After months of drought, companies that ship grain and other goods down the Mississippi River are being haunted by a potential nightmare: If water levels fall too low, the nation’s main inland waterway could become impassable to barges just as the harvest heads to market.
Any closure of the river would upend the transport system that has carried American grain since before steamboats and Mark Twain.
These are the type of impacts that folks like me try to help manage. There’s no perfect way to analyze or predict the effects of climate change, but there are ways to discuss the issues with the public and politicians. Mainstream articles like this support the reasoning for adapting our cities (and economies) to environmental harms. The article explores the economic and local impacts from a drought stricken Mississippi. Many, many people depend on a steady flowing river for their livelihoods.
Of course, grumpy me, I have a pretty big quibble with this piece. Ideally, the journalists would have discussed how all those financial losses they discussed are covered by insurance. I feel the article misleads, most likely by accident. Yet one has to wonder - with all that focus on shipping goods, why skip discussing safety nets?
It’s true, the goods will be re-routed by other means of transportation - train or tractor trailer. And, as the article points out, there will be unrecoverable economic losses if the Mississippi becomes impassible for a month or so.
To me, that’s the real nut of the story. They pull some great quotes from industry execs on estimated losses. In fact, one economist is quoted as saying there could be something like “$7 billion” in losses - a scary number. I don’t think it’s true. The execs don’t mention that most of their losses are covered by insurance contracts and government subsidies, which have perils built into them. I think that’s really where they should have poked and prodded their interviewees, double checked their figures.
Why? Because, if the Mississippi becomes too unreliable for shipping, insurance companies will have little incentive to continue to insure those goods. That’s when shit hits really hits the fan. When shippers extract their goods from the Mississippi and choose to haul on land either by rail or truck. The costs to local communities that depend on these barges will be utterly devastating.