Yesterday 71 degrees
Balmy autumn day.
Today 31 degrees
Early blizzard continues.
Yesterday 71 degrees
Balmy autumn day.
Today 31 degrees
Early blizzard continues.
Usually I read only one book at a time. Lately, I am reading several, one of which is Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Future of the Earth by Craig Childs. Childs is a sort of combined explorer/adventurer/scientist. He goes to places few go to see what occurs there, the wind, the flora and fauna, the weather, the climate. The next couple of days I intend to share some of his most pithy observations and ruminations. We will start with the desert. He and a friend literally wandered around the most arid and hostile portion of the Sonoran Desert in northwestern Mexico. This desert has enlarged and become more arid due to an extended drought.
Deserts come and go. If you live in a lovely lush green landscape, wait long enough and it, too, may become a desert. Six thousand years ago lakes, marshes, and grassland lay where the Sahara is today. A slight orbital change in earth’s relation to the sun caused nearby oceans to heat up, changing atmospheric conditions. Humans living there had no choice but to move. Forty per cent of the earth’s population lives in semiarid regions. Even a small drought changes survival chances for the people who live there. The Sahara, the Gobi, and the Taklimakan are growing, arable farmland decreasing. Vulnerable areas include southern Spain, Greece, Bolivia, Australia, central Asia, and our own West. The entire American High Plains (I live in the southern part) sits on top a giant desert. Without pivot irrigation, only grass grows here. In the last decade many irrigation wells have dried up or gone too saline. The giant bulges you see in places like the sand hills of Nebraska are really a sand dune sea covered with grass. Take away a little rain and here comes the desert.
Childs and his friend carried water with them and buried them with markers in the sand so they could find them later. As the desert grows in parts of India, women carry water farther and farther, an average of six miles a day, four gallons at a time. In the Sahel just south of the Sahara a difference in rainfall of just an inch or two can mean the difference between survival and starvation. Without water, there is no civilization.
What causes these changes? Human behavior and the increase in greenhouse gases are part of the reason. Humans are creating enough changes that we are moving toward more deserts, not fewer. One climate expert, Jonathan Overpeck, thinks we are seriously underestimating the severity of drought we will face in the not so distant future. Forget five and seven year droughts and think fifty years. Hadley cells also affect climate change. Tomorrow I will explain Hadley cells and how they affect our weather.
Eastern New Mexico
In less than 15 hours, it has dropped from low 70s to 9 here on my canyon rim–one of the joys of living in the Panhandle of Texas where a mere change in wind direction can dictate the weather. Yesterday afternoon, I was helping my daughter clean her back yard and ready the ground for planting some shrubs and a tree and now 60 degrees colder. This type of drastic weather change has occurred repeatedly in the last few weeks. Perhaps it has muddled my brain which keeps hopping back and forth from this to that. First, the “this”.
Mostly, I read Latin American, American Indian, and Middle Eastern authors. When I recently stopped by the library, I could find none of these that I had not already read so I picked up a book from a Dutch author of whom I had never previously heard, Margriet de Moor. The book, a novel, The Duke of Egypt, tells the tale of a Gypsy man who meets this young Dutch woman. They marry and lead a quite unusual life: in the winter he lives with her on the family horse farm; in summer he leaves and lives with the Gypsies, wandering around Europe in their caravans. When he is “home” with her, in the evenings he tells her tales of his Gypsy family and friends, centuries of history. These tales shocked me: centuries of discrimination, hangings–even Gypsy women hanged publicly for no other reason than they happened to be Gypsy in the wrong country at the wrong time, sick children whom no doctor would treat, starvation, driven from country to country. Of course, like many people I have heard stories about Gypsies: as a child my grandmother telling me that Gypsies stole other people’s children, a friend telling me the police said it was Gypsies when someone stole some silverware from her house, but I never really believed it. Reading this book caused me to delve a bit more into Gypsy/Roma history only to learn even more tales of horror. Hitler and his Nazis hated Gypsies almost as much as they hated Jews. It is estimated that the Nazis sent at least ten per cent of the Gypsy population in Europe to the gas chamber. On the positive side, I learned that many Gypsies were hired by people who raised horses to help them with their horse care because Gypsies were considered expert horse trainers and traders. In addition, some hired them for their music to play for social events and festivals.
When several friends came over for dinner, I mentioned the book to them and my shock. I wondered aloud as to why so many hated the Gypsies. The general response was this: Gypsies consistently live as they wish and refuse to follow the social norms of the rest of the population. They refuse to settle down and live in one place, they enjoy life, dancing, drinking, roaming. If you refuse to live like everyone else, the rest of the world will punish you.
Then I moved on to the book I am reading now, Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide To The Future Of The Earth. I am only on page 27 of 327, and already I have learned: “Deserts generate most of the world’s airborne dust, contributing to a global migration of surface minerals. Dust blowing from the southern Sahara is the single largest producer of iron for the mineral-poor soils of the Amazon in South America. Half of this dust originates in the Bodele Depression north of Lake Chad, which produces about one hundred storms a year, each sending 40,000 tons of dust across the Atlantic to South America.” And a bit further in the book: much of the fertile High Plains here in the US (Kansas, eastern Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, basically from Canada to Mexico) sit on top of a desert, e.g. the Sand Hills. Currently, these sand hills remain stabilized by miles and miles of grass–our native short grass steppe. It does not take much to imagine what would occur if drought continues and the grass disappears. Once desertification occurs as it is now occurring in many places in the world, e.g. the Sahel, deserts consume. Jonathan Overpeck, a leading climate researcher claims, “…we are significantly underestimating the severity of drought we could get in the future.” He predicts many places now inhabited will become uninhabitable unless we initiate drastic changes in our water management. People will be forced to move from places of little to no water to places “wherever there is no desert”. He adds, “We are contributing enough change to the planet that we are moving toward more droughts instead of away from them.” In the Sahel alone it is estimated that 500 million people will have to move to survive. I think over this information and about the current drought here and look at the beautiful place where I write and live, wondering will it be habitable in one hundred years.
Now on to the “that”: grateful I live here in the United States in spite of all our “problems”. I could have been born in Ukraine, Syria, Central Aftican Republic, any of those places experiencing turmoil, fear, religious hatred, genocide, torture–the list goes on and on. Instead here I am happy, relatively safe, warm in spite of the 9 degrees outside, well fed–you get the picture.
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