hose who do not learn from the past are condemned to, well, sweat like a cheese plate, watch corn crops wither to dust and learn that those miracle technologies behind crop yield enhancement can do only so much.
And not having learned it, they will repeat it, of course, the following year, having forgotten over the winter just how hot and dry the northern hemisphere can become.
That’s the problem with fixing global warming, as the economist Paul Krugman writes despairingly. People have short memories. “Let the days grow a bit cooler and the rains fall,” he says, “and inevitably people’s attention turns to other matters.”
And since climate fluctuates, it might well be cooler for the occasional summer, which the climate-change-denial industry will use to postpone action needed to protect the daily lives of our children and grandchildren. And then we’ll be back to a hotter version of this awful summer, having done nothing in the interim to prepare for it.
Commodities brokers notice climate change, though, because it quickly links to profit or loss. The U.S. midwest, dry as powder, grows a third of the planet’s corn and soybeans and exports 40 per cent of what is traded around the world.
Could there be any word more boring to the general public than “commodities?” No, but try “food prices” and ears will perk up. People’s ears, that is. Corn ears are stumps right now, two months after predictions of a warm spring and one of the finest crops in recent years. Then came the drought.
There is a long rolling effect as big crops — corn and soybeans — die. The Financial Times of London has detailed these changes: panic buying in China, Europe and Mexico, a rise in U.S. and Canadian wheat prices as livestock are fed wheat instead of corn, and massive planting of corn and soybeans in South America. Agricultural centres will switch around.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper got a lucky reprieve from the consequences of killing the Canadian Wheat Board. Wheat prices will be strong in the short term, but in the long term — when the drought moves north — farmers will suffer. Without the board, they will suffer alone.
As for corn prices, remember that high-fructose corn syrup is what feeds poor and middle-class Americans cheaply. The 99 per cent won’t be happy.
Grass-fed beef? Cattle need grass, hay and water. They have little and so they’ll be hustled to the slaughterhouses, a cull that will be difficult to repair. “Bulls don’t breed in 105-degree weather,” Missouri cattle farmer Matt Hardecke told the FT flatly. And that kind of heat is in Missouri to stay.
Unlike grain and food prices, ethanol use has been debated. It was always madness to make gasoline out of corn — corn is food for animals and people — but now the U.S. government may have to stop mandating ethanol content in fuel.
We used to assume science would take care of farming, the Green Revolution that relied heavily on expensive fertilizer having boosted farming in the Third World. Average corn yields have doubled since 1970 but this can’t go on forever, no matter how peppy Monsanto gets about its seeds improving year-over-year until yields double again between 2000 and 2030, as the FT reports.
But Monsanto can’t predict the ravages of global warming.
Rising food prices are part of the second warming wave, although all such classifications are obviously arbitrary. Was the spruce pine beetle eating Canadian forests part of the first wave or the second? Rising sea levels — for which Britain, New York City and Florida, to name only three sites, are noticeably unprepared — are coming but when?
Freak storms are already here. Extreme heat may or may not be causing glass to fall out of some Toronto condo towers, the glass not being adaptable enough. We can partly attribute a lack of blackouts to Ontario factories shutting down, which is not exactly great news.
What’s the upside, people ask. There is no upside because we are global now. We import and export, we rely on each other, we hope to be able to flee the heat. We won’t suffer equally, but we will all suffer.