Drought-Death by a Thousand Cuts

by Robert Hunziker

Drought is like death by a thousand cuts. It steadily but slowly devastates the countryside long before people recognize an emergency at hand.

Excessive drought is but one symptom that climate change has turned vicious.

Worldwide drought conditions are more severe and much quicker to arise than in the past. Inasmuch as fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal emit evermore carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere with concomitant increasing levels of global warming, the outlook for escalating drought is clear and imminent.

According to scientific studies to better understand the matrix of global-warming-induced drought conditions: “Historical records of precipitation, stream flow and drought indices all show increased aridity since 1950 over many land areas… which suggest severe and widespread droughts in the next 30–90 years over many land areas resulting from either decreased precipitation and/or increased evaporation,” Aiguo Dai, Increasing Drought Under Global Warming in Observations and Models, Nature Climate Change 3, 52-58, doi:10.1038/inclimate1633, August 5, 2012.

However, when consideration is given to worldwide droughts as of today, the operative question should really be whether more “severe and widespread droughts” can be sustained.

“There has been a general temperature increase (0.5−2°C) during the last past 150 years, and climate change models predict a marked increase during the 21st century. It is expected that this will have dramatic consequences for drought conditions, with an increase in water demand due to evapotranspiration,” Sergio M. Vicentep-Serrano, et al, A Multi-Scalar Drought Index Sensitive to Global Warming: SPEI, Instituto Pirenaico de Ecologia, Spanish Commission of Science and Technology.

Droughts are not new phenomena. Droughts are part of nature’s course. Be that as it may, nowadays droughts are no longer just part of nature’s course. According to scientific studies, anthropogenic global warming is at the root of the problem, exacerbating drought conditions on a worldwide basis.

In fact, droughts have become a serious problem across the four corners of the planet.

California

Global warming is hitting California hard.

California’s drought is the result of a particularly steadfast blocking ridge over the Pacific, popularly known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, or ‘Triple R’, which prevents rain from reaching California. Blocking ridges consist of high atmospheric pressure zones that disrupt wind patterns, substantially altering atmospheric flow; as a result, regular Pacific storms are re-routed to the north.

A Stanford research team led by Noah Diffenbaugh, Ph.D. Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, issued a comprehensive study investigating the link between global warming and California’s drought published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 29, 2014.

According to Bala Rajaratnam, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Statistics and of Earth System Science, who collaborated on the study: “We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that the large-scale atmospheric conditions, similar to those associated with the Triple R, are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases.”

The Stanford study points the finger at global warming as a significant cause of California’s severe drought condition.

Ironically, California is the 4th largest oil and gas producer in America, thereby contributing to its own drought by producing CO2-emitting GHG (Greenhouse Gas). As it happens, California “steps on its own foot.”

China

According to China’s State Forestry Administration, over 27 percent of the country now suffers from desertification, more than 1,000,000 square miles, or about one-third of the continental United States, impacting the lives of more than 400 million people (Source: Luan Dong, At the Desert’s Edge Gives a Glimpse of China’s Massive Desertification Challenge, China Environment Forum//Eye On, June 17, 2013).

Remarkably, China’s drought impacts as many people as live in all of North America.

Scientists claim global warming is changing China’s climate. Studies have found the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation, not the Pacific Decadal Oscillation as previously thought, dominating its influence on China’s drought conditions. According to scientists, this oscillation shift, which is causing severe drought, is the result of global warming. (Source: Nadya Anscombe, Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation Dominates Chinese Droughts, Environmental Research Web- News, March 12, 2015).

Chinese “farmers and water-hungry industries have been wrestling with a long-term water crisis that has dried up more than half the country’s 50,000 significant rivers and left hundreds of cities facing what the government classifies as a ‘serious scarcity’ of water,” Drought Worsens China’s Long-Term Water Crisis, Science/Environment, NBC News, Sept. 24, 2014.

Twenty-five thousand “significant rivers drying up” and hundreds of cities experiencing “serious scarcity of water” is beyond belief, unimaginable but real.

As it happens, burning fossil fuel has dramatically affected China’s climate at the expense of water supplies for agriculture and for industry, meanwhile desertification steadily consumes the northern countryside as the drought threatens to overwhelm important areas of agriculture.

Over time, where will China turn for food staples for a population as large as the EU, North America and South America combined?

India

Global warming’s impact on India’s drought threatens the food supply for countless millions of people. Imagine this: A county of over one billion people with 25% of the land turned to desert. India is such a country.

“Worsening droughts in India are having an impact on the desertification trend, as vegetation dries up and is often never replaced… India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, said that up to 25% of the country was now desert,” Kenneth Rapoza, Worsening Droughts Add To India’s Desertification Problem, Forbes, June 18, 2014.

India’s drought in the “context of global warming” is explained, as follows: “In this study, changes in total dry days, prolonged dry spells, light precipitation, and risk of drought as indicated by Modified Palmer Index (MPI) over India during six decades (1951–2010) are examined quantitatively in the context of global warming. It is found that there are increases of 49% ± 21% and 33% ± 17% in prolonged dry spells and total dry days, respectively, over India for each degree Kelvin (K) increase in global mean temperature,” Anoop Mishra, et al, Changes in Precipitation Pattern and Risk of Drought Over India in the Context of Global Warming, Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 119, 7833-7841, doe: 10:1002/2014JDO21471, July 2, 2014.

Taiwan

In Taiwan drought conditions have forced a cut off of water supplies for two days each week in northern regions. Global warming is the problem.

Water supplies are now rationed for two days per week for an indefinite period of time. Rainfall across the island is the lowest since 1947. The vast Shihmen main reservoir is at only 24.5% of capacity. The dry spell is forecast to continue, and it is entirely possible the monsoon rains may not happen this year. Similar to China, Taiwanese climate is changing as a result of global warming.

The number of rain days has decreased significantly in Taiwan over the past 100, 50, and 30 years with the rate of decrease accelerating per decade as extreme dry spells have occurred more frequently in the past 30 years than in any other measured period. Furthermore, monsoons, a regular feature of Taiwanese weather systems, weaken from global warming (Source: Hsu, Huang-Hsiung, et al Climate Change in Taiwan, Scientific Report 2011, National Science Council, Taipei, Taiwan).

As water rationing spreads in Taiwan, up to three million people will be without water on given days (Source: Cindy Sui, Tackling Taiwan’s Water Shortages, BBC News, April 8, 2015).

The World’s Climate System is Changing because of Fossil Fuel CO2 Emissions

“This pattern of intense rain and snowstorms and periods of drought is becoming the new normal in our everyday weather as levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere continue to rise,” Union of Concerned Scientists.

“As the climate system changes in accordance to more CO2 we realize that by polluting our atmosphere we literally pull the carpet out from under our own feet,” Climate Change Impacts: Floods and Droughts, WWF Global.

Divestment

Because the use of fossil fuel ultimately serves to aggravate as well as cause drought, simple logic says eliminating fossil fuel is one answer to the problem.

According to a thorough study of worldwide divestment movements, “The movement to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean alternatives has gained remarkable speed. It was born in 2011 on just half a dozen college campuses where the students called on their administrations to divest endowments from coal and other fossil fuels. Today, a diverse group of students, philanthropies, and grassroots and environmental organizations from around the globe are driving the movement,” Arabella Advisors, founded by Eric Kessler in 2005 to provide strategic guidance for effective philanthropy.

Already, divestment commitments have shown remarkable growth in only four years represented by more than one-half billion people, or 7% of world population.

Recently, The Guardian, one of the world’s most influential news organizations joined 350.org’s divestment movement as a partner in the “Keep it in the Ground” campaign. Within 24 hours, over 75,000 people joined the effort.

Significantly, Stuart Scott, IESCO, Deputy Director General and member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, is working on a key strategic agreement in Norway where it is hoped the entire country will commit to divestment.

“Divest Norway” signature endorsements by individuals from around the world actively build support for the movement: DivestNorway.org/add-your-voice

Severe Drought Haunts the Planet on all Continents.

“The chances of a 35-year or longer “megadrought” striking the Southwest and central Great Plains by 2100 are above 80 percent if the world stays on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists from NASA, Columbia University, and Cornell University report in a study,” Science Advances, February 2015.

Australia’s “Big Dry” sucked up $4.5 billion in federal government drought assistance from 1995 to 2012. Spain just experienced the worst drought since record keeping began 150 years ago, losing 54% of 2014 crops. Brazil’s drought is the worst in 80 years. Sao Paulo is rationing water for 22 million people. Istanbul’s (pop. 14 million) water reservoirs are at 22% of capacity. The list goes on, and on.

All across the planet drought continues with a relentlessness that chills to the bone. People are aware, and thus, divestment movements are the leading edge towards influencing governments to take corrective action by embracing renewable energy to replace fossil fuel subsidies. Something must be done!

Robert Hunziker View more

Robert Hunziker
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com

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