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Global warming is about to make your burger more expensive

The first six months of this year have been the hottest on record since 1895. In June alone, we smashed more than 3,000 temperature records across the United States. It was the 328th consecutive month in which the average global temperature exceeded the 20th century mean. As Bill McKibben put it, "the odds of [that] occurring by simple chance were [one in] 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."

But if that much is obvious to most people who don't harbor deep suspicions about the value of science, the rate at which global warming is changing life on this planet may still come as a shock. Not only are the 3.7 million Americans living within a few feet of the coastline already experiencing more frequent flooding -- the result of rising sea levels -- but unusual weather patterns are likely to make food more expensive, and fast.

Figures released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predict substantial increases in food prices as a result of weather patterns in the Midwest -- the worst drought in nearly half a century.

The prices of chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs are all supposed to rise between three and five percentage points this year. Corn futures have already spiked nearly 50 percent over the last month to roughly $8.00 a bushel on fears that crops will be ruined. (The Department of Agriculture estimated that 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is in poor or very poor condition as a result of the drought.)

And it's not just the U.S. market that will be affected. The U.S. is the world's largest producer of corn -- exporting millions of tons every year to countries like Japan, Egypt, and China. In 2000, for example, Egypt imported 76 percent of its corn from the United States.

In 2011, revolutions erupted across the Arab world at least in part because of rising food prices. Recall that protesters in Tunisia wielded loaves of bread and Egypt suffered a spate of "bread riots" when grain prices spiked between 2007 and 2008. Now, more than a year after the uprisings, many Arab economies are struggling to get back on their feet. Significant increases in global food prices might well plunge them back into chaos.

But bad weather and worse crop yields in the U.S. are not the only forces driving grain prices skyward. Southern Europe, which typically supplies 16 percent of global corn exports, is having its own ecological disaster. Temperatures in the band that runs from eastern Italy to the Black Sea averaged about five degrees higher than normal last month, according to Bloomberg, baking corn crops that are in the critical pollination phase. Cedic Weber, whose company advises about 5,000 farmers in Europe, told Bloomberg, "in Europe we'll need to import a lot of wheat and corn...That's just adding to the problems we've got everywhere."

That doesn't bode well for the Egypts and the Tunisias of the world -- or for any other net importer of food, for that matter. As it happens, that's practically all of the Middle East and Africa, and much of Southeast Asia.

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Wither the Nuclear Triad? Maybe not.

The Pentagon needs to keep all three legs of the nuclear triad in light of its shrinking inventory of nuclear weapons and the rise in numbers of nuclear weapons around the globe, the U.S. Air Force's top civilian official said this morning.

"I think, as, our nuclear force structure potentially gets smaller in the context of START, it's all the more important that we maintain a balanced triad going forward," said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley during a July 25 breakfast on Capitol Hill. "In the context of rising nuclear capabilities elsewhere in the world, it's even more important that we have the flexibility across land and air-based and sea-based legs of the triad. We have flexibility of basing those, in targeting methods and other aspects of this mission that give us confidence that we can continue to deter potential nuclear ambitions of others and that we have the flexibility to respond if necessary through various means."

While the Air Force waits for the Pentagon to decide whether or not to continue with the triad -- which has consisted of the air service's land-based nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles and the Navy's submarine-launched ballistic missiles since the early 1960s -- it has developed a program to keep its 450 Minuteman III ICBMs, which were first deployed in 1970, in service until 2030.

Donley's comments come just two weeks after Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, chief of U.S. Strategic Command, said the triad may not always be the best arrangement for nuclear deterrent. "My view today is that the triad continues to serve us well. It may not be true in the future, but it continues to serve us well," said Kehler, who is in charge of the nation's nuclear forces, on July 12.

Speaking of weapons designed to deter nations from developing weapons of mass destruction, Donley also said the Air Force's stash of 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator super bunker busters is ready for use even though the new weapons are being upgraded to give them even more penetrating power. "If it needed to go today, we could do that," said Donley. "We continue to do testing on the MOP to refine its capabilities but we also the capability to go with the existing capability." The MOP, which entered service in late 2011, is designed to smash through up to 32 stories of concrete after being launched from the B-2 stealth bomber. Earlier this year, the Air Force decided to upgrade the bombs to allow them to reach the most deeply buried targets, such as Iran's sensitive nuclear facilities.

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