According to the Assessment of Southwest Climate Change (Arizona Institute of the Environment), the five decades from 1950 to 2000 were the warmest in over 600 years. The report predicts that reduced snowfall and increased evaporation from global warming will lead to more droughts over the next 90 years.
Droughts are a natural part of the climate cycle. As a matter of fact, studies of tree rings going back 1,000 years show mega droughts lasting for decades. Then, nature alone was the culprit, but what happens now when global warming/climate change is superimposed onto nature’s handiwork?
Is an intensified mega drought in the works for the United States?
California is already burning up.
Markedly, to a great degree, America depends upon California for its food.
“Up to half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables are grown in the Central Valley, one of the planet’s most fertile growing regions, between Los Angeles and Sacramento,” Stephen Neslage, California Drought Threatens Food Supply of All Americans: Collapsing Aquifer Sinking Land, Weather.com, May 29, 2014.
Furthermore, as an aside, how will someone in LA or San Francisco react when, hopping into an A.M. shower, the water barely dribbles out of the faucet? That would be a new twist for California’s famous “ride-sharing” on its slow-moving heated freeways traveling to and from work.
As for now, personal bathing in showers in California continues without disruption for the foreseeable future because of advance planning for water shortages by state and federal agencies; however, in many respects the future is now as water resources are running short, quickly, very quickly, and as it happens, America’s dependency upon California for food is only as good as results from drilling into deep water aquifers on farmland, costing $500,000-to-$1,000,000 per job.
As it goes, retail food costs are almost guaranteed to go up, a lot.
Nevertheless, a much bigger issue is whether California produces food in 2015-20.
Droughts- A Perspective
“Recent studies reveal that persistent dry periods lasting for multiple years to several decades have occurred many times during the last 500-1,000 years over North America… These historic droughts are linked to tropical SST variations, with La Nina-like SST anomalies in the tropical Pacific often leading to widespread drought in North America….” Aiguo Dai (Ph.D. Atmospheric Science, Columbia University), Drought Under Global Warming- A Review, Vol. 2, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, Jan./Feb. 2011.
“Since the middle 20th century, global aridity and drought areas have increased substantially, mainly due to widespread drying since the 1970s… Although natural variations … have played a large role in the recent drying, the rapid warming since the late 1970s has increased atmospheric demand for moisture and likely altered atmospheric circulation patterns … contributing to the recent drying over land. Since a large part of the recent warming is attributed to human-induced GHG increases, it can be concluded that human activities have contributed significantly to the recent drying trend,” Ibid.
“The large-scale pattern shown in figure 11 appears to be a robust response to increased GHGs. This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling figure 11 a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States….” Ibid.
In short, human influence is once again slowly inching the noose up around its own neck by carelessly burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow. At current rates of carbon dioxide emissions, setting new records year-by-year, there may not be much of a tomorrow left for upcoming decades.
“Rising greenhouse gases will lead to a steady drying of the Southwest,” Richard Seager, et al, Atmosphere and Ocean Origins of North America Droughts, Journal of Climate, 27, 4581-4606. do.
Droughts- Southwestern U.S.
According to the State Water Resources Control Board, California is bone dry. Nearly 50 communities in the state of California are in danger of running out of water.
Additionally, the draining of aquifers on California farmland is happening so fast that the ground is sinking, up to a foot in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley, which is a very, very significant part of America’s breadbasket. Sinking ground, in turn, damages irrigation pipes that deliver the water. It’s a vicious circle.
A new social media phenomenon “Drought Shaming” has begun in California. This involves people who take videos of neighbors wasting water, and it is posted on Facebook or Twitter.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas the situation is dire, according to climate scientist Tim Barnett, a geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography: The city must find new sources of water or go out of business. Vegas’s long-standing standby massive water reservoir of the past 80 years, Lake Mead, is depleting so fast that fishermen notice a difference in the water level every few weeks.
“Andy Ameigeiras and two of his friends spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning hooking carp, catfish and stripers from the rocky shore of Echo Bay. He said the water had easily dropped three to five feet since the last time they fished there, just four weeks ago,” Henry Brean, Lake Mead Sinks to a Record Low, Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 10, 2014.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is spending $817 million on a new intake that will reach deeper into Lake Mead at an elevation of 860 feet. The two current intakes reside at 1,050 feet and 1,000 feet whereas Lake Mead’s water level is currently 1,082 feet.
The ongoing drought in America’s Southwest highlights the importance of the Colorado River, providing water to over 40 million people in the West, including key agricultural production in California’s Coachella and Imperial Valleys, which are extremely important to the food supply for the entire U.S.
According to the U.S. Department of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River, aka: the “lifeblood of the Southwest,” has experienced drought conditions since the year 2000.
“It’s time for us to wake up. If this drought continues, we’re going to be in a terrible situation within the next 12-24 months,” says Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Source: Ian James, Lake Mead Reservoir Drops to Record Low, The Desert Sun, July 14, 2014.) His research, which uses satellites to track changes in water supplies, has confirmed that the Colorado River Basin has lost vast amounts of groundwater during the past decade.
The fact that Lake Mead is now 39% full shows how dire the water situation has become, according to Famiglietti: “I think it says that this region is in trouble. I think it says that we need to really rethink our water use in this region, our demand in this region because it is far outstripping the supply,” Ibid.
Further east, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, there are 12 water districts in Texas with only 45 days of water remaining.
Wichita Falls, Texas, a city of 105,000 is building a water treatment plant that will process local sewage into drinking water. As such, residents will be drinking what they passed into the toilet only days before, which is the epitome of recycling!
The Human Footprint Clomps Onward
As the 21st century progresses, human-influenced climate change is forever at the forefront of disaster scenarios, from melting glaciers’ rising sea levels to deformed ocean plankton threatening the base of the food chain as a result of too much CO2, now drought conditions, enhanced by human-caused global warming, threaten food production and adequate water resources.
A recent study provides quantitative evidence of California’s drought linked to the role of human-caused greenhouse gases (Source: S. Y. Wang, et al, Probable Causes of the Abnormal Ridge Accompanying the 2013-2014 California Drought: ENSO Precursor and Anthropogenic Warming Footprint, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 41, Issue 9, May 16, 2014).
As far back as 1990, James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climatologist, in an article (Potential Evapotranspiration and the Likelihood of Future Drought, Journal of Geophysical Research, 95, 9983-10004) predicted that severe to extreme drought in the U.S., then occurring every couple of decades, would become an every-other-year phenomenon by mid-century: “If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase rapidly, the model results suggest that severe drought (5% frequency today) will occur about 50% of the time by the 2050s.”
Hansen was wrong. He was too conservative, especially in consideration of the fact that annual CO2 emissions are 50% higher than when Hansen wrote his paper.
Bottom line: If fossil fuel (oil, gas, and coal) usage flagrantly continues to spew carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, eventually an ice-free Arctic will kick up methane (CH4) like there’s no tomorrow, essentially injecting steroids into the global warming equation, and California will morph into a barren desert wilderness, similar to its ancient past.
Then, as large proportions of humanity are forced into a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, roaming eastward in search of sustenance, they’ll crash the gates. It happened in France in the late 18th century when the world’s most powerful nation-state came tumbling down as starving people crashed the gates! There is no escaping the past.
Why should it be any different this time around?
As such, the real issue is: When will the United States government seriously promote a renewables energy plan?
Postscript: “The greenhouse effect is simple science; greenhouse gases trap heat, and humans are emitting ever more greenhouse gases.” Nicholas Stern, British economist and academic, Professor of Economics and Government, Chair- Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change/Environment, London School of Economics.
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at email@example.com.