Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Drought Threatens Southern U.S.

A crescent of states stretching from Deleware to Arizona are in the grip of a deepening drought that the New York Times says may rival the Dust Bowl.

The drought is breaking records across the southern states, with Oklahoma's rainfall only 28% of normal.  Wells are running dry. Crops are withering in the field, where they had a chance to grow at all.  Farmers are sending cattle to slaughter because they cannot afford to feed them. As the Times reports, the economic damage from the drought could surpass $3 billion in Texas alone.

Interestingly, the Times does not mention climate change as a possible cause of the drought - a La Niña weather system in the Pacific gets the blame.  Indeed, it is difficult to blame any single incident on a long term global phenomenon.  However, this drought - and ther earlier Midwestern floods, Russian heatwaves and a host of other recent weather disasters - are precisely the types of impacts that we can expect from global climate change.

What lessons can we learn?  One is that adaptation to climate stress is costly and manifests itself in unpredictable ways - even in wealthy economies with good infrastructure.  Higher grain prices in the U.S. will cause ripples in global commodity markets, squeezing pocketbooks and potentially threatening food security in developing nations. The drought is likely to cause a short term collapse in the price of beef as ranchers bring cattle to market early.  This means less money in farmers' pockets and less tax revenue for Southern states - even as the U.S. economy continues to struggle. And shrinking aquifers threaten the continued growth of towns and cities across the American South.

Wealthy nations are struggling to restart their economies and reduce budget deficits. Few will relish taking on the costs associated with worsening climate change.  Developing countries are even less prepared.  Compared to these costs, measures to limit global warming - energy efficiency, renewables, and others - can seem like a bargain.

(Back to the Carbon Clear website)