In an incredible and nearly unprecedented heat wave, the last three weeks have seen a non-stop flood of extreme weather around the globe, knocking out power grids, killing scores of people and devastating entire regions with storms, floods and heat-waves.

The US Department of Agriculture has now declared one of it’s largest emergencies ever due to the current drought. Their warnings cover almost a third of the continental US and a 12% drop in corn harvest is now forecast for the year, as well as heavy losses in soybeans and others. Japan on the other hand, just faced major flooding which killed 28 and displaced a quarter million. At least 46 people died the previous weekend across the US. Hundreds of temperature records were broken (11 around Ontario, including Hamilton), which comes after a month in which over 2100 were shattered. Beyond the human, cropland baked and roads, runways and rail lines buckled in the heat. Across the ocean in Russia, also over the same Friday and Saturday, a series of heavy storms and floods killed 171.

That deadly weekend came after a series of storms which hit the previous weekend, knocking out power to around three million Americans and leading to another twenty deaths, mostly heat-induced deaths. India’s monsoon season just hasn’t arrived over large regions of the country, and Colorado saw some of the worst wildfires in the state’s history.

At the risk of sounding controversial, this sounds a lot like “global warming” to me, perhaps even (gasp) “climate change”. This isn’t just coming in the form of rising coastlines and vanishing glaciers in places we’ll never visit, the heat is now on virtually everywhere. Worse yet, this extreme weather has started to snowball, with an unusually warm winter leading to a very dry spring, which caused us to heat up far sooner than usual. It’s hard to know how long this will continue, but for now it’s far too hot to rain over huge parts of the continent, trapping massive storm-clouds that sink regions when they do burst. Our climate isn’t just heating up, it’s becoming unstable.

On a global scale, long-term plans aimed at curbing climate change have been a disaster in themselves. Governments have been staunchly unwilling to make real commitments to cut emissions, nor to live up to the few agreements they have made, and our own Prime Minister, Harper, is a glaring example of this. The question which now fast approaches is: will we be any better at finding short-term solutions?

This is not an academic question. Some of my best friends are farmers. Weather doesn’t have to make growing all crops impossible (wheat, for example, is faring far better) – just the ones you’ve planted. If we don’t know what will be a cool, wet year, or a hot, dry one, farmers risk planting the wrong crops and losing entire fields, especially if they can’t irrigate on a large scale. All that’s required to ruin a small farm (some of the most precarious businesses in the country), is a few bad years in a row, and often far less are required to convince older owners to sell their land to developers. This weather is raising some utterly terrifying questions of food security, especially with storms and air conditioning demand both now frequently knocking out power grids sorely needed for refrigeration.

How are we supposed to grow corn-based biofuels under these conditions? How are people expected to limit their use of fans or air conditioners when people can literally die from these temperatures? How can we reduce our demand on already overtaxed aquifers (especially in the southern US) and still grow food in this heat? How long can we attempt to grapple with this problem with “solutions” which only make things worse overall?

“Civilization” as we know it relies on things operating “like usual”. Our building styles, agricultural systems and even our city’s storm drains have been carefully designed to function on very large scales based on average weather over the past century – something which probably won’t remain “average” over the next. The threat isn’t just local and regional disasters, it’s a cascading collapse of areas now utterly dependent on each other through trade. Our ability to export steel requires an ability to import food, and most regions around us would fail quickly without either. As exporters get more stressed, prices are going to skyrocket, jeopardizing an already deeply stressed world economy and putting millions at risk of starvation.

We need immediate, drastic action on this matter, and we need it yesterday. There’s no reason to believe that this heat or extreme weather can’t get a whole hell of a lot worse. Two decades after the Rio summit, the issue is still mired in (totally manufactured) scientific controversies, no matter how bad things get around us. It’s time to admit that universally acceptable “proof” isn’t going to show up until it’s far too late, and that such a “tipping point” may already have passed. How much worse does this have to get before we act?

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