27 july 2012

[4C note: Nearly as interesting as the following article are the comments on it, to be found on the RSN page we took it from.]

The Drought - A Slow-Motion Meteorological Catastrophe

By Charles Pierce, Esquire via Reader Supported News, 27 July 12

The ongoing drought in the United States is one of the most consequential — and underreported — stories of the past five years. It affects almost every aspect of human life, from food and water to public safety, as cash-strapped states and cities and towns try to deal with massive wildfires, and the conditions are almost assuredly a result of, and exacerbated by, the global climate crisis the existence of which one entire half of our political spectrum is dedicated to denying. And there are new stories every day, and every one of them is worse than the one before.

Today, for example, we find that the percentage of the country suffering under the worst drought conditions rose seven percent just in the past week. And it's not just farm country that's being slowly desiccated:

States posting dramatic increases in just the last week included Illinois, which went from 8 percent in extreme/exceptional drought to 70 percent, and Nebraska, which went from 5 percent to 64 percent. In Illinois, the drought is impacting water supplies in towns like Pontiac. "The Vermillion River does not have enough flow for us to use it as our primary source of water," one field observer reported Wednesday to the Drought Mitigation Center. "We have had to switch to a secondary source of water, located in a reservoir a few miles outside of town ... A 'dirt' like smell and taste is being noted ... We NEED rain, very soon."

In Oklahoma, farmers are trying to keep alive herds of cattle that they can't sell. A third of Arkansas is under what is called "extraordinary drought" conditions. A friend down there reports:

The drought here is far worse than last year. We had some rain two weeks ago. The pastures got green again for a week. Now they're dying again. Oak trees are dying up on the ridge. It's very depressing. Really takes the pleasure out of country living, to be honest. Old timers say they've never seen anything this bad. Oddly, it's not costing me much, as the money I'm spending on hay I'm not spending on mowing.

This is a slow-motion meteorlogical catastrophe, the functional equivalent of a series of simultaneous tornadoes or hurricanes, but heat and drought are so general that they don't register as disasters the way other weather events do. Its ecological effects are more lasting, however, and its financial impact ripples through the entire American economy. Meanwhile, as the land gasps from thirst, the national infrastructure of our public water supply has been deteriorating for years, and people have been warning about what a wreck it is for going on a decade now.

And what is the public response? The Washington Post decides to slap the greedy farmers around. And, on the other hand, the Congress, which is chockful of climate-change denialists and people who thump their tubs for "small government" until the wildfires start surrounding their vacation homes, is using the drought to play shenanigans with a farm bill that it can't seem to pass. Whatever they're doing, they're not listening to the administration, that's for sure. Which isn't entirely a bad thing, because the administration doesn't seem to know what in the hell is going on, either.

STOLBERG: Could you talk a little bit about the drought itself? Is it very unusual? Did anyone see it coming? Is it from climate change? Is there anything you can do to prepare?

VILSACK: I'm not a scientist so I'm not going to opine as to the cause of this. All we know is that right now there are a lot of farmers and ranchers who are struggling. And it's important and necessary for them to know, rather than trying to focus on what's causing this, what can we do to help them.

My God, what in the hell does that mean? Am I just a slow person, or doesn't knowing what causes something actually help you prevent that thing's happening again, or at least, doesn't it help you prepare yourself better for when it does? I begin to wonder if climate change is going to be one of those issues like gun-control where well-financed paranoia and heavily subsidized ignorance wear the political process down to the point at which people simply give up trying to fight them.

And then we all die of thirst.

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