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Central Alberta farmers are basking in hopes for a fantastic harvest, after getting timely spring rains and abundant recent heat.
There’s still a long way from seeing healthy crops in the fields to lucrative grain stocks in the bin.
But emerging science suggests what’s happening here now is part of a pattern linked to global warming.
Long-term trends that promise to be indisputably good for some farmers will have the exact opposite effect for others.
The worst effects will be felt not just by farmers, but by the hard-pressed consumers they serve.
This year, the American plains states are suffering their worst drought in 50 years.
Almost half of the U.S. corn and one-third of its soybeans are rated poor or very poor.
It’s so dry that some experts say that next year’s crop is already in grave danger.
Key food prices are expected to rise four per cent.
American fuel prices are projected to rise even higher, because so much heavily subsidized U.S. corn is ridiculously used to produce ethanol.
Long periods of no rain in parts of the U.S. have been punctuated by periodic localized deluges, which cause massive flooding and property damage.
Grimly, these foul weather patterns are not restricted to the United States. Crops in Russia have also been devastated this year by savage heat.
Increasingly, extreme weather is also being credibly linked to global warming.
This year, based on growing evidence, a longtime global-warming skeptic has moved into the camp of the confirmed believers.
Richard Muller is a renowned physicist at the University of California at Berkeley.
He used to be a key touchstone for the climate change-deniers because of his impeccable scientific credentials.
Muller was skeptical, as all good scientists should be, because he felt the evidence was absent.
Three years ago, he and his team set about to find that evidence. He recruited some of the world’s best scientists, including a Nobel Prize winner, to collaborate with him.
They closely studied weather records dating back more than two centuries.
Now Muller and his team have compiled evidence that he says is indisputable: global warming is real and human activities are its central cause.
Muller and his team looked at volcanic activity and solar intensity variations, which some skeptics cite as drivers of climate change.
Those factors, Muller said, had only short-term effects.
The overwhelming determinant in global warming, they found, is burning coal.
The only way out of this mess, Muller concludes, is to stop burning coal and switch to cleaner sources of fuel, chiefly natural gas.
It’s a message that has been delivered many times by other scholars. It’s a message that many don’t want to hear in Alberta, where our future rides on mining heavy oil and coal.
It’s one that will be rejected and refuted by “skeptics” whose minds are driven by ideology or commerce and will not be altered by new factual evidence, no matter how authoritative its source.
Global warming will be good news for farmers in some places, including Northern Alberta. But those small gains will be outweighed by damage and destitution caused by higher temperatures, more violent storms and rising sea levels.
In Bangladesh, a poor Asia nation east of India, 20 per cent of its 160 million residents are directly threatened by rising sea levels. Ocean surges this year drove far inland, destroying crops.
Damage there endures long after the seawater recedes. In some places, evaporated salt remains in the soil, making it impossible to grow staple crops like rice.
Smaller harvests will inevitably lead to higher food prices, malnutrition and widespread death.
This week, Oxfam said the days of cheap food are over and “millions of the world’s poorest will face devastation” from the rising prices.
Solutions are easy to envision, but exceedingly difficult to achieve.
It has to start with a commitment to reducing our global carbon footprint.
Canada spews 55 times as much carbon per person into the atmosphere as Bangladesh does.
Partly that’s because we are a cold northern nation and Bangladesh is in the tropics. The greater reason is that we are affluent and they are not.
If current trends continue, they look to get poorer.
Canadians — especially Albertans — hope and expect to become wealthier because of our vast energy resources.
We can also expect to become “wealthier” as global warming makes farming in Northern Alberta more prosperous by extending its growing season.
But we cannot turn a blind eye to our responsibilities to others.
Real change has to start by weaning ourselves off the worst pollution, in a province where more than 60 per cent of our electricity still comes from burning coal.
Joe McLaughlin is the retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.