The Heat: Is it Weather or is it Climate Change?

Update 2: Even more kudos to Krugman for linking here and expanding on my first point.  It's amazing what a link from him does to visit numbers on this little ol' blog.

Update: Kudos to Paul Krugman to drawing attention to the issue.

So, the Midwest is getting crushed by heat and drought, and crop prices are reaching new record highs.

I'm a little depressed but not at all surprised by this.  But that sentiment kind of matches everything in our economic, political and environmental world.  Aside from some major life changes and general busyness, it's probably a reason I haven't been blogging much---there's really not much to say that hasn't already been said many times.

Anyhow, to reiterate a few basic points:

1. The usual politically-correct line is that we cannot tell whether its weather or climate change.  The weather fluctuates and heat waves happen. But the data show that the relative frequency of extreme events like this has increased tremendously.  Just look a few posts back or read Jim Hansen's Climate Dice paper (PDF).  Statistically speaking, this is almost surely climate change.

2. This kind of heat for the US Midwest is already past due. I haven't crunched this season's numbers yet, but eyeballing it, this summer--about like 1988--is probably about what we should expect to be typical in the relatively near future.

3. Some new 'drought tolerant' varieties were rolled out this year. I guess we'll see how they do.  So far it seems markets are not all that impressed.

4. Don't cry for the farmers.  Prices are going up proportionately way more than yields will go down, so farm income is likely to rise on average.  And besides, they have a sweetheart deal on subsidized crop insurance.  Then they'll get disaster payments.  Unlike health care and education for poor children, safety nets for wealthy farmers has always been a prerogative with happy bipartisan support. There are probably a few farmers out there that will get hurt by this, but far more farmers will get  richer off this heat and drought than go bankrupt.

5. The biggest losers are consumers, especially the poor in food-importing developing countries.

Comments

  1. Dear Michael,

    I have never been in the Mid West and donot know the local circumstances, but when there is little rain, farmers in the developed world just sprinkle their crops, isn't it? They do in Europe, I can tell you that. The agronomists in my department tell me there is no shortage of water (rivers, ground water), so what is going on? Are the areas too big, is it lack of investments for pumping etc, or do they not care because prices are so elastic nowadays, and they have insurance anyway (as you say)?

    Regards, Max

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  2. It's still up to us people who lives in the country, I must say, to be accountable for this too much heat. What is its primary cause anyway? Isn't it the continuous decrease in size of ozone layer (or do we still have it?)? The loss of the majority of forests and wilds? Seriously, it all goes down to one word: discipline.

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