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Monday, December 30, 2013

Billion-Dollar-a-Year Program to Deceive Public About Global Warming Is Exposed

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Billion-Dollar-a-Year Program to Deceive Public About Global Warming Is Exposed

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A December 2013 academic article has documented how billionaires have made suckers of millions of people, to cause them to believe that global warming is a mere hoax, and to think that the oil companies' line on this matter is honest. 

This research, by Robert J. Brulle, was published in a leading climatological journal, Climate Change, and it reports that a small number of aristocrats have collectively spent, on average, a billion dollars a year, in order to fool the American public into thinking that climate change isn't happening, and that, even if it is, it's not caused by burning fossil fuels. These aristocrats control fossil fuels corporations, such as Koch Industries, and ExxonMobil, but their money for this mass-deception campaign is laundered through far-right-wing foundations they control, to think-tanks they control, which, in turn, buy professors to provide "authority" for these distortions and outright lies.  
That is why the reality (a graphical presentation of which can be seen at places such as   this ), though acknowledged by virtually all climatologists, is rejected, just disbelieved, by much of the public. 

Listed in order, with the largest listed first, the nine foundations that account for half of this total billion-dollar-a-year expenditure, are: Donors Trust, Scaife, Bradley, Koch, Howard, Pope, Searle, Dunn's, and Richardson. Their money is then further laundered, through the following eleven think-tanks, listed here also largest-first, which collectively account for a full two-thirds of this total billion-dollar-a-year propaganda campaign: American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Manhattan Institute, Cato Institute, Hudson Institute, Atlas Economic Research, Americans for Prosperity, John Locke Foundation, Heartland Institute, and Reason Foundation. They, in turn, pay professors and journalists to write, both for the "news media," and for professional journals, to debunk or (in the scholarly publications) to raise questions about, global warming or its cause -- questions that are no longer even questions among actual climate scientists.

This study, titled  "Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations,"  reports that all of this money is spent "on maintaining a field frame that justifies unlimited use of fossil fuels by attempting to delegitimate the science that supports the necessity of mandatory limits on carbon emissions. To accomplish this goal in the face of  massive scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change  [which is documented in that link] has meant the development of an active campaign to manipulate and mislead the public over the nature of climate science and the threat posed by climate change." Furthermore, "The available data indicates that the Koch and ExxonMobil Foundations have recently pulled back from funding" it. Whereas, "from 2003 to 2007, the Koch Affiliated Foundations and the ExxonMobil Foundation were heavily involved in funding" it, that changed, and, "since 2008, they are no longer making publicly traceable contributions" to this propaganda, because their "funding has shifted to pass-through untraceable sources," especially "Donors Trust," whose reason for existence is to enable extremely wealthy individuals and corporations to fund their propaganda campaigns anonymously and untraceably.

Whereas a billion dollars a year might sound like a lot, the net profits of even just the single petroleum-producer, ExxonMobil, were $44 billion last year; so, this mass-deception campaign is actually a small but enormously productive investment for these aristocrats, to keep their billions coming. They don't care that they are destroying this planet. As the head of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, told his stockholders on May 29th,  cajolling  the few resisters there to go along with it:

"What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers? ... We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 [parts per billion atmospheric carbon] outcome that is not devastating to economies, societies and peoples' health and well-being around the world. ... You cannot get there. ... So the real question is: Do you want to keep arguing about that and pursuing something that cannot be achieved at costs that will be detrimental? Or do you want to talk about what's the path we should be on and how do we mitigate and prepare for the consequences as they present themselves?"

They have delayed the start of what must be done to "save the planet," so late that probably salvaging the planet (its biosphere) can no longer even be done any longer. And they want to delay it still longer, for as long as they can, so as to keep fossil-fuel sales high -- the planet be damned, as far as they care about it.

Tillerson gets paid  more than $40 million per year, but he still doesn't get paid enough to satisfy him . These people, it seems, are insatiable.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Climate Impacts Poised to Decimate Human and Earth Systems, says Leaked IPCC Draft

Leaked draft of UN panel's global review of future impacts from global warming predicts system break-downs across the board

- Jon Queally, staff writer 

The leaked draft paints a bleak vision of the world if mitigation efforts are not dramatically increased and emission reduction targets met. (Photo: Shutterstock)

 A draft of a global scientific review on how human and natural systems are expected to respond to the growing threat of climate change has been leaked and its contents—though not wholly unexpected to those who have followed climate science news in recent years—are nonetheless both alarming and devastating.

Titled, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, the leaked document is the draft version of the second installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest review of the global scientific consensus on the global warming and climate change.

The IPCC's first installment, released in September, focused on assessing the global scientific community's combined research on the causes, pace, and evidence of planetary climate change. As the title of the leaked draft suggests, the next installment takes a more focused looked at the way the projected climate impacts will play on a variety of the Earth's systems both in the natural world, including the oceans and natural habitats, and those, like agricultural and economic systems, built by human society.

Focusing on what the draft report says about the future of world agriculture and food security, the New York Times reports:
On the food supply, the new report finds [...] that over all, global warming could reduce agricultural production by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century.
During that period, demand is expected to rise as much as 14 percent each decade, the report found, as the world population is projected to grow to 9.6 billion in 2050, from 7.2 billion today, according to the United Nations, and as many of those people in developing countries acquire the money to eat richer diets.
Any shortfall would lead to rising food prices that would hit the world’s poor hardest, as has already occurred from price increases of recent years. Research has found that climate change, particularly severe heat waves, was a factor in those price spikes.
The agricultural risks “are greatest for tropical countries, given projected impacts that exceed adaptive capacity and higher poverty rates compared with temperate regions,” the draft report finds.
Asked by the New York Times, IPCC spokesperson Jonathan Lynn did not dispute the authenticity of the document, but emphasized that it was a "draft" still under review and said, “It’s likely to change.”
This is not the first time that drafts of the IPCC's work have been released without authorization, but many simply acknowledge that the review process—which includes assessments and input from hundreds of scientists and experts working in dozens of countries around the world—makes leaks nearly impossible to avoid.
The report on climate impacts looked specifically at how climate change will impact a range of areas, including fresh and salt water ecosystems, food production and agriculture, economic sectors, human health, conflict and security scenarios, and the interplay of these overlapping dynamics.
Offered with varying degrees of scientific consensus and confidence, what follows is a partial list of the key impacts of climate change contained in the leaked IPCC draft assessment:
  • Climate change will reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions, exacerbating competition for water among sectors
  • A large fraction of terrestrial and freshwater species faces increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century, especially as climate change interacts with other pressures, such as habitat modification, over-exploitation, pollution, and invasive species
  • Due to sea-level rise throughout the 21st century and beyond, coastal systems and low-lying areas will increasingly experience adverse impacts such as submergence, coastal flooding, and coastal erosion
  • By 2100, due to climate change and development patterns and without adaptation, hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding and displaced due to land loss
  • Ocean acidification poses risks to ecosystems, especially polar ecosystems and coral reefs, associated with impacts on the physiology, behavior, and population dynamics of individual species
  • Without adaptation, local temperature increases of 1°C or more above preindustrial levels are projected to negatively impact yields for the major crops (wheat, rice, and maize) in tropical and temperate regions, although individual locations may benefit
  • Heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, and drought and water scarcity pose risks in urban areas for people, assets, economies, and ecosystems, with risks amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in exposed areas
  • Major future rural impacts will be felt in the near-term and beyond through impacts on water supply, food security, and agricultural incomes, including shifts in production of food and non-food crops in many areas of the world
  • Global mean temperature increase of 2.5°C above preindustrial levels may lead to global aggregate economic losses between 0.2 and 2.0% of income
  • Until mid-century, climate change will impact human health mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist (very high confidence), and climate change throughout the 21st century will lead to increases in ill-health in many regions, as compared to a baseline without climate change
  • Climate change indirectly increases risks from violent conflict in the form of civil war, inter-group violence, and violent protests by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks
  • Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security, and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger
The complete version of the leaked draft follows:
[LEAKED DRAFT*] IPCC: Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2047: The Year the World Hits 'Climate Departure'

'Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past,' says lead research of new study


- Andrea Germanos, staff writer 

(Image: University of Hawaii/Abby Frazier)

If global warming continues its trajectory, the year average temperatures surpass historical norms is just over a few decades away, bringing huge threats to global biodiversity, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii, Manoa created an index based on 39 climate models used in a dozen countries, and compared that data to the extreme records from 1860 through 2005.

“We looked at the minimum and maximum values that occurred in that 150-year window and that’s how we set our bounds of recent historical variability,” explained Ryan Longman, a doctoral student who worked on the analysis.

The researchers were then able to come up with the "year of climate departure," and found that the worldwide average for that date was 2047, meaning that after year after that point will be as warm or warmer. In other words, it's the date "when the old maximum average temperatures become the new minimum temperatures."

"The results shocked us," Camilo Mora, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon. Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past."
In 2047, Washington, DC and New York City will see temperatures exceeding historical norms.  In Mexico City, that date could come as soon as 2031.  For Kingston, Jamaica, it's just 10 years away. (You can see more of the findings in this map.)

While the Arctic and Antarctic have been the subject numerous reports on the effects of climate change, the new study, shows how small temperature changes in the Tropics could have massive impacts.

The Smithsonian's Surprising Science blog explains:

Because the tropics have less variability in temperature to start with, it takes less of a shift to push temperatures there beyond the norm. On the other hand, temperatures will indeed surge most in the Arctic and Antarctic, but there’s already more natural climate variability at those locales to begin with.
This is a huge concern, because wildlife biodiversity is consistently highest at the tropics, and most of the world’s biodiversity hotspots are located there (tropical rainforests, for instance, are estimated to cover less than 2 percent of the Earth’s surface area yet contain roughly 50 percent of its plant and animal species). If, historically, these ecosystems evolved in the presence of relatively little climatic biodiversity, it follows that they might be less capable of coping with swings in temperature and adapting to survive.

"Extinctions are likely to result," warned Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology.  Caldeira, who was not involved in the study, added that "Some ecosystems may be able to adapt, but for others, such as coral reefs, complete loss of not only individual species but their entire integrity is likely."

In addition, the study found that oceans already passed their historical extremes in acidification in 2008.

"Scientists have repeatedly warned about climate change and its likely effects on biodiversity and people," said Mora. "Our study shows that such changes are already upon us."

Still, Mora is hopeful that the findings can be a catalyst for change.

"These results should not be reason to give up. Rather, they should encourage us to reduce emissions and slow the rate of climate change," stated Mora. "This can buy time for species, ecosystems, and ourselves to adapt to the coming changes."

The study found that under an "emissions stabilization scenario," the "year of climate departure" could be pushed back—to 2069.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Relentless Melt

  Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice    

Relentless Melt

Greenland, July 2012

Remarkably, from July 8, when 40% of the melt had already occurred, to July 12, four days later, 97% of the island’s surface ice had thawed into slush. Most of the thaw occurred in a scant four days time! Son Nghiem of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA explained, “This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: Was this real or was it due to a data error?1
Meanwhile, as of September 2013, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is readying their 5th Assessment Report (AR5), but regardless of what it says about whether global warming is increasing, decreasing, or staying about the same, the entire planet is involved in a common phenomenon – relentless ice melt, which continues increasing year-after-year-after-year. The ice is melting, and the evidence is everywhere to see.
Ice melt is happening all across the planet from Antarctica, to the Andes, to Alaska, to the Arctic (loss of 40% of mass, so far), to Siberia, to the Alps, to the Tibetan Plateau and on it goes around the world as it melts like there is no tomorrow, and there may not be a tomorrow for coastal cities like Miami, as well as for billions of people who depend upon glaciers for crop irrigation (like China 80% and India 60%), drinking water, and commercial waterways, like the Rhone River. This, of course, ignores the fate of Alpine skiing, which is a separate topic from the survival of humanity.
Speaking of which, the iconic Chacaltaya Ski Resort in Peru (Est. 1938), the world’s highest ski area at 17,785 ft. and higher than the Mt. Everest base camp, is permanently closed. The glacier is gone.
Similarly, the enormous glacier immediately below Mt. Everest that George Mallory photographed in 1921 has completely disappeared. It is gone forever.
Ice is melting faster and faster (the rate of melt is speeding up almost every year) across the world, and it threatens the survival of civilization. The worst-case consequences, other than a huge abrupt rise in sea level as the result of a “tipping point,” would most likely result in food panic, political unrest, and ground wars.
The culprit behind this threat is the burning of fossil fuels to power the world’s economy. But, in the final analysis, with a disharmonious outcome, the world’s economy may change in a big way by reverting to a Paleolithic economy like the hunter-gatherer societies around 500,000 B.C. This is what happens when convenience stores run out of food.
This would not be likely if not for the burning of fossil fuels, and of course, there are disparate theories about the causes behind global warming, but common sense science points the accusing finger at humans. Here’s the reason why: The ice melt and increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere (caused by burning fossil fuels) are working in tandem. Today, CO2 levels at 400 ppm are the highest in millions of years whilst scooting ever-upwards in concert with similar loss of ice mass, which, as well, has accelerated over the past few decades. The two are on a parallel pathway of one increasing as the other decreases.

South American Water Supplies Threatened

In the high altitudes of South America 1,600 years of ice formation melts in 25 years according to a recent scientific study, which found extraordinarily large portions of the Quelccaya Ice Cap melting away in just 25 years. Quelccaya is the world’s largest tropical ice sheet and located in the Peruvian Andes.2
Meredith A. Kelly, glacial geomorphologist, Dartmouth College calculates the current melting at Quelccaya at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record books since the end of the last ice age.
“Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there.”3


Alaskan Water Supply Challenged

Moreover, researchers at the University of Alaska Southeast are currently investigating an ancient forest (more than 1,000 years old), which was suddenly exposed under the melting Mendenhall Glacier, which flows into a lake near Juneau. The Mendenhall Glacier is retreating at an average rate of 170 feet per year, ever since 2005.
As well, authorities in Alaska have expressed concern as Anchorage, the state’s most populated city, relies entirely upon the retreating Eklutna Glacier for drinking water. According to a USGS study: “… the Eklutna Glacier has retreated dramatically over the last 50 years… already altered the density-driven stratification of the lake with implications for water treatment and reservoir volume.”4
Who would’ve ever guessed a city in Alaska (Yes, Alaska!) the land of ice, snow, and the great outdoors, would succumb to concerns over water sources?

Switzerland: Land of Glaciers

“The glaciers are kind of a direct signal of climate change,” claims Samuel Nussbaumer, a scientist with the World Glacier Monitoring Service at University of Zurich in an article.5
According to a study by the European Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation, from 2000 to 2010, the Alpine glaciers on average lost more than 3.25 feet of thickness per year. Nussbaumer says the rate of shrinkage is increasing by the year, and he says rising temperatures are the main explanation. “These ice giants could disappear literally in the space of a human lifetime, or even less,” according to Sergio Savoia of the WWF’s Alpine office.
The Alpine glaciers serve as Europe’s water tower, similar to how the Tibetan Plateau, the “Third Pole,” serves as the water tower for India and China and neighboring countries (Chinese scientists report significant measured glacial melting over the past 30 years). As well, the glaciers feed our big, commercial rivers like the Rhone, Po, and the Danube.
The famous Morteratsch Glacier is one of Switzerland’s tourists’ attractions. Ursula Reis, a 73-year-old from Zurich, has been visiting the big glacier every year since 1953, and she says: “I have seen the shrinkage. It’s amazing and frightening at the same time.”

Antarctica: 85% of the World’s Ice

Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica is of utmost interest to the world of climate scientists because it has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea than any other ice drainage basin in the world.
For decades, Pine Island Glacier was considered too dangerous and too remote to explore, but a resolute team of scientists finally accomplished this task in 2012-13. The glacier is the biggest source of uncertainty in global sea level projections, according to Martin Truffer, professor of physics, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, “I think it is fair to say that the largest potential sea level rise signal in the next century is going to come from this area.”
Pine Island Glacier research, as of September 2013, has now detailed ice melt below the massive Pine Island Glacier, conducted by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Department of Oceanography, Monterey, California. NPS worked in tandem with Penn State University, NASA, the British Antarctic Survey, and New York University to understand what is happening beneath the gigantic glacier, a 37-mile long ice tongue.
For the first time ever, scientists now have detailed analysis, published in the journal of Science on September 13, 2013: “This is the first observation of the actual melt rate underneath the ice shelf,” according to Timothy Stanton, oceanographer at NPS, “…these are actual in situ measurements.”
The measured melt rate is as high as 2.36 inches per day or about 72 feet per year in the middle of the channels. Additionally, the scientists calculate that the melting at the “grounding line” doubles to approximately 144 feet per year.
The researchers used hot-water drills to penetrate the 1,460-foot thick ice shelf and lowered oceanographic instruments. They discovered warm ocean water is eating away at the underside of the ice shelf.
Along these lines, over 3,000 Argo Floats in the ocean around the world measure the ocean’s portion of the total heat content of the planet. Remarkably, the ocean has been absorbing 90% of Earth’s heat content over the past few decades.
In turn, a warming ocean leads to a thinning of the ice shelf. The question remains, how long will the Pine Island Glacier remain relatively stable, but if it does not, one day in the distant future, coastal cities will need to build dykes.

U.S. Position on Climate Change

It is a fair statement that only the world’s major governments have the muscle to do something about the threat of climate change because Tuvalu (9 square miles), Seychelles (107 sq. miles), and Malta (122 sq. miles) combined couldn’t round up enough muscle to do any more than a colony of ants attempting to tackle Mount Everest, but they’ll be the first to suffer the consequences of no action. As such, the U.S. and the EU are the logical leaders to do something constructive to help prevent global warming’s relentless melt.
Yet, unless your living in a cave, you must be aware of the right-wing politicized effort in America to disparage any efforts to arrest human-caused climate change. Ruthlessly, the denial crowd goes after anybody who stands out in favor of fixing the broken climate. And, this, therefore, begs the big question of: Why?
Seemingly, the answer is very simple. It’s a matter of money and fossil fuel interests. But, maybe the rationale goes deeper than that.
In this regard, by opposing mandatory cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, all stripes of conservatives can agree, uniting social conservatives, moderate conservatives, plain conservatives, libertarians, and tea partiers. As such, even though the maxim “ agree to disagree” may define the art of politics, this solid base of opposition to fixing climate change is a common issue that glues together the functionality of their political party apparatus.
For example, libertarians tend to have a lot of differences with conservatives on issues like immigration and war, but when it comes to climate change, if there are differences, they are not nearly as pronounced. Thus, the rallying cry around denial of human-caused climate change binds together the roughshod elements.
Along these lines, denial of human-caused climate change serves to hold together otherwise disparate elements, but still, there must be more substance behind the right wing’s overt hatred of environmentalists.
Another answer is found psychologically, where there is a case to be made that ‘strength’ has always been a proxy for the ability to defend or acquire resources. Along these lines, researchers at Aarhus University, Denmark studied data on bicep size, upper-body strength and political views in America, Argentina, and in Denmark. Results: Weaker men support welfare causes whereas in all three countries the strong men support self-interests over welfare programs. As such, caring for the climate is altruistic behavior, and maybe this helps explain why so many climate change deniers look like deniers.
And, at the risk stepping into a minefield of controversy, academics in Canada conducted analyses, published in Psychological Science, of more than 15,000 people and found that right-wing views make the less intelligent feel safe (think about the enormous very large constituency at hand.) The authors claim that conservative politics are part of a complex relationship that leads people to prejudices, and they feel safe with the status quo as represented by conservative views. Therefore, by extension, denying the advocates of climate change solidifies the party faithful (voters) similar to how it cements together the disparate elements of the party officeholders.
Thus, from the voters in the streets to the legislators in Congress, denial of human-caused climate change serves to cement together the entire Republican Party apparatus. Therefore, even though moneyed interests is at the core of the climate change issue, the very survival of many disparate political elements, conjoined under the Republican umbrella, is more a function of a common enemy that threatens to change America than anything else. And, as mentioned previously, people of a certain intelligence quotient are prone to buy into the politics of resisting change. And, the biggest, loudest common denominator they fight is the outcry by “naïve, baited environmentalists” who want to change from fossil fuels to renewables. That’s one big change!
As such, the battle lines have been rigidly formed regardless of how much ice melts around the world and no matter how ‘milquetoast’ the upcoming IPCC AR5 report is characterized by the right wing. The public outcry of greens versus the stealth of dirty fossil fuel money is deadlocked in a relentless battle until the waters either overwhelm NYC or recede for good.
As such, based upon simple observation, and if the glaciers and the ice sheets are the odds-makers, then the odds are 100-to-1 that NYC should start planning to build dykes.
  1. Source: National Geographic News, July 25, 2012. []
  2. Source: L.G.Thompson, et al., Annually Resolved Ice Core Records of Tropical Climate Variability Over the Past ~ 1800 Years, Science, Vol. 340, no. 6135, May 24, 2013. []
  3. Justin Gillis, In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years, New York Times, April 4, 2013. []
  4. The Diminishing Role of Glacier Runoff into Eklutna Lake; Potential Impacts of Hydropower and Water Supply for the Municipality of Anchorage, State Water Resources Research Institute Program, Alaska, Principal Investigator: Michael Gregg Loso, 2009-2010. []
  5. Nina Larson, Trail of Melting Swiss Glacier Shows Climate Change in Action, Phys.Org, September 20, 2013. []
Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Top Climate Scientist: Today’s Leaders Will ‘Determine the Fate of Humanity’


Published on Thursday, September 19, 2013 by The Progressive

(Photo: National Geographic)
New research co-authored by leading U.S. climate scientist James Hansen, a longtime employee of NASA who recently resigned to engage in climate activism, paints a grim picture of a future Earth left virtually uninhabitable by current warming trends. The paper, published Monday, concludes that energy-related decisions being made by today’s government leaders will ultimately “determine the fate of humanity.”
Hansen’s paper, authored with several former NASA colleagues, warns that Earth’s climate-regulating systems may be more sensitive to higher levels of carbon than scientists previously suspected. They also calculated the atmospheric changes that would be produced by burning off the estimated stock of Earth’s fossil fuel reserves, finding that it would result in a planetary apocalypse.
“Burning all fossil fuels, we conclude, would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans, thus calling into question strategies that emphasize adaptation to climate change,” they write. Such a scenario, with average temperatures rising 16 degrees Celsius on land and 30 degrees Celsius at the poles, would leave just a fraction of humanity clinging to life atop Earth’s highest ridges, Hansen et. al. predict.
Climate denialists have in recent months seized upon a strategy of downplaying the likelihood of climate-driven mass extinctions within the next 50-100 years, urging government officials to instead adopt policies that aim to help humanity adapt to climate change -- which they claim will be less than 2 degrees Celsius, bringing about unforeseen benefits.
By comparison, the World Bank warned last year that a rise of just 4 degrees Celsius is looking almost inevitable on our current track. Such a change would cause widespread famine, droughts, intensifying storm systems and mass population movements across dozens of developing nations as resources dwindle and coastlines are increasingly swallowed up by rising seas.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim also warned in an advisory that a change of just 2 degrees Celsius, which many scientists believe to be unavoidable in the next 20-30 years, “will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat waves, and more intense cyclones.”
Hansen’s report comes at a crucial time for global climate negotiators too, who are anticipating the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment of warming trends, set to be released later this month. Drafts of the report have already leaked to key climate skeptics, who’ve had a run of the mainstream media narrative on the matter in recent weeks. Hansen, however, pays little mind to the deniers and concludes his latest study with forceful clarity.
“If fossil fuels were made to pay their costs to society, costs of pollution and climate change, carbon-free alternatives might supplant fossil fuels over a period of decades,” Hansen et. al write. “However, if governments force the public to bear the external costs and even subsidize fossil fuels, carbon emissions are likely to continue to grow, with deleterious consequences for young people and future generations.”
“It seems implausible that humanity will not alter its energy course as consequences of burning all fossil fuels become clearer,” the study concludes. “Yet strong evidence about the dangers of human-made climate change have so far had little effect. Whether governments continue to be so foolhardy as to allow or encourage development of all fossil fuels may determine the fate of humanity.”
Hansen did not respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

'Five Minutes to Midnight' as Climate Change Endgame Threatens

Irreversible sea level rise, mass species extinction just around the corner unless immediate action is taken, warns UN

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer 
UN climate chief Rajendra Pachauri at 2012 COP18 conference (Screenshot / Responding to Climate Change)

The world is running out of time—and fast—to take action on climate change UN climate chief Rajendra Pachauri warned this week, stating, "We have five minutes before midnight."

The warning comes as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is chaired by Pachauri, is set to release its Fifth Assessment climate change report on September 27.

Preceding IPCC reports have been grim, as is expected of the Fifth Assessment. A recently leaked draft of the report showed the scientists are now more convinced than ever that climate change is the result of human activity. According to scientific consensus represented in the report, the impact of climate change could include a sea level rise of nearly three feet by the end of the century, extreme species extinction, higher intensity of droughts, heatwaves and floods, and vast food shortages across the world.

"We may utilize the gifts of nature just as we choose, but in our books the debits are always equal to the credits," Pachauri told a conference organization Green Cross International in on Monday, quoting Mahatma Gandhi.
"May I submit that humanity has completely ignored, disregarded and been totally indifferent to the debits?" he added.

"Today we have the knowledge to be able to map out the debits and to understand what we have done to the condition of this planet," said Pachauri who urged those who would listen to take action immediately before the five minute window closes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dear Chris Hayes: Good Job. Now Let’s Get Real.


Published on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 by The Nation


(Image: Courtesy of msnbc.com)Dear Chris,

First off, since we’ve never met, I want to say how much I appreciate your work, and in particular what you’re doing with All In. You’re holding down some vital turf in the media landscape, and doing it with distinction—and I know how challenging that can be.

And I especially want to offer big, sincere thanks for The Politics of Power—it’s no small thing to air an hour of prime-time television like what we saw on Friday night. Your commitment to elevating climate, and climate politics, as a regular part of the show’s coverage is hugely encouraging. And I’m glad, speaking as someone who’s deeply engaged in the climate fight, that you don’t shy from suggesting the severity and urgency of the climate crisis—or at least, that you begin to suggest it. Which is far more than can be said of most of our media.

It’s precisely because I respect what you’re trying to do that I feel moved to write here with what I hope is constructive feedback. I don’t expect you to respond to this. I mean, if you have time, great. If not, I completely understand. (I used to produce a two-hour daily talk show on NPR, so I know the kind of pace at which you work.)

I felt there were three pretty important things missing from The Politics of Power.

The first is what I’d call a full dose of climate reality. I would’ve liked to see you explain to viewers the real carbon math, and the true magnitude of the challenge we face—as spelled out so starkly and effectively by folks like Bill McKibben, Joe Romm, David Roberts, The Nation’s Mark Hertsgaard and others, not to mention the IEA, World Bank, even PwC and HSBC—and to explain what it means for the kind of planet our children, yours and mine, will inherit this century if we don’t radically change course. I’m referring to the fact that something to the tune of 80 percent of existing fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground, over the next four decades, if we’re going to have a shot at a livable climate. Not only that, but the IPCC reported in 2007 (in its most recent assessment report) that global emissions need to be cut some 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 in order to have a reasonable chance of making the required 80 percent reductions (or more) by 2050. The IPCC’s new assessment report, due out this year and next, may paint an even more urgent picture.
So, given all that, the second thing I found missing was a full dose of political reality: the fact that even the most ambitious policies currently on the table in Washington—or even imaginable in Washington, such as an economy-wide price on carbon—don’t come close to addressing that fundamental carbon math. You rightly point to congressional obstruction, bought and paid for by the fossil-fuel lobby, forcing Obama to act unilaterally. But even if Obama’s climate plan is wildly successful (in Washington terms) and he manages to fulfill his Copenhagen pledge of 17 percent reductions (below 2005 levels) by 2020, do your viewers understand how far that is from what science tells us is necessary? And do they understand the full implications of this gap between the politically “possible” and the scientifically necessary? In other words, do they understand the kind of profound political change needed in order for us to begin addressing the climate crisis in a serious way? It’s not just about getting the climate-science denying obstructionists out of the way, it’s about forcing even our strongest climate champions, at all levels of government, to confront the actual scale and urgency of the crisis.

I felt the program could have been stronger if it had acknowledged those two stark realities, the scientific and the political, head on. But the thing that really struck me more than anything was this third omission: there was no mention of the climate movement, despite the fact that you interviewed both Bill McKibben and May Boeve of 350.org. Bill may in fact be “our most important environmentalist,” but the reason he belonged there on your show is that he and his colleagues at 350 have done far more than create just another environmental organization, in any conventional sense—it’s that they, together with many partners and allies, have spearheaded a global, grassroots, people-powered climate-justice movement that is as much about human rights as “environmentalism.” And this movement, while still relatively new and small, is gaining unmistakable momentum as it takes on the entrenched power of the fossil fuel interests. Just look at what they’ve accomplished in the Keystone fight.

That’s the real story. The movement. [UPDATE: McKibben has just posted a new essay on this very subject, which I managed to miss, and it's pretty essential reading.] Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate about what kind of movement it should be, and how to build it. But I was deeply puzzled by the lack of any acknowledgment that this movement even exists.

In the end, you exhorted viewers to vote politicians out of office if they won’t take action—which is commendable! And yet, conventional electoral politics only scratches the surface of the sort of political engagement we need if we’re going to build a movement that can retake our democracy and fundamentally transform our politics to address this crisis in a meaningful way.

Is it hard to imagine that sort of deep transformation? Yes, it’s very hard. Damn near impossible. But it’s our only hope.
I don’t want to presume anything about what’s going through your mind, but I worry that you may be trying not to sound “politically naïve,” or “unreasonable,” or “unserious”—or for that matter, that you’re trying not to bum people out too much by letting on that the current situation is hopeless.

But, Chris, under any currently imaginable political scenario—that is, under anything resembling politics as usual—the situation is hopeless.

And unless you’re willing to look your viewers in the eye and tell them as much, you’re not truly leveling with them about what it will take to make a real difference in the climate crisis.

I don’t know whether it’s too late for us to avert full-blown climate catastrophe, or what “too late” would even mean. But I know this: it’s too late for us to worry about sounding “reasonable” by Washington or mainstream media standards. The situation we face is utterly insane—and any serious response to it is going to sound completely radical and crazy (as I wrote in a Boston Phoenix cover story that was quoted at length in a Nation editorial on Keystone last February), or at the very least hopelessly naïve. So be it. The question is, are we going to tell the truth—or not?

We heard just a hint of this sort of unvarnished truth-telling in Bill’s voice when he told you that there is no solution other than to stop burning coal, oil and gas—and fast. How are we going to do that? I’m afraid your viewers were left with the impression that an eventual price on carbon, combined with some EPA regulations and some entrepreneurial pluck, will somehow be enough—as opposed to the kind of society-wide, WWII-scale mobilization that many believe it will take.
And if we’re not willing to call for that kind of full-scale solution, then we need to be honest about our willingness to accept the consequences. Which are pretty grim.

Sometimes I think the only people in this country who are really willing to face up to the situation we’re in, and to act accordingly, are the folks I know, most of them young, who’ve engaged in nonviolent direct action—spending days and nights eighty feet up in a tree, or locked-down to construction equipment, or barricaded inside a section of pipeline to stop planet-destroying fossil-fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL from being built. Or putting themselves in the way of a coal shipment. Or chaining themselves to a mining truck on a West Virginia mountaintop.

At this late date, engaging in the climate fight in a serious way requires some serious courage and commitment and risk-taking—and not necessarily of the physical kind (only a comparatively few people can be expected to have that kind of courage), but certainly of the moral and political kind. And the journalistic kind. I believe the burden falls as much on us as journalists as on anyone else. Maybe more so.

We need you out there, Chris, telling the truth.

With respect and gratitude,


Friday, August 9, 2013

Is Climate Change Driving the Southwest Toward a Dust Bowl?


A severe drought in the Southwest is devastating crops and farm communities—and sending a warning about climate change.

Photo Credit: vesilvio/ Shutterstock.com

The following article first appeared inthe Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for theiremail newsletters here.

Ed Moore’s ranch sits on the flatlands of the Texas panhandle, east of Lubbock, just outside the tiny town of Ralls. On a clear day, you can see for miles in any direction. Most days, however, the dust blows—and when it does, the sky becomes a dull orange haze and the scene becomes impressionistic. The high gray towers of grain elevators dot the landscape. Cattle graze in silhouette. Farmers ride through the gloom on tractors with vast “sand fighters” that gather the earth into big clods so the soil won’t blow away. It’s daytime, yet it’s dark—not as black as it gets during the worst of the dust storms, like those that tore through southeastern Colorado in the spring and the ones that swept across Phoenix a few years ago, and maybe not as bleak as the land-destroying Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, but nevertheless eerily subdued. Something clearly isn’t right.

In a typical year, the winds ease up in mid-spring, and the dust tamps down. In the past three years, however, as the rains have failed and the land has dried up, the winds have continued into the searingly hot summers. As they blow, the soil disintegrates, and what little moisture there is in the earth evaporates. The soil quality is now so poor that on the few occasions when it does rain, the next day’s wind simply blows the newly moistened topsoil away. Across the area you can see rows of cotton, black and dead in the orange earth—entire fields burned by the static electricity generated by the sandstorms.

Locals have started calling the storms by their Arabic name, haboobs—presumably a nomenclature brought back by returning Iraq War veterans. Lately the haboobs have been visiting themselves on the High Plains with a depressing regularity. They are no longer considered an episodic menace but rather a fixture of the landscape, the calling card of an emerging climatological crisis.

Moore, who was born in a farmhouse on his family’s land just north of Ralls, is 73 years old. His balding head is deeply tanned, his forearms mottled by the sun and wind. When he was a young man, he got an aeronautical engineering degree and headed to Seattle to work for Boeing. In 1971, however, his heart called him back to West Texas. It was, after all, the land to which his mother and her family had trekked in a covered wagon in the 1920s. Moore recalled being told that his mother, at age 5, had walked alongside the wagon all the way from Comanche, Texas, 250 miles away. They were lured to the region by the promise of cheap, fertile land—the promise that drew so many to the High Plains during the boom years that preceded the catastrophic onset of the Dust Bowl.

“This land, I love it,” says the old farmer softly, his eyes staring far off in the distance. “It means essentially the world to me. I want to make sure I take care of it and make sure my sons can have it. The only thing we worry about is the water supply.”

Last summer, the water table in Moore’s area dropped by about a foot. The White River Reservoir, which supplies water to four towns in the area, is at its lowest point since it was built in the 1960s, Moore says. About ten feet at its deepest, “it’s just pollywog water.” His two wells, which used to pump up to 500 gallons per minute, are putting out only about 150 gallons per minute.
Like the haboobs, water scarcity here is starting to seem like something other than a passing concern. It’s a troubling sign of a long-term trend, a problem exacerbated by drought but more complex than annual precipitation. After decades of overuse—tapping into aquifers and removing more water than nature could add back in, even during the abnormally wet 1980s and ’90s—the water-credit system in this part of the country seems to be running out. “We’ve used much more water in the last couple years than we normally would because of the drought,” explains Robert Hagevoort, a dairy specialist at New Mexico State University’s agricultural science center. Water tables have dropped quickly, he says, and as a result irrigated agriculture is under severe threat.

Moore largely uses dryland farming techniques, since there isn’t enough water to irrigate his fields. If it rains, he can grow crops and keep cattle. If it doesn’t, he can’t. “I like a challenge,” he explains. “Every day is different. That’s what farming is. Do we plant cotton? Do we plant milo? Do we fight sand? When do we quit it all and get on a horse and ride?”

The question is not merely rhetorical. As Moore and his neighbors confront the grim possibility that this year’s rains will again fall far short of the twenty-five inches he says are necessary, with dwindling underground reserves to draw from, they are simply facing the facts. “We hope the rains start up again,” he says. If they don’t, “these little towns will disappear.”

A similar lament can be heard across the Southwest, in bone-dry communities in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas. Thanks to record drought and heat, Arizona and Colorado have been plagued by fierce forest fires in recent months—nineteen elite forest firefighters died in an Arizona blaze in late June. And it’s not just rural areas under threat; cities are also at risk. Las Cruces, New Mexico, has to drill wells 1,000 feet deep to extract water. Smaller municipalities like Magdalena, south of Albuquerque, are trucking it in.
What we’re seeing in these regions is a harbinger. Around the world, as climate change accelerates and population growth bumps up against natural limits, water access is becoming increasingly important—and increasingly precarious. The economic impact is immediate and severe.

“Right now, there ain’t anything underneath that dry land,” says Johnny Shepard, who manages a cotton gin near Lubbock. In 2011, the drought was so extreme that 60 percent of the state’s cotton crop was lost, according to the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The numbers have improved since then, but only marginally. More than 40 percent of the Texas cotton crop was lost in 2012, and given current conditions, the losses are likely to be similar this year. Nationally, cotton production declined from 18 million bales in 2010 to 17 million in 2012—with much of that drop in the Southwest.

As hay and alfalfa prices skyrocket in response to the drought, farmers are selling off animals they can no longer afford to feed. The cattle herd in Texas is down by more than 1 million. Nationally, the figure has declined from more than 98 million head a few years ago to about 89 million. The tight supply sets up the prospect that consumers will pay far more for beef in the years to come. In eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle, about 20 percent of the dairies have gone belly up for similar reasons. Milk production costs have risen 50 percent in recent years, a portion of which has been passed on to consumers.

Last year the corn crop was about 25 percent shy of its potential. After years of heady expansion (fueled in part by the introduction of genetically modified crops), US corn production has dropped to its 2000 level, according to the USDA. The production of many strains of wheat has also declined since 2011, largely because of crop failures in the High Plains, and soy production in 2012 was nearly 10 percent down from its 2010 level.

These days, much of the nation’s corn crop is being used not for food but for ethanol fuel. Not coincidentally, as competition for the produce has increased since 2008, corn prices have jacked up sharply. This has led to rising food prices and, as important, put a strain on exports—which has ricochet effects, especially in poorer communities around the world.

Because US food production anchors the international food system, a drop in exports leads to price inflation in countries where poorer populations spend a larger percentage of their income on staples. Markets overseas have also been hit by US drought–induced shipping disruptions. Sixty percent of all grain exported through the Gulf of Mexico is shipped to ports via the Mississippi River. But for a few weeks late last year, the river levels around Thebes, Illinois, fell so low that barges filled with grain destined for export had to lighten their loads. Much of the $7 billion in commodities that the American Waterways Operators and the Waterways Council estimate normally travel down the Mississippi in December and January either backed up or had to be transported by more expensive methods.

* * *

American agriculture is extraordinarily resilient, engineered to withstand regional droughts and even prolonged national weather crises. Even so, farmers who must adapt need time to familiarize themselves with new crops, and scientists need time to learn what grows best during years of extreme water scarcity. But with weather patterns shifting more rapidly and water resources drying up, time isn’t on their side.

There is no consensus on how much of today’s drought in the Southwest can be attributed to climate change. But there’s little doubt among climatologists that a warming planet is at least partly to blame. The journal Nature Climate Change has published studies suggesting that the United States is likely in for a series of severe droughts over the next thirty years. In 2010 Climate Central chief climatologist Heidi Cullen explained that “the weather of the future is going to be more extreme. That means more extreme heat, extreme storms, extreme drought.” When a drought devastated Russian agricultural production that year, European researchers concluded that human activity–induced climate change had made it three times more likely to occur. An EU commission also predicted that severe heat waves of the sort that hit much of Europe in the summer of 2003 could become a biannual occurrence by 2040.

According to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey, the lack of snow and rain in 2012 was caused by a confluence of factors, including, in 2010 and 2011, back-to-back Las Niñas, a North Atlantic high-pressure system that blocked moisture from the eastern half of the country, and a Pacific oscillation resulting in a drier West—as well as the broader changes produced by global climate change. By the end of 2012, the USDA had declared 2,245 counties (representing 71 percent of the country’s landmass) disaster areas because of drought. No other year in history has come close to having so many USDA-designated disaster areas. Although the drought broke in much of the country last spring, those conditions still hold across the Southwest.

“The water supply conditions we have right now are by far the worst we’ve had in the last hundred years,” explains New Mexico State University professor of civil engineering Phil King. In a normal year, the Rio Grande Project releases 790,000 acre-feet of water to farmers and rural communities. In 1964, until now the worst year for releases from the project, only 206,000 acre-feet were released. This year, says King, only 163,000 acre-feet are likely to be released, making it the worst year on record for local farmers. “We just had the river dry for eight months,” he adds. “Next year it could be dry ten months.”

The drought has led to increasingly bitter legal squabbles over water rights. Each state designs its own water-access rules, so the feds can do little more than sit back and watch as the battles intensify. In New Mexico, the districts within the Rio Grande Project have been fighting over how much water should be allocated to farmers in each area. Texas has gotten into legal tiffs with New Mexico and Oklahoma over water access. And an increasing number of lawsuits are being filed between farmers competing for limited access to rivers.

Long term, there’s a strong prospect for broader social disruption brought on by resource scarcity. What scares King and other hydrologists is that the Southwest is becoming the epicenter of several overlapping crises. Rapid climate change is occurring amid a huge population shift. Agriculture (which in a state like New Mexico has traditionally accounted for more than three-quarters of all water use) is competing with oil, gas and other industries for increasingly scarce water. And all players, whether small-town water districts or state governments, cities booming on oil revenues or rural hamlets struggling simply to stay alive, are jostling for access to aquifers that aren’t generating anywhere near the amount of water they used to.

During the big storms, the farmers wage a Sisyphean fight against the sand. When the sand isn’t blowing so hard, many tally up the fields they’ve lost and file crop insurance claims. Fourth-generation Texas farmer Ray Johnston simply decamps to one of his favorite sports bars on the outskirts of Lubbock, where he drinks Coors Light and ponders his situation.

“It’s kinda depressing,” says Johnston, who lost his crop last year to drought and planted 500 acres of cotton again this year, only to watch as eighty-five-mile-per-hour winds brought in a June hailstorm that destroyed his crop. “You sit out here and do all this hard work, and you’ve nothing to show for it.” In the past three years, the amount of land Johnston has been able to farm has declined from 1,200 acres to about 600. He spends between $10,000 and $15,000 per month to irrigate the half that’s left.

The luckier farmers, Ed Moore among them, are surviving in relatively decent financial condition because there are oil derricks on their land that pump up and down nonstop, indifferent to the dust storms. But even those sitting on oil are increasingly reliant on payouts from their crop insurance simply to cover basic operating costs. And water has to be pumped in to keep the pressure of the oil wells constant. In many parts of the country, including Texas and New Mexico, the introduction of water-intensive fracking techniques has worsened this problem. Entire towns are springing up overnight to cater to the oil and natural gas boom. In these areas, population growth and the rise of heavy industry are dramatically increasing pressure on already strained agricultural water supplies.

Hundreds of miles southwest of Ralls, on an alfalfa and small-grains farm near Roswell, New Mexico, Craig Ogden is facing a similar set of challenges—and a similar risk of heartbreak. The 55-year-old relies on irrigation from the Carlsbad Irrigation District to water his 800 acres. But the water allotments are pitifully small. In the past few years, he has been able to grow on only about 10 percent of his acreage.

“We had eighteen months of no rainfall,” says Ogden, whose curly gray hair, ready smile and blue eyes make him look startlingly like the actor Gene Wilder. “We sold a lot of equipment last year. When you’ve had people who have worked for you, it’s hard to let them go.” As he considers what will happen to his family if his farm fails, he starts to cry. “I’ve got college degrees, but with my age it’s going to be hard to find something in this job market.”

Ogden’s friend Matt Rush is also struggling to make ends meet. He recently took a job with the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau in Albuquerque, four hours from home. He, too, cries as he considers his prospects. “This is who we are,” he says. “When your livelihood becomes your identity, you can’t just stop.” He pauses, tries to talk himself into optimism. “It’ll take a while to get her Sunday clothes on,” he says, referring to the land. “But she’ll look good. It’s so wide open. You can see the sun coming up and the sun going down. You can see every star in the heavens at night. When it’s green, it just feels so alive to me. When it rains, you can see it in everybody’s faces—how relieved they are. Contributions go up in church on a Sunday after it rains.”

* * *

Eddie Speer homesteads a small farm outside Lubbock. His wells have almost run dry; his wife, Laura, worries that she might not have enough water for cooking, washing the dishes and bathing. “We wake up every morning, and if we didn’t know God was taking care of us, we couldn’t get through the day,” he says. “We pray for rain—in church and privately. We ask God to bring rain and bless our farms.”

Speer walks me down his rows of dead crops, showing me the texture of the soil. It’s dry, as fine as the red desert sand in Utah’s Arches National Park. “That won’t grow a seed,” he says resignedly. To make it through the year, Speer has had to sell off his cattle and file a crop insurance claim. He pays more than $30,000 per year to insure his crop. But he can’t leave his land. It’s his home. It’s where his grandfather died, of a massive heart attack, and where his father died.

Thanks to the national crop insurance system, which grew out of the wreckage of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, farmers can buy insurance worth up to 75 percent of the value of their crop, averaged over a set number of years. They buy it from private companies, but those companies are guaranteed by the government, which covers more than 60 percent of the cost. Like all insurance programs, it works as long as it isn’t chronically overused. Right now, it’s being used as never before.

Congress has an opportunity to address this crisis through the farm bill, which is currently the topic of robust debate in Washington. On July 11, with help from the powerful agribusiness lobby, the House passed legislation giving large farms the ability to buy “shallow loss insurance,” which would guarantee up to 90 percent of their income—thus providing a perverse incentive for agribusiness to try to cultivate land manifestly unsuited to the crops in question. The House also set up new profit insurance systems for large-scale dairies. But it provided no funding stream for the federal food stamps program. To appease right-wing conservatives, nutritional assistance—a central pillar of previous farm bills, which remains at the heart of the proposed Senate bill—was stripped out.

The White House has promised to veto the bill. But the proposal to expand short-term subsidies to agribusiness on the backs of tens of millions of food stamp recipients reveals a fundamental problem with US agriculture. The current model relies on two sets of subsidies: to farmers during years when crops fail, so that they have an incentive to produce enough food even when it’s not profitable; and to the tens of millions of Americans who otherwise could not afford to feed themselves. Take either of these props away, and producers as well as consumers get hurt.

Even if funding for food stamps is ultimately approved, the crop insurance model may be in jeopardy. As droughts become longer and more severe, and as the agribusiness lobby skews policies even further in favor of big combines, the program could become unaffordable to small-scale farmers like Moore and Johnston—and unsustainable for the government.

By the end of spring, 597 counties had been declared disaster areas, which qualifies them for low-interest federal loans and other financial assistance. US Drought Monitor maps show most of the center and west of the country in moderate to extreme drought conditions. The rains have returned to the eastern and northern regions; the Mississippi River flooded in the late spring, and in San Antonio, so much rain fell in May that it, too, was inundated. But in the West and Southwest, the drought is getting worse, and too often the remaining water is getting saltier and thus less suitable for growing many kinds of crops.

At the moment, farmers are surviving on grittiness, technological creativity and crop insurance. But the payouts are subject to a law of diminishing returns: each year’s payout is based on the average value of the previous ten years’ crops. Meanwhile, because insurance companies are disbursing record amounts to farmers, premiums are going up. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of farmers receiving $150,000 in payouts only to return more than $30,000 in premium payments. That makes sense for large agribusiness enterprises concerned with protecting revenues rather than protecting fields, but it’s a heavy burden for small farmers. And while agribusiness has the means to pay for supplemental coverage options that protect up to 90 percent of the value of its crops, such options are beyond the means of men like Eddie Speer.

* * *

The effects of this transformation go far beyond the farms and ranches. In January, Cargill announced it was closing a huge beef-processing plant in Plainview, Texas, because so few cattle remained in the area. With only two weeks’ notice, about 2,300 workers lost their livelihoods. Overnight, Hale County’s unemployment rate spiked from about 6 percent to nearly 13 percent. Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension Service estimated that the loss of jobs at Cargill, combined with secondary effects as related businesses suffered and residents bought less in local stores, would cost the county more than $97 million.

Many of the unemployed workers—who used to earn good wages and enjoy strong union benefits in a largely nonunion, low-wage state—now make a daily trek to the Workforce Solutions office, in a run-down strip mall on the edge of town, to look for jobs. Others have turned to service sector jobs at Walmart and other superstores. “It was a big old shock,” says Rachel, a young woman standing with friends in front of Workforce Solutions. Rachel used to work for a sanitation company that was brought in every evening to clean the slaughterhouse. “It was the end—the end of life in Plainview as we know it. A lot of people left, a lot weren’t able to leave because of family. When God said in the Bible we need to live day to day—boy, He wasn’t kidding.”

Just like in the days of the Dust Bowl, a way of life is under threat here, as are the livelihoods of millions of people. If the weather chaos of the past few years becomes a new norm, the stability of the US and global food systems could come under threat—tightening supplies, increasing prices and pushing the Eddie Speers of the world into uncertain futures separated from the land they love.

I want Speer’s prayers to be answered. But I fear that Ed Moore might be more realistic. Moore looks over the land on which he rides his 15-year-old Appaloosa, Lady, at the end of each workday. You can almost see the sigh forming in his chest. “I don’t think we’ll ever run out of water [entirely]. But it’ll get so expensive we’ll have to quit,” he says. He stops to gather his thoughts. “You ask about this land. I don’t have a clue why I love it. It’s flat. Very hard to make a living. If I were really smart, I’d go somewhere where the average rainfall is forty inches. But this is home. And I don’t like to fail.”

Sasha Abramsky, a Nation contributing writer, is the author of several books, including, most recently, Inside Obama’s BrainBreadline USA and American Furies. His next book, The American Way of Poverty, will be published by Nation Books in the fall