Summary: We have a fevered desire to know the future, especially about the dynamics that shape our lives. Giving us confident answers pays well, tempting even the best of professionals. Here we examine a case study: the La Nina related weather and bad harvests. Another in a series about food, one of the underappreciated drivers of geopolitical change.
Recent posts have discussed three possible meteorological drivers of global cooling — and poor harvests.
- Eruptions of Kamchatka volcanoes — Certainly disruptive to global weather patterns; some cooling effect, but its magnitude is difficult to assess.
- Solar Cycle 24 (the 24th of the sun’s 11 year cycles for which we have good records) — Speculative. See posts here and here for details.
- ENSO (Pacific Ocean weather) swinging to La Nina-dominated cycles — The cooling effect is certain; duration unknown. Details are here, with an update below.
Even the news media has woken up to the effects of the current La Nina. But how long will it last? It might be ending now. Or it might last for years, like the cooling during 1970-1976 (the global cooling scare; links to more information appear at the end). With food stockpiles dwindling, even one more year of bad harvests would have severe consequences. The good news is that meteorologists have powerful forecasting models. The bad news: their forecasts don’t agree. See this revealing graph from page 27 of NOAA’s weekly ENSO report, the go-to place for information about these cycles. NOAA tells us like it is.
Summary: Yesterday we asked if food prices will continue to rise, destabilizing the third world? Today we ask the same question, with the Sun as the suspect. This takes us to the frontier of science, beyond the cartoon certainties fed to us by the news media. This is un-news, hidden from the public as these uncertainties challenge the story of human-emitted CO2 as the driver of Earth’s climate. If the sun continues to slow, and if that cools our world, then the resulting cool phase will send food prices on a one-way trip to the moon, which will rock the world. But despite the confident assertions on many sceptic website, this remains just speculation. One of the many shockwaves (low probability, high inpact) scenarios for which we should prepare — but not panic. Click here for an update; links to additional information appear at the end.
(1) The Solar Cycle’s influence on Earth’s weather
There is a strong correlation between solar cycles and Earth’s climate. Slow cycles (low levels of solar activity during the 11 cycle) overlap cool periods of Earth’s climate. The Little Ice Age overlapped the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715). There was also cooling during the Spörer Minimum (1460-1550) and and Dalton Minimum (1790-1830). There is evidence in the geological record of a longer-term relationship (see the references in section six of this FM reference page.
But there is no proven physical basis for that relationship. Both solar irradiance and the influx of galactic cosmic rays vary little, hence unlikely to have a substantial influence on Earth’s climate. But the historical correlation remains, even if the cause remains a mystery. It’s of more than theoretical interest, since the Sun appears to be slowing again. Will the Earth cool in response.
(2) Solar Cycle 24
Here is the monthly National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) graph of sunspot activity (the page also shows F10.7cm radio flux, a more direct measure of solar activity). Note the drop in December. The blue line is the 13 month moving average, centered on the 7th month (i.e., average of 6 months behind and 6 ahead). It’s tracing a curve far below the forecast of NOAA’s Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Committee as of May 2009, which calls for a maximum of 90 in May 2013. The Panel’s first forecast (April 2007) called for a peak of 90-140 sometime between October 2011 and August 2012 (the Panel’s experts were divided).
Summary: Riots around the world in 2008 and this year show the effect of rising food prices. There are many drivers of prices — increasing consumption, under-investment, pests/disease, weather. And despite the propaganda, cool cycles usually cause more harm than warm cycles. In this series we examine two wild cards, potential causing years of cool weather. Today: decadal climate cycles. Tomorrow: solar cycles. At the end of this post are links to more information about the emerging food crisis and global climate cycles.
- About the causes of rising food prices
- What is the ENSO and why is it is important?
- Today we’re experiencing the effects of a La Nina
- What comes next?
- An important note
- Other posts about food and global cooling
(1) About the causes of rising food prices
Among the two wild cards that might destabilize the world, two are widely underestimated: the normal decadal cyles (e.g., ENSO) and sunspot cycles. It is too soon for reliable forecasts, but there is evidence that either or both might reduce global crops during the next decade — especially in climatically marginal areas like Russia and Canada — and thereby boost food prices. Given the high weight of food in emerging market CPI baskets (one-third to half), this could destabilize many poor nations. The riots following the 2008 food price spike were just a sample of what might happen after a several years of rising prices. Imagine what a repeat of the 1970’s cooling would do.
Source: “Population Growth, Increases in Agricultural Production and Trends in Food Prices“, Douglas Southgate (Prof agricultural economics at Ohio State U), Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development, July 2009
(2) What is the ENSO and why is it is important?
The the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is} one of the world’s major large-scale sea-air coupled interaction, occurring in the tropical Indo-Pacific region. From the Britannica: