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The Great Drought of 2012: Global warming in action?

Corn in the Great Drought of 2012
Missing anything this summer? How about rain? At this point, I’ve given up on some of the plants in my yard — no amount of watering will make up for the lack of rainwater. Of course, I’m just one guy with a small yard. Across the river in southern Illinois, farmers are facing historic crop losses. According to the Associated Press, the Department of Agriculture had predicted a bumper crop of corn this year: 166 bushels per acre. But with more than half the country now facing drought conditions, the USDA has not only revised those numbers downward but also made its largest disaster declaration ever: 1,000 counties spread over 26 states are eligible for low-interest loans and reduced penalties for grazing on federal land (see the image below). Livestock farmers may well need the latter: Most feed corn to their cattle and other animals, and prices are sure to shoot upward.

map of 2012 usda disaster declarations

As a good greenie, it’s tempting to play the “I told you so” card with climate change: These are exactly the kinds of conditions scientists have warned about for decades. That’s problematic, as we really can’t tie any one weather event to global warming. We can, however, look at patterns developing. Nebraska meteorologist John Pollack, for instance, points not only to recent heat waves and droughts, but also to “western wildfires, straight line windstorms from Indiana to the mid-Atlantic states and a rash of unseasonable tropical storms” as broader evidence of a changing climate.

On the upside, the heat is making believers out of more people — at least believers that global warming is happening. Many of us still aren’t willing to connect these extreme conditions to our own collective behavior (even as, individually, we’re probably cranking up the air conditioning). At the political level, that means that nothing gets done, even as we literally feel the heat. And that’s frustrating.

How do we deal with the cognitive disconnect here? Or do we just give up and adapt? I’m certainly open to ideas.

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Photo credits: cindy47452 via photo pin cc; USDA Newsroom