Climate change? That’s so five minutes ago

Drought-damaged corn is shown in Le Roy, Ill., in September. (Bloomberg News photo)

If you watched the last few presidential elections closely and then went into a cave or a coma for the past few years before emerging to witness the last two presidential debates, you’d probably wonder whatever happened to the issue of climate change. Given the issue’s sudden disappearance from public discourse, you’d probably figure it must have been solved.

Well, it hasn’t. We’ve just stopped talking about it, and I suppose that’s because of the economic crisis.

But climate change is still with us. In today’s Daily Republic, we have a stark reminder of that from the Washington Post/Bloomberg News Service.

The story tells us that the corn belt isn’t just moving west, as we’ve often observed here in South Dakota when we travel west of the Missouri River and see corn being grown in places it couldn’t be grown before. According to the WaPo/Bloomberg story, that westward expansion of the corn belt is kind of an illusion. It turns out the corn belt isn’t so much moving west as it is north.

That’s of course true, and we know it by looking around us. The story quotes an expert who says that because of the northward push of the corn belt, “the number of rail cars, the number of silos, the amount of loading capacity” all are increasing in what used to be the northern terminus of the corn belt. For evidence of that, just look to the Kimball/White Lake area, where a nearly $40 million rail-fed grain elevator on steroids has sprung up suddenly from the prairie.

The story goes on to note that while Kansas farmers sowed their fewest corn acres in three years this past spring, corn acreage in the Canadian province of Manitoba has nearly doubled over the past decade.

And then there’s this statistic: “September was the 331st consecutive month in which temperatures worldwide topped the 20th-century average, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center said Monday.”

Three hundred thirty-one consecutive months of above-average temperatures. Folks, that’s climate change. If you’re still among the skeptics, you need to get in touch with reality.

Given all of these recent developments, it’s terribly disappointing to hear no talk whatsoever about climate change in the presidential or any other campaigns. I understand that campaigns this year are about the economy, and they probably should be, but let’s get something clear: While we’ve been sleeping at the switch, climate change has not stopped. It has grown into an inexorable force that is causing the proverbial ground to shift underneath us. While our political candidates squabble about short-term concerns, climate change is transforming our world in a decidedly long-term way.

What’s causing our climate to change? There is an abundance of evidence to suggest human influence, and other evidence to suggest natural processes. Likely it’s both. We should do what we can to minimize the human side of the equation — on that, we should all simply agree. If you don’t believe human activity is contributing to climate change, then you shouldn’t mind if the rest of us try to reduce pollution. It won’t hurt you to breathe cleaner air.

Beyond that, our leaders need to expand their focus past the tree-level issues and start looking again at the forest-level issue of climate change. It already is rendering enormous changes in our agricultural economy, and these changes need to be studied, understood and dealt with accordingly.

Ignoring the issue will not make it go away.