts the existence of global warming, take a gander at this chart: (via Look at this chart and then try to say global warming doesn’t exist - Quartz)
The American cult of individualism, the doctrine of private property, and human short-sightedness are combining to set the stage for a vast, wholesale tragedy in New York Harbor:
Thomas Kaplan, New York’s Storm Recovery Plan Gets Federal Approval
A proposal to buy the damaged homes of New Yorkers who want to relocate after Hurricane Sandy is finding few takers, as most residents opt to rebuild, state officials said on Friday.
“It’s up to the homeowner, and the vast bulk of homeowners are deciding to stay right where they are and rebuild,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news conference in Albany.
Why is it up to the homeowner when it is the government spending billions of our money to stupidly rebuild provate homes in neighborhoods that will undoubtedly be swept by hurricanes again in the near future? Will Cuomo say the same, then? Of course, he may be out of the Governor’s mansion then, and off doing other things.
We are in the postnormal, and this is the sort of result we can expect. We’re confronted with an existential threat — the increasing violence and frequency of ocean storms, rising sea levels — and we respond as if this is still 1950, or 1850. We are unwilling to adopt new responses to new problems, and the first barrier is our understanding: we don’t realize we aren’t in Kansas anymore, but on the other side of the rainbow.
People are over Sandy now. We’re on to the next tragedy. Done. Forgotten.
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.
Imagine if the country was linked by a network of 220-mile-per-hour trains.
Want now. But, as they note, “Given the difficulties in building just a tiny part of this system (the chunk of the Yellow Line from L.A. to San Francisco), we’re so amazingly far away from this happening.”
Please, Mr Obama, this is a great way to stimulate the economy and counter global warming.
Dan Clark via NPR
Can we feed the world without destroying the environment?
It’s a good question, because agriculture is probably the single most destructive thing that humans do to the earth.
Consider: Cropland and pasture now cover 40 percent of our planet’s land surface; farming consumes nearly three-quarters of all the water that humans use for any purpose; farming accounts for a third of all the emissions of greenhouse gases that humans release into the environment. (Those greenhouse emission come from clearing forests or grassland for crops, the emissions of methane from rice paddies, and the conversion of nitrogen fertilizer into nitrous oxide — a powerful greenhouse gas.)
That’s bad enough, but Jonathan Foley from the University of Minnesota, who led this new analysis, says it’s likely to get worse. Demand for food is expected to double over the next forty years. Are we truly, to quote environmentalist Bill McKibben, facing the “end of nature”?
According to the new study, not necessarily. But avoiding mass deforestation and food scarcity is going to take some very big changes. Briefly: Big investments in food production in places (think Ukraine and Uganda) where current farm land isn’t producing as much food as it could; much more efficient use of water and fertilizer; less wasted food; and (controversy alert!) eating less meat. About 40 percent of the planet’s crops, according to this study, currently are fed to animals.
Unfortunately, the paper does not really explain how this will happen. There’s no global dictator who can, for instance, abolish feedlots where corn is fed to cattle.
The issues with terrestrial meat can’t be waved away by suggesting it will be banished. Like the other issues — water use, etc. — smarter approaches need to be undertaken.
Polyface farm style grassfed beef raising is probably the greatest return on sunlight turned into protein. And we will see the adoption of techniques (and others) that rely on raising meat animals on land that is unsuited to agriculture: like raising beef cattle and fowl on dryer grasslands and pigs in oak forests, and without feeding them grain.
The economics of food are already changing, since we are headed for an era of increased urbanism, and at the same time, a planet where connectedness is both a tool and a danger. The global food system — where apples come from China and tomatoes are shipped from Mexico to New York City, both of which are over 90% water — is inherently unsustainable, and is based on the low cost of oil, and our willingness to burn it without consideration for ‘externalities’ like climate change.
There are real dangers ahead, since the confluence of these trends — increasing demand for food, decreasing water resources, and increased cost for oil — suggests that sustainable agriculture is perhaps the greatest single challenge we face.
I believe that new web-based social tools — food tech — is of critical importance for the world, and I have a hard time imaging why world governments are not allocating serious money on these problems.