Ross Abbey '05's Op-Ed on Climate Adaptation

Excerpted from

It's now official: The drought of 2012 is a national disaster. Late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared natural disasters in more than 1,000 counties across 26 states. As NBC’s Brian Williams put it, Americans are now experiencing “the worst drought in a quarter century.”

That’s a reference to the great drought of 1988. According to a 2006 study by the U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the 1988 drought and heat wave caused more than 5,000 deaths, and cost more than $61 billion (in 2005 dollars) in crop and livestock damages. It's too soon to say whether the cost of this summer's drought and heat wave — which is estimated to have already caused losses of around 2 billion bushels of corn and soybeans — will match the destruction of 1988. Let’s hope not.

Global warming will make droughts more frequent and more severe. It’s no coincidence that our current period of extreme dryness follows the warmest 12-month period since U.S. records began in 1895. Recall our warm winter, followed by the summer-like weather in March, followed by the record-smashing June/July heat wave — a string of statistical outliers that would be unlikely in the absence of global warming.

How unlikely? The NCDC estimates the likelihood as less than one in a million (while skeptics peg the odds closer to one in 100,000).

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