It is amazing what summer soaker can do. Three or four of such storms over the course of a few days can bring back the seemingly dead. For weeks I have given feeble garden hose life support to frying hosta lilies and parched grass, always making sure to water a spot near a robins’ nest so the parents would have a fighting chance of finding a few worms and grubs to feed their peeping young. Some days, the water in the hose would get so hot, I would spritz the sidewalks for few minutes to avoid scalding the already scorched.
Now it’s all green lawns, revived trees and perked up posies, reveling in gloriously normal temperatures that gently rise into mid-80s during the day and settle into the 60s for snugly cicada-serenaded sleep at night.
This is summer as it ought to be. Summer as it used to be, at least in my little sliver by Chicago. Yet even though the view out the window looks like the poster child of resilience, it is more a reminder that what was once reliably normal is fast becoming a rarity to be treasured.
Over 4,700 weather records have been broken in the US so far this year. The withered corn crop, once on track to be the largest in history will now be the largest loss in history. And with demand for all commodity crops increasing right along with global population, even little wiggles can amplify across world markets. The catastrophic floods in Pakistan a couple of years ago sent cotton prices soaring, even though Pakistan ranks a distant fourth as a supplier.
The Great American Corn Pop of 2012 is a much, much bigger deal and will translate into higher food prices, higher fuel prices (another ethanol promise broken), more hunger, more debt, more unrest and more misery in a cycle that will be tough to break.
The drought tipped the balance of a global food system already in a delicate state, made vulnerable to petro chemical-dependent soils, fast-depleting aquifers, pesticide-impervious "superweeds," an increasingly monopolistic agri-food supply chain, a resurgence of crop pests and rising fuel costs.
Extreme and unpredictable weather causes highways to buckle, concrete to crack, rail ties to kink, bridges to bend and rivers to become unnavigable. Even if you manage to grow a crop, there is still the challenge of getting it to market
A DANGEROUS MEME
How do you adapt to such a fast-moving target? Even if we were able turn off our collective car ignitions and switch instantly to renewable power sources, there are more than enough greenhouse gases swirling around the Earth’s atmosphere to cause mischief for decades to come. The disaster is so overwhelmingly obvious that now Koch-sponsored scientists have seen the grim light. Still, there are politicians who continue to bray for more mining and drilling.
In a tour de force numbers analysis in Rolling Stone magazine, Bill McKibben follows the money:
…We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.
Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically above ground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.
Sustainability, which implies a baseline stability—the very thing we are fast losing—is giving way to the meme of resilience: the idea that somehow we will be able to recover from the inevitable disaster looming and “bounce back.” It is the seductive promise of Dorothy waking up safe in her bed in Kansas, with Toto ready to resume his rightful place in her arms once more.
But the tornado that rocked Dorothy’s world is nothing compared to the tornadoes, direchoes, record monsoons, massive droughts and rapid ice melts rocking ours. Even the parched park lawn now showing signs of green grizzle isn’t bouncing back, but evolving, bouncing onward. Weeds with better root systems are making the most of their competitive advantage. Unless someone rips up the sod and reseeds, that lawn has changed for good.
Resilience is also a neutral concept, a point that is often overlooked. What bounces onwards may not be to everyone’s liking, such as weeds, bunny rabbits, pathogens, drug cartels and oil companies.
So the question is not whether we can return to a comfortable status quo: We can’t. Rather it is Status quo vadis? Where are we going?
— J. A. Ginsburg / @TrackerNews
• Global Risks 2012 / World Economic Forum (pdf and additional web resources)