Energy Secretary Warns of California Agriculture Collapse

In his first interview since taking office, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu told the LA Times that if worst-case greenhouse gas projections materialize, 90 percent of the Sierra snow pack could disappear by the end of the century, threatening water supplies to farms and cities. â''Weâ''re looking at a scenario where thereâ''s no more agriculture in California,â'' he said. Chu compared the countryâ''s situation to one in which the owner of new home is told that the house could burn down unless itâ''s rewired. â''Iâ''m hoping that the American people will wake upâ'' and take care of the rewiring, he said. â''I donâ''t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen.â''

For the record, Iâ''ll tell you when I gripped in my gut what could happen. It was only after writing a book about climate change, actually, when I happened to drive from New York to New Orleans. My route took me down through West Virginia and then straight west to Memphis, Tennessee, on the Mississippi River. When I got roughly to Graceland, Elvis Presleyâ''s mansion in south Memphis, I turned left and headed straight south for Mississippi. Soon I crossed the state line, and then shortly after that, virtually from one minute to the next, the landscape changed totally. It was no longer the verdant and fertile rolling hills of Kentucky and Tennessee; it was flat, yellow, arid, and scruffy. I was in the Deep South.

The change had not been gradual. When I crossed some invisible line, I had stepped from one giant ecosystem into another. What if that line were to move a hundred or two hundred or three hundred miles north, so that large parts of Americaâ''s breadbasketâ''Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouriâ''were no longer in the North but in the South? And what if every other one of the worldâ''s breadbaskets were to experience similar simultaneous changes?

In my book, I had wanted to include a technical illustration prepared by scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in which the Illinois climate was shown, in a hundred-year scenario, to be the same as East Texasâ''s. (The map showed the state of Illinois superimposed on Texas.) An editor found the map too sensationalistic. We argued. Having never actually been to East Texas, I threw in the towel and let the map be deleted. In retrospect, I wish I stuck to my guns.

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