West Nile & Drought: the effects of Global Warming?

It’s been a beautiful summer here in New England with this week being perhaps the best of all, weather-wise. One dark cloud looming over us is the increasing frequency of reports of West Nile Virus. This is a disease of tropical origin yet there have already been 1100 reported cases in the US this year which has led to 41 death. Aerial spraying to kill the mosquitoes that carry the virus has already been done in our vicinity. This 2009 article in Scientific American predicted that such would be the case and the cause would be Global Warming. As the world warms, diseases once restricted to the tropics spread into temperate zones.

The other weather phenomenon effecting much of the US (but not New England so much) is a drought. While we’re not living through it, it seems quite likely that we’ll be feeling the effects of it for months to come in the form of higher food prices. As this blog from the University of Kentucky points out, the price you’ll pay for your box of Corn Flakes won’t show that much of a difference because so little of the cost of that product is attributable to the food – most is packaging, transport, display, etc. Meat and dairy products are another story. Cows eat a lot of corn and as corn grows more scarce and more expensive, the price of steak and milk will go up. Ironically, the price of beef in the short term might go down, but that’s because current herds are unsustainable given the drought conditions so there’s an abundance of beef on the market now which is lowering the price. That also cuts into future inventories, however, which means the prices will go up even higher as beef grows scarcer. The drought could be partly to blame for rising gasoline prices since all gasoline must contain a certain percentage of ethanol, a corn product.

So, it the drought caused by global warming? This story says it is but I suppose you can find contrary stories on the internet as well. I think it’s pretty well established in the legitimate scientific community that global warming causes more and more extreme events of all types from droughts to blizzards. Maybe the climate change deniers in Tampa next week will think about that as Hurricane Isaac bears down upon them.