Word Desertification Day
Every June 17 is recognized as World Day to Combat Desertification by the United Nations. This year the day's theme was the linkages between climate change and desertification.
This past April, the UN's top scientific authority on global warming warned that higher global temperatures could significantly worsen desertification by changing rainfall patterns, melting glaciers and diminishing snow melt that the world's major rivers depend upon.
China, one of the world's worst hit countries, has seen thousands of Chinese villages disappear before its expanding deserts. The problem has been made worse by the legacy of Mao's Great Leap Forward, which sought to make China a self sufficient food producer by bringing marginal lands under cultivation. However, overuse of the land and over dependence on well water for irrigation have turned the land into desert. Duststorms from the ruined land cloud skies in South Korea and Japan and have even been linked to respiratory problems in California.
To try to control the problem, the Chinese are spending billions of dollars planting trees, moving farmers off of marginal land, and enforcing logging and grazing bans.
Even regions without advancing deserts are vulnerable. About 40 percent of the world's cultivated surface is considered drylands, where low rainfall and high evaporation make the land vulnerable to climate change. Even countries not typically known for their deserts, such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile are vulnerable to degredation of their drylands due to overuse aggrevated by climate change.
The U.S. is not immune either. Much of the West has experienced nearly a decade of drought conditions, including some of the states experiencing the fastest population growth. The water system in the U.S. Southwest is "on a slippery slope toward breaking point," according to climatologist Mark Svoboda of the U.S. National Drought Mitigation Center.
Only significant changes in water use will prevent a major catastrophe. The age of extravagance is over; the era of limits is upon us.