Wednesday, June 8, 2011

103° F in June in freaking Minneapolis

There are farmers here in Minnesota who have barely finished their spring planting because it has been so cold and wet.  And now this.  The key to observing the effects of climate change is to ignore everything that isn't just off the charts.  Unfortunately as today proved, even restricting yourself to what historically have been considered anomalies will still leave plenty to watch.

What frightens me most is the possibility that soon the weather is going to be so strange in so many places, we will lose our ability to feed ourselves.

Wheat Rallying 20% as Parched Fields Wilt From China to Kansas
By Luzi Ann Javier, Madelene Pearson and Whitney McFerron - Jun 6, 2011 
The worst droughts in decades are wilting wheat fields from China to the U.S. to the U.K., overwhelming Russia’s return to grain markets and driving prices to the highest levels since 2008.
Parts of China, the biggest grower, had the least rain in a century, some European regions are the driest in 50 years and almost half the winter-wheat crop in the U.S., the largest exporter, is rated poor or worse. Inventory is dropping 8.8 percent, the most in five years, Rabobank International says. Prices will advance 20 percent to as high as $9.25 a bushel by Dec. 31, a Bloomberg survey of 14 analysts and traders shows.
Wheat as much as doubled in the past year as crops failed, spurring Ukraine and Russia to curb shipments and increasing the U.S. share of global sales by the most since 2004. Russia ending its export ban on July 1 and Ukraine lifting quotas may not be enough as crops wither elsewhere, fuelling gains in food prices which the United Nations says are already near a record.
“In 32 years, I’ve never seen so many problems in so many places,” said Dan Basse, the president of AgResource Co., a farm researcher in Chicago. “We’re concerned about the world story now,” said Basse, who has been studying agricultural markets since 1979 and expects prices as high as $10 this year. more

NY Times Bombshell: “The latest scientific research suggests” climate change is “helping to destabilize the food system”
By Joe Romm on Jun 5, 2011
Okay, the fact that climate change is helping to destabilize the food system and cause major price spikes is not a ‘bombshell’ to Climate Progress readers. We’ve been writing about this for a long time (see “how extreme weather, climate change drive record food prices” and links below).
The bombshell is a 4000 word front-page story in the Sunday New York Times (above the fold!) headlined:
A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself
Let me extract the key parts and best quotes for you, though I highly recommend reading the whole thing. It is quite thorough.
"The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries.
"Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost.
"Those price jumps, though felt only moderately in the West, have worsened hunger for tens of millions of poor people, destabilizing politics in scores of countries, from Mexico to Uzbekistan to Yemen. The Haitian government was ousted in 2008 amid food riots, and anger over high prices has played a role in the recent Arab uprisings.
Bizarrely, some criticized me for my analyses from earlier in the year that price jumps were contributing to clinical instability in food riots, but it was always pretty obvious and has now become fairly standard wisdom (see The Economist: “The high cost of food is one reason that protesters took to the streets in Tunisia and Egypt”).
As for whether climate change and extreme weather were contributing to the food price spikes, again I took some flak for stating the obvious, but now, as the NYT piece makes clear, this too is something widely understood:
"Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system: climate change.
"Many of the failed harvests of the past decade were a consequence of weather disasters, like floods in the United States, drought in Australia and blistering heat waves in Europe and Russia. Scientists believe some, though not all, of those events were caused or worsened by human-induced global warming. more
Glued to the Weather Channel While the World Burns
by Paul Rogat Loeb | June 7, 2011 
Following the weather is beginning to feel like revisiting the Biblical plagues. Tornadoes rip through Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma -- even Massachusetts. A million acres burn in Texas wildfires. The Army Corps of Engineers floods 135,000 acres of farmland and three million acres of bayou country to save Memphis and New Orleans. Earlier in the past year, a 2,000-mile storm dumped near-record snow from Texas to Maine, a fifth of Pakistan flooded, fires made Moscow's air nearly unbreathable, and drought devastated China's wheat crop. You'd think we'd suspect something's grievously wrong.
But media coverage rarely connects the unfolding cataclysms with the global climate change that fuels them. We can't guarantee that any specific disaster is caused by our warming atmosphere. The links are delayed and diffuse. But considered together, the escalating floods, droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes fit all the predicted models. So do the extreme snowfalls and ice storms, as our heated atmosphere carries more water vapor. So why deem them isolated acts of God -- instead of urgent warnings to change our course?
Scientists are more certain than ever, from the National Academy of Science and its counterparts in every other country to such "radical groups" as the American Chemical Society and American Statistical Society. But the media has buried their voices, giving near-equal "point/counterpoint" credence to a handful of deniers promoted by Exxon, the coal companies and the Koch brothers. Fox News's managing editor even prohibited any reporting on global climate change that didn't immediately then question the overwhelming scientific consensus. The escalating disasters dominate the news, but stripped of context. We're given no perspective to reflect on their likely root causes. more
And then of course, the banksters have to get into the act turning a disaster into a human calamity.
Bankers and politicians have turned food into a betting game
The result is soaring prices and starving children
Aditya Chakrabortty
The Guardian, Tuesday 7 June 2011
The best kind of argument is one where you already know you're right, which must be what draws in so many people to the row over recordfood prices. What other issue allows the techno-nuts to bang on about the need for GM crops, the population drones to point out for the nine-billionth time the growing number of mouths to feed in the world, or my comrades on the left to have another go at big bad agribusiness – all at the same time? Some of these points are worth airing; the surging cost of bread or beef around the world is unlikely to have just one cause. But the overriding feature of this debate is how few of the participants feel the need to do any more than dust off their hobby horses.
Meanwhile, at the risk of sounding crass, around a billion people – one in seven of the world's population – go to bed hungry every night.
An urgent problem requires more than age-old solutions. Understanding why food prices are rocketing again – with the cost of wheat and maize up around 70% in the past year – so soon after the bubble of 2008 should make us look more closely at what's changed in the food market.
And one of the biggest answers to that question lies not in the farms of Queensland nor the suburbs of Cairo, but on Wall Street and in Washington.
I'll give you the Digested Read. In 1991, investment bankers at Goldman Sachs in New York launched a new instrument: the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index. By bundling up 18 different staples – from coffee, cocoa, pork, wheat to oil and copper – the financiers offered investors a chance to take a punt on what were then relatively special-interest markets. One of the major selling points was the so-called "China bet": the perfectly-sensible belief that as middle-class Chinese and Indians got richer, they would eat more and better-quality food. more

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