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Hot enough for you? Expect it to get worse in coming years

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Aug. 16, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
August 16, 2012 4:35 pm

After months of drought, many creeks and ponds in the Midwest are dry or close to it, like this one in central Illinois. (Seth Perlman/The Associated Press)

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

It’s getting harder and harder to be a climate-change denier. July was the hottest month on record in the United States – the previous record was in July 1936 at the height of the Dust Bowl disaster – and much of the country is experiencing the worst drought in memory.

It won’t stop some from insisting that nature, not man, is to blame for hotter temperatures. But climate experts increasingly are coming to believe that although some droughts are part of natural cycles, the hotter temperatures are largely human-caused – and they’re making the droughts worse than they otherwise would be.

The consequences are dire – and expected to worsen in the next decades. This year’s U.S. corn crop has been devastated and is expected to be down at least 13 percent from last year, even though a record number of acres were planted. The soybean crop is similarly affected.

Expect that to have impacts on household budgets by increasing the cost of many food products, including meat. Shortages mean that what is available – including feed corn for cattle – will cost more. Corn futures have risen to all-time highs.

In many places in the Midwest, water tables have sunk to new lows, sometimes leaving residents without running water in their homes and forcing many communities to restrict water use. Ranchers are having to buy water and haul it in – or sell off their cattle. Bodies of water have gotten so hot, fish are being killed off.

As one Midwesterner put it, “Mother Nature is kicking our butt.”

Perhaps, but she’s getting a lot of help from humans. Even one of the most outspoken global warming deniers – one often cited by those who oppose efforts to curtail fossil fuel emissions – has changed his tune. Physics professor Richard Muller wrote in a New York Times article, “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic,” that his own research shows that “the thing that matched temperature rise almost perfectly was the rise in human carbon dioxide.”

Translation: Our greenhouse gases are causing climate change.
Muller also concludes that such tactics as converting to fluorescent light bulbs and hybrid cars won’t cut it. We need to rely more on natural gas and help China do the same. That country’s reliance on coal-fired power plants means it will be producing twice the carbon dioxide as the U.S. by the end of 2012, Muller says.

That’s important information to file away as the debates heat up – excuse the pun – over carbon taxes and increasing the number of trains traveling to Northwest ports filled with coal for China. Voters should ask candidates for their ideas on what strategies they support, both in the short and long term.

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