No Christmas Relief for a Drying World

by Val Germann

The deepening Australian drought is featured today on the BBC website and a few of the included comments put the situation into its proper perspective.  For instance:

“The really scary thing is last time we had a drought of this intensity that lasted about five years – it lasted for about 50 years,” cautioned Professor Andy Pitman from Macquarie University in Sydney.  

Fifty years?  That would not be good, would it?  No, it would not.  But, of course, not everyone subscribes to such dire scenarios.

“The politicians truly believe this is a five-year or six-year drought that will break sometime in 2007 or 2008. But it might not break until 2050 and we aren’t thinking in those terms at this stage,” Professor Pitman told the BBC.  

No one is thinking in those terms, yet, for a very good reason: a fifty-year drought would just about wipe out conventional agriculture in Australia, and likely put-paid to the water supplies of all the big cities “down under.”  The Aussies would have to turn to desalinization plants, at enormous cost, just for enough water to drink.  As for what the rest of the economy would do, that would be a mystery because without water, and lots of it, it is impossible to run a modern economy. 

We here in the American midwest are in a drought, too, and influenced by an even bigger drought to our north and west.  Mid-Missouri has had about 30-inches of rain this year, down about 25-percent from the moving average.  But it’s worse up in the Dakotas and in Nebraska, and the photo below, taken at Jefferson City, Missouri, last week, shows the result.


That breakwater there should be submerged almost completely, even at this time of year.  Note the barges tied up across the river, they have been sitting there since mid-October when navigation was closed on the Missouri, a full month earlier than normal.  Without some serious rain up north, in the Missouri headwaters area, there will be big problems on the big river next year. 


Above is another photo taken last week, showing the low river stage and, appropriately enough, two unit trains of coal waiting to move onto the main line of the old Union Pacific.  At least ten of these trains, each of at least 100 cars, rumble past this spot every day.  They supply coal for electricty all across the eastern United States and so help pump megatons of carbon into the atmosphere, thus providing a great assist to the warming of our planet and drying up of the river, most likely. 

So, Merry Christmas, everyone, from here in the borderline drought-stricken state of Missouri.  And here’s hoping for a better 2007, too. 

This writer thinks we all most likely need one.


About Val

I am a long-time teacher of science and astronomy with a strong interest in resource conservation and the environment.
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