Sunday, May 19, 2019
Current Climate Impact
written 12 May 2019
published 19 May 2019
President Trump believes that man-made climate change is a fake news hoax. However, the Pentagon has long identified climate change as a "threat magnifier," aggravating existing political fault lines and contributing to social upheaval and violent conflict, disrupting whole regions. Climate change destroys global agricultural production, increasing economic losses, farm failures, food scarcity, and migration pressures.
Syria experienced drought from 2006-2011, the worst in 900 years, killing 250,000 people. 75% of the farms failed, 85% of the livestock died, and millions moved to the cities. Food scarcity and extreme unemployment helped fuel the Syrian civil war, causing refugees to flood into Europe. Reaction to this influx fed support for fascist political parties, and helped tip the balance in the Brexit vote. The stalled British secession threatens to destabilize the economy of the entire European Union.
For the benefit of our corporations, America has long supported corrupt and violent governments in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, creating a large, poor, malnourished population of subsistence farmers, now threatened by increased climate variability. In the last decade, hurricanes with heavier rainfalls have destroyed 40 years of public infrastructure. When half a year's precipitation might fall in a week, and temperatures can surge unexpectedly, harvests have been cut by half. With no alternative, people migrate north to stay alive, fueling Trump's rabid xenophobic fears.
Cyclone Idai hit the eastern coast of Africa on March 2019, the second deadliest on record, affecting over 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, killing over 1000. The storm destroyed 110,000 homes and 3,000 square miles of farmland, only weeks before harvest, requiring $2B to recover. Five weeks later Cyclone Kenneth made landfall further to the north of Idai, dropping an additional 13" of rain in 24 hours, and displaced 700,000 more people. The continued rain and flooding have prevented arrival of aid, and hindered replanting in this critical agricultural area, wiping out the main food source for half the population of a very poor area.
America is affected as well, with climate related losses of $350B in 2018, not counting the ongoing reduction in food productivity which can last for years. In October 2018, just before harvest time, Hurricane Michael came ashore as a category 4, affecting the Florida panhandle and southwest Georgia. It laid waste to cotton fields, pecan orchards, and pine forests, causing $1.7B in damages. It can take years for a cotton farmer to get out of debt from one lost crop, 8 years for a replanted pecan orchard to begin producing again, and 30 years for a pine forest to mature. This was the second hurricane to hit this area in 2 years, and tornados are more frequent, all delivering greater amounts of rainfall.
In March 2019, a strong "bomb cyclone", a storm where intensity increases rapidly over 24 hours, hit the upper American Midwest. The warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, a 50% increase from 30 years ago, creating heavy precipitation events. The increased rainfall, combined with snow melt, created the worst flooding in decades, affecting 9 million people. 1.1 million acres of cropland were flooded, causing $3B damages. Trump's trade war has devastated commodity sales, so large quantities of grain, corn, and soybeans were in storage, which were ruined by the flooding and uninsured. It could be 9 months before agriculture production is fully restored. Farm incomes are down, expenses are up, and bankruptcies have already increased 19% in 2019.
Climate extremes produce not only flash floods, but recently identified flash droughts. A normal drought evolves over years, but a flash drought can form in a matter of months. Record high temperatures, combined with low and rapidly decreasing soil moisture, destroys agriculture and increases fire risk. A flash drought over 2 months in 2012 caused $30B in agricultural losses in the central US. Another event in 2016 cost $3B.
Climate change is already here. Oil companies identified the problem decades ago but chose to hide the information, so the easy solutions are long gone. This global problem requires a global solution. The longer the deniers are in control, the harder the task becomes. But if we have compassion for our grandchildren, we must rise to the occasion, even if it seems overwhelming.