Possibly more than any other climate catastrophe is the specter of drought. It is true that a hotter climate pumps more moisture into the atmosphere, and does bring more rain. But the extreme climate fluctuations cause more severe storms not necessarily where rain is needed. By the same token, more severe drought is tending to scorch areas where rainfall has diminished. Storms and flooding certainly can inflict immediate destruction, but drought desiccates entire regions for extended periods, killing ecosystems and economic systems both.
As drought is becoming more widespread – in the Pacific Northwest, the Amazon basin, Central America, the Sahel in Africa, Mongolia – a recent study published in Science Advances is predicting a 21st Century drought in the U.S. southwest and the High Plains, possibly for 100 years – US faces worst droughts in 1,000 years, predict scientists.
The Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, underlies an estimated 174,000 square miles of the Central Plains, mostly under Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, but also areas in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. The Ogallala is one of the largest underground freshwater sources in the world, holding as much water as Lake Huron. These agricultural states are already experiencing drought, prompting farmers to pump the Ogallala Aquifer at an alarming rate.
But as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores of feet, as much as 250 feet in southwest Kansas, most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up. Throughout the 20th Century, the US Geological Survey estimates irrigation depleted the aquifer by 253 million acre-feet, about nine percent of its total volume. The Denver Post analyzed federal data and found that the aquifer shrank twice as fast from 2011 through 2017 as it had over the previous 60 years.
This is not sustainable. Considering the drought, some options are to switch from growing very thirsty corn to more dryland crops like winter wheat, beans, or sunflowers, to rely less on cornfed feedlot cattle, and to adopt no-till methods plus cover crops. But all the same, it still comes down to water. To address the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, two counties in far west-central Kansas are exploring natural ways of recharging the aquifer.
An initiative begun in 2016 by the Wichita County Water Conservation Area (WCA) has been awarded $1.4 million by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to study how playa wetland lakes can help recharge the Ogallala – NRCS Awards $1.4 Million to Support Local Water Sustainability Project. Partnering in this effort will be Greely County Conservation District, the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts, the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, and Ducks Unlimited, in a program called the Groundwater Recharge and Sustainability Project (GRASP).
Playas are shallow, circular-shaped wetlands that are primarily filled by rainfall, although some playas found in cropland settings may also receive water from irrigation runoff. Some think that playas are carved by wind, but it’s more likely they are formed by land subsidence – in other words, sinkholes. Playas are ephemeral, filling only from Spring rainfall, and the average size being 3.7 acres. Recent research has revealed that water provided by playa wetlands adds three inches to the level of the Ogallala aquifer each year – Playas – Ephemeral Wetlands of the Great Plains – KU Aquatic Ecology Lab.
According to Abe Lollar, a biologist with Ducks Unlimited, native prairie shortgrass seed mixes are a necessary part of the playa restoration process. The planted grass buffer acts like a natural water filter. Rainwater from surrounding fields runs into the playa and carries sediment and contaminants with it. The shortgrass will stop much of the sediment from entering the playa and improve the quality of the water entering the aquifer. It will also provide habitat and a food source for birds and pollinators.
Playa lakes are arguably the most significant ecological feature in the High Plains, even though they cover only 2 percent of the region’s landscape. Supposedly there are more than 80,000 playas scattered across the Great Plains. The Kansas Geological Survey reported that varied estimates put the number of High Plains playas between 25,000 and 60,000. However University of Kansas researchers recently identified more than 22,000 in Kansas alone. No one has ever tried to count them all – Playas in Kansas and the High Plains.
Ecological concerns over issues such as air quality or toxic radiation drive much progressive change, but as often as not, money prompts change. For example, early adopters installed rooftop solar mostly because it’s ecologically responsible, but it’s a dropping price point that attracts the average customer. Or, electric utilities initially installed wind generators because of lawsuits or regulations over coal pollution, but anymore, wind power is booming because its cost has dropped below that of coal.
However, as sound as this principle is, and as likely as the profit motive will bring some ecological solutions, major money players can manipulate the market to their own ends. Some examples of market distortion are: fracking operations proliferating in spite of losing money, nuclear power revival though it’s not cost-competitive with any other energy source, and corn ethanol fuel that takes as much fossil energy to make as is in the ethanol itself. Each of these can survive only because of large subsidies.
Fracking Subsidies: Fracking petroleum and natural gas is one of several “extreme energy” measures like deep sea wells, oil sands, and mountain top coal removal. All of them cost more than the old, easy, conventional fuels, but fracking costs so much more for extraction, that they actually sell the energy at a net loss. Their higher cost result from things like drilling deeper, drilling more wells that produce less energy, more complicated horizontal drilling, acquiring and disposing of process water, drilling in more remote areas, and more costly transporting the energy to markets (sometimes with disastrous consequences).
An article by Justin Mikulka in the journal “Resilience” summarized the ongoing failure of the fracking industry to make a profit. Mikulka asks “Who would be foolish enough to produce more oil than the existing infrastructure could handle?” He explains that “Frack operators across the country seem to have resisted the urge to reign in production and instead produce in excess. Unsurprisingly, this is not a recipe for profits”. But the fracking industry manipulates the numbers to appear profitable, in collusion with finance banks. Mikulka writes “It’s the Wall Street executives who are getting rich making the loans that the fracking industry struggles to repay”. It’s truly a perverse dynamic where banks could be choosing to invest in renewables, but greedily grab the gold from the option with the highest interest rates – climate-killing oil and gas – World’s Biggest Banks Are Driving Climate Change, Pumping Billions Into Extreme Fossil Fuels.
Nuclear Subsidies: Some outliers profess that nuclear electricity is carbon-free, and could be a key climate solution (ignoring the critical toxic waste costs for 10,000 years). First of all, nukes do produce CO2, from the uranium mining and milling and the immense use of concrete containment buildings. According to a report in Clean Technica, “The U.S. could achieve three times as much CO2 savings with renewables instead of nuclear, and for less money”. Nuclear makes little sense economically or environmentally. Although nuclear could replace gas and coal, we can go further faster with wind and solar.
There is no rational explanation for any substantive investment in nuclear power. Utility scale solar is about the same CO2 output as nuclear, while wind is about half of either. By deploying a 50:50 mix of wind and solar instead of nuclear, there would be 150 million tons of savings of CO2 per year over nuclear. And wind and solar are a lot cheaper than nuclear. Right now unsubsidized onshore wind and solar are under $40 per MWH or 4 cents per KWH, and many places are already seeing $20 per MWH. That’s 2.5 to 7.5 times cheaper than the nuclear. Learn more at – US Could Achieve 3 Times As Much CO2 Savings With Renewables Instead Of Nuclear For Less Money.
So how can there be attempts to revive nuclear energy? Through governmental subsidies in several countries including the U.S., France, England, Japan, and China. In 2017, a proposal by the Donald would have given an estimated $10.6 billion annually to nukes and coal. But when that idea crashed and burned, several states have passed bailouts, like the $300 million in Ohio, the potential billions in New York and New Jersey, and Federal low interest loans of $12 billion in Georgia to construct the over-budget Vogtle nuke. Without this “good money after bad”, nuclear energy would collapse under its own weight, leaving the money to real solutions through renewables – The Green New Deal Promises Peace and Progress. Will Nuclear Advocates Undermine it?.
Corn Ethanol Subsidies: It may have seemed apparent to members of Congress in 2005 that if a motorist pumped a gallon of fuel made from corn into their gas tank, a gallon of fossil fuel would be left in the ground. So they passed the Renewable Fuel Standard which mandates that gasoline contain a minimum of 10% ethanol. But the 1-gallon per 1-gallon ratio is a simplistic myth, and it’s now apparent that ethanol exacerbates climate disruption. Studies by the International Institute for Sustainable Development have found “that the CO2 and climate benefits from replacing petroleum fuels with biofuels like ethanol are basically zero.
Producing ethanol uses more energy than is contained in the resulting fuel, according to Cornell ecologist David Pimentel. The reason is the corn crops are grown with fossil fuel intensive machinery and inputs, to prepare the fields, plant the seed, cultivate the crop, fertilize and pesticide it with fossil fuel inputs, harvest it, dry it, and transport it to an ethanol refinery. So once again, follow the money to the bottom of this scam. Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are the main benefactors of increased Federal subsidies to agribusiness and tax credits to ethanol refiners – The Real Scoop on Biofuels.
BlackRock Divesting from Fossil Fuels: In contrast to such subsidized market distortions is a recent announcement by Blackrock, the world’s largest investment management corporation, with $6.96 trillion in assets under management. If the estimate is accurate that there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet, then BlackRock holds 10% in its portfolio of stocks and pension funds and the like. So there was a seismic shift felt when BlackRock acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis, and said it will begin to start redirecting its investments. They have a considerable percent of funds in fossil fuels which have been underperforming, with some $90 billion losses to date.
Climate campaigners have been targeting BlackRock for years, and their CEO, Larry Fink, had conferred with Pope Francis who urged leading corporations to shift to renewables. But it was the $90 billion value destruction that brought BlackRock to its decision. According to a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), “Out of BlackRock’s $90 billion in estimated losses, 75% are due to its investments in four companies alone – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP”. Because of its sheer size, BlackRock is hugely influential in the financial sector. Kingsmill Bond, an analyst who used to work at Citibank and Deutsche Bank, “I, for one, see this as the beginning of the end for the fossil-fuel system”. Learn more at – Is BlackRock announcement “beginning of the end for fossil-fuel system?”, and Citing Climate Change, BlackRock Will Start Moving Away from Fossil Fuels.
Cheerios and childhood – one of those up-in-the-morning start your kid’s day right, right? They’re gluten free, and they lower bloodstream cholesterol – almost like a health food. Except thanks to Monsanto, they’re not healthy, especially if you are a child. Cheerios breakfast cereal and a number of oat-based granolas and snack bars contain dangerous levels of glyphosate.
Over the past several years, the clinical and legal spotlight has been aimed at glyphosate, investigating how it poisons farm workers, landscape applicators, and maybe the general public through water and food exposure. Most recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done extensive research on glyphosate in foods that could affect human health during early childhood formative years. EWG is the organization that produces the yearly Dirty Dozen Produce list and the Clean Fifteen Produce list. Their findings on Cherios are not reassuring.
From the EWG study report: “The herbicide Roundup, produced by Bayer-Monsanto, was detected in all 21 oat-based cereal and snack products sampled in a new round of testing. All but four products contained levels of glyphosate higher than what EWG scientists consider protective for children’s health. The two highest levels of glyphosate were found in Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch, with 833 parts per billion (or ppb), and Cheerios, with 729 ppb. The EWG children’s health benchmark is 160 ppb.
The EWG, along with nineteen food companies, first tried petitioning the EPA to get regulatory considerations. That process could drag on for years, and besides, the agency has been caught colluding with Monsanto to promote the claim that the chemical is safe. Instead, they are appealing directly to cereal manufacturers like General Mills and Quaker, petitioning them to source their oats from farmers who do not use glyphosate. So far, more than 236,000 people have signed a petition, and the EWG asks you to sign it as well – Get Glyphosate Out Of Our Food.
A recent report by the University of California Merced and published in Agronomy projects that climate disruption will have huge impacts on our food supply of California almonds, pistachios, oranges, apricots, nectarines and prunes, more than a third of our vegetables, including artichokes, broccoli, spinach and carrots and other food crops. Climate related impacts include the following: fluctuation and extremes of rainfall and floods, less Sierra snowpack resulting in less irrigation, Summer heat waves, greater susceptibility to disease, fewer Winter chilling days required to break seed dormancy, and fewer bees to pollinate crops.
Shorter chill seasons will make vast areas no longer suitable for chestnuts, pecans, apricots, kiwis, apples, cherries and pears. Severe heat waves will reduce yields of wine grapes, strawberries and walnuts. With lower bee populations, pollination will be compromised for almonds, apples, avocados, cashews, chestnuts, citrus, pears, and many vegetables and small fruits including grapes and strawberries. The report states that “By the end of this century, the shrinking winter chill period will reduce the acreage of the Central Valley suitable for chestnut, pecan and quince by 22%, and for apricot, peach, nectarine and walnut by more than half. By 2000, only 4% of the Central Valley was suitable for apples, cherries and pears, but none of that will be left by 2060 under almost any climate change scenario” – You can kiss much of California’s agriculture goodbye because of climate change..
A related report by the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late” gave warning five years ago about the importance of working simultaneously on climate disruption, food security, and agriculture. The report primarily addresses how to feed the world through organic agriculture. But in so doing, by definition, fossil fuels are eliminated from production and use in fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. As states the report, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward a mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers”. With drastically decreased or eliminated fossil fuel use, there will be multiple benefits for the climate, the land, and the people: increased soil carbon content, lower greenhouse gas emissions, more extensive agroforestry and uptake of CO2, greater use of organic fertilizer in a closed nutrient cycle, cleaner streams and groundwater, and healthier and more self-reliant communities. The take home message is that “Organic and small-scale farming is the answer for feeding the world”. Learn more at – Urgent agricultural message from United Nations: Wake up before it’s too late.