December 13, 2012

Everything is Connected (Wet Blanket Edition)


Living with the effects of global warming isn't only going to be harder. It's going to be less fun.

A couple of recent dispatches make the point:

1) Lots of people who love to ski will have to find another hobby. According to a report yesterday in the New York Times, as global warming continues, scores of the nation’s winter resorts, especially those at lower elevations and latitudes, won't have any snow to offer their customers.

The Times quotes one study's prediction that no ski area in Connecticut or Massachusetts is likely to be economically viable by 2039, while more than half of those in Maine and New York will go under. Another report said that the industry has already lost more than a billion dollars in revenue due to warming. 

Some in the industry are confident that snow-making technology will make up for any short-falls caused by climate change. There's a problem with that scenario, though. Snow-making requires water, and warming not only reduces snow, it reduces rainfall. After a year of record drought, the Times says, "reservoirs are depleted, streams are low, and snowpack levels stand at 41 percent of their historical average." 

2) The second report, in The Daily Beast, describes an impending gastronomic disaster of epic proportions: "The End of Pasta."

Wheat is a cool weather crop, which makes it the most vulnerable of our basic grains (rice and corn are the others) to global warming. According to reporter Mark Hertsgaard, predictions are that if current trends continue, global wheat production could decline by as much as 27 percent by 2050.

Bakeries will obviously suffer under such conditions, but pasta production will suffer more because the variety of wheat used to make pasta – durum wheat – is especially sensitive to climate change. Already shifts in rainfall patterns are forcing farmers in North Dakota, where some of the world's finest durum wheat is grown, to move their operations west. If warming continues, they may have to stop raising durum wheat altogether.

An ironic twist puts the durum wheat crop in North Dakota at even greater risk. Fracking has turned the state into an epicenter of one of the biggest oil booms in American history. As a result, land once used to grow durum wheat is now being paved over for oil pumps and gas pipelines, all busily producing fuels that are pushing the planet's temperature higher, faster. According to Hertsgaard, the flaring of natural gas that occurs during fracking is itself a major contributor to global warming. 

North Dakota isn't the world's only source of durum wheat, or even its most important one. That honor, Hertsgaard says, goes to the Mediterranean basin. Unfortunately, predictions are that climate change will hit that region even harder than it's hitting North Dakota.

Goodbye spaghetti, farewell, macaroni and cheese!

"Everything is Connected" is a recurring feature named in honor of the late Barry Commoner's four laws of ecology: Everything is connected to everything else, everything must go somewhere, nature knows best, and there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Photos: Skier: Tech4Globe; Pasta: Jacksonville Organic Produce Delivery Service

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