Drought, El Niño & Your Dinner


cow-skullPanamá has declared a state of emergency.  The drought is official.  Cargo ships in the Canal are now restricted to a draft (depth in the water) of 39 feet. Lawns, gardens and golf courses are forbidden to use drinking water for watering.  Burning brush (a favorite Panamanian practice) is prohibited for fear of wildfires.

Here in the Azuero, often called “the bread basket of Panamá,” and one of the driest parts of Panamá, many districts have been on water rationing over the past several months.  Right now, in Peña Blanca, for the past week we have had the luxury of water throughout the day.  There is no telling how long that privilege will last.

The farmers and cattlemen here are worried. Many are stockpiling hay when they can afford it and get it, but all are worried about drinking water for their stock.

I bought a storage tank, which should help smooth over the water-rationed days for me.  That is adaptive behavior, but does nothing to alleviate the real problem.

We don’t have enough water. 

Officials are placing the blame on El Niño (Spanish for ‘child’), the affectionate name given to a warm ocean current which brings horrendous storms (tantrums) with it.

Last night I watched a scientific documentary on NetflixAntarctic Edge: 70 ° South. (If you are logged into Netflix, clicking the link will take you right to the movie.) The film was shot a mere two years ago, and I found it most alarming. Scientists were documenting the receding sea ice in the Antarctic and its effects on what they called “the food web.” Although climate change was not initially their primary concern, it became so.

I did not know that ice is one of the things that protects our planet from the sun — it reflects/deflects the rays and prevents their heat from being absorbed.  So the less ice there is, the more the ocean warms.  And, obviously, the more the ocean warms, the less ice there is.  It’s not just the penguins and the polar bears who are going to be in trouble.

The warmer the ocean is, the less certain kinds of plankton (a tiny plant that feeds a lot of ocean life) grow well.  The less plankton there is, the fewer krill (a tiny shrimp that feeds a lot of ocean life) there will be.  The fewer krill, the fewer larger fish.  The fewer larger fish…

The warmer the ocean is, the more the ice melts.  The more the ice melts, the more the sea levels rise.  The more the sea levels rise …

The warmer the ocean is, the more the weather changes, the more terrific storms batter the coasts and islands.  El Niño is growing up, and seems to have become El Hombre Malo (‘the Bad Man’).

The more the coasts are devastated, the more the interior of the land suffers. Where it is hot, it becomes hotter.  And dries up.

Where it has been cold, the ice melts, but often the rain does not come any more; neither does the snow. Prevailing air currents shift to new locales with the warming ocean currents and the storms they bring.

The oceans warm, the plant life cannot grow, there is nothing to feed the herbivores and they die.  The carnivores starve because there is insufficient prey.

Humans are omnivores, both herbivorous and carnivorous.  They eat both herbs and herbivores.  As the plant life ceases, and the herbivores die…

If we cannot learn to face the truth and deal with it, then we are going to have to learn to adapt — deeply, and quickly.

Life as we know it is on the sharp edge of a truly unpleasant tomorrow.

And still, there are those who deny it is happening and refuse to take action.

Isn’t there a name for that?