Sustainable Blog

The Drought of 2012

Another reminder that there is no escaping the connection between food and fuel.

Setting Sunflower, by [Mikey Roach](http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeroach/with/4076306725/#photo_4076306725)

Setting Sunflower, by Mikey Roach

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created the animation below to show the affects of the historic 2012 drought on vegetation month by month. It’s eerie to watch the dying vegetation spread across the country. You can also see how the first half of July has seen an acceleration of burned-out vegetation brought on by high temperatures and by the length of the drought.

From NOAA:

The United States is experiencing one of the worst droughts since the 1950′s. Hot temperatures and low precipitation have created a visible impact across the nation: stressed and dying vegetation. NOAA’s satellites are used to measure the impact of drought on vegetation, and in many ways, the ability to measure the impact on vegetation provides a more readily understandable way to measure drought. This animation shows monthly composites of vegetation health index derived from data from the AVHRR sensor on-board the NOAA POES satellite. Areas colored in shades of orange are experiencing moderate through exceptional drought conditions and are consistent with areas of vegetation stress.

As of mid-July the drought is already widespread and devastating, with forecasts predicting more hot dry weather. At this point there is little doubt that the drought will affect food and fuel prices.

The New York Times reports:

Fifty-five percent of the continental United States — from California to Arkansas, Texas to North Dakota — is under moderate to extreme drought, according to the government, the largest such area since December 1956. An analysis released on Thursday by the United States Drought Monitor showed that 88 percent of corn and 87 percent of soybean crops in the country were in drought-stricken regions, a 10 percent jump from a week before. Corn and soybean prices reached record highs on Thursday, with corn closing just over $8.07 a bushel and soybeans trading as high as $17.49.

One, perhaps surprising, side effect of the drought may be higher prices at the pump. Though oil prices have been dropping recently, an increase in the price of corn due to the drought may change any positive affect that could have had at the pump. Ethanol is derived from corn, among other grains, and makes up 10% of our gasoline supply.1 According to NBCNews.com:

Up until now, “ethanol in 10 percent blends has been sold at the same price as gasoline,” University of Illinois agriculture and consumer economics professor Darrel Good said via email. “If ethanol prices go above gasoline prices, then that will tend to raise prices at the pump.”

It was concern over this very issue that brought Sustainable America into existence. We are keenly aware of the precarious nature of of the relationship between food and fuel in this country. One gas shortage can raise food prices, or even create food shortages. One drought could mean a chain reaction that raises food and fuel prices, because the two are so interdependent. It’s looking like this drought will do just that, at a time already fraught with economic hardship.

We will be providing more information on the drought on the Sustainable America blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis of ethanol, corn prices and how the drought could affect fuel prices. It’s hard not to feel helpless in a time of drought – especially one that can safely be called a natural disaster – but over time we can all do our part and work together to attain a more sustainable America!

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.