Hugh Bollinger
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Fire & Ice

In 1920, Robert Frost wrote his classic poem, Fire & Ice: Some say the world will end in fire; Some say in ice. From what I've tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great and would suffice. The astronomer Harlow Shapley wrote in a 1960 "Science and the Arts" presentation that he inspired the poem. According to a Wikipedia anecdote, Shapley describes an encounter with Frost a year before Fire & Ice was published. The story goes that, "Frost noting that Shapley was the astronomer of his day, asks him how the world will end. Shapley responds that either the sun will explode and incinerate the Earth, or the Earth will somehow escape that fate only to end up slowly freezing in deep space." Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the extreme climate events of 2011 including massive spring floods and intense summer heat waves indicate the fates may be acting in deadly tandem now. As climate change accelerates, this is a potential preview of events to come. A NOAA prediction in March and an actual image from April represent the results of melting ice and snow in the upper mid-west. [caption id="attachment_6590" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Predicted USA spring flood risk map (source: NOAA)"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6593" align="alignright" width="300" caption="April floods in the mid-west (source: NOAA)"][/caption] Floods allow fungal pathogens to infect crops at their earliest stages of growth, decreasing vigor, but extreme heat impacts the overall ability of a plant to survive. The consequences of the severe droughts affecting many states now is still unfolding. Photosynthesis functions best below 86F (30C) and begins to shut down above 100F (38C). A graph showing temperatures and photosynthesis illustrates this biological relationship. [caption id="attachment_6598" align="aligncenter" width="527" caption="Relationship between temperature and photosynthesis (source: file image)"][/caption] Besides the suffering people and animals must endure with these climate extremes, the impact on plant productivity--ie, agricultural --is now being felt at both crop production and commodity price levels. Harvest seasons are still to come. An excellent commentary submitted by an ag writer to the New York Times describes the impacts of the record breaking drought on-- Texas. It provides a cautionary tale. So far, none of our political candidates-- or their party's --have paid much attention to climate change or the impacts to affected landscapes and economic exports. Maybe they need to read Robert Frost's thoughts on fire and ice. WHB
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