Tuesday, January 08, 2013

This one should be required reading for politicians: It's *shorter* growing seasons that we should fear, not longer growing seasons

The potential impact of volcanic overprinting of the Eddy Minimum | Watts Up With That?
With a solar activity now falling away and return to cold climate conditions imminent, it would be a useful exercise to calculate what would happen to American crop yields using the year-by-year climate conditions of the first half of the 19th Century. This would give an indication of the size of the problem. It could be that grain production might fall 60 percent from what it is now in the event of a major volcanic eruption during the Eddy Minimum. No American need starve if they were happy to live on a diet that was mostly corn and soybeans. The price of meat would skyrocket and a large portion of the national herd of lot-fed cattle and pigs would be slaughtered to avoid the cost of feeding them. Grain production in Canada in an 1816-type year would be wiped out completely. An indication of what would happen to food pricing and availability is the price response of oats in the north-eastern United States in 1816, which rose from 12 cents a bushel to 92 cents a bushel.

A repeat of the climate experience of 1816 in the world’s temperate region grain belts would most likely result in almost all of the grain exporting countries ceasing exports in order to conserve grain for domestic consumption. The effect on countries currently importing grain would go beyond calamity to catastrophe. The resultant mass starvation event would become the largest event in human history.

Current grain stocks carried by countries around the world assume that tomorrow will be much the same as today. As at year-end 2012, total world grain stocks were estimated to have been 328 million tonnes, which equates to 21% of annual demand. The days of the continuous benign climate of the second half of the 20th Century, due to the highest solar activity for the last 8,000 years, are now past. Perhaps continuing cooling over the rest of this decade will suggest to some that it would be prudent to plan on the basis that the climate for grain growing will continue to get worse, before there is another major volcanic eruption. Absence of planning could be considered as a suicidal tendency. Major volcanic eruptions occur about every 45 years on average. At the present, in the year 2013, with the oceans warmer than they have been for 800 years, the chance of a Mount Tambora-like eruption causing another mass famine is very slight. The world will be much cooler by 2020 though, and with an average period between eruptions of 45 years the chance of any individual year witnessing a mass famine event after 2020 will be about two percent. The cumulative chance rises to near 40 percent for the period 2020 to 2040. The world may dodge that bullet. Or it may not. Cold-driven reductions in grain supply will be quite distressing even to those who are fully prepared. The unprepared will become quite dead.

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