Those who would deny the reality of global warming are having a lot tougher time these days as the impacts stack up. No longer are we talking about remote island nations being submerged under rising sea levels. Nope, the global warming chickens have come home to roost here in the Land of Coal and they’re not likely to leave anytime soon – especially when our clueless politicians continue to pollute like there’s no tomorrow.
Right now, an estimated two-thirds of the nation is officially in what’s being called the worst drought since the 1950s and it is rapidly worsening. Across the Midwest the corn crop is toast – no pun intended. Withered stalks stand ignored in fields that used to be filled with waves of green, well-watered from the sky. But now the parched, cracked soil looks heavenward where nary a drop of lifegiving moisture falls from the clouds.
It’s estimated that corn and its byproducts constitute a huge percentage of our food supply in all its forms, from corn syrup to flour. But corn also feeds our livestock, including chicken and pigs as well as beef and dairy cattle. Plus, under a misguided federal policy, significant amounts of corn have been diverted from food to fuel for ethanol production.
Now consider these startling statistics: The USDA has already declared “natural disasters” in 29 states due to drought. The federal government estimates 88 percent of the corn crop is “drought affected,” pushing prices to a record $8 per bushel on the commodities market and sending the futures market soaring.
The results of those crop shortages and price increases are expected to hit consumers in the form of 3 percent to 4 percent higher prices on eggs, dairy and pork and 4 percent to 5 percent on beef and veal. For most people, whose pocketbooks already are squeezed by recessionary pressures, the face of global warming means even more money now will be required just to eat.
This year’s fire season is yet another facet of global warming’s effects, with large conflagrations running not just through parched forests where trees contain less moisture than kiln-dried lumber, but across vast acreages of grassland, sage and brush.
The result is a double-whammy for the cattle industry, as hay and grazing lands disappear in walls of wind-driven flames while corn and soybeans wilt in the fields. Predictions now, with months of hot weather yet to come, are that livestock herds will be significantly reduced by sell-offs as ranchers face the reality of drought-ravaged feedstock for their herds.
Nor will we escape the impacts here in Montana, even though we sit at the headwaters of the mighty streams and rivers that drain the Rockies. Already, Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has declared “hoot-owl” fishing restrictions on the Dearborn, Sun and Smith rivers due to drought impacts. The water temperature in the Lower Madison River, below Ennis Lake, was at 73 degrees last week. At that temperature, Montana’s world-famous trout fisheries face life-threatening stress.
Trout, after all, are not tropical fish. They require clean, cold water to survive and become torpid whenever the water temperature nears 70 degrees. Toss in increased irrigation demand, also due to drought, and one of Montana’s premier assets is on the ropes due to higher temperatures and lower water flows. The result? Expect widespread fish kills in August unless significant natural precipitation breaks the drought.
It seems a no-brainer in the face of the evidence to realize that we are now exceeding our planet’s capabilities to sustain life as we know it due to our consumption and pollution. In common terms, that’s called “fouling our nest.” But we’re entangled in feedback loops that only make the problems worse.
Our politicians have no desire to tell the American people to consume and pollute less. Quite the opposite, unfortunately. When triple-digit temperatures become the norm across much of the nation, people crank up their air conditioning just to survive the oppressive heat. The more power they use, the more coal and natural gas utilities burn to supply the power and the more politicians call for increased energy production. Instead of calming the flames of global warming, we are tossing logs on the fire and suffering the inevitable consequences.
It would be great to say there was some relief on the horizon. But there is not. In this election year, the ostriches who call themselves “leaders” have their heads deeply buried in the sand while their tailfeathers scorch in the heat.
George Ochenski writes a column for the Missoulian’s Monday Opinion page. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.