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Climatologists and drought forecasters are now comparing the last few years of severe drought to the Dust Bowl era.  And if their predictions are correct, that drought will be worse this year than last, which was about as bad as we've seen in the lower 48 in decades.  The news that our drought situation is already off to a worse start than in either of the past two years is very discouraging news, and will have major impacts for most Americans, whether they live in the more drought stricken areas of the country or not.

The 2013 drought season is already off to a worse start than in 2012 or 2011 - a trend that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say is a good indicator, based on historical records, that the entire year will be drier than last year, even if spring and summer rainfall and temperatures remain the same. If rainfall decreases and temperatures rise, as climatologists are predicting will happen this year, the drought could be even more severe.

The federal researchers also say there is less than a 20 percent chance the drought will end in the next six months.

Over 54% of the country was affected by drought conditions in February this year, and increase of 15% from last year at this time.  That is an alarming trend, considering the effect last year had on crop losses and increased food prices.  As always, there remains the risk of wildfires (with ever fewer firefighters available to combat them) in the more severely drought stricken regions of the country.

Unfortunately, parts of the country may be looking at a rerun of last year’s wildfire season, the third-most active since 1960. As USA Today summed it up: “Persistent drought and an infestation of tree-killing insects have left broad swaths of the nation vulnerable to unusually fierce wildfires for the second straight year, just as the U.S. Forest Service is dealing with cuts in its firefighting budget.”

Last year, the Forest Service spent $1.4 billion fighting monster fires in the West that consumed 9.3 million acres. The conditions this year are, if anything, worse. [...]

Because of the across-the-board spending cuts agreed on by the White House and Congress, the Forest Service will have 500 fewer firefighters than its usual 10,000 to 10,500. It can mitigate the cuts by trying to pre-position its firefighters, a tricky judgment when the agency manages 193 million acres in 43 states.

Your sequester at work people.

And with increased demand for water for industrial purposes, especially by the oil and gas industry which has led to toxic groundwater contamination, we can expect that such contamination, along with other harmful impacts of the drought, will make it harder to maintain sources of safe drinking water in many parts of the country the longer this drought continues.

As temperatures rise and precipitation decreases, water quality can be jeopardized. Shrinking amounts of water can concentrate contaminants such as heavy metals, industrial chemicals and pesticides, and sediments and salts. During drought, drinking water supplies are susceptible to harmful algal blooms and other microorganisms.

Unfortunately, Congress seems unable to deal with this crisis, and by Congress I mean primarily the Republicans in the House of Representatives.  Democrats such as Henry Waxman and others have taken the lead in attempting to move the Republican colleagues to take the environmental crises we face seriously.  Sadly, the response for the other side of the aisle has been a blend of of  ignorance and outright disingenuousness

On March 15, Waxman and Ranking Member Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) sent a letter to Chairmen Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY), requesting a specific hearing with scientists and top experts on the need for action to address climate change. They believed that the scope of previous testimony had been limited. Waxman and Rush wrote, "While the Committee has provided a venue for regulated entities to complain about regulations to curb greenhouse gases, we have not held any hearings on recent scientific reports and technical analyses that explain why it is so important that we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."

It's a difficult path, especially when top Republicans continue to deny climate change. Some comments have included the following:

  • From Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), "The science is not settled and the science is actually going the other way."
  • From Rep. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) on the cause of climate change, "It could just be a shift on the axis."
  • From Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, "The Earth will end only when God declares it is time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood."

Unfortunately, this has become par for the course in Republican circles.  Re-branding the GOP apparently doesn't mean that Republican lawmakers have any desire to actually address our nation's problems, especially when it comes to climate issues.  Far from it, in fact.

[E]arlier this month, a deeply noncontroversial Senate resolution commemorating International Women’s Day had to be taken back and edited because someone objected to a paragraph — which had been in an almost identical version passed in the last Congress — stating that women in developing countries “are disproportionately affected by changes in climate because of their need to secure water, food and fuel for their livelihood.”

You may be wondering who the objecting senator was. Normally, these things are supposed to be kind of confidential, but in this case the lawmaker in question is proud to let you know that he is — yes! —Ted Cruz of Texas.

“A provision expressing the Senate’s views on such a controversial topic as `climate change’ has no place in a supposedly noncontroversial resolution requiring consent of all 100 U.S. senators,” a Cruz spokesman said. [...]

There was a time, children, when the Republican Party was a hotbed of environmental worrywarts. The last big Clean Air Act of the Bush I administration passed the House 401-21. But no more, no more. You’re not going to get any sympathy for controlling climate change from a group that doesn’t believe the climate is actually changing. [...]

It’s sort of ironic. These are the same folks who constantly seed their anti-deficit speeches with references to our poor, betrayed descendants. (“This is a burden our children and grandchildren will have to bear.”) Don’t you think the children and grandchildren would appreciate being allowed to hang onto the Arctic ice cap?

Expect a long and dry year, both in terms of drought and in terms of Republican denial regarding the causes and impacts of that drought.  God help those who are going to suffer because Republicans surely will not.

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