Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Doing Without California

The Pains and Perils of Ignoring Predictions
Especially screamingly, crushingly, inescapably obvious, NASA predictions.

[Note from MeanMesa: Although this post is primarily directed at this blog's visitors from New Mexico, visitors from other parts of the country should explore some of these same ideas for the regions where you live -- especially if your area doesn't have long term drought forecast for its future.]

Thinking ahead about practically anything seems to go directly against the common practice of the Republican controlled Congress these days. MeanMesa wouldn't be particularly shocked if the bunch currently running Washington actually passed a law that planning for such scientific or statistical "prophecies" a statutory crime, and, in fact -- a crime in its "aggravated state" if planning for one of those "prophecies" might conceivably benefit anyone without a lobbyist.

Yet, here we are. We haven't crashed headlong into the consequences of this specific "prophecy" yet, but, armed with the science and the statistics, we can see this "brick wall" roaring towards us at a truly unsettling pace.

We need to start planning exactly what we intend to do without the 9% of the food we consume nationally which has traditionally come to us from California.

MeanMesa has posted about NASA's Earth Science predictions concerning the California "mega-drought" and even a few possibilities to mitigate the severity of the drought's impact.

Unhappily, thanks to the Republican "death grip" on the Congress, we presently live in a nation utterly unable to commit resources to solving even the most minor, most obvious challenges. None of the extremely odorous politics sustaining that disaster needs to be addressed here. This post is about food.

California Agriculture REALLY IS Shutting Down.

California REALLY IS Entering Into a Mega-Drought.

California Food Exports REALLY ARE Going To Decline.
We're not talking inconvenienced butterfly migrations, polar bears without ice floes
 or fishing villages going under water due to sea level rises.

Further, "When it rains, it pours." Too much of the domestic population of the US is already facing some degree of a food crisis. One in six US children live in families with incomes below the poverty level, and that means that these children are living in what is statistically termed to be "food uncertainty." [Washington Post - US Child Poverty Worst in Developed World,  ThinkProgress - GOP Cuts School Lunch Programs and CommonDreams - GOP Congress Cuts $8.7 Bn From Food Stamps]

Meanwhile, the Republican Congress is indulging in Ayn Randian, Libertarian "wet dreams" of cutting food stamp programs, obliterating health care and vaporizing subsidies for school lunches, and every other extraction scheme their owners have commanded. The reason for mentioning this here is simple.

These "food uncertainties" have everything to do with money. However, the particular money which is the first, most visible cause of the problem is not found in the cynical depths of the Draconian Republican Federal budget -- it is in the pockets of the parents who are charged with the responsibility of feeding these children. They simply don't have enough income to provide adequate food, and, thanks to conditions now prevailing in the tatters of the hollowed out economy remaining after the GOP's 2008 "looting frenzy," these parents now have steadily decreasing chances of remedying their family food situation anytime in the near future.

Add to this the sheer scope of the approaching troubles with the "California contribution" to the US "grocery cart." For decades literally thousands of trucks and trains have been exiting the Golden State daily with shipping containers absolutely packed with fresh food from the State's gigantic agricultural economy. The nature of that "food machine" is not a mystery. It is driven by corporate farm industries representing some of the largest capital reservoirs in the economy, and the food is harvested and processed by a huge army of laborers representing some of the most exploited workers in the country.

But, if we were to stop our description of what goes on in the California agricultural economy at this point, we would be omitting a critical element: 


[Naturally, California's rich agricultural soils and abundant sun shine are also essential ingredients, too, but neither of these is currently in jeopardy.] Let's review some research statistics about how critical this has already become.

Definitely time to defund NASA's Earth Science Budget [TechnologyReview -Desalination-out-of-Desperation]

Keep in mind the area shown in the 2014 map [above] -- it encompasses California's Central Valley
Locating California Crops [FARMLAND]

from which most of the State's agricultural exports originate. And, to drive this situation home, this map [right] shows where in the state the most productive agriculture for specific crops is located. Although the seasonal rains [still significantly less than usual...] have returned to California in recent days, the drought is so severe that this precipitation will not be able to help that much.

If there were good prospects for this drought to follow a "more traditional" type of meteorological pattern, we could anticipate that conditions would return to normal in the matter of a year or two, but, that happy outcome is almost exactly what the NASA scientists have not predicted. Bloomberg sums up the prospects: [Excerpted here. The title will link you to the original article. Emphasis added - MeanMesa.]

In the long term, California will probably move away from commodity crops produced in bulk elsewhere to high-value products that make more money for the water used, said Richard Howitt, a farm economist at the University of California at Davis. The state still has advantages in almonds, pistachios and wine grapes, and its location means it will always be well-situated to export what can be profitably grown.

The success of California agriculture was built in large part on advances in irrigation that allowed the state to expand beyond wheat, which flourishes in dry climates. It’s now the U.S.’s top dairy producer and grows half the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Water has allowed us to grow more valuable crops,” Sumner said. “Now, we have fruits and vegetables and North Dakota grows our wheat. Without irrigation, we’d be North Dakota.”

Bloomberg is generally considered to be a source for fairly accurate and objective "business reporting," and the focus of this article is about the "business" impact of the drought, that is, agricultural production levels, market trends, transportation costs, commodity prices and so forth. However, when the question is about families being able to provide nutritious food for their children, all these issues land squarely on the "kitchen table." [And now, in public school lunch rooms, too.]

Not only will the readily available variety of choices diminish, but prices will also inevitably rise, and overall nutrition -- already a "basket case" issue for most families with tight budgets -- will also suffer.

If you are an "experienced visitor" to MeanMesa's little blog, you know that depressing tales such as the one behind this post are very seldom simply abandoned and left as the "last word." So, let's now have a quick look at two possible solutions.

The First Possible Solution:
Following the Rain
Bring your seed -- and your mule.

New Mexico is more modern than this. [EXAMINER]
It turns out that the same large scale weather pattern which has wreaked havoc on California's annual rainfall has now apparently taken up residence over New Mexico. The late summer monsoon plumes which have always deposited New Mexico's treasured share of precipitation have grown "deliciously robust" this year and are showing very promising [meteorological] signs of remaining that way for some time.

Unlike our giant neighbor to the west, New Mexico has grown accustomed to "making do" with substantially less annual rain and snow fall. While New Mexico has a few exceptionally high quality, high market "cash crops" [MeanMesa - New Mexico Embraces the Unthinkable], the state's main agricultural export is livestock feed. This is very much a reflection of what have been the typical agricultural realities of the state's high desert climate, and especially the availability of irrigation water.
Land of Enchantment -- and water!

The map [right] shows what the "non-drought" in New Mexico looks like right now -- in 2015. The extremely  favorable monsoon plume mentioned above has literally transformed the State from having a "not particularly interesting" agricultural potential to one offering a "remarkably favorable" condition.

Only last year [2014] the "drought map" of the Western US looked quite different [below], but since then, California's drought conditions have grown far more severe while precipitation conditions in the states East of California has improved.

February 2014, Western Region

Probably, no matter how much New Mexico's agricultural possibilities were developed, this state could never produce enough to replace what traditionally has come from California, but with some infrastructure and economic development, New Mexico could become a prime agricultural producer for the nation. When neighboring states Arizona, Utah and potentially, Nevada -- all now experiencing increased precipitation for the same reason that New Mexico is -- are included in the "new national food production model," a newly formed equivalent to the soon drought defunct Central Valley begins to take shape.

Supply and Demand:

The demand for food grown in California will not change noticeably, but the supply will, most likely, continue to dwindle. Predictably, prices will begin to rise, and availability will begin to suffer. Not only is the long term weather energizing this suggestion, the market is also poised to advance such a plan, too. The market currently being filled with California produce will transform into a "market vacuum" as conditions in the Central Valley get worse. Rapidly increasing agricultural production in states which have been heretofore essentially left out of the picture is a proposal which comes directly from imagination to fruition already enjoying both "supply" and "demand" attributes.

MeanMesa, blogging this post from the Short Current Essays Galactic Headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is acutely aware of the very difficult political and social obstacles this proposal would encounter in the state. Democratic New Mexico, thanks to monumental local political bumbling, has a Republican Governor and State House of Representatives under Republican control -- all factors producing the now well known descent into the Republican austerity and economic paralysis found in other "red" states. Most of the remainder of the State's business is heavily infested with a particularly rancid gang of ALEC raiders.

Nonetheless, true potential in mankind's realm has a tendency to always find a way to ultimately emerge, and this is the picture of such a potential, although a potential buried below all sorts of difficulties. Still, making this change in this ancient land of the "Patrona" and  the "Bishops" will represent a political "challenge of vision," indeed.

The Second Possible Solution:
Build an International Rail Road
 to Where the Rain -- and Food -- Is.
Central and South American agriculture remains largely intact. 

Now, of course, while there is little prospect that the billionaires in charge of this country would ever allow us to have a high speed train inside the domestic US, there remains the possibility that more "forward thinking," populist governments to the South might turn out to be quite interested in such a proposal. The idea brings with it plenty of economic and agricultural market advantages to Central and South American nations still enjoying more or less normal precipitation as the climate changes.

[Graphics MeanMesa]

The proposed high speed rail line can be constructed with the latest, modern technology available. In almost all developed nations besides the US, these trains are no longer an "oddity" or an industrial "phenomenon." All across the globe from Taiwan to Italy, they are providing rail service -- usually passenger service -- with the levels of speed and convenience which compete with jet air liners.

Designing such a rail road designed to move freight rather than passengers would not present too much difficulty. Much of the produce originating in Central and South American fields is currently transported to US grocery distributors by air, and a well designed high speed rail system could compete with that expensive transportation scheme very well.

Once such a modern transportation system were in place, all manner of economic opportunities beyond the "food business" would enjoy the fast and dependable shipping possibilities, also.

The Central and South American continental regions could definitely produce agricultural exports at a rate and quality which would be able to replace the decline in supply originating in California's mega-drought impacted Central Valley, and they could replace those commodities at a very competitive price. In many cases they already are -- even when shipping is done by shipping on freight jet planes. The real transportation problem would be located north of the New Mexico entry point where trains transporting this produce across the country to US markets run at an average of 68 MPH.

Very Fast Train International Politics,
 Trade Agreements, Inspections and Contraband
If any of this is too tough for Congress, we can always just starve to death.

MeanMesa can almost already hear the shrill voices of US "hate radio" screeching about importing trainloads of ISIS fighters, tons of cocaine and bus loads of girls tragically kidnapped and forced into the "pleasure trades" for US consumption. Although the xenophobic televangelists and sold out, dirty shirt Confederate political hacks in Congress will immediately begin with every talking point in their closet -- "Death to America," "End of the Free Market" or "War on Christmas" [all while quickly pocketing their checks from trucking companies, private prison corporations, beef and chicken dynasties and jet freight airline corporations...], the "common sense counter weight" might, actually, carry the day at some point.

With respect to the almost certain problem of drugs and other contraband hidden among the Argentine oranges, MeanMesa has a suggestion. Whenever any of these illegal "imports" is discovered in one of the new train's shipping containers at the border crossing inspection station, the sender of that container load is immediately denied access to the train -- and the US market -- for one year.

This will provide an incentive for the corporatists and industrialist agriculturalists counting on the use of this new train to police their own loading docks. Such a policy might well prove more effective -- and much cheaper -- than the present $10 Bn per year "War on Drugs" scam which is funneling mountains of US tax dollars into the pockets of all sort of "less than desirable" players while producing very "patchy" results.

The design technology of the train system could include new types of shipping containers to aid in the inspection process and shipping after arrival to US domestic destinations. Nations in Central and South America would find a new incentive for constructive relations and cooperation, too. Even laying out the initial right of way for the rail lines might offer an unexpected "break through" in national cooperation in the region.

Finally, once all this began to really work well, its success might persuade those in the Congress to consider having modern railroads in the US, too.

Additional Reading on this topic:


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