We’ve all seen the charts matching up global temperatures with global greenhouse gas emissions, directly linking the two trends. Our greenhouse gas emissions have also been changing global precipitation patterns since at least the beginning of the 20th century, according to a report published last week in the journal Nature. The findings don’t sound particularly sexy or exciting, but they predict some seriously hard times for a handful of Central American nations in the years to come.
The Nature report reveals that our greenhouse gas emissions have been influencing global drought patterns as far back as the second industrial revolution, measurable in long-term patterns of soil moisture levels, suggesting that climate scientists are right to envision a more extreme future Earth where the wet places get wetter and the dry places will get drier. A common misconception about global warming — one of President Trump’s favorite to myths to tweet any time there’s a blizzard in this country — is that everything is simply going to get hotter. Instead, climate scientists have seen that warming has released more water vapor into the atmosphere, which is contributing to more extreme weather incidents and patterns than we’re accustomed to.
That’s bad news for countries in the “Dry Corridor” of Central America — which include Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua — a region that the UN has pegged as one of the most vulnerable to climate change extremes, according to Reuters. “While the big message of climate change has not changed, we are now making huge progress in understanding what climate change actually means for societies in terms of how global warming affects local variables that are ultimately relevant for food security,” Friederike Otto, the director of the Environmental Change Institute, told the New York Times. Otto was not involved in the Nature study but highlighted one of its biggest takeaways: food security depends on the reliability and stability of precipitation.
The Dry Corridor of Central America recently experienced nearly two consecutive years of drought, decimating harvests of maize and beans and putting stress on food supplies that normally would have sustained subsistence farmers through a dry spell. “The warning this year is that in the poor areas, that is the dry corridor, people have already used their [food] stock,” U.N. official told Reuters back in September. Last year, subsistence farmers lost more than half their maize and bean crop, and many had to sell equipment and animals in order to purchase food, putting even more stress on future harvests. As a result, about 1.4 million Central Americans now need food aid to avoid going hungry.
The 2019 growing season began earlier this month with indications that the dry streak would continue, which presents the possibility of mass climate migration from countries whose residents are already fleeing unsafe and unlivable conditions.