I’m writing this, inspired by Ken Burns’ documentary, The Dust Bowl. I’d like to bring up some things that I think people just don’t want to hear.
The Dust Bowl will probably happen again, and within our lifetime.
Now, what am I basing this on? A few things. The first and most important thing is that all of the agriculture in the US depends heavily on irrigated water. We’re already seeing the beginnings of water rights battles in the western states, where surface water from rivers is fought over. I have friends who run a business where they check water wells in California to see if there’s actually water. The wells are getting deeper and deeper before actually striking water, and people keep digging the wells hoping to get water for crops and livestock. The Oglala aquifer, which runs from South Dakota to Texas, is being drained at an alarming rate.
The fertilizer that allows us to grow the insane bounty of food is not something that comes to us sustainably. The phosphorus and potassium in industrial farms come from mines (which will run out). The nitrogen is produced by burning fossil fuels (which admittedly, could be converted to a more sustainable energy source).
These are things that – when they get used up – will not replenish within our lifetime, if ever. This ecosystem, which we so desperately count on for the bread on our table, is being fundamentally changed and used up. And I think it will get used up.
It’s happened before. When agriculture started, the fertile crescent supplied the middle east with such bounty that it allowed civilization to coalesce. It was great farmland! Crops grew and prospered. And then, it failed because the land was misused. It’s desert now, and probably not going to get back to what it once was – at least not in our lifetime. Same with the Sahara. It was savannah, and now it’s spreading south.
The Dust Bowl happened because we turned the sod. The only reason it didn’t happen sooner is because it rained. When the rain stopped, the dust flew into the air. Eventually the rain returned, and people dug wells. Water that had been underground for thousands of years is now being pumped up. That water will go away. It’s very much like oil. Once it’s used, it’s gone. The water might be back again in thousands of years, but that is not comforting to us right now.
So what do we do?
Die of hunger, I guess