Food for thought…..

1 07 2016

I recently published an item about the jetstream crossing the equator. At the time, I said I didn’t know what to make of it, and now it turns out to be bogus…… so I’ve pulled it.

Two bloggers have made a stunning claim that has spread like wildfire on the Internet: They say the Northern Hemisphere jet stream, the high-altitude river of winds that separates cold air from warm air, has done something new and outrageous. They say it has crossed the equator, joining the jet stream in the Southern Hemisphere. One said this signifies that the jet stream is ‘wrecked‘, the other said it means we have a “global climate emergency.”

But these shrill claims have no validity — air flow between the hemispheres occurs routinely. The claims are unsupported and unscientific, and they demonstrate the danger of wild assertions made by non-experts reaching and misleading the masses.

Just goes to show, you cannot believe everything you read on the internet, and frankly, I’m relieved as someone who staunchly believes the only place to live is as far away from the Northern Hemisphere..!

Below is Mark Cochrane’s latest offering…..


Mark Cochrane

Having just come back from a new region of agricultural development in Brazil and seeing some new research just out on related issues in other regions I thought I´d illustrate some of the climate-related issues in our global food production that we are facing.

Here in Brazil, agricultural expansion has been a large part of the regional economy and is the only actual growth sector in a country mired in political chaos and economic contraction (link). That said, much like the search for new energy sources, new agricultural lands are cut from the landscape on increasingly marginal lands.

With the development of soybean cultivars that could survive short day lengths near the equator and expanding global markets, this crop first spread through the Brazilian Cerrado and then into the southern Amazon, converting native vegetation to agricultural lands and even pushing cattle operations out of the way as pasturelands were bought up. Corn, cotton, sorghum and coffee have also spread to lesser degrees. Soils, climate, pests and infrastructure (or lack thereof) have provided challenges all along the way.

Despite this, the industry has thrived and land prices have soared to the point that new frontiers have opened up including the so called Matopiba region, which is an acronym for an amorphous area at the junction of Maranhâo, Tocantins, Piaui, and Bahia states. The region was originally passed over because it was considered unprofitable to farm but high commodity prices, technological breakthroughs and cheap land prices have driven exponential growth of farming and whole cities to spring up in the last 15 years that are impressive, if tenuous.

Nobody mentions the soils because they are uniformly poor and acidic. Lime applications are needed to lock up the toxic aluminum and fertilizers are needed to get decent crop growth. The region is dry, and though irrigation has not always been needed, it has proven critical over the last five years of unprecedented drought. There were 10 good years of production but now many are losing money with drought stunted crops and low production. Planted crop varieties are GM variants of Bt cultivars. Trying to plant anything else has proven a monetary disaster. Despite this built in biological pesticide, repeated applications of chemical pesticides are necessary as well, with 10-15 applications per growing season common! One farmer needed 30 applications in a single six-month season. It is safe to say that the insects are building up resistance rapidly and the local aquifers will not be pure for long. Interestingly, water is less limiting than the cost of actually pumping it for irrigation purposes.Energy is expensive and unreliable.

I mention all of this because these sorts of regions and problems are inherent in all ´new´ lands being brought into production to try to feed our planet´s exploding population. These areas are incredibly vulnerable to changing climate, commodity prices, energy prices, pests and pathogens. It takes a lot of effort to bring them into production but they could dry up and blow away all too easily. Management of production in these sorts of areas is necessary and difficult to mitigate and adapt to climate changes.

New research  (Challinor et al. 2016) indicates that breeding, delivery and adoption of new climate appropriate variants of crops (maize in this case) may not be able to keep up with the changing conditions likely in the coming decades. Much like conversion to a new energy source can take decades to implement after development, planting new variants of a crop or more appropriate crops for a changing climate can take decades to permeate a region, especially in developing countries. The upshot being that productivity levels are likely to fall over time with changing climates.

On the front of dubious good news, a large ´water windfall´ has been discovered underneath California´s Central Valley. Up to three times as much water as was previously estimated may reside under this region which sounds like a great thing until you realize that much of this new water resource resides between 300 and 3,000 meters below the surface (Kang and Jackson 2016). These water reserves may not be economically accessible for irrigation purposes and are complicated by the numerous (35,000!) oil and gas wells that currently perforate it (link). Never mind the fact that the land itself has been sinking rapidly with groundwater pumping.

When you are contemplating the viability of pumping water from more than a mile beneath the surface in order to water your crops, it is clear that the battle to maintain production is being lost. If power cannot be generated extremely cheaply then this region, the most productive in the United States, will fall out of production in the not too distant future for anything but dryland agriculture.

The take home message here is that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain current agricultural production levels at a time when we need to dramatically increase them to feed rapidly growing human populations. There may never have been a better time to take up gardening to ensure a modicum of calories for your family…

The Curious Case of Lake Mead

25 06 2015

Another post from Mark Cochrane…..

For the drought in the western US, Lake Mead is a bellwether of the situation since it is a major water source for several states and it shows such a convenient bathtub ring around its edge as the water level drops. The lake is currently more than 140 feet lower than it would be at full capacity, holding 37.1% of what it would at ‘Full Pool’.

In recent weeks the lake level has been dropping by an average of 0.08 ft/day (e.g. 1 inch/day) but for the last week it treated the lake level of 1075 (elevation) like a resistance level on a stock chart by suddenly slowing to an average drop rate of 0.01 ft/day (1/8 inch). Last night it reverted to the mean though and dropped an inch to land its level at 1074.99. It also broke through the bottom of this dynamically updated chart of the last three years of lake levels, forcing it to add a new low of 1070 (yesterday the chart ended at 1075). Who imagined it would get this bad…

The 1075 level is more than just a psychological barrier, it is one where rationing kicks in. It doesn’t start today but in a somewhat arcane manner, if the projections for the lake’s January 1st levels are below 1075 as of mid August.

What happens? Arizona takes the main hit, losing 320,000 acre-feet (AF) of water for its agricultural lands and Nevada is ‘curtailed’ by another 13,000 AF. California has senior water rights and doesn’t face ‘curtailment’ of water for its agricultural lands but the rationing will hit metropolitan areas. Since 2007, there has been a program whereby these areas could sock away water in Lake Mead using Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS) accounts. Basically by conserving water and drawing less than their maximum allowed water rights they got a credit that they could draw on at a later date. However, once the 1075 level is breached those accounts are frozen. A water-bank holiday. Not being completely clueless, metropolitan areas that saw the 1075 level looming have been making a run on their ICS accounts in the last year or more. Ultimately though, the end of ICS availability will mean that the cities will have to use less water, which likely means higher prices, quotas or similar tools to ratchet down water use further. It is possible that the lake will drop below 1060 ft this year, and highly likely this will occur next year. When this happens the last access points on Lake Mead will become inoperable – translation, no boating/tourism. In addition, power costs for energy created at the Hoover Dam will go up substantially. At 1075 feet hydropower costs will roughly double, they triple at 1050 ft, quadruple at 1025 ft, and keep rising right up until power generation ceases at around 1015 feet. Note, Hoover customers are bound by contract to have to purchase Hoover power until 2067 (link). The price of air conditioning is going up.

Just over a month ago it looked like 2016 was going to definitely be a year of reckoning for all states in the US and Mexico that rely on the Colorado River for water but ‘miracle May’ could potentially forestall things by another year. The massive flooding from unprecedented soaking rains that occurred along the upper river basin are now partially replenishing Lake Powell which sits up river of Lake Mead. Lake Powell has filled by over 20 ft in the last 6 weeks and is now filling by over half a foot a day. This has only raised it to 52.5% of capacity but it could be enough to ensure that Lake Mead can be managed to be above 1075 ft come Jan 1, 2016. Extend and pretend of the water supply can probably be finagled for another year but barring a new ‘miracle’ the pain of less water and higher energy costs for the region are likely coming in the next few years. The one hope for a temporary stay of execution in the region is if the current El Nino conditions get very strong, since those conditions are often associated with wet conditions in the drought affected areas. Of course, if that happens, there will be a lot of other problems around the world where El Nino isn’t as kind. Even if this drought abates for a while, chances are that we will witness growing tensions over water use and access in the coming decades as this is the reality of the new climates that we are forcing on the planet.


Water in the world we want

26 05 2015

Mark Cochrane

Mark Cochrane

Another guest post by Mark Cochrane……

As everyone who watches the news about California, Lakes Mead and Powell in the American Southwest or the situation in Sao Paulo, Brazil can see, water availability is a big deal for both agriculture and human populations. However, much more of the world faces chronic water stress but those areas simply don’t get the press that the aforementioned areas do. We fool ourselves by thinking that ideology drives conflicts and wars when resource scarcity is generally at the root of matters. Water scarcity fueled the Syrian conflict long before the bullets started flying and it is making the Middle East a powder keg.

The UN defines a region as water stressed if the amount of renewable fresh water available per person per year is below 1,700 cubic metres. Below 1,000, the region is defined as experiencing water scarcity, and below 500 amounts to “absolute water scarcity”.

According to the AWWA study, countries already experiencing water stress or far worse include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Yemen, India, China, and parts of the United States.

Many, though not all, of these countries are experiencing protracted conflicts or civil unrest. (source)

Unrest doesn’t have to be directly related to an apparent lack of water. Egypt’s 2011 uprisings were largely a function of spiking grain prices caused by droughts in grain-exporting countries like Australia. Importing grain is a cheaper and lighter way of effectively importing water to places that don’t have enough water to grow their own crops. Egypt has another tension brewing over water with Ethiopia which is currently working to dam the Nile above where Egypt has already dammed the river.

As Egypt’s population is forecast to double to 150 million by 2050, this could lead to “tremendous tension”

River Nile Dam Site

River Nile Dam Site

between Ethiopia and Egypt over access to the Nile, especially since Ethiopia’s dam would reduce the capacity of Egypt’s hydroelectric plant at Aswan by 40%.

And the problems are not only in Egypt.

Syria, Iraq and Yemen are currently subjected to ongoing US military operations under the rubric of fighting Islamist terrorists, yet the new AWWA study suggests that the rise of Muslim extremist movements has been indirectly fuelled by regional water crises.


As US meteorologist Eric Holthaus points out, the rapid rise of the “Islamic State” (IS) last year coincided with a period of unprecedented heat in Iraq, recognised as being the warmest on record to date, from March to May 2014.

In addition to the Middle East, hotspots for water-scarcity-fuelled regional conflicts include the Sahel, Central Asia, and the coastal zones of East, South and Southeast Asia. Within as little as five years, 30 million people could be displaced inside China due to water stress. The American west and Mexico could also get ugly as things get drier.

Map_of_Water_Stress_Regions_by_WatershedThe UN defines a region as water stressed if the amount of renewable fresh water available per person per year is below 1,700 cubic metres. Below 1,000, the region is defined as experiencing water scarcity, and below 500 amounts to “absolute water scarcity”.

According to the AWWA study, countries already experiencing water stress or far worse include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Yemen, India, China, and parts of the United States.

Many, though not all, of these countries are experiencing protracted conflicts or civil unrest.

– See more at:…

The UN recently released a new study “Water in the world we want” that looks at the stark situation we are facing in the near future if we do not get our global act together to invest in decent water supplies and sanitation. While trying to be generally upbeat about the possibilities we have for improving global water infrastructure they don’t say that it will be cheap. It doesn’t help that corruption currently eats up 30% of expenditures in this area.

The estimated global cost to achieve post-2015 sustainable development goals in water and sanitation development, maintenance and replacement is US $1.25 trillion to $2.25 trillion per year for 20 years, a doubling or tripling of current spending translating into 1.8 to 2.5 percent of global GDP.

The resulting benefits would be commensurately large, however – a minimum of $3.11 trillion per year, not counting health care savings and valuable ecosystem service enhancements.

In this age of revolving the world on quarterly profit reports, who can be bothered to invest in the future of clean water? The report states that the current ‘deficit’ in the world’s maintenance and replacement of water and wastewater infrastructure is growing by $200 million a year. In the ‘richest’ country in the world (guess who) we are disgracefully $1 trillion behind on where we should be to have first world water systems! Do you think that might become an issue at some point?

Given accelerating Earth system changes and the growing threat of hydro-climatic disruption, corruption undermining water-related improvements threatens the stability and very existence of some nation states, which in turn affects all other countries, the report says.

Is that a clear enough statement to spur some sort of action or is it still too vague? How about this..

Within 10 years, researchers predict 48 countries – 25% of all nations on Earth with an expected combined population of 2.9 billion – will be classified “water-scarce” (1,000 to 1,700 cubic meters of water per capita per year) or “water-stressed” (1,000 cubic meters or less).

And by 2030, expect overall global demand for freshwater to exceed supply by 40%, with the most acute problems in warmer, low-resource nations with young, fast-growing populations, according to the report.

What is that about the next 20 years being totally unlike the last 20 years? Oil is going to continue to be a major issue in the global economy but water scarcity is what can really move the masses to riot or simply relocate. This is not a surprise to those in the halls of power. They’ve been preparing for years.

In May 2010, the U.S. National Security Strategy included global climate change as a security issue: “The danger from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources, new suffering from drought and famine, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of land across the globe.”

In case you think that this is a ‘future’ problem just look at what the humanitarians in the EU are getting ready to do to stem their human tide of migrants (source).

The European Union has drawn up plans for military attacks in Libya to try to curb the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean by targeting the trafficking networks. It is to launch a bid on Monday to secure a UN mandate for armed action in Libya’s territorial waters.

Britain is drafting the UN security council resolution that would authorise the mission, said senior officials in Brussels. It would come under Italian command, have the participation of around 10 EU countries, including Britain, France, Spain, and Italy, and could also drag in Nato although there are no plans for initial alliance involvement.

And get this:

Following a visit to Beijing last week, Mogherini believes the Chinese will not block the mission at the security council. Her staff are also confident that Russia can be persuaded against wielding its security council veto despite the intense animosity between Moscow and the west over the Ukraine conflict.

What could possibly put the EU, NATO, China and Russia all on the same side other than a problem that they all expect to face? I wonder what chips were traded to get those assurances? The borders are closing fast and it doesn’t sounds like anyone is planning on increasing aid for water infrastructure outside their borders quite yet.

Drink up! It’s only water after all.

Mad Max according to Russell Brand

21 05 2015

NASA: Earth Tops Hottest 12 Months On Record Again, Thanks To Warm February

16 03 2015

Posted on March 15, 2015 at 11:18 am


There had never been as hot a 12-month period in NASA’s database as February 2014–January 2015. But that turned out to be a very short-lived record.

NASA reported this weekend that last month was the second-hottest February on record, which now makes March 2014–February 2015 the hottest 12 months on record. This is using a 12-month moving average, so we can “see the march of temperature change over time,” rather than just once every calendar year.

We are experiencing the continuation of the global warming trend that made 2014 the hottest calendar year on record. The very latest science says we should expect an acceleration in surface temperature warming to start quite soon. What is happening now is consistent with that.

Once again February has been cold for those of us living in the eastern and northeastern U.S. — and once again, the rest of the country and the globe is quite warm, with large parts of Asia and Alaska experiencing nearly off-the-charts heat. That’s clear in the NASA chart below for February temperatures, whose upper range extends to a whopping 8.4°C (15.1°F) above the 1951-1980 average!

Global temperatures in February vs. 1951-1980 average. Via NASA.

Global temperatures in February vs. 1951-1980 average. Via NASA.

So it was cool in the part of the world that just happens to contain a vast amount of political power and media power. It was hot where the permafrost is already thawing. Talk about a bad combination. Remember, the permafrost contains twice as much carbon as is currently in the entire atmosphere. The faster it turns into a significant source of carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the more humanity will be penalized for delaying climate action.

Also, as climatologist Peter Gleick noted on twitter, “California’s February temperatures blast[ed] through 120-year record. 8 degrees F above 20th [Century] avg.” As this NOAA data shows, last month the Golden State averaged a full 1°F higher than the second-warmest February on record:


And this record February heat for California comes on the heels of the driest January ever recorded — a tough one-two punch given the epic drought that has ravaged the state. Scientists explained in December that it is record heat — driven by human-caused global warming — that has made California’s drought the worst in 1200 years.

As we reported earlier this month, NOAA finally announced the arrival of a “weak” and “elusive” El Niño. It is usually the combination of the underlying long-term warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records. Here, the El Niño is quite weak but the global warming trend is very strong.

This calendar year is very likely to set the record for the hottest calendar year — possibly by a large amount if even this weak El Niño continues through the summer. But 2015 could easily set the record as long as we don’t see a La Niña. Of course, we are going to see a lot of years break the record for hottest year on record thanks to human-caused carbon pollution.

h/t Greg Laden

Laughing all the way to the cliff……

23 05 2014

Pope Benedict is quoted as having written “The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger”.  This prompted in me memories of my youth when we were promised so much technology, none of us would have to ever work, because technology would replace labour, giving us limitless leisure time.

So what happened?

Money got in the way.  Sure, robots can build cars.  Yes, gigantic combine harvesters can cut thousands of acres of wheat (and it’s only a matter of time before they do this without a driver, like the mining industry is introducing driverless Tonka Trucks).  Even ‘checkout chicks’ are being replaced with infuriating self checkout lanes……. Then we have those even more infuriating robotic answering services which Jim Kunstler recently had this to say about:

Robot phone answering systems also allowed corporations to off-load the cost of doing business onto their customers, mostly in the form of wasting vast amounts of their customers’ time. Included in the off-load was the cost of paying receptionists (as telephone answerers used to be quaintly called) and all their medical and retirement benefits — just another manifestation of the vanishing middle class, by the way, since a lot of women used to be employed that way (let’s skip the gender equality side-bar for now). After a while, the added privilege of companies being able to evade responsibility for their actions hugely outweighed the cost-saving advantage of firing some lower level employees.

Trouble is, robots don’t buy cars, harvesters don’t buy bread, and computers don’t buy groceries……  Money buys those things.  So the providers of money had no choice but to keep us all enslaved using ‘Labour Productivity’ to ensure ‘we’ could earn the money to buy the stuff made by the technology that displaced our jobs.

The result is that today’s largest sector of the economy is the financial one.  For at least twenty years, we have been encouraged – dare I say browbeaten? – to borrow ever more money to buy stuff we don’t need and which won’t last, to impress people we don’t know or care about, creating mountains of waste and oceans of plastic……

Remember those..?

Speaking of plastic, I reckon it all started with credit cards.  I remember getting my first Bankcard in the late seventies.  What an innovation that was.  How primitive they were compared to the current ‘paywave’ technology!  The card had to be put in a machine that used the raised characters on the card to make carbon copies of your details, then you had to sign the form, all in triplicate…  can you imagine the fuss such a thing would cause in a modern supermarket queue?

I can’t remember what my credit limit was back then, but it wasn’t thousands of dollars, I’m sure of that.  And you wouldn’t pull it out for any old transaction, because you were still paid in cash back then……!  Yes dear reader, cash…  The paymaster would come to your desk with a tray full of brown envelopes with real money in them and a pay statement.  One of those envelopes had your name on it, and you had to sign a form saying you’d received it, and you counted your cash (including the coins!) to make sure no one had made an error.  But when computers came along, all those people lost their jobs, nobody was needed to count your money anymore.

I know I’m showing my age now.  And feeling all nostalgic about the good old days when petrol cost fifty cents a gallon, when the Club of Rome had only just published its Limits to Growth Report, and everyone just decided to ignore it, because 2020 was so far into the future, it would be someone else’s problem.

We all thought we were laughing all the way to the bank back then……  but little did we know we were in fact laughing all the way to the cliff.

Everything, and I mean everything today is about money.  Nobody ever does anything anymore unless there’s money to be made.  They’ll even do useless things, unsustainable things, unethical things, immoral things, unbelievably stupid things….. just for the money.  Even the government’s onto it.  If there’s money to be made, they’ll throw the poor, the sick, the elderly, anybody who can’t grow the money pile, onto the shit heap we call the economy.  What are they thinking?  How can greed take over like this?  How on Earth did the Australian people get sucked in by the lies this current government were proliferating before the election?  And then elect the worst government in all of human history?  Well, alright, Hitler was worse…….  but just give these bastards a chance to catch up.

Yes, you’ve worked it out……  I despair.  See you on the edge of the cliff.

PS.  Did anyone else see this momentous piece of news about tight oil in California?  I haven’t laughed so hard in a very long time…..

In 2011, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the US Department of Energy commissioned INTEK Inc., a Virginia-based consulting firm, to estimate how much oil might be recoverable from California’s vast Monterey Shale formation. Production of tight oil was soaring in North Dakota and Texas, and small, risk-friendly drilling companies were making salivating noises (within earshot of potential investors) about the potential for an even bigger bonanza in the Golden State.

INTEK obliged with a somewhat opaque report (apparently based on oil company investor presentations) suggesting that the Monterey might yield 15.4 billion barrels—64 percent of the total estimated tight oil reserves of the lower 48 states. The EIA published this number as its own, and the University of Southern California then went on to use the 15.4 billion barrel figure as the basis for an economic study, claiming that California could look forward to 2.8 million additional jobs by 2020 and $24.6 billion per year in additional tax revenues if the Monterey reserves were “developed” (i.e., liquidated as quickly as possible).
We at Post Carbon Institute took a skeptical view of both the EIA/INTEK and USC reports. In 2013, PCI Fellow David Hughes produced an in-depth study (and a report co-published by PCI and Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy) that examined the geology of the Monterey Shale and the status of current oil production projects there. Hughes found that the Monterey differs in several key respects from tight oil deposits in North Dakota and Texas, and that currently producing hydrofractured wells in the formation show much lower productivity than assumed in the EIA/INTEK report. Hughes concluded that “Californians would be well advised to avoid thinking of the Monterey Shale as a panacea for the State’s economic and energy concerns.”
On May 21 the Los Angeles Times reported that “Federal energy authorities have slashed by 96% the estimated amount of recoverable oil buried in California’s vast Monterey Shale deposits, deflating its potential as a national ‘black gold mine’ of petroleum.” The EIA had already downgraded its technically recoverable reserves estimate for the Monterey from 15.4 to 13.7 billion barrels; now it was reducing the number to a paltry 0.6 billion barrels.