Year 4, Month 12, Day 29: Stately, Plump, Buck Mulligan…

The Port Huron Times-Herald reports on Michigan’s farmers, who are getting smacked upside the head by climate change:

Tim Boring knew it wasn’t a normal drought when the fields on his Stockbridge farm started to dry up during the summer of 2012.

Nobody escaped the magnitude of heat and dryness that year. Certainly not farmers.

“That drought impacted everyone,” said Boring, who produces corn, soybeans and wheat at his family-owned O’Brien Farms when he isn’t working his job as Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee research director. “It was certainly one of our biggest cases of severe weather lately.”

The drought wiped out a variety of crops, from corn to soybeans, and sent crop prices surging. Pictures of dried up, fractured grounds, stained corn leaves and livestock agonizing under the extreme heat were inescapable.

The dry conditions finally faded away, but not before earning the mark of the worst drought in a nearly a quarter-century, according to the Michigan State University Extension.

Severe weather events such as these, some experts and farmers worry, are on the rise.

I’ve used this letter many times in many different guises: epistodiversity! December 15:

Michigan’s farmers aren’t the only ones coming face to face with climate change’s troublesome realities. Extreme and unpredictable weather is disrupting planting schedules, making for increasingly uncertain harvests everywhere on Earth.

Coping with the accelerating climate crisis will require growers to change many of their ways. The era of massive monocropping is coming to an end; the potential for catastrophic crop failures from environmental disruptions or invasive pests is all too real, and highlights the importance of diversity in our agricultural system. A world-wide re-enactment of the Irish potato famine is a nightmarish thing to to contemplate.

There are countless viewpoints about the best strategies to prepare for a climatically-transformed future, but one thing’s absolutely certain: we’ll never successfully address the problem if we cannot admit its existence. Just like farmers in Michigan, our media figures and elected representatives must realize that the time for climate-change denial is long past.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 17: There Is No Greater Love

The Boise Weekly assesses climate impacts on Idaho:

Winter in Idaho is many things: bracing, frustrating, stunningly beautiful, exhilarating, inversion-stricken, way too long or way too short. No matter how the season measures up, it remains one thing: the climatic engine that drives everything else for the rest of the year.

In the West, water rules all, and in a place like Idaho, where roughly 80 percent of the annual precipitation comes in the form of snow, the entire economy–even the lifestyle–is tied in some way to winter. From irrigating crops to moving water down the rivers for recreation, and from flood management to supporting the water needs of a growing population (and keeping things green enough that the whole area doesn’t burst into flames every summer), everything depends on winter snows and the spring runoff they create.

But what if Idaho winters went the way of the dodo? What if continued climate changes mean that winters heat up and seasonal snows become a memory told in tales that start with the phrase, “When I was a kid…”?

The Bad News

While there are still some skeptics out there, the majority of scientists now agree that the world is experiencing climate change and that its effects vary by location. In Idaho, forecasting models predict that winters will continue to get warmer and, because of that, most of the precipitation in the Treasure Valley will come in the form of rain, with snows limited to higher and higher elevations.

This also means that hot, dry summers will likely continue to be the norm, but without winter snows and spring runoff, the strategy for coping with those conditions will have to change.

“Everything here ties back to water and our ability to keep it,” said Scott Lowe, associate professor in the Department of Economics at Boise State University and director of the Environmental Studies Program.

“This nexus of water, energy, agriculture … we have an understanding of it, but people in the Treasure Valley don’t realize to what extent it’s intertwined,” Lowe said.

Nobody does, sir. Nobody does. November 7:

When it comes to confronting the troublesome facts of climate change, Idaho’s farmers aren’t alone. All over on Earth, we’re waking up to the realization that that the tab for a century-long binge on fossil-fuels is coming due. Whether they’re monocropping food factories in the corn belt or sharecropping peasants in nations like Bangladesh, agriculturists are discovering that the predictable seasons and stable regional environments that made productive farming possible are being compromised — often enough to trigger crop failures or drastically reduced yields — by the consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.

To prepare for the coming decades of increased climatic instability, we need arguments; we need a vigorous public discussion of coping strategies, risk assessment, and scientific findings. But we don’t need any more arguments about the existence, causes, and harmful potentials of climate change; that subject is as settled as (for example) the link between smoking and cancer.

The oil and coal industries still supporting climate-deniers in our media and politics do not have the best interests of our species at heart; they sacrifice our collective future at the altar of profit.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 19: Too Soon Old And Too Late Smart

The Peoria (IL) Journal-Star discusses a recent study by scientists from Arizona, on the impact of climate change on the “corn belt.” Hmmm…not so encouraging:


The Corn Belt may be in trouble as the planet gets warmer, according to a decadelong research effort on climate change.

The study, published this week by a team at Northern Arizona University, shows that plants may thrive in the early stages of a warming environment but begin to deteriorate quickly.

Researchers found that long-term warming resulted in the loss of native species and encroachment of species typical of warmer environments, pushing the plant community toward less productive species, said Bruce Hungate, a Northern Arizona professor and a senior author of the study.

“Ecosystems have feedbacks. The initial response might not be the long term one,” he said.

Squirrel! Sent April 10:

The key word in any discussion of the Northern Arizona University study of plant survival in a transformed climate is “long-term.” For the past century, our civilization has steadily lost the ability to imagine a future more than a few years away. With the support of a complaisant media, our civilization has built a 24-hour news cycle and a fashion-driven consumer economy that is entirely dependent on the predictability and dependability of our food supply. Since scientists’ predictions have consistently underestimated the severity of climate change, it’s a fair bet that our agricultural infrastructure is far more vulnerable than any of us ever believed.

With enormous industrialized monocropping, we have accomplished prodigies of predictability and productivity — but lost our ability to think in the long temporal cycles that governed agriculture until the advent of chemical fertilizers and giant factory farms. To survive and prosper in the coming centuries, our species must reclaim this wisdom before it’s too late.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 22: Factory Farms Are Not Going to Last Much Longer

The Spokane Register-Guard (WA) runs the same AP article on the new study of climate change and farming.

This time I went with the biodiversity theme. Sent May 11:

The past half-century saw farmers all over the world devoting more of their resources to monocrops, seeking greater profitability through economies of scale. Now, however, as the specter of climate change looms ever larger, it appears that we will need to reclaim the benefits of biodiversity. Single-crop farming is a sure thing only when the local and regional weather is entirely consistent from year to year. Since even relatively minor fluctuations can have huge impacts on crop yields, it’s no wonder that careful studies of the likely impact of climate change are essential if our agricultural sector is to survive and prosper. It is a sad commentary on our contemporary political situation that so many of our legally elected representatives are unwilling to face the bare and unambiguous facts of climate change; denial of reality is a bad long-term strategy, as any farmer can tell you.

Warren Senders