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A brutally hot and costly summer

 Posted by on July 29, 2011
Jul 292011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

It’s hard to live in Texas this summer and not consider the havoc that climate change has in store for us.

In Dallas, the last 27 days have hit 100 degrees or more. People have abandoned even pools in favor of air conditioning. Longhorn cattle, bred for heat, droop under mesquite trees, and pipes have begun breaking as the cracked earth shifts underneath our streets and homes.

Like an expanding fissure across baked earth, the damage from the ongoing drought stretches across the state, encompassing the northern plains region, West Texas and the Hill Country.

Texas livestock farmers have sold off herds they cannot risk keeping for longer. Crop farmers cut their losses and stopped irrigating fields because it no longer made financial sense. Corn, hay and other crops have dried up.

The price tag for the agricultural losses caused by this year’s Southwest drought, the worst since the Dust Bowl years, will be steep, an estimated estimate $8 billion in Texas alone, and we’re not done yet.

Even Houston, with its refreshing gulf breezes (the ones that aren’t sullied by benzene from the refineries), has taken a beating. The Bayou City recorded an all-time record temp of 105 on June 5 and 6, and has seen little rain this year.

The Hill Country, brushy and crackled even in a good summer, has been sizzling, and not in a good way. While the dry heat makes the hot drought a tad more endurable here, the parched leaves and shrubs portend more wildfires, and that must make residents of this rugged landscape a bit restive.

Now we’re possibly, maybe, with luck, about to get some rain from the Tropical Storm Don spinning up in the Gulf of Mexico. While we are accustomed to getting summer rain as a byproduct of Gulf storms, a woman in Austin impressed me this week with her prediction that the rain could be better than usual because climate change has warmed gulf waters and that could load up Don with more precipitation.

This appears to be the one bonus feature of global warming, though a drenching every four months or so is not optimal for agriculture. These gully washers evoke visions of dancing under the drought-breaking rain, but for all their drama, they do not quench the landscape as well  as small but regular rain showers. And as it looks right now, Don is going to wet South Texas, but may not rinse off even San Antonio, let alone reach Austin.

Austin, at least, continues to gird itself for the drier, hotter future that climate modelers predict for the Southwest. The city simply has a higher climate change IQ than the rest of the state – Gov. Perry and other climate deniers in-residence notwithstanding.

Bike trails get used here and more are planned. Buses accommodate bikers with transport racks. Water-friendly native landscaping is evident in many neighborhoods and sustainable dining is almost a norm. Find me a diner with cage-free eggs in Dallas (I know of one place to get an ethical omelet) and I’ll show you five in Austin.

During a sojourn in the capital this week, we regenerated at the Kerby Street Café and Bouldin Creek Café, where locally grown tomatoes and spinach, artisan bread, ethical meats (Kerby Street now serves Thunderheart Bison) and Fair Trade coffee are all a given. This was a real treat. The Bouldin’s omelets are superb and Kerby Street has put tofu tortilla soup on the menu, a no-brainer substitution for chicken tortilla that you’d think Mexican restaurants would snap to.

But I digress. You are now wondering, what’s this tangent about food got to do with the drought and heat?

It’s simple: We cannot begin to reduce the earth’s human-induced fever until we bring down carbon emissions, and a great start, in fact, a tasty place to start, is with local food. When you eat more local and seasonal and organic food, you’re reducing the carbon footprint of the food. It doesn’t have to be transported from afar or rely on pesticides derived from fossil fuels. (It helps to grow some of your own food too.)

Sustaining the local economy with local goods makes sense for everyone living in that area, because they’ll be buffering themselves against the coming fossil fuel price shocks that will hit national and global food networks hard.

We can’t change today’s heat. But we can prepare a local network now that will better withstand drought, and not run the risk of contributing to it.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network