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Climatologists, who like most scientists are tediously fixated on facts, will tell you that California’s four years of drought are the product of an unusually resilient ridge of high pressure that has settled in off the state’s coast. It’s a meteorological phenomenon that occurs periodically, though this time many suspect it’s being exacerbated by climate change.
Californians, according to their social and political predilections, keep coming up with their own villains — golf courses, swimming pools, wasteful Beverly Hills residents, almonds, the Delta Smelt and alfalfa exports to China, just to name a few. Now Republican state Assemblywoman Shannon Grove has identified a still more novel culprit: abortion.
Grove, a 50-year-old Army veteran who represents Bakersfield and most of Kern County, is one of the legislature’s most conservative members, and usually spends her time drafting right-wing legislation that never makes it out of committee. Last week, though, she hit the publicity jackpot when she told the California ProLife Legislative banquet that the drought is God’s punishment for California’s legalization of abortion.
The lawmaker was the last of three elected official to address the gathering sponsored by the California chapter of the National Right to Life Committee, one of the nation’s leading anti-abortion organizations and the recipient of $5 million in contributions from Karl Rove’s Super PAC, as well as groups associated with the Koch brothers. She took the podium while holding a Bible over her head and said, “This is the infallible word of God. I fear Him more than I fear anyone.”
Though little-known outside her Central Valley constituency, Grove enjoys the support of at least two aspiring GOP presidential candidates, former Texas governor Rick Perry and ex-Arkansas chief executive Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister. In her remarks to the Sacramento gathering, she cited what she said was Perry’s experience with a situation identical to California’s: “Texas was in a long period of drought until Governor Perry signed the fetal pain bill,” she told the audience, referring to a measure that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. “It rained that night. Now God has His hold on California.”
First reported by Reality Check, a news site that promotes reproductive choice, Grove’s explanation for the drought, which received a standing ovation at the banquet, triggered a cascade of newspaper stories and generally derisive web commentary. This week, she posted a statement on her Facebook page that essentially doubled down on her theistic climate theory, while adding liberals and environmentalists to the list of culprits:
“I believe — and most Americans believe — that God’s hand is in the affairs of man, and certainly was in the formation of this country,” she wrote, according to Reality Check. “The Founders put God in the center of this nation by recognizing Him as a giver of our rights. Is this drought caused by God? Nobody knows. But biblical history shows a consequence to man’s actions; we do know for sure that California’s water shortage crisis has been compounded by liberal politicians’ poor decisions — not properly managing our water resources and refusing to build water storage for decades.”
Even some of Grove’s local supporters seemed bemused by her invocation of divine wrath.
“We are huge fans of Shannon Grove and all her efforts in Sacramento on behalf of life,” Marylee Shrider, executive director of Right to Life of Kern County, told the Bakersfield Californian. “That being said, we have not made a connection between the drought and abortion here in California.”
Jennifer Smith, co-founder and organizer of Pro-Choice Kern County, called Grove’s remarks “ridiculous” and embarrassing for her constituents. “You can be proudly pro-life and not be a national joke,” Smith said. “But comments like this make you a joke and undermine her position on abortion.”
Grove joins a long list of religiously inclined conservatives such as Pat Robertson who attribute natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake to divine wrath. Bill Koenig, editor of the right-wing World Watch Daily web site, blamed the drought on California’s acceptance of marriage equality and abortion.
“We’ve got a state that over and over again will go against the word of God that will continually take positions on marriage and abortion and on a lot of things that are just completely opposed to the scriptures … So there very likely could be a drought component to this judgment,” he said, according to Right Wing Watch.
Some critics point out that Grove, who serves on the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee, essentially represents a region that many regard as ground zero in the California water crisis. Contrary to popular assumptions, urban California accounts for only about 20 percent of the state’s water consumption, while agriculture — Central California’s leading industry — utilizes about 80 percent of the state’s liquid resources. Los Angeles, for example, actually has been reducing its annual water consumption for years now, even while population has grown.
If LA consumed water at the same rate as Grove’s Kern County constituents, the city could support five times as many people as it does now. What’s made Kern’s water usage particularly problematic is that its farmers have moved heavily into almonds and other nut crops in recent years. Tree crops of that sort require massive amounts of water, and most of the nuts are exported. Similarly, Imperial County farmers enjoy historic rights that essentially allow them first claim on Colorado River water.
Much, perhaps most, of it is used to raise alfalfa, which is packaged and sold to Chinese and Middle Eastern dairy farmers. Grove, in fact, has previously blamed the drought on environmental regulations and conservation measures designed to protect remaining smelt and salmon stocks. “What civilized society destroys its own food source for a three-inch fish?” she rhetorically asked one conservative interviewer recently.
Paleoclimatologists who study ancient weather patterns have been giving California a great deal of attention recently and have discovered that the state has historically been much drier than it has been over the past couple of centuries or so. From time to time, it even has undergone so-called “super droughts” that last for as long as 400 years.
We only can wonder what the earlier California settlers did to induce God’s wrath.
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