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THE CALIFORNIA DROUGHT IS NOT OVER!
Rainstorms finally arrived in California, after a 14 month drought with no significant rain. But the big reservoirs are still pitifully low, and snow pack is less than a quarter of normal. Hundreds of thousands of acres will not be planted, and food bills will likely go up in North America, and possibly around the world.
This is the Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, as a case study of what we can expect in many parts of the Earth. I’ve lined up 4 experts all with something new for you.
Dr. Peter Gleick is a climate and water specialist who has been warning this could happen for years.
Dr. Reagan Waskom is another water and agriculture expert from Colorado.
We connect with boots-on-the ground water conservation specialist David Schroeder in Montclair, right on the edge of thirsty Los Angeles.
Finally, we get back to the big picture, as Professor Jay Famiglietti at University of California Irvine warns of depletion of the ground water under one of the world’s biggest food producing areas. That’s a trend all over the world, as we race toward peak water.
PETER GLEICK: Is the drought climate change?
Our first guest is Dr. Peter Gleick. He’s president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, one of the world’s leading independent think tanks on water issues. Peter is also a scientist known around the world.
Peter introduced the term “Bellwether Drought” for this event. We know climate change threatens the water cycle. Scientists believe the wet areas (like the UK!) will get wetter, and the dry areas like California, will get dryer. So the dice are loaded for more droughts to occur in this major food producing area.
Dr. Gleick points out we could say this drought started in at least 2006. There have been several drier-than-normal years since then. Scientists have found records showing California has experienced droughts lasting more than a hundred years in the past, in the 1100’s for example.
So we may be asking if human-induced climate change has triggered this drought cycle. The causes of regional weather events are complex. We have ocean currents, natural cycles like El Nino and El Nina, and changes to the Jet Stream. All of those, especially the Jet Stream (as shown by the work of Jennifer Francis et al at Rutgers) can be influenced by climate change.
It’s a Bellwether event because whether or not we can nail down direct causation by climate disruption – it’s a sure test of what is likely during the coming decades. As in Australia, it is possible Euro-humans arrived in California during a cyclical wet spell that was bound to end. But have we hastened that process?
I also talk with Peter about desalination, it’s promises and obstacles. A new desalination plant has been build to feed the San Diego water system. But really, it’s so energy intensive and expensive that desalination cannot save the whole California agricultural system.
Peter Gleick is an influential scientist in many places. He talks about the global work his institute is involved in, and it’s heavy-duty stuff. It’s cool he Tweeted this program link out to his 11,000 plus followers.
DR. JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Looking at the drought from space.
When the rains don’t fall in California, every one checks their wallet for rising food prices. But rain or not, cities and farmers are pumping out California groundwater at an alarming rate. Thanks to new satellite science, now we know how much of that unseen wealth has been depleted. It’s a problem for farmers and all humans all over the world, as we grab water stored over the ages, to keep us alive right now. At some point, the water runs out.
When the federal government, and state agencies cut off water supplies, as they did just this past month, farmers don’t just roll over and die. All those who can start pumping up groundwater furiously. They’ve been doing that for decades, always at an increasing level. You may think ground water gets replenished with rains, but some of it was captured and contained over millions of years. When I have a glass of water in my village, that water is 100,000 years old.
So just like oil, ground water is a limited resource. When you run out, that’s it.
Amazing to tell, scientists can measure the rate of groundwater depletion in California from space. The twin GRACE satellites have shown the loss of mass in Greenland as the glaciers melt. Now scientists at the University of California Irvine report that California is setting new records for groundwater loss. The state is literally getting lighter.
Find out about the GRACE satellites here. Oh, and by the way, one of their top stories is the discovery that climate change is causing the Earth’s poles to migrate. Don’t believe that? Read about it here.
One result is the land starts to sink, once the water below is removed. That’s serious in the Sacramento delta, where so much of North America’s fruits and vegetables are grown. Once it goes too low, a rush of salt water, say from a storm surge, can take thousands and thousands of prime acres out of production.
Jay Familietti describes what we know. He says the average of prediction of when California will run out of groundwater at current rates is 60 years from now. After that, the glory days of big populations and big cities may be done. Some experts say it will come sooner than that.
That same story is being repeated, even worse, in countries like China and India. India is pumping out the water tables at an alarming rate. In both countries, as thousands of wells go dry, they drill deeper, and burn even more energy with bigger pumps, just to keep up. Some places are already out of water, and out of production.
Keep this story in mind as you build the big picture: peak groundwater. It’s coming.
By the way, I ask Dr. Famiglietti what happens to all the water we pump out for our fields and cities. Some of it goes into the ocean, to become salt water. The warmer atmosphere can hold 4% more water vapor already, since 1970, and that’s a huge amount. Other water ends up falling in those places that are already wet.
Read a key article by Dr. Famiglietti “Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?“. And check out his LA Times Op-Ed from 2013, “California’s water house of cards“.
DR. REAGAN WASKOM – Feeding the western food supply
I was referred to Dr. Waskom by Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute. Even though Waskom is the University of Colorado in Fort Collins, he’s one of the country’s wisemen when it comes to water supplies and our food system.
Reagan Waskom is the Director of the Colorado Water Institute, and Chair of the Colorado State University Water Center.
It turns out Colorado supplies much of the water to Southern California. We are not talking about the big food production areas, but more the heavy populations in places like Los Anglees. So what happens in Colorado matters a lot to California.
The good news is there is a heavy snow pack this year in Colorado. How useful that is depends on how fast the snow melt is, among other factors.
I ask Dr. Waskom what happens if California really is in a long-term drought. Could we replace all that food with farming somewhere else in the country?
Dr. Waskom has also been studying the big use of water by the fracking industry. We touch on that.
My final question is more personal: “You’ve taught a lot of students, and graduate students. Do you think young people are more disconnected from natural reality than when you were growing up?”
DAVID SCHROEDER on the ground outside of LA
I wanted to get you some reporting from right on the ground in southern California. Acting on a tip from a Radio Ecoshock listener, we’ve reached David Schroeder. He’s a Water Conservation Specialist with the Chino Basin Water District. That’s based in Montclair California, right on the edge of one of America’s biggest cities, Los Angeles.
We talk about where water for southern California comes from, and what to do when it doesn’t. Dave specializes in getting the public involved in tearing up grass to install natural vegetation, to use less water in the home, and so on. There isn’t much farming left in the south of the state. Now the challenge is huge cities and endless suburbs.
Dave lives in the mountains that used to be white with snow in winter, when I lived in L.A. many moons ago. No snow there this year he reports. That’s not good news for the coming fire season, for anything.
Download/listen to this 10 minute interview with David Schroeder in CD Quality
That wraps up my Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, 2014. I hope you learned, as I did, about where our water comes from, where it’s going, and the dangerous tightrope we walk trying to feed a growing world population during climate disruption.
Radio Ecoshock is provided free to more than 75 non-profit radio stations. I depend on your financial help to keep going. Find ways to support this program in this blog, and at the show archive and web site, ecoshock.org
I’m Alex Smith. As always, thank you for listening, and caring about your world.
California is in the middle of a drought. In the Bay Area, that has meant day after day of glorious, uncharacteristically sunny winter weather. But, I am haunted by media images of dry creek beds and by my own mental images of driving by the Rim Fire near Yosemite last summer. Who knows what this summer will bring.
The drumbeat of media coverage on the drought had led me to think harder about the water-energy nexus. At a high level, that phrase encapsulates two profound facts: energy production is extremely water intensive and water provision is extremely energy intensive. (At this point, we can’t really say “water production,” but as we add more desalination capacity, production becomes more apt.)
I’ll focus on the second of those two facts, but this article on the water used for fracking relates to the first.
Providing Water to Homes, Businesses and Farms Requires A LOT of Energy
The energy intensity of water delivery hit home to me several years ago when my husband, who works for an electricity generator, spent the day at a California Public Utilities Commission workshop on low-flow toilets. Why would an electric generator care about toilets?! It turns out that pumping, conveying, heating, and treating water are all highly energy intensive.
An Energy Efficient Toilet?
In fact, several years ago, the California Energy Commission calculated that 19 percent of the state’s electricity and nearly 30 percent of its natural gas consumption went to moving, heating and treating water.
I’ve delved into these calculations, and not all of the energy attributed to water is in my view actually driven by decisions that we would normally think of as water-usage choices. For instance, the calculations include things like heating water for sterilization in food processing. I can imagine a sterilization technique that didn’t use water but still used energy, and sterilization is ultimately driven by decisions about processed food consumption.
A recent paper from the University of Texas similarly calculates the share of U.S. energy related to water. The authors distinguish between “Direct Steam Uses,” which includes things like sterilization and “Direct Water Services,” which are driven by what I think of as water-based decisions. The authors estimates that the two categories together account for 13 percent of the nation’s energy and Direct Water Services account for 8.5 percent of the nation’s energy.
The energy cost of H2O also depends on where you live. Californians use more energy-intensive water because we use more groundwater and less surface water, and we move it over longer distances. My water provider, East Bay Municipal Utilities District, charges an, “Elevation Surcharge,” which they describe as, “based on the energy costs of pumping water to higher elevations.” For households in the hills above 600 feet, the surcharge adds more than $1 per hundred cubic feet to a base price of roughly $2.50 per hundred cubic feet. Not all utilities have this adder.
As an energy economist, I hear a lot about positive – in the sense of reinforcing – feedback loops that could result from climate change. Rising temperatures, for example, will require more electricity to power air conditioners, and, right now, electricity production is the country’s main source of greenhouse gas emissions. A drier California climate might be an example of a negative feedback: more droughts will force us to rationalize the ways we use water—and save energy, in the process.
But, how do we rationalize our water use? We should start by rationalizing water pricing. I know this might sound like the knee-jerk economist answer, but the water world has many examples that violate simple Econ-101 principles. In a nutshell, water is a scarce resource, and we treat it as though the basic input were free. In Los Angeles, for instance, the Department of Water and Power subsidizes houses on bigger lots by giving them more cheap water. Water usage in the agriculture sector, which accounts for 80% of California’s total water consumption, is a whole mess in and of itself, symbolized in my mind by the rice paddies in the Central Valley.
Rice Paddies in the Central Valley
The water economist, David Zetland, has made scarcity pricing for water his battle cry and has written a book on Living with Water Scarcity. As Timothy Egan in the New York Timeshas said, we cannot “out-engineer a fevered planet.” But, we can move towards rational pricing policies that help us make better decisions about our planet’s scarce resources.
50% of America’s fruits and veggies are grown in California and the Feds
are destroying their crops. What this means for you.
PREFACE: Only a small space is required to grow most fruits and veggies for a family. So Stan and I will scamper over to our local garden center this week and for additional organic compost to augment our Super Soil and get those growies growing! By the end of Summer our own compost piles should be ready to sustain the gardens hereafter. It just takes a little while to get there.Sunday, we planned out this year’s garden – including more than usual. Definitely making time for canning this year. Had the equipment, not the time. Since warmth – and dry (drat!) – are coming early this year to the West, Southwest and Southeast, it’s important to get our garden ready in February and seedlings sprouted and sunk in the ground by late March instead of late April – a full month ahead of normal. The most time-consuming aspect will getting the Super Soil pre-warmed as described in Garden Gold, which will only require a couple hours, so plants get a head start and beat this Summer’s killing heat.
These NOAA maps show the probability of temperatures exceeding the norm, so roughly 1/3 of the Country can get their veggies and fruits in early. Unfortunately, as 2014 progresses, a bunch of us will be sweating bullets living in tank tops and shorts.
Click on the different NOAA 3-month outlooks (under More POE Outlooks) on the left to see how temps are revving up hotter and earlier this year. It’s weird that after this blisteringly bitter cold winter, we have to think in terms of excessive heat, but that’s what extreme climate change is about and something Stan and I have warned would descend since 1995. Now that it’s here, everyone must act with fore-thought and planning. With what’s coming, every day counts. —Holly
February 24, 2014
TAN DROUGHT KILLING THE GOLDEN STATE
Government has lost its mind. It is no more evident than their decision last week to cut off water to America’s food basket. Squeezed by the worst-ever drought in the state’s history, California is dying of thirst. Crushing news was delivered to farmer’s that no water would be coming from the Federal government. This dreaded decision was compounded by the Sierra Mountains getting just 25% of normal snowpack. There is no water to replenish already dangerously low reservoirs, so no water for farmers.
Photo: Government shut off water in 2009 to California farms in a controversial effort to help threatened species. (NOAA) Now they shut off water to farmers because of low snowpack and rainfall. They can’t win.
Despite recent storms, it’s done nothing to alleviate the staggering dryness. California needs snow. Desperately. Down bursts can’t soak into parched, concrete-like soil so it rolls off, unused, into sewers and drainage ditches. Snowpack melts slowly and is easily funneled into reservoirs and sinks into land and eventually groundwater basins.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency 5 weeks ago and conditions have worsened since.
Farmers who thought this might be coming delayed planting crops. Some have given up altogether. Even late harvests, where possible, would be better than wasting the cost of fuel to run equipment, paying farm workers to work dying fields, paying for seeds that likely won’t survive summer – and have it all come to nothing. Over half a million acres won’t even be planted.
Not that anyone wants a business penalized, but golf courses will be allowed to waste water in the most extravagant method possible. What would you rather have: food on the table or 225,000 acres of lush golf links? The amount of water required to keep them verdant is staggering. Residential customers are already being warned to conserve and some cities have passed mandatory water restrictions. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that 17 communities are at risk of running dry.
Image: It’s clear from the image below that regions of California worst hit and in danger of running out of water are the prime food growing areas.
DROUGHT = SLOW DEATH
We saw this same scenario play out in Beulah, Colorado in 2002 – the year after Stan warned the Pine Drive Water District they needed vastly more water storage. They didn’t listen. The very next year when residents turned on their faucets, literally not a drop dripped. So dire was the situation, it made national news. It was a shock to have literally no water available.
Huge white plastic water storage tanks were hastily set up in front yards and water was trucked in weekly from Pueblo. Wells went completely dry and livestock were reluctantly sold off. It was either that or watch them die.
The next Spring when Stan and I drove around Beulah, the wildlife took your breath. Most telling were larger animals. Baby deer that survived were unbelievably scrawny. Their mothers’ ribs stuck out of their backs and sides from patchy coats like awkward jagged tree branches. Their faces were unhealthily gaunt, lit by haunted eyes. It was heartbreaking.
That was one small mountain community. Now we’re talking about an entire state facing extreme conditions. Heaven help them in the 2014 fire season, which for Californians, began January.
Last week Pres. Obama promised $100 million in livestock-disaster aid, but that doesn’t make water fall from the sky. This is less than a pittance when livestock and poultry alone gross nearly $10 billion in California.1 Instead farmers, like Beulah residents, will be forced to sell their animals. This is a calamity. We’re not talking about a few hundred head. On average, when drought conditions hammer down, like those in Texas a couple years ago, it takes at least 3 years to rebuild herds. This means further rising beef prices that we Americans are already experiencing. Just wait, it will get worse. I warned in 2010 what the Texas drought would do to beef prices in the next few coming years, and this story bears it out: Ground Beef Prices Have Skyrocketed, Here’s Why. The article warns to expect steak to double.
Three weeks ago news agencies reported that beef herds are the smallest since 1951 – and this didn’t factor in what will surely be a massive cattle sell-off in the Golden State.
Other crops feel it too. “Retail prices for tomatoes rose 10% in the 12 months through Jan. 31, and U.S. retail prices for beef, bacon, lettuce and broccoli have also risen at least 10% last year.”2 This hike came before farmers found out they won’t be getting water for crops and 8 million California farmland acres depend on federal and state irrigation.
In a stunning report from Time Magazine, Bryan Walsh writes that scientists fear California’s dryness “could get much, much worse” bringing back the horrible era of mega-droughts. “These mega-droughts aren’t predictions. They’re history, albeit from a time well before California was the land of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. And the thought that California and the rest of the modern West might have developed during what could turn out to be an unusually wet period is sobering. In 1930, a year before construction began on the Hoover Dam, just 5.6 million people lived in California. Today more than 38.2 million live in the largest state in the U.S., all of whom need water. California’s 80,500 farms and ranches produced crops and livestock worth $44.7 billion in 2012, but dry farming districts like the Central and Imperial Valleys would wither without irrigation.”3
Image: According to the Drought Monitor, 91% of California is in Severe to Exceptional Drought. For comparison, the rest of CONUS looks much better except Nevada and they don’t grow much of anything.
As one Millennium-Ark reader pointed out in an email last week, after the jump in beef prices, people will look to chicken, pork, fish and turkey. Chicken is already up though not as much as beef. This will, in turn, drive up their costs and affect availability of these other meats. Keep in mind that California also produces all of these proteins plus lamb. Then consider this: Ag Specialists Warn of Higher Wheat Prices Due to Drought. It’s not just beef, weather is clobbering food from all angles. Rising Threat to Crops from Climate underscores it.
Not to be totally depressing, but remember to factor in possible health issues from the Corexit ridden fish and seafood in the Gulf courtesy of BP’s Deepwater Horizon debacle. Then there’s Fukushima Daiichi’s radiation affecting fish all up and down the West Coast.
Food production is not a national only issue. We export food around the world. In the grain arena, so does Argentina, Australia, Canada, the EU with India, Pakistan, Thailand, the U.S. and Viet Nam contributing to world rice production. Every – single – country is being hit with flood, heatwaves or drought.
Friends, serious climate issues are clobbering beef, grain, fruit and veggies – nearly all food – with unpleasant trickle-down repercussions coming. At this point, it doesn’t matter if it’s caused by geo-engineering, climate change (aka global warming), natural cycles or Sun-driven events. We must deal with the fallout and it’s coming fast.
If you think the beef and grain scenario is bad, check what’s happening in the fruit and veggie department.
CALIFORNIA’S GOLDEN BREAD BASKET
California grows half, HALF of America’s produce. Another 13% is exported4 around the world. California’s yearly produce is valued at more than $45 billion5. In the list below, out of some 400 different foods it grows for our Nation, California leads production for 79 of them. Out of these 79, California grows ALL of 14 crops (in bold). Keep in mind, this list is only 79 out of some 400 foods including sugar beets, mushrooms, oats, potatoes, cucumbers and many more.
Now scroll down to one very important item in the 4th column – Greenhouse Vegetables. These are the nicely potted vegetable, fruit and herb seedlings people purchase every year at building materials centers and nurseries around the Country. These are now at risk.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, START YOUR SEEDS!
People who have never grown their garden plants from seed think it’s hard and jet down to retailers to buy what they want to grow. There’s nothing wrong with this; we’ve done it too. However, it is so much more economical – and fun – and easy – to start your own plants from seed.
For those who are interested in starting their seedlings this year, here are some practical reasons.
1) Most retailers don’t offer non-hybrid, non-GMO, open-pollinated and heirloom plants.
2) It saves a bunch of money in the long run.
3) Allows a head start on the growing season. Retailers normally have their veggies and fruits for sale on a predictable timetable not taking into account yearly climatic differences. It’s possible to lose weeks in the growing season.
4) Get what you want. Last spring, some plants we wanted, like romaine, NuMex chilies and red lettuce, sold out early. Due to the economy, some veggies were completely unavailable as they only stocked the most popular. Additionally, we noticed that Lowe’s and Home Depot didn’t carry as extensive a variety as they normally do.
5) Avoid greenhouse-borne diseases.
6) This is a fun project for kids and grandkids – a good educational tool so they see how plants make food from seed to table.
Seeds don’t need sunlight to sprout, but do need warmth around the clock. We set the Seedling Heat Mat on a 1″ piece of styrofoam. The foam both protects the tabletop and keeps the warmth from escaping out the bottom. The heat mat keeps the soil temperature consistent and 10-20 degrees warmer over room temperature air. They’re relatively inexpensive and really improve germination and seedling growth.
The bottom tray goes on top of the mat with the little seedling plastic pots set inside. Depending on how many seedlings are needed, it’s more economical to do these plastic pots in a sheet than peat pots. It’s cleanable and reusable. If you’re only going to start 20 or so plants, then peat pots save washing it out.
The Seedling Heat Mat (9” x 19-1/2”) and lights are extra. Mats are about $20 and grow lights are about $21 each, but vary widely in price depending on retailer.
Then the clear plastic greenhouse dome cover sits on top with its edges resting on the sides of the bottom tray. Stan puts aluminum foil between the dome and the metal so it doesn’t turn the plastic an ugly yellow-brown. The yellowing problem we found out the hard way and ruined one dome. No place mentions this tip – and others – except in Garden Gold.
It’s important to get a greenhouse that has a high enough dome cover. Some kits’ covers are only about 2″ or 3″ tall. We use the Mondi 7″ dome (7-1/2” H x 11” W x 21-1/4” L) that sells for $4.60 and fits the 1020 tray. As the seedlings grow, if the lights become too close, they can burn tender leaves and suck the life out of tiny plants. Stan has even put in a set of 2″ or 3″ risers at each end between the dome and the bottom tray if the seedlings grew too tall. Risers can be made out of anything that’s not too heavy, just strong enough to support the dome and not break the bottom tray’s lip. The 1020 Tray runs $1.40 and the 72-cell propagation tray that fits perfectly inside is $9 for 10.
Photo: This is how it looks assembled – all ready for 72 seedlings waiting fill your food needs!
Some seed starter kits come without the plastic tops, but you need the dome to both hold the lights and keep moisture in. On top are two circles for moisture control. They can be opened or closed as needed.
Simply setting planted seeds in a window won’t provide enough light once the seedlings sprout. Plus, windows can get transmit cold, which can either delay or stop germination altogether and defeats the purpose of the heat mat.
Stan cut holes in the ends toward the top of the greenhouse dome and inserted 4 grow lights that are 2 feet long. We use Sun Blaster F24T5 24W HO lights. If you’re looking on-line for the best price, they are normally listed as “Sun Blaster T5 HO”. Gave a cursory look and the best price so far was at GroswersHouse.com:growershouse.com/sun-blaster-t5-ho-fluorescent-strip-light-2.
NOW is the time to purchase open pollinated, organic, non-genetically engineered seeds. When we ordered onion sets last week, I noticed there were already a few products on Seeds of Change that had sold out or were temporarily sold out. People are getting on the stick early this year!
You’ll get further savings from companies that offer seed in bulk. This is a smart purchase for the foods you love. We did this several years ago and now have our own seed bank.
Here are 4 great resources – ones we use – for open pollinated, heirloom seeds:
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – rareseeds.com
- Fedco Seeds – fedcoseeds.com
- John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds – kitchengardenseeds.com
- Seeds of Change – seedsofchange.com
If they don’t have what you want, Garden Gold lists over 350 suppliers with their contact information and websites. You’ll spend less time hunting for open-pollinated seeds and supplies, which leaves you more time to get your plants going.
NO COLORADO DOPE, JUST THE STRAIGHT SKINNY
I’m no mystic, but do see what’s coming down. It will be hurtful – possibly signaling prophetic bells to remind of us of Revelation’s 3rd Seal. ALL of our food is being squeezed one way or another. Just after I placed that short note Sunday on our website about getting the garden going, within 15 minutes a dozen people wrote saying they feel that same pressing urgency.
For many fruits and veggies, you can greatly lessen the pain at the grocery store simply by starting (or continuing) your home gardens. While community gardens and farmer’s markets are preferable to depending on the grocery stores and getting ‘robbed’ at check out, it’s best to have fruits and veggies right in your own yard. As they say with precious metals, if it’s not in your hand you don’t own it. You can harvest so much in such little space by using the ancient Chinese technique of bio-intensive growing described in Garden Gold. You will have produce running out your ears. There will be enough to can or sell depending on your family size. Whatever method of gardening you choose, get your beds ready soon.
Now for the beef and other proteins dilemma, if you have a spare freezer, it would behoove you to stock up now before prices shoot up further. You would easily be money ahead to purchase a freezer and stock that baby till it’s ready to burst. Alternately, look at some freeze-dried meats. The last time we checked, the food price bump had not yet hit this industry. Why? Because they literally buy tons of meats at a time and process same until they nearly run out. Then they take the hit on food prices and pass it onto customers. However, we the grocery store consumer, feel every bump and tickle along the way. There is a window of opportunity here…
We caution you to buy from only reputable, long-established retailers. It’s questionable for some smaller outfits where they got their foods, especially if they are a new name. One company is selling food that was around at least since 1998 and has been repackaged to look new. This is a smaller, lesser-known company so stay with the power names for best freshness: Mountain House, Alpine Aire, Thrive (Shelf Reliance). Read What They Don’t Tell You About Storable Foods for more insight. Also check these reviews: Mountain House, Provident Pantry / Emergency Essentials, Shelf Reliance / Thrive, Wise, EFoods Direct.
Don’t miss my next article coming shortly: How to Start Your Own Seed Bank.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Holly Drennan Deyo is the author of three books: bestseller Dare To Prepare (4th ed.), Prudent Places USA (3rd ed.) and Garden Gold (2nd ed.) Please visit she and her husband’s website: standeyo.com and their FREE Preparedness site: DareToPrepare.com.
1 A Look at California Agriculture, November 2012, agclassroom.org/kids/stats/california.pdf
2 California Farm Drought Crisis Deepens, By Andria Cheng, MarketWatch, Feb. 22, 2014; marketwatch.com/story/california-farm-drought-crisis-deepens-2014-02-22-16103424
3 California Drought: Water Supply Could Tighten in Mega Droughts, By Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine, Jan. 23, 2014; http://science.time.com/2014/01/23/hundred-years-of-dry-how-californias-drought-could-get-much-much-worse/
4 California Agricultural Exports, University of California Agricultural Issues Center, cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/PDFs/2013/Export.pdf
5 California Agricultural Statistics, http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/
6 California Agricultural Statistics 2012 Crop Year, USDA, pg. 1, nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/California_Ag_Statistics/Reports/2012cas-all.pdf
The US Bureau of Reclamation released its first outlook of the year and finds insufficient stock is available in California to release irrigation water for farmers. This is the first time in the 54 year history of the State Water Project. “If it’s not there, it’s just not there,” notes a Water Authority director adding that it’s going to be tough to find enough water, but farmers are hit hardest as “they’re all on pins and needles trying to figure out how they’re going to get through this.” Fields will go unplanted (supply lower mean food prices higher), or farmers will pay top dollar for water that’s on the market (and those costs can only be passed on via higher food prices).
Federal officials announced Friday that many California farmers caught in the state’s drought can expect to receive no irrigation water this year from a vast system of rivers, canals and reservoirs interlacing the state.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its first outlook of the year, saying that the agency will continue to monitor rain and snow fall, but the grim levels so far prove that the state is in the throes of one of its driest periods in recorded history.
Unless the year turns wet, many farmers can expect to receive no water from the federally run Central Valley Project.
… the state’s snowpack is at 29 percent of average for this time of year.
California officials who manage the State Water Project, the state’s other major water system, have already said they won’t be releasing any water for farmers, marking a first in its 54-year history.
“They’re all on pins and needles trying to figure out how they’re going to get through this,” Holman said, adding that Westland’s 700 farmers will choose to leave fields unplanted, draw water from wells or pay top dollar for water that’s on the market.
Farmers are hit hardest, but they’re not alone. Contractors that provide cities with water can expect to receive half of their usual amount, the Bureau said, and wildlife refuges that need water flows in rivers to protect endangered fish will receive 40 percent of their contracted supply.
Contractors that provide farmers with water and hold historic agreements giving them senior rights will receive 40 percent of their normal supplies. Some contracts date back over a century andguarantee that farmers will receive at least 75 percent of their water.
One of those is the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority in Los Banos that provides irrigation for 240,000 acres of farmland.
The Water Authority’s executive director Steve Chedester said farmers he serves understand that the reality of California’s drought means it’s going to be tough to find enough water for them. “They’re taking a very practical approach,” he said. “If it’s not there, it’s just not there.”
Did you know that the drought in Brazil is so bad that some neighborhoods are only being allowed to get water once every three days? At this point, 142 Brazilian cities are rationing water and there does not appear to be much hope that this crippling drought is going to end any time soon. Unfortunately, most Americans seem to be absolutely clueless about all of this. In response to my recent article about how the unprecedented drought that is plaguing California right now could affect our food supply, one individual left a comment stating “if Califirnia can’t supply South America will. We got NAFTA.” Apart from the fact that this person could not even spell “California” correctly, we also see a complete ignorance of what is going on in the rest of the planet. The truth is that the largest country in South America (Brazil) is also experiencing an absolutely devastating drought at the moment. They are going to have a very hard time just taking care of their own people for the foreseeable future.
And this horrendous drought in Brazil could potentially have a huge impact on the total global food supply. As a recent RT article detailed, Brazil is the leading exporter in the world in a number of very important food categories…
Over 140 Brazilian cities have been pushed to ration water during the worst drought on record, according to a survey conducted by the country’s leading newspaper. Some neighborhoods only receive water once every three days.
Water is being rationed to nearly 6 million people living in a total of 142 cities across 11 states in Brazil, the world’s leading exporter of soybeans, coffee, orange juice, sugar and beef. Water supply companies told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that the country’s reservoirs, rivers and streams are the driest they have been in 20 years. A record heat wave could raise energy prices and damage crops.
Some neighborhoods in the city of Itu in Sao Paulo state (which accounts for one-quarter of Brazil’s population and one-third of its GDP), only receive water once every three days, for a total of 13 hours.
Are you starting to see what I mean?
This is serious.
B. Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California at Berkeley, thinks that California needs to brace itself for a megadrought—one that could last for 200 years or more.
As a paleoclimatologist, Ingram takes the long view, examining tree rings and microorganisms in ocean sediment to identify temperatures and dry periods of the past millennium. Her work suggests that droughts are nothing new to California.
A drought of even 10 years would absolutely cripple this nation. Already, the size of the total U.S. cattle herd is the smallest that it has been in 63 years and California farmers are going to let half a million acres sit idle this year because of the extremely dry conditions. If this drought persists for several more years we will have an unprecedented crisis on our hands.
Unfortunately, there are signs that this current drought in California may be part of a larger trend. I had never heard of “the Pacific Decadal Oscillation” before this week, but apparently it is a phenomenon that can cause droughts that last “for decades“…
Ingram and other paleoclimatologists have correlated several historic megadroughts with a shift in the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean that occurs every 20 to 30 years—something called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The PDO is similar to an El Nino event except it lasts for decades—as its name implies—whereas an El Nino event lasts 6 to 18 months. Cool phases of the PDO result in less precipitation because cooler sea temperatures bump the jet stream north, which in turn pushes off storms that would otherwise provide rain and snow to California. Ingram says entire lakes dried up in California following a cool phase of the PDO several thousand years ago.
And of course it isn’t just the western half of the country that is struggling with water supply problems. In the Southeast, water has been a major political issue for quite some time…
The drought-parched states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida are back at it — fighting for a slice of water rights in a decades-long water war that’s left all three thirsty for more.
The 24-year dispute is emblematic of an increasingly common economic problem facing cities and states across the country – the demand for water quickly outpacing the supply as spikes in population soak up resources.
Most of us that live in the United States are accustomed to having seemingly inexhaustible supplies of fresh water. We use more fresh water per capita than anyone else on the planet, and most of us never even think twice about it.
Unfortunately, things are changing. We are on the precipice of a great water crisis, and many Americans are going to be in for a very rude awakening.
And the frightening thing is that the U.S. is actually in much better shape than most of the rest of the world is when it comes to supplies of fresh water. In some areas of the globe, a “water crisis” is already a daily reality.
We have heard that someday water is going to become the “new oil”, and we are starting to get to that point. Life is simply not possible without water, and as global supplies of clean, fresh water dwindle it is inevitable that it is going to cause global tensions to rise.
So what do you think the solutions to these problems are?
Two years into California’s drought and locals are repeating (mantra-like) “we’ve never seen anything like it.” They are right, of course, since this is the worst period of rainlessness since records began… but if Cal Berkeley professor Lynn Ingram is correct, they ain’t seen nothing yet. The paleoclimatologist fears, if very long-run history repeats, California should brace itself for a mega drought, as National Geographic reports, a drought that could last for 200 years or more.
California is experiencing its worst drought since record-keeping began in the mid 19th century, and scientists say this may be just the beginning. B. Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California at Berkeley, thinks that California needs to brace itself for a megadrought—one that could last for 200 years or more.
As a paleoclimatologist, Ingram takes the long view, examining tree rings and microorganisms in ocean sediment to identify temperatures and dry periods of the past millennium. Her work suggests that droughts are nothing new to California.
“During the medieval period, there was over a century of drought in the Southwest and California. The past repeats itself,” says Ingram, who is co-author of The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climate Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow. Indeed, Ingram believes the 20th century may have been a wet anomaly.
Unfortunately, she notes, most of the state’s infrastructure was designed and built during the 20th century, when the climate was unusually wet compared to previous centuries. That hasn’t set water management on the right course to deal with long periods of dryness in the future.
Given that California is one of the largest agricultural regions in the world, the effects of any drought, never mind one that could last for centuries, are huge. About 80 percent of California’s freshwater supply is used for agriculture. The cost of fruits and vegetables could soar, says Cantu. “There will be cataclysmic impacts.”
So what is causing the current drought?
Ingram and other paleoclimatologists have correlated several historic megadroughts with a shift in the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean that occurs every 20 to 30 years—something called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The PDO is similar to an El Nino event except it lasts for decades—as its name implies—whereas an El Nino event lasts 6 to 18 months. Cool phases of the PDO result in less precipitation because cooler sea temperatures bump the jet stream north, which in turn pushes off storms that would otherwise provide rain and snow to California. Ingram says entire lakes dried up in California following a cool phase of the PDO several thousand years ago. Warm phases have been linked to numerous storms along the California coast.
“We have been in a fairly cold phase of PDO since the early 2000s,” says Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, “so the drought we are seeing now makes sense.”
That said, scientists caution against pinning the current drought on the PDO alone. Certainly ocean temperatures, wind, and the weather pattern in the Pacific have contributed to the drought, says Nate Mantua, a professor in the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, where the PDO pattern was first discovered and named. “But it’s more nuanced than saying the PDO did this.” After all, as its name suggests, the PDO is decades in the making.
California’s New ‘Dust Bowl’: “It’s Gonna Be a Slow, Painful, Agonizing Death” For Farmers | Zero Hedge
“It’s really a crisis situation,” exclaims one California city manager, “and it’s going to get worse in time if this drought doesn’t alleviate.”
For the state that produces one-third of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, the driest spell in 500 years has prompted President Obama to make $100 million in livestock-disaster aid availablewithin 60 days to help the state rebound from what he describes is ” going to be a very challenging situation this year… and potentially some time to come.”
As NBC reports, Governor Jerry Brown believes the “unprecedented emergency” could cost $2.8 billion in job income and $11 billion in state revenues – and as one farmer noted “we can’t recapture that.” Dismal recollections of the 1930’s Dust Bowl are often discussed as workers (and employers) are “packing their bags and leaving town…” leaving regions to “run the risk of becoming desolate ghost towns as local governments and businesses collapse.”
“The truth of the matter is that this is going to be a very challenging situation this year, and frankly, the trend lines are such where it’s going to be a challenging situation for some time to come,” Obama said Friday during a meeting with local leaders in Firebaugh, Calif., a rural enclave not far from Fresno.
Obama promised to make $100 million in livestock-disaster aid available within 60 days to help the state rebound from what the White House’s top science and technology adviser has called the worst dry spell in 500 years.
“A lot of people don’t realize the amount of money that’s been lost, the amount of jobs lost. And we can’t recapture that,” Joel Allen, the owner of the Joel Allen Ranch in Firebaugh, told NBC News.
“It’s horrible,” Allen added. “People are standing in food lines and people are coming by my office every day looking for work.”
Allen — whose family has been in farming for three generations — and his 20-man crew are out of work.
He said: “We’re to the point where we’re scratching our head. What are we gonna do next?”
At the local grocery store, fruit prices are up — but sales are down. The market was forced to lay off three employees — and many more throughout the town are packing their bags and leaving town.
McDonald said farming communities like Firebaugh run the risk of becoming desolate ghost towns as local governments and businesses collapse.
“It’s going to be a slow, painful process — but it could happen,” McDonald said. “It’s not going to be one big tsunami where you’re gonna having something get wiped out in one big wave.It’s gonna be a slow, painful, agonizing death.”
The problem is not just in California. Federal agriculture officials in January designated parts of 11 states as disaster areas, citing the economic strain that the lack of rain is putting on farmers. Those states are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.
We now have an answer to why global temperatures have risen less quickly in recent years than predicted in climate change models. (It’s necessary to add immediately that the issue is only the rate of that rise, since the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998.) Thanks to years of especially strong Pacific trade winds, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, much of the extra heat generated by global warming is being buried deep in ocean waters. Though no one knows for sure, the increase in the power of those winds may itself have been set off by the warming of the Indian Ocean. In other words, the full effects of the heating of the planet have been postponed, but are still building (and may also be affecting ocean ecology in unpredictable ways). As Matthew England, the lead scientist in the study, points out, “Even if the [Pacific trade] winds accelerate… sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect. And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the twenty-first century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end.”
Despite the slower rate of temperature rise, the effects of the global heating process are quite noticeable. Yes, if you’re living somewhere in much of the lower forty-eight, you now know the phrase “polar vortex” the same way you do “Mom” and “apple pie,” and like me, you’re shivering every morning the moment you step outside, or sometimes even in your own house. That southern shift in the vortex may itself be an artifact of changing global weather patterns caused at least in part by climate change.
In the meantime, in the far north, temperatures have been abnormally high in both Alaska and Greenland; Oslo had a Christmas to remember, and forest fires raged in the Norwegian Arctic this winter. Then, of course, there is the devastating, worsening drought in California (and elsewhere in the West) now in its third year, and by some accounts the worst in half a millennium, which is bound to drive up global food prices. There are the above-the-normtemperatures in Sochi that are creating problems keeping carefully stored snow on the ground for Olympic skiers and snowboarders. And for good measure, toss in storm-battered Great Britain’s wettest December and January in more than a century. Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, there’s heat to spare. There was the devastating January heat wave in Australia, while in parts of Brazil experiencing the worst drought in half-a-century there has never been a hotter month on record than that same month. If the rains don’t come relatively soon, the city of São Paulo is in danger of running out of water.
It’s clear enough that, with the effects of climate change only beginning to take hold, the planet is already in a state of weather disarray. Yet, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out today, the forces arrayed against dealing with climate change couldn’t be more powerful. Given that we’ve built our global civilization on the continuing hit of energy that fossil fuels provide and given the interests arrayed around exploiting that hit, the gravitational pull of what Klare calls “Planet Carbon” is staggering.
Recently, I came across the following passage in Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell’s 1976 classic about Nixon administration malfeasance. Schell wrote it with the nuclear issue in mind, but today it has an eerie resonance when it comes to climate change: “In the United States, unprecedented wealth and ease came to coexist with unprecedented danger, and a sumptuous feast of consumable goods was spread out in the shadow of universal death. Americans began to live as though on a luxuriously appointed death row, where one was free to enjoy every comfort but was uncertain from moment to moment when or if the death sentence might be carried out. The abundance was very much in the forefront of people’s attention, however, and the uncertainty very much in the background; and in the government as well as in the country at large the measureless questions posed by the new weapons were evaded.” Tom
The Gravitational Pull of Planet Carbon
Three Signs of Retreat in the Global War on Climate Change
By Michael T. Klare
Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, it would have been easy to conclude that we were slowly but surely gaining in the war on climate change. “Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” the president said. “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.” Indeed, it’s true that in recent years, largely thanks to the dampening effects of the Great Recession, U.S. carbon emissions were in decline (though they grewby 2% in 2013). Still, whatever the president may claim, we’re not heading toward a “cleaner, safer planet.” If anything, we’re heading toward a dirtier, more dangerous world.
A series of recent developments highlight the way we are losing ground in the epic struggle to slow global warming. This has not been for lack of effort. Around the world, dedicated organizations, communities, and citizens have been working day by day to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of renewable sources of energy. The struggle to prevent construction of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline is a case in point. As noted in a recentNew York Times article, the campaign against that pipeline has galvanized the environmental movement around the country and attracted thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., for protests and civil disobedience at the White House. But efforts like these, heroic as they may be, are being overtaken by a more powerful force: the gravitational pull of cheap, accessible carbon-based fuels, notably oil, coal, and natural gas.
In the past few years, the ever more widespread use of new extractive technologies — notably hydraulic fracturing (to exploit shale deposits) andsteam-assisted gravity drainage (for tar sands) — has led to a significant increase in fossil fuel production, especially in North America. This has left in the dust the likelihood of an imminent “peak” in global oil and gas output and introduced an alternative narrative — much promoted by the energy industry and its boosters — of unlimited energy supplies that will last into the distant future. Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates that state’s oil industry) was typical in hailing a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and gas worldwide at a recent meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.
As oil and gas have proven unexpectedly abundant and affordable, major energy consumers are planning to rely on them more — and on renewable sources of energy less — to meet their future requirements. As a result, the promises we once heard of a substantial decline in fossil fuel use (along with a corresponding boom in renewables) are fading. According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy, global fossil fuel consumption is expected to grow by an astonishing 40% by 2035, jumping from 440 to 615 quadrillion British thermal units.
While the combined share of total world energy that comes from fossil fuels will decline slightly — from 84% to 79% — they will still dominate the global energy marketplace for decades to come. Renewables, according to these projections, will continue to represent only a small fraction of the total. If this proves to be accurate, there can be only one plausible outcome: vastly increased carbon emissions leading to rising temperatures and the sort ofcatastrophic climate change scenarios that now seem almost impossible to imagine.
Think of it this way: in our world, the gravitational pull of carbon exerts itself every minute of every day, shaping the energy decisions of individuals, companies, institutions, and governments. This pull is leading to defeat in the global struggle to slow the advance of severe climate change and is reflected in three recent developments in the energy news: a declaration of surrender by BP, a major setback in the European Union, and a strategic end-run by Canadian tar sands companies.
BP Announces the Defeat of Renewables
Every year, energy giant BP (once British Petroleum) releases its “Energy Outlook” for the years ahead, an analysis of future trends in global production and consumption. The 2014 report — extending BP’s energy forecast to the year 2035 — was made public on January 15th. Typically, its release is accompanied by a press conference in which top BP executives offer commentary on the state of world energy, usually aimed at the business media. This year, the company’s CEO, Bob Dudley, spoke with unbridled optimism about the future market for his company’s energy products, assuring his audience that the global supply of fossil fuels would remain substantial for years to come. (Dudley took over the helm at BP after his predecessor, Tony Hayward, was dumped in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.)
“The picture in terms of resources in the ground is a good one,” he noted. “It’s very different to past concerns about supply peaking. The theory of peak oil seems to have — well — peaked.”
This, no doubt, produced the requisite smiles from Dudley’s oil-friendly audience. Then his comments took a darker turn. Can we satisfy the world’s energy requirements with fuels that are sustainable, he asked. “Not at the moment,” he admitted. Because of a rising tide of fossil fuel consumption, he added, “carbon emissions are currently projected to rise — by 29% by 2035, we estimate in the Outlook.” He acknowledged that, whatever good news might be found in that document, in this area “steps are needed to change the forecast.”
Next, Dudley tried to put a hopeful spin on the long-term climate prospect. By replacing coal-fired power plants with less-carbon-polluting natural gas, he indicated, overall greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. Increasing the efficiency of energy-consuming devices, he added, will also help. All of this, however, adds up to little when it comes to the big picture of carbon emissions. In the end, he could point to few signs of progress in the struggle to slow the advance of climate change. “In 2035, we project that gas and coal will account for 54% of global energy demand [and oil another 27%]. While renewables will grow rapidly, their share will reach just 7%.”
Most of the media coverage of Dudley’s appearance focused on his expectations of long-term energy abundance, not what it would do to us or our planet. Several commentators were, however, quick to note how unusual it was for an oil company CEO to address the problem of carbon emissions at all, no less express something verging on despair over the prospect of making any progress in curbing them.
“[Dudley] concludes… [that] the world is still a long way from delivering the peak in greenhouse gas emissions many scientists advise has to be achieved within the next decade to minimize the risk of dangerous climate change,”observed energy analyst James Murray at businessGreen.com.
The member states of the European Union (EU) have long exercised global leadership in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change. Under their justly celebrated 20-20-20 plan, adopted in December 2008, they are committed to reducing their emissions by 20% over 1990 levels by 2020, increasing their overall energy efficiency by 20%, and achieving 20% reliance on renewables in total energy consumption. No other region has embraced goals as ambitious as these, and none has invested greater resources in their implementation. Any wavering from this path would signal a significant retrenchment in the global climate struggle.
It now appears that Europe is preparing to rein in the pace of its drive to slow global warming. At issue is not the implementation of the 20-20-20 plan, which is well on its way to being achieved, but on the goals that should follow it. Climate activists and green energy entrepreneurs have been calling for an even more ambitious set of targets for 2030 and beyond; many manufacturers and other major energy consumers have been pushing for a slower pace of change, claiming that increased reliance on renewables is driving up energy prices and so diminishing their economic competitiveness. Already, it appears that the industrialists are gaining ground at the expense of climate action.
At stake is the EU’s climate blueprint for 2030, the next major threshold in its drive to slow the pace of warming. On January 22nd, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission (EC), released its guidelines for the new plan, which must still be approved by the EU Parliament and its member states. While touted by some as a sign of continued European commitment to decisive climate action, the EC’s plan is viewed as a distinct setback by many environmental leaders.
At first glance, the plan looks promising. It calls for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 — a huge drop from the 2020 requirement. This is, however, less dramatic than it may appear, analysts say, because energy initiatives already under way in Europe under the 20-20-20 plan, coupled with a region-wide economic slowdown, will make a 40% reduction quite feasible without staggering effort. Meanwhile, other aspects of the plan are downright worrisome. There is no mandate for a further increase in energy efficiency and, far more important, the mandate for increased reliance on renewables — at 27%, a significant gain — is not binding on individual states but on the EU as a whole. This makes both implementation and enforcement questionable matters. Jens Tartler, a spokesperson for the German Renewable Energy Federation (which represents that country’s wind and solar industries), calledthe lack of binding national goals for renewables “totally disappointing,” claiming it would “contribute to a marked reduction in the pace of expansion of renewables.”
To explain this evident slackening in Europe’s climate commitment, analysts point to the immense pressures being brought by manufacturers and others who decry the region’s rising energy prices caused, in part, by increased subsidies for renewables. “Behind the heated debate in Brussels about climate and renewable energy targets, what is really happening is that concern over high energy prices has taken precedence over climate concerns in Europe,” saysSonja van Renssen, the Brussels correspondent for Energy Post, an online journal. “Many [EU] member states and industry fear that a strong climate and energy policy will be bad for their economies.”
In arguing their case, proponents of diluted climate goals note that EU policies have raised the cost of producing a metric ton of aluminum in Europe by 11% and that European steel companies pay twice as much for electricity and four times as much for natural gas as their U.S. counterparts. These, and similar phenomena, are “dragging the EU economy down,” wrote Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank.
Not surprisingly, many European manufacturers seek to reduce subsidies for renewables and urge greater reliance on less-costly fossil fuels. In particular, some officials, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, are eager to follow the U.S. lead and bring advanced technologies like hydro-fracking to bear on the extraction of more oil and natural gas from Europe’s domestic reserves. “Europe’s hydrocarbons production is in decline,” noted Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, but “there may be some opportunities… to slow down and perhaps reverse some of these trends” — notably by imitating the “revolution in hydrocarbon production” now under way in the United States.
Read this another way and a new and truly unsettling meaning emerges: the “shale gas revolution” being promoted with such fervor by President Obama as a “bridge” to a more climate-friendly energy system in the United States is having the opposite effect in Europe. It is weakening the EU’s commitment to renewable energy and threatens to increase Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Canada’s End-Run Around Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition
Much to the surprise of everyone, climate activists in the United States led by environmental author and activist Bill McKibben and the action group he helped to found, 350.org, have succeeded in delaying U.S. government approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for more than two years. Once considered a sure thing, the pipeline, if completed, will carry 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen (“syncrude”) some 1,700 miles from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has, however, been held up by detailed environmental impact studies and other procedural steps ordered by the U.S. State Department. (Because the pipeline will cross an international boundary, it requires approval from the Secretary of State and, ultimately, the president, but not Congress.)
Opponents of the pipeline claim that by facilitating the exploitation of particularly carbon-dense Canadian tar sands, it will substantially increasegreenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The use of this bitumen-based fuel releases more carbon per unit of energy than conventional petroleum and its energy-intensive extraction generates additional carbon emissions. Should all of the bitumen in Canada — the equivalent of 1 trillion barrels of oil — be consumed, it’s “game over for the climate,” as former NASA climate scientistJames Hansen has famously written.
How the Obama administration will come down on Keystone XL is still unknown. In a speech on climate policy last June, the president indicated that he would give highest priority to climate considerations when deciding on the pipeline. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” he said. “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” At the time, his comments raised the hopes of climate activists that Obama would ultimately decide against the pipeline. More recently, however, an environmental assessment conducted at the behest of the State Department and released on January 31st cast doubt on this outcome. The report’s reasoning: even though the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands will increase the pace of carbon emissions, their extraction and delivery to refineries is assured by alternative means — mainly rail — if the pipeline isn’t built and so its construction will not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
While this is certainly a uniquely sophistic (and shaky) argument, it is important to note that the Canadian producers and their U.S. partners are indeed attempting to stage an end-run around opposition to the pipeline by increasing their reliance on rail cars to deliver tar sands.
“The indecision on Keystone XL really spawned innovation and mobilized alternatives, and rail is a clear part of the options available to our industry,”observed Paul Reimer, senior vice president in charge of transport at Cenovus Energy, a Canadian oil company planning to increase rail shipments from 7,000 barrels a day to as many as 30,000 barrels a day by the end of 2014. Other Canadian firms have similar expansion plans. All told, the Canadiansclaim that, over the coming years, they will be able to increase rail-carrying capacity from the current 180,000 barrels per day to as much as 900,000 barrels, or more than would be carried by the pipeline.
If this were to happen, count on one thing: rail transport will turn out to have itsown problems — and its own opposition. Not surprisingly, then, Canada’s oil industry still craves approval for Keystone XL, as it would allow even greater tar sands exports and legitimize the use of this carbon-heavy fuel. But the growing reliance on rail transportation does once again demonstrate the powerful gravitational pull of Planet Carbon. “At the end of the day, there’s a consensus among most energy experts that the oil will get shipped to market no matter what,” says Robert McNally, a former energy adviser to President George W. Bush.
Reducing Carbon’s Pull
These three recent encounters in the historic struggle to avert the most destructive effects of climate change tell us a great deal about the nature and terrain of the battlefield. Climate change is not the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it is the result of burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere. As long as governments, corporations, and consumers prefer carbon as an energy source, the war on climate change will be lost and the outcome of that will, in turn, be calamitous.
There is only one way to avert the worst effects of climate change: make the consumption of carbon unattractive. This can be accomplished, in part, by shaming — portraying the producers of carbon-rich fuels as the enemies of human health and survival. It’s an approach that has already achieved some modest successes, as in the prevention, until now, of Keystone’s construction. Withdrawing funds from fossil fuel firms, or disinvestment, is another useful approach. Many student and religious groups are attempting to hinder oil drilling activities by pushing their colleges and congregations to move their investment funds elsewhere.
But shaming and disinvestment campaigns are insufficient; much tougher sanctions are required. To stop the incineration of our planet, carbon must be made expensive — so costly, in fact, that renewables become the common fuel of choice.
There are at least two ways to move toward accomplishing this: impose a tax on carbon emissions, raising the cost of fossil fuels above those of renewables; or adopt a universal cap-and-trade system, forcing major carbon emitters to buy permits (at ever-increasing cost) in order to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Both measures have been advocated by environmentalists and some attempts have been made to institute each of them. (Both California and the European Union, for example, are implementing cap-and-trade systems.) There may be other approaches to the problem that could prove even more effective, but the most essential thing is to recognize that genuine progress on climate change will not be possible until carbon fuels lose their financial allure. For this to happen, as BP’s Dudley begrudgingly acknowledged on January 15th, “you need carbon pricing. Universally accepted carbon pricing.”
The gravitational pull of carbon is immensely powerful. It cannot be overcome by symbolic gestures or half measures. The pressures to keep burning fossil fuels are too great to be overcome in piecemeal fashion. Rather, these forces must be met head-on, with the institutionalization of equally powerful counter-forces that make fossil fuels economically unattractive. We humans have a choice: we can succumb to carbon’s gravitational pull and so suffer from increasingly harsh planetary conditions, or resist and avoid the most deadly consequences of climate change.
Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.
Copyright 2014 Michael Klare
Is the West Coast In the Middle of a “Mega Drought”?
The Los Angeles Times reports:
“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.
California droughts can last decades … or even centuries. As the San Jose Mercury News points out:
Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years.
“We continue to run California as if the longest drought we are ever going to encounter is about seven years,” said Scott Stine, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Cal State East Bay. “We’re living in a dream world.”
Some scientists believe we are already in a megadrought, although that view is not universally accepted.
Bill Patzert, a research scientist and oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, says that the West is in a 20-year drought that began in 2000. He cites the fact that a phenomenon known as a “negative Pacific decadal oscillation” [not linked to climate change] is underway — and that historically has been linked to extreme high-pressure ridges that block storms.
We are not forecasting gloom and doom. Hopefully, the West Coast will soon get enough rain to end the drought.
The most populous U.S. state received 709,014 barrels of crude from Canada by rail in December, a 4.9 percent increase from November and up from zero a year ago, data posted on the state Energy Commission’s website show. Canada made up 67 percent of the state’s total oil-by-rail receipts. North Dakota, where fields in the Bakken formation are producing a record volume of crude, shrank to a 5.9 percent share.
U.S. West Coast refiners from Valero Energy Corp. (VLO) to Tesoro Corp. (TSO), lacking pipeline access to the glut of shale oil in the middle of the country, have been turning to rail to counter declining supplies in California and Alaska. California brought in a record 2.83 million barrels of oil by rail in the fourth quarter from all sources, almost double the amount from the three months prior, the state said.
“We’re seeing a lot of Canadian crude-by-rail loading facilities coming online, so it’s no surprise it’s beginning to show up in California,” David Hackett, president of energy consulting firm Stillwater Associates in Irvine, California, said by telephone. “Refinery configuration in California is oriented toward heavy or medium, sour crude, and the Canadian barrels, which are heavy and somewhat sour, are a better fit than the light Bakken barrels.”
Alaska North Slope crude, which made up 12 percent of California’s oil slate in 2012, has traded an average $27.73 a barrel above Western Canadian Select, a heavy sour blend, over the past month, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Bakken oil has traded $16.09 a barrel above Western Canadian.
“The discounts have been pretty big, an indication of how constrained the pipelines are up in Canada,” Gordon Schremp, a fuels analyst at the state Energy Commission, said by telephone fromSacramento. “I’m not surprised to see more Canadian come in. Wait until some of these rail projects get built here. The economics will be even better than what we’re seeing today.”
Oil-by-rail receipts from Wyoming totaled 221,793 barrels in December, making up the second-largest share of the state’s volume at 21 percent. North Dakota sent 62,325 barrels and New Mexico 12,927.
Alaskan oil output has declined every year since 2002 as the yield from existing wells shrinks. Alaska North Slope crude production averaged 567,600 barrels a day in December, down from 582,150 a year earlier, data posted on the Alaska Department of Revenue’s website today showed.
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