Total, utter madness, Pt 2.

More on the way we are most likely treating Planet Earth.

At the start of the week the first of a shortish series of articles was published, reflecting my support of the book, World on the Edge.  Here’s what I wrote then:

I have mentioned before the Earth Policy Institute and Lester Brown’s latest book, World on the Edge.  Details of the book are here.

At the time of writing this Post (10am US Mountain Time on the 4th Feb.) I have read through to the end of Chapter 5 of the book and will have it completed soon.  It’s opening my eyes hugely!

I have decided over the next week or so to summarise each chapter, hoping that this encourages many readers of Learning from Dogs to reflect, go to the EPI website, buy the book or think about making a difference in any way that you can.

So today, I move on to the next chapter.

Chapter two, Falling Water Tables and Shrinking Harvests.

  • The term ‘fossil aquifer’ demonstrated that not all aquifers are the same.  Let me quote, “There are two sources of irrigation water: underground water and surface water.  Most underground water comes from aquifers that are regularly replenished with rainfall; these can be pumped indefinitely as long as water extraction does not exceed recharge.  But a distinct minority of aquifers are fossil aquifers – containing water put down eons ago.  Since these do not recharge, irrigation ends whenever they are pumped dry.
  • The big fossil aquifers are the Ogallala underlying the US Great Plains, the major aquifer in Saudi Arabia , and the deep aquifer under the North China Plain.
  • Saudi Arabia started drilling for water from their underground fossil aquifer when after the Arab oil-export in the 1970s, the Saudis realised that they were dependent on imported grain and set out to create self-sufficiency in grain by way of irrigation.
  • In January 2008 the Saudis announced that this huge aquifer was largely depleted!
  • From 2007 to 2010 the Saudi wheat harvest dropped from nearly 3 million tons to around 1 million tons.
  • The likelihood is that the last Saudi harvest will be around 2012.

One can’t imagine how the management of a fine and proud country such as Saudi Arabia could be so foolish!  But slightly closer to home …..

  • In most of the leading U.S. irrigation states, the amount of irrigated area has peaked and begun to decline.
  • California, historically the irrigation leader, has seen irrigated areas fall from nearly 9 million acres in 1997 to an estimated 7.5 million acres in 2010, that’s a 16% drop!  Why?
  • Aquifer depletion and diversion of water to fast-growing cities!
  • Then there’s Texas.  Their irrigated area peaked in 1978 at 7 million acres, now down to 5 million acres, a loss of 29%, as the Ogallala fossil aquifer under the Texas panhandle becomes depleted.
  • Colorado has seen its irrigated are shrink by 15%
  • Arizona’s irrigated area is shrinking.
  • Florida’s irrigated area is shrinking.

Then there’s India.  Then there’s Mexico.  And on and on.  I could quote so much more from this single chapter but – you get the message!

Here’s how the chapter ends.

Today more than half the world’s peoples live in countries with food bubbles.  The question for each of these countries is not whether the bubble will burst, but when – and how the government will cope with it. [Read that last sentence again, folks. Ed]

Will governments be able to import grain to offset production losses?  For some countries, the bursting of the bubble may well be catastrophic.  For the world as a whole, the near-simultaneous bursting of several national food bubbles, as aquifers are depleted could create unmanageable food shortages.

This situation poses an imminent threat to food security and political stability.  We have a choice to make.  We can continue with over-pumping as usual and suffer the consequences.  Or we can launch a worldwide effort to stabilise aquifers by raising water productivity – patterning the campaign on the highly successful effort to raise grainland productivity that was launched a half-century ago.

H’mmm.  Tough reading.

Amazon Drought in 2005.

The above photograph was taken from this website; here’s an extract from the accompanying article.

Food inflation is here and it’s here to stay.  We can see it getting worse every time we buy groceries. Basic food commodities like wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice have been skyrocketing since July, 2010 to record highs.  These sustained price increases are only expected to continue as food production shortfalls really begin to take their toll this year and beyond.

This summer Russia banned exports of wheat to ensure their nation’s supply, which sparked complaints of protectionism.  The U.S. agriculture community is already talking about rationing corn over ethanol mandates versus supply concerns. We’ve seen nothing yet in terms of food protectionism.

But as I wrote in the previous article, “Be worried, be concerned but don’t panic – you and I, all of us, have the collective power to sort this all out.”  Lester Brown’s book sets out some strong advice on the way forward.

To be continued, as they say.

2 thoughts on “Total, utter madness, Pt 2.

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