On Sunday, I wrote about the real scandal of the century that the media is ignoring or misreporting — unchecked global warming (see “Worse Than Watergate“).
Now I have a name for this growing scandal — No-Water-Gate. It is increasingly clear that the gravest climate threat to the most people in the coming decades will be Dust-Bowlification and the impact that has on food security (see Oxfam: Extreme Weather Has Helped Push Tens of Millions into “Hunger and Poverty” in “Grim Foretaste” of Warmed World).
As I wrote in my 2011 Nature article, “The next dust bowl,” which reviewed some of the vast literature on the growing threat of prolonged warming-driven drought, “Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.”
You’d think that a New York Times front page story on our current return to Dust Bowl conditions — and how farmers need to adapt — would discuss some of this vast literature. Or at least mention climate change. Once.
You’d be wrong. And so this NY Times story is one of the inspirations for naming the greatest scandal of our time No-Water-Gate:
The failure to discuss climate change renders the piece less than useless — it is scandalously misleading. The article focuses on how the drought has accelerated the depletion of the High Plains Aquifer by Kansas and Texas farmers:
Kansas agriculture will survive the slow draining of the aquifer — even now, less than a fifth of the state’s farmland is irrigated in any given year — but the economic impact nevertheless will be outsized. In the last federal agriculture census of Kansas, in 2007, an average acre of irrigated land produced nearly twice as many bushels of corn, two-thirds more soybeans and three-fifths more wheat than did dry land.
Farmers will take a hit as well. Raising crops without irrigation is far cheaper, but yields are far lower. Drought is a constant threat: the last two dry-land harvests were all but wiped out by poor rains.
In the end, most farmers will adapt to farming without water, said Bill Golden, an agriculture economist at Kansas State University.
No, no, a thousand times no: Farmers aren’t going to “adapt to farming without water”!
Farmers might adapt to farming without water from the aquifer for irrigation — but only if the climate is not changing for the worse!
An important, if under-reported, 2012 study from the The National Center for Atmospheric Research “strengthened the case” that, unless we reverse emissions trends soon, we risk having a situation by the end of the century where ”most of southern Europe and about half of the United States is gripped by extreme drought” a great deal of the time:
[Author Aiguo] Dai’s new work stresses that the drying effect of human-produced greenhouse gases should overwhelm natural variability by later this century.
“The U.S. may never again return to the relatively wet conditions experienced from 1977 to 1999,” he says.
How will farmers adapt to no aquifer water and dwindling precipitation and rising temperatures (see We’re Already Topping Dust Bowl Temperatures — Imagine What’ll Happen If We Fail To Stop 10°F Warming).
Worse, how will they adapt to no aquifer water and dwindling precipitation and rising temperatures – and the media and other opinion-makers ignoring the latter two irreversible (but not unstoppable) trends?