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Climate Week: The Disastrous Summer of 2012

July 29, 2012|Stephen Markley

Unless you really are one of those people who wants to close your eyes, put your hands over your ears, and then jam the whole apparatus up your own ass, it’s time to admit three simple realities: 1) the crisis part of the climate crisis has already arrived 2) it’s as bad or worse than most scientists have been expecting 3) we have to do something about it, fast.

In order to sway all of public opinion, totally, entirely, I’m dedicating a whole week on this blog to discussing the implications of the Great Heat of 2012. If you’re someone who much prefers the nonsense portion of Off the Markley, I promise next week I’ll come up with one of the stupidest, most irrelevant columns in the history of the internet. However, I strongly urge you to pay attention to this week’s slate of columns, to forward them, share them, tweet them, investigate their claims for yourself, and so forth.

We begin the week with the terrifying, record-breaking summer of 2012 that nevertheless only serves as a portent of what’s to come. If you’ve been paying any attention, you know that the past twelve months have been the hottest ever recorded in the United States with so many temperature records obliterated that it’s not even worth recounting here (although if you live in South Carolina where the temperature reached a macadam-melting 113 degrees, you probably want to write that down). Wildfires raged across the West a year after they devastated Texas to the tune of $5 billion and have so far cost Colorado at least $500 million. Most importantly, half the country is in drought, facing conditions not seen since the Dust Bowl, and U.S. the corn, soy and wheat crop is headed for outright devastation.

Food prices are about to spike severely—everything from chicken to beef to milk to cereal. Maybe they’ll hamper our economic recovery, but Americans have a far greater ability to absorb high food prices then the rest of the world. As I’ve noted again and again to many people’s annoyance, the Arab Spring had an awful, awful lot to do with rising food prices—if not everything to do with it. Syria is the current mess, a place where the prices of dairy, fats/oils and fruits rose 27%, 28%, and 14% in January 2011. The protests that led to the current civil war began semi-officially on January 26, 2011. If you look at the correlation between spikes in food prices and civil unrest or revolution it doesn’t look much like correlation as it does causation: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and on. 

2013 could be a year of serious global unrest, the problem being that democracy in and of itself does not grow more food.

The drought of 2012 also represents a global phenomenon. Europe, Africa, Asia (which could see a 50% reduction in its agricultural output)—every food-producing region of the world has some threat of drought, much of it severe.

This is why when people talk about “adapting” to climate change, they are mostly of talking out of their asses. There ain’t much adapting to whole regions of the world baked into oblivion. Here at home the Republican-stronghold of the South and West are two great examples. They are rapidly heading for a phenomenon the journalist Joe Romm calls “dustbowlification” wherein the leeching of water from the soil coupled with extreme heat will lead to a state of permanent dust bowl. Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado—all these states are at risk for permanent catastrophe if we continue along our present course.

Meanwhile, Greenland has been freakishly, unbelievably, frighteningly warm this summer, which matters a great deal because we really need the Greenland ice sheet to stay intact. This summer, the melt area went from 40% to 97% in a shocking four-day period, an event that took scientists completely by surprise. Ice core records indicate similar flash meltings have occurred before, but married to the unprecedented temperatures hanging over the region, it’s just another in a series of indicators that are extremely scary. The ice sheet is under serious stress, and if it begins to melt rapidly it will lock in an amount of sea level rise that many of the world’s coastal communities may not be able to handle. New York and Boston would be in particular trouble.

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