09 July, 2018
Most folks, as they hear the talk of "global climate change" or "global warming" seem to envision it as a slow, but certain, slide into the future, not unlike going from Spring into Summer. Because of the regularity of life on Earth, we fail to appreciate what the real future looks like. Compounded by a lack of appreciation for what science is already telling us, most humans have a profound under-estimation of the changes already in motion around us. This is compounded by a certain set of politicians that willfully mislead the public as to the nature and the significance of "global climate change," thus making denial feel a lot more comfortable than it should.
"Global warming" doesn't give the average person the sense of the reality of our picture. As a man who has grown food for most of his adult life, I feel in touch with our world more than the average American. This is what the "growing food" deal in light of global climate change looks like: If I can tell, with some certainty, what kind of temperatures and the amount of rain coming (or not coming) in the next six to nine months, I can grow a crop of plants to eat and share. If those variables are inconsistent - especially if they are "consistently inconsistent " over time - growing food is a rigged crap shoot and the supply of food available will be greatly diminished. The seeds sown in Spring, need an environment that allows them to grow to full size, within a fairly limited set of parameters. In all likely hood, the underprivileged will eat from a slender variety of hardy crops that can take weather extremes and still produce. Or we can use an abundance of inputs to keep farming the crops we want to eat. Those inputs may or may not work - they might be too much work, too expensive or the changes are too great for human intervention.
To me, it's "global weirdness." Human populations throughout the planet already face food challenges because of the lack of food. Even large areas will become absolutely uninhabitable - including most of the Mid-West - once the Ogallala Aquifer is depleted - possibly in my lifetime (I'm 66) - and the depopulation of the Midwest,which is already at an alarming pace, will be complete. Remember, as the European invaders crossed the plains of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, they called that area, "The Great American Desert." We produce tons of food there in large part because we are pumping the underground river, the Ogallala Aquifer, to extinction.
That is one of several catastrophic blows that would severely impact our civilization as we know it. If you haven't started your own garden by then, you're going to be late to the dance. Once more, the so-called "Okies" and other displaced populations, will flock towards the Mecca that is California - except, the Californian Mecca isn't here anymore. The irrigation of our great Valley has had it's own negative impact limiting the amount of farming and most of California's heavily populated areas will be under very tight water use restrictions soon, if they aren't already. Remember that export of the food we grow in California is a part of our economy, but there will be soon debates about the wisdom of sending our water overseas in the shape of rice, pomegranates and other foodstuffs, after all, without plentiful water, we can't grow these exports.
Humans interacting with the Earth, have created an imbalance that is lopsided, we are extracting more than we can safely extract, in terms of water and soil. The paradigm I wish all my students to learn is how to grow some of your own food and how to live as a part of a community. Small scale food growing is much less of a strain on the Earth - the most productive farms and the least disruptive farms are the small farms - soon, farms in our cities will be common - each neighborhood will develop their own resources for food. Without small farms, using less water to grow more food, this is a helluva mess - and mind you, small farms might not be enough to feed everyone - but it's a cinch that large farms won't do that either.
I am not a scientist, nor do I play on TV. This scenario is from my own work in my own garden and my understanding of the role humans play in the destruction of this world. I draw many of my conclusions in this essay from many sources and authors, but the one book I believe more people should read is Out of The Earth; Civilization and the Life of the Soil, by Daniel Hillel.
I am also greatly indebted to Robert Rodale's out of print "Save Three Lives," though you can often find the book used. Wendell Berry leads the pack of other writers that have called me to think on this subject.
The book that address the coming water crises, "Cadillac Desert" comes to mind as the first book to read on this subject. And for the way man has treated the soil to ruin large swaths of ecosystems (and is doing it with abandon today in that same Midwest) read "The Worst Hard Times."
Each of these books has a story to tell and I am deeply indebted to their authors for their contribution to my understanding of our planet Earth today.
There is much to be done, but if we begin now, where we are (we can begin no where else!), we can begin to imagine and create the systems that we will need to survive in a much less predictable planet.