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Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture’

NASA Study: Continued Resource Overconsumption & Extreme Inequality Could Lead To Collapse Of Industrial Civilization Within Decades

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2014 at 5:42 pm

https://i0.wp.com/fc04.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2011/268/d/7/global_warming_by_dc1983-d4ax1f2.jpgOldspeak: “Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common…It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation: “The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”….the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”Dr Nafeez Ahmed , Executive Director, Institute for Policy Research & Development.

“At this point it’s just physics.  There is nothing controversial about this. There is a finite amount of the  “natural capital” needed to sustain the current iteration of industrial civilization on the earth. industrial civilization is currently extracting that capital at a rate that would require 1.5 to 2 earths to sustain. At some point earth’s biocapacity will be reached and  Population will no longer be supported. Runaway climate change will devastate already fragile water, agricultural and energy systems and displace billions of people. Water and food production will  grind to a halt as temperatures rise & we relentlessly poison and contaminate the water and land we need to grow our food. Every other empire prior to this one has collapsed when they experienced conditions that exist today. We can’t act like we don’t know what coming for much longer. Our Mother won’t allow it. We’re done whether we want to acknowledge it or not.” -OSJ

By Dr Nafeez Ahmed @ The Guardian:

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.”

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

 

Never Again Enough: Goodbye To All That Water; Confronting The New Normal In A Drying American West

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2013 at 5:45 pm

https://i0.wp.com/azbex.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Colrado-River.jpgOldspeak: “The bottom line… is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around. If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.” –William deBuys

“The resource shock that trumps all other resource shocks is already happening. People are right now in a America fighting via litigation for rapidly dwindling water resources. There’s not enough water for everybody. When farmers go out of business as a result of water shortages, there won’t be enough food for everyone. Coupled with the incomprehensible and probably vastly underestimated predicted costs of climate change (60 TRILLION, 10 trillion short of Global GDP), we can expect there won’t be enough food for significantly more than the 1 in 7 of humans who are currently (and needlessly) going without food. At some point, litigation will give way to actual physical violence over vanishing resources in the supposed “greatest country in the world”  Then what? You can’t beat physics.”  –OSJ

“Martha and the Vandellas would have loved it.  Metaphorically speaking, the New York Times practically swooned over it.  (“An unforgiving heat wave held much of the West in a sweltering embrace over the weekend, tying or breaking temperature records in several cities, grounding flights, sparking forest fires, and contributing to deaths.”) It was a “deadly” heat wave, a “record” one that, in headlines everywhere, left the West and later the rest of the country “sweltering,” and that was, again in multiple headlines, “scary.”  The fire season that accompanied the “blasting,” “blazing” heat had its own set of “record” headlines — and all of this was increasingly seen, in another set of headlines, as the “new normal” in the West. Given that 2012 had already set a heat record for the continental U.S., that the 10 hottest years on record in this country have all occurred since 1997, and that the East had its own sweltering version of heat that wouldn’t leave town, this should have been beyond arresting.

In response, the nightly primetime news came up with its own convenient set of new terms to describe all this: “extreme” or “severe” heat.  Like “extreme” or “severe” weather, these captured the eyeball-gluing sensationalism of our weather moment without having to mention climate change or global warming.  Weather, after all, shouldn’t be “politicized.”  But if you’re out in the middle of the parching West like TomDispatch regular William deBuys, who recently headed down the Colorado River, certain grim realities about the planet we’re planning to hand over to our children and grandchildren can’t help but come to mind — along with a feeling, increasingly shared by those in the sweltering cities, that our particular way of life is in the long run unsustainable.” –Tom

By William deBuys @ Tomsdispatch

Several miles from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona, April 2013 — Down here, at the bottom of the continent’s most spectacular canyon, the Colorado River growls past our sandy beach in a wet monotone. Our group of 24 is one week into a 225-mile, 18-day voyage on inflatable rafts from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. We settle in for the night. Above us, the canyon walls part like a pair of maloccluded jaws, and moonlight streams between them, bright enough to read by.

One remarkable feature of the modern Colorado, the great whitewater rollercoaster that carved the Grand Canyon, is that it is a tidal river. Before heading for our sleeping bags, we need to retie our six boats to allow for the ebb.

These days, the tides of the Colorado are not lunar but Phoenician. Yes, I’m talking about Phoenix, Arizona.  On this April night, when the air conditioners in America’s least sustainable city merely hum, Glen Canyon Dam, immediately upstream from the canyon, will run about 6,500 cubic feet of water through its turbines every second.

Tomorrow, as the sun begins its daily broiling of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and the rest of central Arizona, the engineers at Glen Canyon will crank the dam’s maw wider until it sucks down 11,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). That boost in flow will enable its hydroelectric generators to deliver “peaking power” to several million air conditioners and cooling plants in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun. And the flow of the river will therefore nearly double.

It takes time for these dam-controlled tidal pulses to travel downstream. Where we are now, just above Zoroaster Rapid, the river is roughly in phase with the dam: low at night, high in the daytime. Head a few days down the river and it will be the reverse.

By mid-summer, temperatures in Phoenix will routinely soar above 110°F, and power demands will rise to monstrous heights, day and night. The dam will respond: 10,000 cfs will gush through the generators by the light of the moon, 18,000 while an implacable sun rules the sky.

Such are the cycles — driven by heat, comfort, and human necessity — of the river at the bottom of the continent’s grandest canyon.

The crucial question for Phoenix, for the Colorado, and for the greater part of the American West is this: How long will the water hold out?

Major Powell’s Main Point

Every trip down the river — and there are more than 1,000 like ours yearly — partly reenacts the legendary descent of the Colorado by the one-armed explorer and Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell. The Major, as he preferred to be known, plunged into the Great Unknown with 10 companions in 1869. They started out in four boats from Green River, Wyoming, but one of the men walked out early after nearly drowning in the stretch of whitewater that Powell named Disaster Falls, and three died in the desert after the expedition fractured in its final miles. That left Powell and six others to reach the Mormon settlements on the Virgin River in the vicinity of present-day Las Vegas, Nevada.

Powell’s exploits on the Colorado brought him fame and celebrity, which he parlayed into a career that turned out to be controversial and illustrious in equal measure. As geologist, geographer, and ethnologist, Powell became one of the nation’s most influential scientists. He also excelled as an institution-builder, bureaucrat, political in-fighter, and national scold.

Most famously, and in bold opposition to the boomers and boosters then cheerleading America’s westward migration, he warned that the defining characteristic of western lands was their aridity. Settlement of the West, he wrote, would have to respect the limits aridity imposed.

He was half right.

The subsequent story of the West can indeed be read as an unending duel between society’s thirst and the dryness of the land, but in downtown Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles you’d hardly know it.

By the middle years of the twentieth century, western Americans had created a kind of miracle in the desert, successfully conjuring abundance from Powell’s aridity. Thanks to reservoirs large and small, and scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, as well as more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels, and diversions, the West has by now been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered. It has been given the plumbing system of a giant water-delivery machine, and in the process, its liquid resources have been stretched far beyond anything the Major might have imagined.

Today the Colorado River, the most fully harnessed of the West’s great waterways, provides water to some 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland. It also touches 22 Indian reservations, seven National Wildlife Reservations, and at least 15 units of the National Park System, including the Grand Canyon.

These achievements come at a cost. The Colorado River no longer flows to the sea, and down here in the bowels of the canyon, its diminishment is everywhere in evidence. In many places, the riverbanks wear a tutu of tamarisk trees along their edge. They have been able to dress up, now that the river, constrained from major flooding, no longer rips their clothes off.

The daily hydroelectric tides gradually wash away the sandbars and beaches that natural floods used to build with the river’s silt and bed load (the sands and gravels that roll along its bottom). Nowadays, nearly all that cargo is trapped in Lake Powell, the enormous reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam. The water the dam releases is clear and cold (drawn from the depths of the lake), which is just the thing for nonnative trout, but bad news for homegrown chubs and suckers, which evolved, quite literally, in the murk of ages past. Some of the canyon’s native fish species have been extirpated from the canyon; others cling to life by a thread, helped by the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In the last few days, we’ve seen more fisheries biologists along the river and its side-streams than we have tourists.

The Shrinking Cornucopia

In the arid lands of the American West, abundance has a troublesome way of leading back again to scarcity. If you have a lot of something, you find a way to use it up — at least, that’s the history of the “development” of the Colorado Basin.

Until now, the ever-more-complex water delivery systems of that basin have managed to meet the escalating needs of their users. This is true in part because the states of the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico) were slower to develop than their downstream cousins. Under the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Upper and Lower Basins divided the river with the Upper Basin assuring the Lower of an average of 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) of water per year delivered to Lees Ferry Arizona, the dividing point between the two. The Upper Basin would use the rest. Until recently, however, it left a large share of its water in the river, which California, and secondarily Arizona and Nevada, happily put to use.

Those days are gone.  The Lower Basin states now get only their annual entitlement and no more. Unfortunately for them, it’s not enough, and never will be.

Currently, the Lower Basin lives beyond its means — to the tune of about 1.3 maf per year, essentially consuming 117% of its allocation.

That 1.3 maf overage consists of evaporation, system losses, and the Lower Basin’s share of the annual U.S. obligation to Mexico of 1.5 maf. As it happens, the region budgets for none of these “costs” of doing business, and if pressed, some of its leaders will argue that the Mexican treaty is actually a federal responsibility, toward which the Lower Basin need not contribute water.

The Lower Basin funds its deficit by drawing on the accumulated water surplus held in the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, which backs up behind Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, with the Lower Basin using more water than it receives, the surplus there can’t last forever, and maybe not for long. In November 2010, the water level of the lake fell to its lowest elevation ever — 1,082 feet above sea level, a foot lower than its previous nadir during the fierce drought of the 1950s.

Had the dry weather held — and increasing doses of such weather are predicted for the region in the future — the reservoir would have soon fallen another seven feet and triggered the threshold for mandatory (but inadequate) cutbacks in water delivery to the Lower Basin states. Instead, heavy snowfall in the northern Rockies bailed out the system by producing a mighty runoff, lifting the reservoir a whopping 52 feet.

Since then, however, weather throughout the Colorado Basin has been relentlessly dry, and the lake has resumed its precipitous fall. It now stands at 1,106 feet, which translates to roughly 47% of capacity.  Lake Powell, Mead’s alter ego, is in about the same condition.

Another dry year or two, and the Colorado system will be back where it was in 2010, staring down a crisis.  There is, however, a consolation — of sorts.  The Colorado is nowhere near as badly off as New Mexico and the Rio Grande.

How Dry I Am This Side of the Pecos

In May, New Mexico marked the close of the driest two-year period in the 120 years since records began to be kept. Its largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, which stores water from the Rio Grande, is effectively dry.

Meanwhile, parched Texas has filed suit against New Mexico in multiple jurisdictions, including the Supreme Court, to force the state to send more water downstream — water it doesn’t have. Texas has already appropriated $5 million to litigate the matter.  If it wins, the hit taken by agriculture in south-central New Mexico could be disastrous.

In eastern New Mexico, the woes of the Pecos River mirror those of the Rio Grande and pit the Pecos basin’s two largest cities, Carlsbad and Roswell, directly against each other. These days, the only thing moving in the irrigation canals of the Carlsbad Irrigation District is dust. The canals are bone dry because upstream groundwater pumping in the Roswell area has deprived the Pecos River of its flow. By pumping heavily from wells that tap the aquifer under the Pecos River, Roswell’s farmers have drawn off water that might otherwise find its way to the surface and flow downstream.

Carlsbad’s water rights are senior to (that is, older than) Roswell’s, so in theory — under the doctrine of Prior Appropriation — Carlsbad is entitled to the water Roswell is using. The dispute pits Carlsbad’s substantial agricultural economy against Roswell’s, which is twice as big. The bottom line, as with Texas’s lawsuit over the Rio Grande, is that there simply isn’t enough water to go around.

If you want to put your money on one surefire bet in the Southwest, it’s this: one way or another, however these or any other onrushing disputes turn out, large numbers of farmers are going to go out of business.

Put on Your Rain-Dancing Shoes

New Mexico’s present struggles, difficult as they may be, will look small-scale indeed when compared to what will eventually befall the Colorado. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects the river’s 40 million water-users to grow to between 49.3 and 76.5 million by 2060. This translates into a thirst for Colorado River water of 18.1 to 20.4 maf — oceans more than its historical yield of 16.4 maf.

And that’s not even the bad news, which is that, compared to the long-term paleo-record, the historical average, compiled since the late nineteenth century, is aberrantly high. Moreover, climate change will undoubtedly take its toll, and perhaps has already begun to do so. One recent study forecasts that the yield of the Colorado will decline 10% by about 2030, and it will keep falling after that.

None of the available remedies inspires much confidence. “Augmentation” — diverting water from another basin into the Colorado system — is politically, if not economically, infeasible. Desalination, which can be effective in specific, local situations, is too expensive and energy-consuming to slake much of the Southwest’s thirst. Weather modification, aka rain-making, isn’t much more effective today than it was in 1956 when Burt Lancaster starred as a water-witching con man in The Rainmaker, and vegetation management (so that trees and brush will consume less water) is a non-starter when climate change and epidemic fires are already reworking the landscape.

Undoubtedly, there will be small successes squeezing water from unlikely sources here and there, but the surest prospect for the West?  That a bumper harvest of lawsuits is approaching. Water lawyers in the region can look forward to full employment for decades to come. Their clients will include irrigation farmers, thirsty cities, and power companies that need water to cool their thermal generators and to drive their hydroelectric generators.

Count on it: the recreation industry, which demands water for boating and other sports, will be filing its briefs, too, as will environmental groups struggling to prevent endangered species and whole ecosystems from blinking out. The people of the West will not only watch them; they — or rather, we — will all in one way or another be among them as they gather before various courts in the legal equivalent of circular firing squads.

Hey, Mister, What’s that Sound?

Here at the bottom of Grand Canyon, with the river rushing by, we listen for the boom of the downstream rapids toward which we are headed. Sometimes they sound like a far-off naval bombardment, sometimes more like the roar of an oncoming freight train, which is entirely appropriate. After all, the river, like a railroad, is a delivery system with a valuable cargo. Think of it as a stream of liquid property, every pint within it already spoken for, every drop owned by someone and obligated somewhere, according to a labyrinth of potentially conflicting contracts.

The owners of those contracts know now that the river can’t supply enough gallons, pints, and drops to satisfy everybody, and so they are bound to live the truth of the old western saying: “Whiskey’s for drinkin’, and water’s for fightin’.”

In the end, Powell was right about at least one thing: aridity bats last.

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, irrigates a small farm in northern New Mexico and is the author of seven books including, most recently, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.

The Sleeping Climate Giant: Scientists Warn Of Irreversable Extreme Weather, Starvation, Riots, & War

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm

https://i1.wp.com/switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlashof/Arctic-sea-ice-2012-3000x1800-nointtext.jpgOldspeak:”Governments must put two and two together, and pull out all stops to save the Arctic sea ice or we will starve. The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is causing a disruption of jet stream behavior, which, in turn, produces weather extremes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. According to AMEG, the UK government was warned about, and given evidence, that the weather extremes experienced in the Northern Hemisphere are due to jet stream disruptions because of Arctic warming relative to the tropics. The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.” –Arctic Methane Emergency Group

“The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at levels not seen since the Pliocene era, 3 million years ago, before humans walked the earth.  Large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide are rapidly filling the atmosphere, as a result of rapid melting of polar ice caps. Seems to be irreversible at this point.  This is the problem that with drive all other problems on this planet for thousands of years. Drought is global, food production is declining, with food riots are already reality in the global south. While global elites aggressively poison our water supplies profiting from drilling for toxic energy like oil, coal, natural gas & radioactive materials, those same activities will contribute to the destruction of our food supplies. Where are the nationwide marches to demand action on this? Indigenous peoples are on the case, they know what’s at stake. We need to get activated about the most dire threats to our existence, like yesterday. There’s no time to waste.” –OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Scientific evidence is compelling that something big is brewing up north in the Arctic, “the sleeping climate giant.” As follows, when this sleeping giant awakens, life may never be the same. Unfortunately, its long slumber is now coming back to life, and the scientists studying this event are deeply concerned.

The danger involves an Arctic meltdown, and, as this sleeping giant awakens, it will prompt events that will likely cause significant disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and global war as worldwide food production is seriously impaired. Some leading scientists refer to this impending event as a prescription for “starvation.”

A five-year NASA campaign called CARVE (Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment) is currently in its third-year of analyzing the emissions of greenhouse gases in the Arctic, led by Charles Miller, principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, California. This team of researchers includes two-dozen scientists from twelve major institutions, like Langley Research Center.

From a base in Fairbanks, Alaska the team travel in a C-23 Sherpa aircraft up to eight hours daily at an altitude of 500 feet, which is categorized as flying “down in the mud.” By flying dangerously low, they are able to take measurements not previously possible, and they use very sophisticated instruments, as for one example, a very sensitive spectrometer, to “sniff” the atmosphere for greenhouse gases. The samples are shipped to the University of Colorado’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research Stable Isotope Laboratory and Radiocarbon Laboratory in Boulder to determine whether the gases are from thawing permafrost.

According to Miller, based upon analyses of the first full year of studies, what they are finding is both amazing and potentially troubling: “Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest.”1 “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze.”

CARVE hopes to find clues that will indicate whether an irreversible permafrost tipping point may be near at hand. In general, scientists do not believe the Arctic has reached a tipping point just yet, but no one knows for sure. “We hope CARVE may be able to find that ‘smoking gun,’ if one exists,” says Miller.

World Food Production at Risk

In addition to CARVE’s 5-year on-going investigation of the Arctic, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (“AMEG”), a hard-core group of the world’s most esteemed climate scientists, have sounded the alarm about the dangers of an Arctic meltdown. An announcement on their web site claims: “Governments must put two and two together, and pull out all stops to save the Arctic sea ice or we will starve.”

AMEG’s statement begs the crucial question: Why will loss of Arctic sea ice cause starvation?

Here is AMEG’s answer: The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is causing a disruption of jet stream behavior, which, in turn, produces weather extremes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. According to AMEG, the UK government was warned about, and given evidence, that the weather extremes experienced in the Northern Hemisphere are due to jet stream disruptions because of Arctic warming relative to the tropics.

AMEG goes on to say: “The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.” This blunt statement by AMEG is indicative of their strong conviction.

These dire warnings by our planet’s most accomplished climate scientists should be expected to ring alarm bells, to take immediate corrective action, within the halls of governments all across the globe. Otherwise, the planet may sizzle and extreme weather patterns, i.e., flooding and droughts, may choke off our food resources.

In this regard, AMEG says, “The Arctic is the air conditioner for the entire Northern Hemisphere so the hemispheric climate will change along with further accelerated warming,”

Here is a general description behind the derivation of bad news for Northern Hemispheric agriculture and world food production: Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University presented new research that demonstrates that Arctic sea ice loss impacts upper-level atmospheric circulation such that, “slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. Such high-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increase the probability of persistent (that is, longer-duration) weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.”

The jet stream has moved northwards over 270 miles over the past 22 years. The jet stream is located where the strongest winds are found at the top of the troposphere at 35,000-45,000 feet (7-9 miles) high, 200-300 mb in pressure.

Worldwide Extreme Weather Conditions

In point of fact, Dr. Francis’ explanation of the impact of Arctic sea-ice loss on weather events is exactly what the world has been experiencing these past few years, for example:

In the United States in 2012 a slow-moving jet stream was the culprit behind a “blocking weather pattern” within a massive dome of high pressure across the U.S. that led to remarkable March heat, sending temperatures in the Midwest and the Northeast soaring into the 80s overnight. And, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the subsequent 2012 drought was the worst since 1950.

Syria, a major part of the breadbasket of the Middle East has experienced a series of endless droughts from 2006-2011 with up to 60% of the land subject to severe drought and the most severe set of crop failures in the history of the Fertile Crescent.

India recently experienced is second major drought in four years, and as a result, at times a billion people were without power, experiencing the largest power outage in world history because of low hydropower resources and a strained power grid.

According to Dr. Mannava Sivakumar, Director of the WMO Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch, India’s severe drought experienced rainfall levels 70% below normal in the Punjab region, India’s breadbasket, Phil Behan, With Drought Intensifying Worldwide, UN Calls for Integrated Climate Policies, UN News Centre, August 21, 2012.

In August 2010 Russian PM Vladimir Putin shocked the world by announcing a ban on exports of grain because of the country’s worst drought in 40 years.

The jet streams over Russia and surrounding areas were locked with the trough of the wave over Pakistan, and the crest over Russia. The jet stream did not budge for 35 days. The trough was low pressure with lots of rain, and as a result, Pakistan flooded, beyond one month. At the time, worldwide television networks sent broadcasts of groups of Pakistanis huddled together on small landmasses surrounded by water. Simultaneously, Moscow was under a high-pressure ridge, experiencing a powerful 35-day heat wave. An estimated 50,000 Russians, over and above the normal mortality rate, died (not mentioned on TV), and the country lost 40% of its wheat crop.

According to People’s Daily online from China: “The drought has also left 6.61 million people and 4.24 million heads of livestock in the above regions short of drinking water.”2

Also, in China: “Four years of droughts in southern and northwest China have resulted in severe desertification, poor harvests, and water shortages, affecting the lives of 400 million people, according to a Chinese NGO,” Li Xia, Drought in China Turns Vast Tracts of Land to Desert, Epoch Times, March 19, 2013. According to the article, the desertification problem in China is the most severe in the world and could seriously hamper the country’s economic development. Alarmingly, China’s drought is its worst in 200 years, affecting more people than the entire population of North America.

As for other extreme weather consequences worldwide, according to meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters: “The recent unrest in the Middle East, which has been attributed, in part, to high food prices, gives us a warning of the type of global unrest that might result in future years if the climate continues to warm as expected. A hotter climate means more severe droughts will occur. We can expect an increasing number of unprecedented heat waves and droughts like the 2010 Russian drought in coming decades. This will significantly increase the odds of a world food emergency far worse than the 2007-2008 global food crises. When we also consider the world’s expanding population and the possibility that peak oil will make fertilizers and agriculture much more expensive, we have the potential for a perfect storm of events aligning in the near future, with droughts made significantly worse by climate change contributing to events that will cause disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and war.”3

And, the Flooding

An influential group of MPs in the UK have expressed concern about UK food security because of flooding “…which is increasing as climate change intensifies downpours….”4 “A run of poor weather since 2011 has led to extensive flooding of properties but has also severely dented the production of many foods, with the UK now being a net importer of wheat.”

In Central Europe, “While rescue teams scrambled to protect cities in Central Europe from some of the worst flooding in years, farm organizations are concerned about damage that could devastate crops for the entire growing season.”5 “The devastation follows a series of extreme weather events that have hit EU farmers in the past year, including a severe drought in southern Europe and extreme flooding in the United Kingdom.”

Floods and droughts are increasingly a worldwide problem as the weather adjusts to anomalous jet streams brought on by a warming Arctic, which is warming 2-3 times faster than the planet overall.

The Food Threat and Food Riots

“… when you see rapidly rising food prices, of course it leads to instability. We’ve seen [this] in the last five years across many countries, and you see rising food prices translate almost directly into street protests.”6

The FAO FOOD PRICE INDEX (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

The FAO Food Price Index (United Nations) over the past 10 years has more than doubled, in nominal terms, and it is up over 50%, in real terms (accounting for inflation.) Ominously, the 23-year FAO Food Price Index graph shows worldwide prices traded in a basic range of 100-125, in real terms, from 1990 to 2006. Since then, it has been in a range of 125 to 175, in real terms. This new higher plateau in worldwide food prices most likely reflects abnormal agricultural conditions as exemplified by droughts and other embedded weather conditions, like floods. The FAO Food Price Index graph has the appearance of a bull market in the making, implying the distinct possibility of much higher food prices.

As it goes, and according to the above-referenced Council on Foreign Relations article, “You’re going to see the continuation of [political] instability driven in part by rapidly rising food prices. In 2008, we had food protests across much of the Middle East… Egypt is already spending about one-third of its subsidies on food, and it is draining the Egyptian foreign exchange reserve to continue those subsidies. This combination of an already mobilized population out on the streets demanding lots of different changes [in Egypt], and rising food prices is going to create a very unstable atmosphere.”

“Nations reliant on food imports, including Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan are especially vulnerable to unrest, according to a report by the National Intelligence Council… More than 60 food riots erupted worldwide from 2007 to 2009.”7

Speaking at the International Food Safety Training Laboratory in York, England, Tim Benton, professor of Ecology at the University of Leeds and head of the UK’s Global Food Partnership said, “The probability of extreme weather to the extent that it will destroy any local agricultural production is increasing very, very rapidly… That is quite frightening because plants and production systems are adapted to produce food under normal circumstances. If the climate continues to change, we will get to the point where this will simply fall apart.”8

The prospect of food production getting to the point where “this will simply fall apart” in various locales of the world is unimaginable, but then again, it was not too many years ago when an ice-free Arctic was unimaginable. Changes in climate have a nasty habit of slowly creeping up on humanity until all of a sudden serious scientists are finally heard to say (after repeated warnings for years): We’ve got an emergency here. Take action now or starve. This is what is being said right now, but it is very difficult for people to absorb and fully appreciate the tenor of these clarion calls.

For inexplicable reasons, it does not seem possible that catastrophe will occur… in large measure, because people do not want to believe it! Also, it is too horrendous to seriously contemplate. Reading an article like this one may be interesting and entertaining, to a degree, but afterwards, people carry on with life, assuming the best.

Nevertheless, the reality is that Arctic ice is melting away at its fastest pace ever, which, in turn, prompts methane, which is 100 times more powerful than CO2, to spew into the atmosphere like gangbusters, all of which spells runaway global warming, and furthermore, as a very nasty prelude, freakish weather patterns threaten the world’s food supply.

What more can people do but carry on with everyday life. No, not true! People make the world go round, and they influence policies that directly cause an ice-free Arctic in the first instance. If people cause it, hopefully, they can fix it, and this is the message preached by AMEG. But, who is listening and who is taking an active role is the single biggest conundrum of the 21st century?

So far, steps to curb the ravages of climate change have been tiny baby steps, not big enough to tame a sleeping giant.

Excerpts of Letter Addressed to World Leaders from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group:

-Emergency intervention to stabilize Arctic sea ice and thereby Arctic methane is today a matter of our survival.
-The latest research expedition to the region… witnessed methane plumes on a ‘fantastic scale’… to equal methane emissions from all the other oceans put together.
-The latest available data indicate there is a 5-10% possibility of the Arctic being ice free in September 2013, more likely 2015, and with 95% confidence by 2018. This, according to the recognized world authorities on Arctic sea ice, Prof. Wadhams and Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski, is the point of no return for summer sea ice. Once past this point, it could prove impossible to reverse the retreat by any kind of intervention.
-The conditions that have long been recognized as potentially causing vast quantities of methane to be released in the Arctic are clearly developing. The calamitous impacts of inaction are well-known – runaway climate change.

On a Positive Note: One Solution

The agricultural problems associated with extreme climate change are substantive; however, on a positive note, human ingenuity may offer a solution – Vertical Farms in cities. The world’s first commercial Vertical Farm is located in Singapore, built by Sky Greens Farms, producing one ton of fresh veggies every other day, which are sold in local supermarkets, and the produce is a hit with consumers! The farm consists of 120 aluminum towers thirty feet tall, like giant greenhouses, jutting into the sky. This is the world’s first low carbon hydraulic water-driven, tropical vegetable urban Vertical Farm, using minimal land, water and energy. Hopefully, ingenuity like this may help solve the world’s food problems in the face of impending extreme climate change, as dictated by a melting Arctic, but it will not resolve the onset of horrendous weather-related events.

Quote from astronaut Mike Collins (Apollo 11): “Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.”

  1. Alan Buls, Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic? NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, June 10, 2013. []
  2. Drought Affects 7.3 mln China Farmland Hectares,” April 3, 2013. []
  3. China’s Droughts Nears Worst in 200 Years, Adding Pressure to World Food Prices, Climate Progress, February 14, 2011. []
  4. Damian Carrington, Lack of Food Protection Spending Threatening UK Food Security, say MPs, The Guardian, July 4, 2013. []
  5. Farmers Brace for Major Losses from Central European Floods, EurActiv, June 7, 2013. []
  6. Isobel Coleman/Interview, U.S. Drought and Rising Global Food Prices, Council on Foreign Relations, Aug. 2, 2012. []
  7. Tony C. Dreibus & Elizabeth Campbell, Global Food Reserves Falling as Drought Wilts Crops, Bloomberg, August 9, 2012. []
  8. Gary Scattergood, Extreme Weather ‘Likely’ to Wipe Out Food Production, Food Manufacture.co.uk, January 31, 2013. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.