Saturday, October 18, 2008

Climate change’s most deadly threat: drought

A book review from the Christian Science Monitor: ...In recent years, a flood of books about global warming has been written for the lay audience. Among the most noteworthy: Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers”; Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Notes From A Catastrophe”; Eugene Linden’s “The Winds of Change”; and Ross Gelbspan’s “The Heat Is On.”

Each scopes out its own piece of the climate puzzle, from tundra to tropics and atmosphere to ocean, using plain narratives to explain a phenomenon that, when left to scientific lexicon, can seem too complicated to grasp. Fagan, author of the bestselling “The Little Ice Age,” makes an original contribution in “The Great Warming” by summoning attention to what he calls “the silent elephant in the room”: drought.

As polar icecaps melt and glaciers disappear, thus causing seas to rise, low-lying coastal areas may indeed be inundated, creating millions of environmental refugees. But it is the inland agricultural breadbasket regions that feed the world that stand to suffer the greatest upheaval if reliable precipitation patterns vanish.

Such a scenario is not speculative, Fagan insists; it’s based upon not only sophisticated computer models, but also the precedent of what’s already happened during episodes of climate change half a millennium ago – in the Arctic, Europe, China, the Southern Hemisphere, and in America’s own backyard. By taking readers back to the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age, Fagan argues that history “shows how drought can destabilize a society and lead to its collapse.”

….“Droughts are expensive in human terms and also carry a high economic price,” he writes. “The notorious Dust Bowl droughts of the 1934-40 over the Great Plains scarred an entire generation. Three and a half million people fled the land.” Imagine the Dust Bowl lasting centuries with no end in sight.

Now imagine the superproduce fields of California’s Central Valley and the fast-growing Southwest, with desert cities like Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, El Paso, and greater Los Angeles-San Diego confronting depleted aquifers and dry aqueducts....

No comments: