You can be forgiven for thinking that the most important thing happening now is the war between Ukraine and Russia. After all, the Russian government through its foreign minister and its mouthpieces in the media has threatened to use nuclear weapons to win the war in Ukraine. Whether you think Russia is bluffing or not, it's all very scary.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on planet Earth our perilous ecological situation is spiraling from bad to worse. That this is the big story and has been for many decades has escaped the media but does occasionally get their attention when the perilous consequences cannot be ignored. Climate change and the resulting drought and heat that are now our constant companions are currently showing up in the news cycle. To wit:
- The water level in Lake Mead (formed by Hoover Dam to provide water to Arizona, California and Nevada) has declined to historic lows. The original intake valves that used to supply water to Las Vegas and environs are now exposed for the first time ever. (Other deeper ones were built in anticipation of this day. See my coverage of the now 23-year-old drought when it was only 10 years old.)
- The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for the first time is limiting water use for outdoor watering. The order affects about 6 million residents. The District is also calling on users in the entire district of 19 million people to lower water use by 30 percent.
temperatures of 110 degrees F have hit India early in the summer
season. In addition to the threat to human health, the heat is
threatening the yield of India's recently planted wheat crop which is
now estimated to decline between 20 to 50 percent due to heat damage.
This is happening against the backdrop of a decline in wheat exports from
Russia and Ukraine, formerly the world's number one and number five
This decline is due to snarled shipping routes along the Ukraine's Black Sea coast (due to the war) and a decision by Ukraine and Russia to withhold wheat exports temporarily to make sure the countries have enough for their own needs. The worldwide market in wheat means that conditions wherever wheat is grown cannot be ignored.
- Drought in Brazil due to a resurgent La Niña is threatening the corn crop in the country's main southern corn growing region. Of course, Brazil grows other crops there including soy, sugar and oranges, all of which have experienced rises in their prices.
- After three years of failing rains in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya and rains still absent a month into the current rainy season, 20 million people could face extreme hunger this year in the Horn of Africa.
I could just as easily adduce a list of unusually heavy flooding across the world. This is the flip side of global warming. As the hydrological cycle both changes and goes into overdrive, it brings too much or too little moisture to areas previously neither too wet nor too dry.
It's true that people and agriculture could migrate to areas where climate change is making conditions more favorable to farming. It would be both expensive and chaotic to do so. And, expedited relocation would almost certainly entail seizure of land and forced resettlement which has a very grim history. Just ask Native Americans! Moving agriculture means not just finding new land for planting, but also moving or rebuilding the entire agricultural infrastructure of farm services with it.
Our difficulty as a civilization at this late date has been to accept that there is now no frontier to flee to when we've degraded the fertility of the soil, upset the climate, extracted all the valuable minerals, and poisoned the air, the soil and the seas all the way to the poles.
If human civilization avoids nuclear annihilation in what is really World War III (which we are conveniently calling the Russia-Ukraine war), everyone will breathe a giant sigh of relief. We will, however, still be facing another type of annihilation of our own making. Only if we end our war on the biosphere and our overexploitation of the underground stores of the planet will we humans have a chance of avoiding a societal collapse which on our current trajectory seems inevitable.
Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Resilience, Common Dreams, Naked Capitalism, Le Monde Diplomatique, Oilprice.com, OilVoice, TalkMarkets, Investing.com, Business Insider and many other places. He is the author of an oil-themed novel entitled Prelude and has a widely followed blog called Resource Insights. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.