No Surprises Here

There are a number of stories making the rounds this week about the heat wave that has hit the country and the accompanying drought that has seriously affected the crops, especially in the Midwest. The corn, wheat, and soybean crops are in serious trouble in the nine-state Midwest region where two-thirds of the states are experiencing various stages of drought — up from about half of those states just a week ago.  As a feature story reports accompanied by this photo:

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Corn and soybeans in the U.S. Midwest baked in an unrelenting heat wave on Monday with fears rising of big crop losses that will boost food and fuel prices and cut exports and aid from the world’s top shipper of the key crops.

The condition of the nation’s corn and soybeans as of Sunday deteriorated even more than grain traders had feared, and the U.S. Agriculture Department cuts its weekly corn crop condition rating by the biggest amount in nearly a decade.

In Southwest Minnesota where I live and in Southeast South Dakota which we drive through to get to Sioux Falls the corn plants are tall and green, but the cobs have not yet started to fill out and will not without a well-timed rain. In some areas the farmers have already started to cut the plants down to feed them to their cattle, giving up on the corn season.

This country depends on these crops not only to feed our own populations, but also to export to other countries. In fact, food is almost the only commodity this country manages to export and the balance of trade requires that we export something or it will become even more precarious. Thus the drought that is affecting the country has serious repercussions for the entire economy which, as we all know, is already in deep trouble.

But as I read about this situation, which borders on (that overused word) “crisis,” I cannot help but think: why are we surprised? Climatologists have been predicting these conditions for years and we have simply ignored them. We don’t like to worry about things that don’t affect us directly and we have a naive faith in technology that leads us to assume that every problem can be fixed — by someone. Though these are comforting convictions, together they spell disaster.

We should have seen this coming and we should have started doing something about it long ago. Some think it may be too late, and that may or may not be the case. It’s not just about the record-breaking heat. It’s also about the melting of the permafrost, the opening up of the Northwest passage, the record number of hurricanes and tornadoes. It has all been  predicted. But to this point it has been someone else’s problem. We are now starting to deal with the consequences of global warming  “in our own back yard.”

Perhaps now the situation will get our attention and we will start to recognize not only the problem itself, which is abundantly clear to all but the most delusional, but also the role of humans in creating the problem. If not now then assuredly when the food and fuel prices start to rise precipitously, or when we see reports of global starvation, or civil wars being fought over declining food supplies. At the very least, we must insist that this country shake loose from its reliance on fossil fuels and take major steps to accelerate growth in the clean energy industry. If we are to climb out of the hole we have dug for ourselves, we must start very soon to be part of the solution. To this point we have been only a large part of the problem.

Just Plain Stupid!

Aside from the fact that the Republicans seem intent upon trashing the public education system in this country, there are two items high on their agenda that are just plain stupid. The first is the urge to cut-taxes-at-all-cost mentality that ignores the fact that many of the programs under the axe are essential to the health and well-being of this country and its citizens. At the extreme right end of this pole are the TEA partiers who simply want to slash taxes with no thought for tomorrow. But, as a fellow blogger pointed out in a recent blog, the Democrats are not without blame, either. since they failed to support a bill that would have increased taxes along with the cuts in a 1 to 10 ratio. ” last summer’s Obama/ Boehner 10 to 1 compromise [should have passed] in a heartbeat. . . . That should have been a no brainer..” Clearly, there is waste and there should be cuts. But we must also be willing to pay for the benefits we receive and in many cases desperately need.

The second stupid item on the agenda is the attack on the environment in the name of good business. This is stupid because it rests on the false dichotomy: either we protect the environment or we save jobs. We can do both. But as a recent item in the Sierra magazine points out, this Republican Congress is “the most anti-environmental Congress in history.” It has passed 209 anti-environmental bills in the name of business, while the clean energy industry waits patiently for a sign that they will also receive some of the government’s largess.

But the news is not all bad, as it happens. The American citizens may be waking up slowly. And this is a good thing, because we may not have much time if even the most optimistic predictions of the scientific community are correct. The good news, as also reported in the Sierra magazine, is that electric cars and hybrids are selling at record rates. In addition, electricity generated from coal has “dropped to 36.7 percent in February, the lowest level since 1973.” And in “five states electricity generation from wind now equals or exceeds 10 percent. In South Dakota [of all places!] the figure is 22 percent.” Further, we read that Warren Buffett has thrown his considerable weight and influence behind investing in solar energy. There is hope, and clearly there is also money to be made in clean energy.

That is why these items on the Republican agenda are so stupid: they are short-sighted at a time when we need enlightened leadership and long-term planning to help save the planet and all life on it. The Republicans need to wake up. But so do the Democrats. It is time for the politicians in this country to realize that our priorities in the past have run their course and we need to turn in another direction before it is too late.