Thursday 10 February 2011

Looking Forward To A Dry Spell?

Watching weeping weather forecasters glumly forecasting rain seems a strange way to start thinking about drought but someone has to. One item around the press this week that caught the eye was about the study of tree ring data on ancient trees in the Americas coupled with scientific analysis of the implications.

The thesis is that over the last 2000 years or so in those areas as well as the usual variations in weather patterns over periods and climatic shifts there have been four “mega-droughts” whose effects have been catastrophic both for the environments and the populations within them.

The suggestion is that such droughts led to the collapse of the Maya societies and other changes. The Maya had built up highly complex urban based cultures with agricultural systems organised to produce surpluses to sustain them. In other places less complicated but still well organised groups have simply disappeared. The end of a number of ancient societies might have involved water problems.

In recent history there have been enough droughts of one kind or another across the world to warn us of what can happen. During The Raj in India and during the period earlier of British takeover droughts occurred which impacted on large areas of the Sub-Continent. We have seen major droughts in Africa and even in the USA in the 1930’s in the mid West there were serious problems, notably in Oklahoma

Very often, and almost inevitably in some cases the situation becomes chaotic in the real sense of the word. Governments and administrations simply cannot cope with the extent and complexity of the problems arising. Not only is there instability but society can descend into war bands intent on self interest.

For the populations affected death and disease take large numbers, those that can get out do, those that survive scrape by at the lowest levels in shattered lands. In the centuries past with substantially fewer people and much lower proportions in urbanised surroundings the effects were bad enough.

What could happen in the coming years of the 21st century if shifting weather patterns alone, irrespective of all the theories of climate change, cause major long term droughts in areas with large populations is difficult to contemplate. It is not possible to predict precisely where, how big and how complicated it could be.

What might have happened in the UK if the 1976 hot spell had gone on for several years? We were having problems after only a few dry months. Even now when some event causes disruption to water supplies it can provoke a local crisis. Is anyone taking a serious look at what could happen either within the UK or in parts of the world with large populations if the water supplies simply dried up?

In the meantime in the City of London, the dealers at the trading desks whoop and holler when a natural disaster occurs somewhere that might affect the supplies of essential commodities. The “market” system that in our modern world is no longer an efficient or reliable means of bringing supply to meet demand is distorted to deliver the financial benefits to the very few. It not longer works for the masses.

And if the taps run dry it will be the masses who will be looking for water and the money to buy it.

1 comment:

  1. There is a school of thought that drought can be easily caused locally by mass urban sprawl. Not least that the local temperature is high from the heat generated by all those people herded together.