California Dreaming on Such a Drought Today


20140225_ca_noneMother Nature could well be diagnosed with bipolar disorder in North America. On the east coast we are suffering through the polar vortex while in the west we have above average temperatures and drought.

California is in the grip of what is possibly its worse drought in modern times, despite the arrival of some much needed rains of recent days. Meteorologists have blamed a high ridge of pressure for keeping rainfall at bay while Republicans, quixotically, blame the Democrats for the stingy clouds. Up till now there has been little consideration that climate change could be playing a major role in California’s woes.

Scientists have been warning us for years that global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, will radically alter our climate. Yet here we are living in these extremes and we are still not addressing the issues.

“Scientists have long predicted that climate change would bring on ever-worsening droughts, especially in semi-arid regions like the U.S. Southwest,” Joe Romm wrote in a recent Think Progress post. “As climatologist James Hansen, who co-authored one of the earliest studies on this subject back in 1990, told me this week, “Increasingly intense droughts in California, all of the Southwest, and even into the Midwest have everything to do with human-made climate change.”

While the government looks for scapegoats, Californians are running out of time and money. This ‘mega-drought’ could devastate farmers and small towns across the Golden State as Paul Rogers of the L.A Daily News explained in an article:

“Without question, long-time water experts say, farmers would bear the brunt. Cities would suffer but adapt. The reason: Although many Californians think that population growth is the main driver of water demand statewide, it actually is agriculture. In an average year, farmers use 80 percent of the water consumed by people and businesses — 34 million of 43 million acre-feet diverted from rivers, lakes and groundwater, according to the state Department of Water Resources.”

Though cities could adapt it’s hard say if people would want to stay in an ever increasing dust bowl. The jobs would begin to disappear and that once hot spot of glamour and fame would disappear only to move to the next best place. However Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis says most people would probably stay.

“Some small towns in the Central Valley would really suffer. They would basically go away, but agriculture is only 3 percent of California’s economy today,” Lund said. “In the main urban economy, most people would learn to live with less water. It would be expensive and inconvenient, but we’d do it.”

Jay’s quote makes the agriculture community and its contributions seem small and unimportant. But this mega-drought will be felt across North America. Richard Cornett, Director of Communications at the Western Plant Health Association, said California’s agricultural industry is a kingpin in the farming world:

“Our home state leads all of the other states in farm income. It’s positioned as the agricultural powerhouse of the United States. About 73 percent of the state’s ag revenues are derived from crops while the other 27 percent of revenues are generated by livestock commodities. In terms of revenue generated, California’s top five ag products are dairy products, greenhouse and nursery products, grapes, almonds, and cattle and calves. California agriculture generates roughly $37.5 billion annually, more than any other state.”

“So a loss of California ag production would hit hard consumers’ wallets and their diets would become less balanced. This is because our state produces a sizable majority of American fruits, vegetables and nuts; 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots and the list goes on and on. A lot of this is due to our soil and climate. No other state, or even a combination of states, can match California’s output per acre.”

Last year was the fourth hottest year on record according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and if 2014 is just as hot or hotter California’s drought will only be the first of many problems. We are now face to face with the harsh realities of climate change, yet we are still not dealing with it in a meaningful way. Bill Mckibben of 350.org said it best: “There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.”

This is typical human behavior: we sink into comfortable ruts and refuse to change. This, however, isn’t an option for us anymore as the world cannot continue to do business as usual. There is nothing usual about this Earth anymore, we’ve changed it past the point of return. If we do not at least try to make a change, Mother Nature will change it for us and it won’t be pleasant. Just ask anyone in California.

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