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Thursday, September 5, 2013
Current Affairs ... Food / Drink ... Science ...

As of this writing, the Atlantic Hurricane season is about half over . . . and there hasn’t been a hurricane yet! This is a bit surprising, given the frequency and intensity of Atlantic and Caribbean tropical storms over the past 10 years. In the over $10 billion of damage range (adjusted to 2010 dollars), since early 2004, we have had Katrina ($105.8 billion 2005), Ike ($27.8 billion 2008), Wilma ($20.6 billion 2005), Ivan ($19.8 billion 2005), Charley ($15.8 billion 2004), Irene ($15.8 billion 2011), Rita ($11.8 billion 2005), and Frances ($10.02 billion 2004). Oh, and let’s not forget the memorable almost-hurricane that knocked New York City and New Jersey for a loop last year: Sandy, weighing in at about $64 billion in overall damages (adjusting back to 2010 dollars for comparability). There were only four other 10 billion + storms between 1965 and 2003 (admittedly, there was less coastal residential development back then; but there was also more industrial factory and port infrastructure along the East Coast and Gulf before 2003, so 9 mega-damage storms in 10 years still says something against 4 others in the previous 39 years).

Is this an early sign of global warming? The jury still seems to be out on this. Even the 10+ billion list above indicates that two-thirds of the recent mega-storms were concentrated in two seasons, 2004 and 2005; indicating that this hurricane outburst may have been something of a “freak of nature”. If progressive global warming were the main driver of increasing hurricane intensity, you might have expected more storms in the second 5 years (2009-2013) than the first; but the results are skewed heavily towards the first 5 years (7 versus 2).

But there is something else happening in the weather that doesn’t make the headlines like major hurricanes, but is more likely to be resulting from “anthropogenic climate change”. And that is the major, ongoing droughts in the south-western and central US, along with increasing wildfires. We have now had about 11 years of hot and dry conditions almost everywhere west of the Mississippi River (other than the Pacific Northwest). Some meteorology experts are quoting 2012-2013 drought losses at upwards of $200 billion — more than Katrina and Sandy combined!!

The world of science still hasn’t completely adopted the view that the US drought trend stems from climate change, but many reputable weather experts are saying that the proven shrinkage of Arctic sea ice over the past 30 years is clearly helping to power the dry weather pattern since 2001.

If so, then we are already seeing the effect of global climate change in the supermarket. I myself have noticed prices going up quite a bit in recent years in the fresh produce aisles. I don’t think that I’m just imaging that. As a vegetarian, I don’t usually visit the meat section, but I hear that you carnivores are also in for some sticker shock on your burgers, pork chops and chicken wings, before long.

Have official government statistics on price inflation confirmed this? Well, the US government July inflation report indicated that the unadjusted yearly price inflation rate was 2.0% over the past 12 months. For food overall, the rate was around 1.4%. However, this report notes that “the increase in the food index was caused by a sharp rise in the fruits and vegetables index; other food indexes were mixed . . .the fruits and vegetables index posted the largest increase over the [12 month] span, rising 2.7 percent . . . ” OK, so strawberries and broccoli and pears and grapefruit and string beans are the first to suffer when water starts getting scarce; but as the dryness continues, corn and wheat will start suffering, and then meat and milk, and most everything else will start requiring a pretty penny.

I’m not saying that you have to use your car less (walk more and use mass transit when able), turn down your air conditioner thermostat (or just use a fan sometimes), buy a smaller house, or take fewer jet trips, or consider eating less meat (which is a relatively high greenhouse-gas-intense food, especially beef). But if you don’t, please do me a favor . . . pray for rain in Texas !! (And Nebraska and Arizona and Oklahoma and North Dakota and Iowa and . . . )

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:33 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I certainly can see your point: There absolutely has to be a climate change going on with all the storms on the East Coast and all the fires and drought on the West Coast and in the West in general. The whole earth seems turned upside down. And OK, I can see the need to try to do something about it.

    *But* in all the discussion about “fixing” climate change one tho’t keeps coming back to me. There has always been climate change. At one time Europe was so cold that the Neaderthals flourished. When it “warmed” up, the Neaderthals were taken over by Homo Sapiens who flourished in warmer temps.

    Farther back in time Montana must have had a rainforest type of climate as dinosaurs lived there, or at least seemed to have roamed it quite a bit. Must have been pretty warm there, warmer than it is now.

    I find myself thinking (and I know this is not a popular stance to take on this subject) that climate change is inevitable. While, of course, humans are contributing to climate change, I still think that climate change has affected the earth before; what is to prevent it from affecting the earth again?

    It seems to me that what we really need to be doing is figuring out how we are going to adjust to the inevitable climate change. And that adjustment is going to be a big one for a lot of people. Nevertheless, sticking our heads in the sand, bemoaning the changes of nature (which may be slowed down a bit by humans changing their ways but which change is likely inevitable), and trying to “fix” it so that the earth will not undergo the inevitable climate change are all useless in the end, as I see it.

    I think some serious study should be done on how the earth will be affected by climate change, what changes humans should make, e.g., where they should and should not live. In the end that kind of approach to climate change may be the most helpful thing for humans to do. MCS

    Comment by Mary — September 6, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

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