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How bad does it have to get?

Written By: - Date published: 9:23 am, March 5th, 2013 - 62 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, food - Tags: , ,

A new Australian report has coined the phrase “angry summer“:

Angry Summer’ made worse by climate change: Commission

The latest report from the Federal Government’s Climate Commission says the weather extremes experienced around the country this summer were made worse by climate change.

The report – The Angry Summer – says the extreme heat, floods and bushfires experienced around country were all aggravated by a shifting climate, and it warns the trend is likely to continue.

More details here and here. It’s no coincidence that the same thing has been happening in America:

Historic U.S. drought will continue into spring and summer, experts say

Nearly five months after expanding to cover the greatest area on record, the devastating drought of 2012 continues to spread woe across the central and western U.S. And, according to climate researchers, severely dry conditions will persist throughout the spring and summer.

Meanwhile in NZ

Counting cost of big dry

The big dry has parts of the country firmly in its grip. The president of Federated Farmers in Waikato fears the drought could have an even greater economic impact than those in 2007 and 2008 – estimated to have cost the country $2.8 billion.

Internationally the trend is all bad, and likely to get worse. According to the World Bank it is already the case that “Severe Droughts Drive Food Prices Higher, Threatening the Poor“.

Agriculture – food – is fragile. I suppose at some point we will decide to take action against climate change (though it is already too late to avoid massive damage). But when? How bad does it have to get?

62 comments on “How bad does it have to get?”

  1. vto 1

    There is no drought in NZ, there is standard summer weather pattern in an el nino cycle.

    Drought is relative to what farming has done to the new zealand land in ripping off the ground cover of bush.

    In evidence, go see whether there is a drought in the Waipouau Forest, or any other block of native bush in Northland. Betcha the flora dn fauna is fine (not in drought death throes).

    I think it is a case of we reap what we sow.

    • infused 1.1

      Pretty much.

      Worst weather since when? Always some date, which means it’s happened before. /end.

    • felixviper 1.2

      Quite literally.

      How come these same tories who bang on about ‘living within our means’ seem to think that doesn’t apply to the land water and air?

    • Colonial Weka 1.3

      +1 vto.

      We still need to take action about CC.

      And we need to change our food production practices while we still can. The reason weather is being classified as a drought in Northland is because of the industrial farming model (esp dairy). Plenty of people in the world grow food successfully in places a lot drier than Northland is currently (but of course this isn’t about growing food, it’s about strip mining fertility to make excess profit).

      • Colonial Weka 1.3.1

        I would add though, that I have seen plants in native bush dry stressed in bad years. Not so bad that trees die, but still very dry. Native ecosystems are at risk from CC, and we should be paying attention to that – if we start losing those most robust ecosystems, we are deep, deep shit.

        Plant more trees!!

      • Ennui in Requiem 1.3.2

        Been observing the Southern Oscillation (La Nina and El Nino) for years: this drought does fit within the El Nino characteristics of more rain in the west and drought in the east. Where the last few months have seemed unusual is that we have had (in Wellington) dry southerlies and easterlies as opposed to the normal westerly pattern. That in itself strikes me as abnormal, best leave it to NIWA to work out though.

        With soil moisture VTO comments that the bush does tend to retain moisture better, as you would expect from shading and a lack of human drainage interference. From the hours I spend in the bush (daily) it is as dry as tinder, it is only that the trees are well rooted that is keeping them alive (so I don’t agree that this is a normal state of affairs: lets just say the bush has adapted to cope with this occasionally). The issue we have is that it may no longer be “occasionally”.

        With regard to land use practices NZ farmers might best be described as grass miners. The trend is to go rip shit and bust with what ever will yield the best returns, which is currently dairy. As a consequence land that is unsuitable for cows gets “converted” with all the energy and petrochemical based inputs, water is also “mined”. The end result is the whole economic model predicated on high capital inputs is vulnerable to any input variance, such as a cost blow out in fertiliser prices or a lack of rainfall. This is balance sheet farming as opposed to sustainable / suitable land use.

        Don’t be too hard on the farmers: We too reflect their capture within a paradigm that is past its use by date. Their export receipts and infrastructural support industries pay a chunk of the cash and wages we see, and we in turn use it to buy SUVs and drive to the Warehouse. Our consumption generates the industries that put the carbon in the air that causes the droughts……

        • Anne 1.3.2.1

          we have had (in Wellington) dry southerlies and easterlies as opposed to the normal westerly pattern. That in itself strikes me as abnormal, best leave it to NIWA to work out though.

          It is abnormal. It is also correct to say the overall weather fits into the normal El Nino pattern, but the outcome of this El Nino is anything but normal. And because of CC it can be reliably assumed it’s going to happen more and more frequently. It stands to reason that ‘extreme weather’ is going to be just as likely under intensive, slow moving anticyclones as it is under low pressure cyclonic conditions.

          Labour, presently, is not giving Climate Change anything like the priority it demands. It seems they have also put it in the too hard basket and then buried their heads in the sand.

          Not brave enough to face facts or too busy playing politics with the facts? Take your pick.

    • jo 1.4

      I am in Nz in Auckland. There has been no rain in “rainy” auckland for 3 months now and the grass everywhere looks like yellow straw. I have lived here 10 years and it used to be humid and tropical and rain every day. It is like this all over the country this year. It is scary. Also a new player that I have noticed particularly in the last year is the constant wind as I walk quite a lot. The wind is very uncomfortable, dries out the skin, and goes away completely at night. Very eerie if you ask me.

      • Anne 1.4.1

        Nothing abnormal about the wind jo. Quite usual for the wind to die down overnight especially in summer-time anti-cyclones. What you are experiencing during the day is a fresh to strong sea breeze caused by the difference in temperature between the heat of the land and the relative coolness of the sea. At night as the land cools down the difference between the two narrows and the wind dies away.

  2. muzza 2

    No worries though, NZ has signed a food safety standards *deal* with the USA, so the FDA (Monsanto), can now further experiment on NZ, with their brands of GMO crops, foodstuffs etc, all rather convenient , the cross over of FDA/Monsanto executive eh!

    As for food prices, perhaps you might take a look at the commodities futures markets to see where the real problem there are, R0B! You think those who control the markets, and prices of food, oil etc give a toss about the poor, or anyone else, they despise humanity, which is why they are wrecking environments, seemingly carte blanche!

    Geo-engineering – Yeah its happening, no its not a secret, no sweat R0b, the action you’re looking for is already being taken, its just that people want to blow it off as conspiracy etc, and its not going to have the outcomes we would all like to see.

    So while people scratch around trying to understand when *action* on CC will happen, its already being done to you, its just that people can’t get their heads around it, because its not the solutions which they might consider *acceptable*!

  3. karol 3

    Very good post, Anthony. Yes, the droughts are very worrying.

    It’s been a very good Auckland summer for urban living, but the long term trend, and the impact on food production is very worrying.

    • kiwi_prometheus 3.1

      “It’s been a very good Auckland summer for urban living,”

      You are obviously not a gardener.

      • karol 3.1.1

        Actually, I am a novice gardener, with a small vege garden and collaboration with my landlord, also a novice. Requires much watering right now.

    • klem 3.2

      It better worry you, you live on a small island, you are much more vulnerable than the rest of the world. I live in N America, it does not worry me in the least.

  4. kiwi_prometheus 4

    ” How bad does it have to get?”

    Balls out all the way.

    Evolution hasn’t designed us to think that far head or that laterally.

    • Lanthanide 4.1

      Evolution hasn’t “designed” us for anything at all. Evolution does not have agency.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.2

      Well, it may not have designed you to be that capable but some of the rest of us are.

      • muzza 4.2.1

        Actually B, *evolution*, is what has rendered entire nations helpless to the systems which now dominate them, and the worlds people.

        So are the *rest of us* capable, I would sugegst not, because *the rest of us*, have not yet stopped the evil!

      • kiwi_prometheus 4.2.2

        You are missing the point.

        COLLECTIVELY humans don’t think that far ahead.

        Like the OP pointed out, we are already fucked, its just a question of how much?

        By the time humanity’s collective arse hole is really feeling the burn it will be game over anyway because of the cumulative/delay nature of CO2 in the atmosphere.

        • Colonial Weka 4.2.2.1

          “COLLECTIVELY humans don’t think that far ahead.”

          Some humans do.

          “In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”

          http://www.indigenouspeople.net/iroqcon.htm

          • kiwi_prometheus 4.2.2.1.1

            Still missing the point.

            It doesn’t matter if some humans do. If the rest aren’t interested the earth cooks, and they aren’t interested.

            Why? Because humans have evolved to satisfy immediate needs and wants. The earth is littered with dead civilisations that collapsed after using up their resources.

            • Colonial Weka 4.2.2.1.1.1

              I was just correcting your assertion that humans are not evolved to think ahead.

              ” The earth is littered with dead civilisations that collapsed after using up their resources.”

              And other peoples that have survived very long periods of time. What’s the difference?

        • Colonial Weka 4.2.2.2

          “COLLECTIVELY humans don’t think that far ahead.”

          Some humans do.

          “In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”

          http://www.indigenouspeople.net/iroqcon.htm

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability

        • Ugly Truth 4.2.2.3

          “COLLECTIVELY humans don’t think that far ahead.”

          The main problem with humans (i.e. Cicero’s homo humanus) is that they think that they are the be-all and end-all of mankind. It’s just Roman universalism at work.

  5. kiwi_prometheus 5

    Nature article on how annual precipitation may stay the same in a region but become more unevenly distributed over the seasons making for more floods and droughts.

    “Although the magnitude of the shift is uncertain, largely owing to limitations inherent in the data sets used, the sign of the tendency is robust. On a regional scale, the tendency for wet seasons to get wetter occurs over climatologically rainier regions. Similarly, the tendency for dry season to get drier is seen in drier regions. Even if the total amount of annual rainfall does not change significantly, the enhancement in the seasonal precipitation cycle could have marked consequences for the frequency of droughts and floods.”

    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo1744.html

  6. ianmac 6

    Over 2007-8 there was a serious drought in NZ which precipitated the early fall into the Global Recession for NZ. However the National line then was to deny that as a cause and claimed Mismanagement as a cause. What goes around comes around? This drought is likely to cause an economic downturn now isn’t it? (A bit like the call about all those people heading to Australia being a bad thing and blaming the Labour Government of the day then Next Minit…)

    • Lanthanide 6.1

      Yip. Wondering if this will finally be enough for RB to drop interest rates.

      • Ennui in Requiem 6.1.1

        Which sums up the problem nicely Lanth, money money money, we care more for interest rates than the planet we have to live on.

        Best to imagine a huge stack of cash which you can just take from at will, buy a Porsche, but because of environmental issues (related to the production of Porsches etc) absolutely no food available to buy. Enjoy the ride.

  7. RedLogix 7

    A worthwhile read in conjunction with this post.

    The apocalypse: Here’s the thing, though. It’s difficult to organize for or even against a future that you can’t imagine yourself and those children and future generations in. The thought of world-ending events may simply close down our operative imaginations. The end of the world may be popular in fiction, but in everyday life, I suspect, the apocalypse is the version of the future that it’s hardest to mobilize around. If the prospect is that it’s already hopeless, that the suffering is going to be largely down the line, that we’re all going down anyway, and the planet will simply be destroyed, well, why bother? Why not focus on what matters to you now and forget the rest? This is where denial, the almost involuntary turning away from unpalatable futures that seem beyond our power or ability to alter, comes into play. If the future is essentially over before it begins, then better to ignore it and go about your still palatable enough daily life.

    • Ennui in Requiem 7.1

      There is a theory that the death of a few million Amazonian natives post the Columbus introduced epidemics resulted in massive reforestation in the Amazon basin: consequently the theory goes carbon sequestration lead to the freezing winters recorded in 16th century Europe.

      My own version of hope goes much the same: get rid of the people and the whole planet will grow so much carbon sequestering vegetation that climate change will be a blip in planetary time frames. Us, well we are likely finito.

      • Jenny 7.1.1

        If that is what you believe
        I don’t buy it
        This world would not be the same
        Without people to admire it

    • Rogue Trooper 7.2

      Right On!

  8. SpaceMonkey 8

    I can see it now… neolibs declaring a “War on the Weather”!!!

  9. Bill 9

    A problem with asking “How bad does it have to get?” is that the question assumes that what we see is the full extent of ‘what is’. Unfortunately, due to lag factors, the full extent of how bad things are is well beyond what we can observe directly.

    When they signed the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, governments declared they would use the best scientific knowledge to hold warming below +2 degrees C. They’ve reneged on that commitment and are now (at best) seeking to mitigate the effects of a supposed 2 degrees C increase while looking for ways to avoid a 4 degrees C increase.

    I’m not going to bang on about the effects of + 4 degrees C again.

    Suffice to say that things are much, much worse than they appear and that our governments got into bare faced lying. I think it’s time to stop framing questions the way this post does (as though our or any government is going to take some required action at some point), and seek ways in which we can hold our government fully to account for the b/s they have and are peddling. They need to be made to commit to fast and drastic cuts in carbon emmissions. And they need to relegate the importance of the economic effects, so that some type of ordered chaos has a chance to prevail as we come off (‘plummet away from’ might be a better phrase) our current emmissions trajectory .

  10. pollywog 10

    What can I, as one man, do?

  11. Athena 11

    GE is already being promoted as the solution to climate change related decreases in food production. Last year the rural papers were very excited about Mark Lynas apologising for ripping up GE crops. Any opposition to GE is portrayed as heartless and irrational, given that, apparently, GE drought resistant ryegrass is going to save the world.

    • Jenny 11.1

      Any opposition to GE is portrayed as heartless and irrational, given that, apparently, GE drought resistant ryegrass is going to save the world.

      Yay! The mad scientists save the day, allowing us to mine coal and frack for oil until the cows come home, to roost.

      And a new building material formed from asbestos safely embedded in pitchblende will allow us to start up the asbestos mines again.

  12. Jenny 12

    Now we know the problem. Here is the solution.

    Stop all coal mines: Coal has been identified as the single biggest causative factor in climate change.

    Stop all coal mines: Starting with stopping the proposed open cast coal mine at Mangatangi South of Auckland

    Stop all coal mines: At a time when we should be closing existing coal mines – one more new coal mine, is one more new coal mine too many.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      The world wants energy Jenny, and in particular it wants a lot of coal.

      • Jenny 12.1.1

        Sez who? You? The coal miners? The Coal companies? And why coal “in particular” even though it is the most deadliest of all the fossil fuels? (And the cheapest).

        • Colonial Viper 12.1.1.1

          Yeah I said. Just look at the global increase in coal consumption over the last 10 years.

          And why coal “in particular” even though it is the most deadliest of all the fossil fuels? (And the cheapest).

          Cheap upfront cost and low price volatility is part of the attraction. Supply stability is another. Chindia has been key to the global growth of coal consumption.

  13. Jenny 13

    How bad does it have to get? (before we decide to take action against climate change?)
    It is great Anthony that you have raised this problem in the way you have.

    Raising the problem means thinking about solutions.

    let’s talk some solutions.

    Coal has been identified as the number 1 biggest single causative factor in human induced climate change.

    NASA climate expert James Hansen says that to have any chance of reining in uncontrollable climate change, all coal mining must stop. And definitely no new coal mines must be allowed to start, period.

    This is incontrovertible.

    So Anthony will you be calling for Labour Party supporters to attend the public meeting in Mangatangi against the proposed new coal mine?

    Everyone is welcome to attend.

    WHEN: 7 pm, Thursday 7 March 2013

    WHERE: Mangatawhiri Hall, cnr of Mangatawhiri and McKenzie Roads, Mangatawhiri (directions below). See location on Google Maps.

    SPEAKERS & TOPICS:

    Dr Young Lee (to be confirmed) on international research into the health effects of coal mining in the local neighbourhood.
    Dr Jim Salinger on the role of coal in climate change and the expected effects of climate change on farming in New Zealand.
    Jeanette Fitzsimons on how to make a submission under the Resource Management Act on the proposed mine.

    Chair: Peter Young, JP

    DIRECTIONS FROM AUCKLAND:

    Head South on SH1 and turn off onto SH2 towards Tauranga and Coromandel. After about 5 minutes you reach the new section of SH2 where the speed limit goes up to 100. The old SH2 goes off to the left and is Mangatawhiri Rd.

    Veer left on to Mangatawhiri Rd and soon you pass the famous Icecream Castle on your left, the former cafe now closed because of road rerouting.

    • klem 13.1

      “Coal has been identified as the number 1 biggest single causative factor in human induced climate change.”

      Um, but they haven’t proved their case for human induced climate change yet. I think you’ve jumped the gun on that one dearie.

      cheeers

      • Draco T Bastard 13.1.1

        Um, but they haven’t proved their case for human induced climate change yet.

        It’s been proved to better than 90% probability. I’m expecting the next IPCC report to say 95% probability. Personally, I’d say that’s close enough to say that it’s proved beyond reasonable doubt and that we should be acting on it.

        • RJLC 13.1.1.1

          You are wasting your breath DTB. “Klem” has been directed to the evidence on numerous previous occasions. ‘Denier troll’ is a term that appears apt in his regard.

          • Arfamo 13.1.1.1.1

            What’s happening to Arctic sea ice and the increasing loss of mass to glaciers and ice shelves pretty much clinches it for me – if it continues. There’s no doubt the global temperatures been steadily increasing for the last 300 years and especially steeply in the last 30. And it’s generally accepted scientifically I think that this co-relates remarkably with human-related CO2 emission levels. I haven’t seen the latest annual temps so I’m still waiting to see if they break out of the 16 year levelling off the denialists claim has happened. The graphs show the steady rise is happeng over decadal scales. From year to year they go up and down but the median point on the graphs keeps shifting inexorably up. If the climatologists are right we should be at the point where we should be clearly seeing consistent weather pattern changes, and it seems like we are. I don’t think cyclones/hurricanes can be said to be occurring more than in the past yet though. They have natural 20-40 year cycles of frequency and severity.

  14. klem 14

    “Historic U.S. drought will continue into spring and summer, experts say..”

    Headlines like this always make me laugh. They forget to mention that the drought occurred in arid and semi-arid parts of the USA. They do the same thing for floods, they forget to mention that the floods took place on established floodplains.

    Droughts in arid regions and floods on floodplains are about as unusual as snow at the south pole. Neo-libbies fall for it every time. Lol!

    Oh well, what can you say.

    cheers

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