The world is on the brink of a food “catastrophe” caused by the worst US drought in 50 years, and misguided government biofuel policy will exacerbate the perilous situation, scientists and activists warn.
When food prices spike and people go hungry, violence soon follows, they say. Riots caused by food shortages – similar to those of 2007-08 in countries like Bangladesh, Haiti, the Philippines and Burkina Faso among others – may be on the horizon, threatening social stability in impoverished nations that rely on US corn imports.
This summer’s devastating drought has scorched much of the mid-western United States – the world’s bread basket.
Crops such as corn, wheat, and soy have been decimated by high temperatures and little rain. Grain prices have skyrocketed and concerns abound the resulting higher food prices will hit the world’s poor the hardest – sparking violent demonstrations.
Early dryness in Russia’s wheat growing season, light monsoon rains in India, and drought in Africa’s Sahel region, combined with America’s lost crop, mean a perfect storm is on the horizon.
Surging food prices could kick off food riots similar to those in 2008 and 2010, Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, told Al Jazeera.
“Recent droughts in the mid-western United States threaten to cause global catastrophe,” said Bar-Yam, whose institute uses computer models to identify global trends.
Hopes were high in May of a bumper corn crop this year, but sizzling temperatures in June and July scuttled those predictions.
By Karen DeYoung, Thursday, March 22, 4:19 AM
Fresh-water shortages and more droughts and floods will increase the likelihood that water will be used as a weapon between states or to further terrorist aims in key strategic areas, including the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, a U.S. intelligence assessment released Thursday says.
Although “water-related state conflict” is unlikely in the next 10 years, the assessment says, continued shortages after that might begin to affect U.S. national security interests.
The assessment is drawn from a classified National Intelligence Estimate distributed to policy-makers in October. Although the unclassified version does not mention problems in specific countries, it describes “strategically important water basins” tied to rivers in several regions. These include the Nile, which runs through 10 countries in central and northeastern Africa before traveling through Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea; the Tigris-Euphrates in Turkey, Syria and Iraq; the Jordan, long the subject of dispute among Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians; and the Indus, whose catchment area includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tibet.
“As water problems become more acute, the likelihood … is that states will use them as leverage,”
Continued inefficient use of water could threaten Europe’s economy, productivity and ecosystems, a report has warned.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) said that the continent’s water resources were under pressure and things were getting worse.
It said limited supplies were being wasted, and nations had to implement existing legislation more effectively.
The EEA presented its findings at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseilles.
“The critical thing for us is that we are seeing an increasing number of regions where river basins, because of climate change, are experiencing water scarcity,” said EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade.
“Yet behavioural change, and what that means, hasn’t really come about.”
Prof McGlade said the main purpose of the report was to raise awareness about the issue.
“Member states need to be clearer about the opportunities they can make in order to enhance their use of a scarce resource,” she told BBC News.
“Nations need to use different kinds of methods. Instead of just having a hosepipe ban to fix this year’s problem, you need to invest in a very different way.
“Long-term investment needs to recognise these different uses of how water is allocated, how it is used [and the need for] different water qualities.
“[The report] highlights all the different challenges as countries move from their historical position on water to where they are moving to [as a result of] climate change.”
Within the EU, agriculture uses about a quarter of the water diverted from the natural environment, and in southern Europe the figure is as high as 80%.
As there was an economic cost to farmers abstracting water to put on their crops, Prof McGlade said the sector was showing an increased awareness of where water was being used inefficiently.
The first daffodils have crept into flower and the snowdrops have peaked already. If you think winters aren’t what they used to be, you’re not alone.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released a plant hardiness zone map of the nation that shows generally warmer winter low temperatures than the department’s previous map from 1990.
The new map divides the country into 13 zones arranged by minimum winter temperatures, in 10-degree increments. Among the shifts: The District and most of Virginia and Maryland are squarely in the relative balm of Zone 7. Specifically, they fall in the warmer half of Zone 7 where the mercury, on average, doesn’t go below 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Previously recorded in southeastern coastal Virginia, this zone now defines the coastal communities of the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River.
The colder Zone 6, which once embraced the Piedmont area and included much of Fairfax and Montgomery counties, is now pushed west of the Blue Ridge.
“The new map is generally one 5-degree Fahrenheit half zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States,” said Kim Kaplan, of the Agricultural Research Service.
PETALING JAYA – MORE than 8.5 million trees have been planted in Malaysia as of March, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas.
The planting was part of a nationwide Green the Earth: One Citizen, One Tree campaign that was launched in April last year to fight global warming and to mitigate climate change.
A total of 26 million trees are expected to be planted by 2014.
On Saturday, Douglas Uggah joined about 200 volunteers including university students to plant 1,800 seedlings at the Ayer Hitam Forest reserve in Puchong.
The campaign carried out under the ExxonMobil’s 2011 Community Projects programme started two years ago and its goal is to plant a total of 5,000 trees at the forest reserve by 2012. — THE STAR/ANN
Studying treering records from the southwestern United States, University of Hawaii scientists have helped assemble a 1,100-year historical picture of the climate phenomenon known as El Niño, offering an avenue to understanding how weather patterns could change in a warming world.
El Niño, associated with warmer than usual sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific, typically produces a wide array of violent weather, including more rain and intense storms in some areas, less rain in others. The massive El Niño of 1997-98, for instance, caused flooding and landslides in Northern California, drought and famine in Bangladesh and drought and forest fires in the Philippines; 2,100 people died worldwide.
UH scientist Jinbao Li said by email that the record implies that warmer oceans will lead to more severe El Niños and the opposite phenomena, La Niñas, and more extreme climate conditions around the globe. But a final verdict awaits better climate models, he said.
Formally known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the phenomenon also brings rainy winters to the U.S. Southwest, where tree rings are wide in wet years and narrow in dry years.
UH researchers Li, Shang-Ping Xie, Fei Lui and Jian Ma analyzed the tree-ring records available in a database called the North American Drought Atlas and found that the results correlated closely with the 150-year sea surface temperature records in the tropical Pacific.
TIMBÍO, Colombia — Like most of the small landowners in Colombia’s lush mountainous Cauca region, Luis Garzón, 80, and his family have thrived for decades by supplying shade-grown, rainforest-friendly Arabica coffee for top foreign brands like Nespresso and Green Mountain. A sign in the center of a nearby town proclaims, “The coffee of Cauca is No. 1!”
But in the last few years, coffee yields have plummeted here and in many of Latin America’s other premier coffee regions as a result of rising temperatures and more intense and unpredictable rains, phenomena that many scientists link partly to global warming.
Coffee plants require the right mix of temperature, rainfall and spells of dryness for beans to ripen properly and maintain their taste. Coffee pests thrive in the warmer, wetter weather.
Bean production at the Garzóns’ farm is therefore down 70 percent from five years ago, leaving the family little money for clothing for toddlers and “thinking twice” about sending older children to college, said Mr. Garzon’s 44-year-old son, Albeiro, interviewed in a yellow stucco house decorated with coffee posters and madonnas.
The shortage of high-end Arabica coffee beans is also being felt in New York supermarkets and Paris cafes, as customers blink at escalating prices. Purveyors fear that the Arabica coffee supply from Colombia may never rebound — that the world might, in effect, hit “peak coffee.”
Over the past 100 years, some two-thirds of the large predator fish in the ocean have been caught and consumed by humans, and in the decades ahead the rest are likely to perish, too.
In their place, small fish such as sardines and anchovies are flourishing in the absence of the tuna, grouper and cod that traditionally feed on them, creating an ecological imbalance that experts say will forever change the oceans.
“Think of it like the Serengeti, with lions and the antelopes they feed on,” said Villy Christensen of University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre. “When all the lions are gone, there will be antelopes everywhere. Our oceans are losing their lions and pretty soon will have nothing but antelopes.”
This grim reckoning was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting Friday during a panel that asked the question: “2050: Will there be fish in the ocean?”
The panel predicted that while there would be fish decades from now, they will be primarily the smaller varieties currently used as fish oil, fish meal for farmed fish and only infrequently as fish for humans. People, the experts said, will have to develop a taste for anchovies, capelins and other smaller species.
An increase in heavy precipitation that has afflicted many countries is at least partly a consequence of human influence on the atmosphere, climate scientists reported in a new study.
In the first major paper of its kind, the researchers used elaborate computer programs that simulate the climate to analyze whether the rise in severe rainstorms, heavy snowfalls and similar events could be explained by natural variability in the atmosphere. They found that it could not, and that the increase made sense only when the computers factored in the effects of greenhouse gases released by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels.
As reflected in previous studies, the likelihood of extreme precipitation on any given day rose by about 7 percent over the last half of the 20th century, at least for the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere for which sufficient figures are available to do an analysis.
The principal finding of the new study is “that this 7 percent is well outside the bounds of natural variability,” said Francis W. Zwiers, a Canadian climate scientist who took part in the research.