The Second Dust Bowl Is Already Here

The Dust Bowl was a dramatic and devastating event.  Taking place during much of the 1930s where there was a severe drought after years of large rainfall, its most well known characteristic is the massive dust storms that stripped the earth of its topsoil making it impossible for anything to grow.  Much of the devastation from the Dust Bowl was man made, though.  Soil conservation didn’t exist yet and farmers and governments reaped the literal whirlwind of their actions.

Much of the 2000s, the U.S. has seen droughts equal to or surpassing the droughts during the Dust Bowl.  Thanks to governmental soil conservation projects, there are no dramatic pictures of massive clouds of dust and no mass migration out of the affected areas.  This makes the effects of the drought fairly invisible to those not immediately affected by it.

Things are really bad, though.  Smaller towns in the Southwest are running out of fresh water.  Las Vegas is desperate to get more water pumped in from anywhere.  Water levels in Lake Mead are down 100 feet from normal.  Southern California has had to dig deeper and deeper for fresh water.  Fracking companies are competing with citizens for water.  This is doubly poisonous since not only are they taking fresh water from people who need it, they are also using that fresh water and chemicals to destroy the remaining fresh water.

I’ve been reading this excellent collection of short stories by Paolo Bacigalupi called “Pump Six and Other Stories”.  They are all dystopian future stories that have to do with what happens when natural resources like water and oil run out.  Read “The Tamarisk Hunter” for a frighteningly believable tale of the western United States with scarce fresh water.

2 thoughts on “The Second Dust Bowl Is Already Here

  1. kitchentourist

    My grandparents live in northeast Colorado, (I usually describe it as ‘where Nebraska runs out’ when people ask what part). When we were visiting this summer I heard a cousin of theirs talking to my grandmother about how a local gas company had somehow arranged to access the local water source even though by law there were limits on how many people could build in town and it was supposed to be reserved for local use no matter what. They have a tiny town – the sign as you drive in says “Home of 500 Happy People and a Few Soreheads” – but they pay attention to water in ways we never do out in Chicago because they know it means the survival of their town.

    My mom grew up on a dry-land farm out there, with their own well. Even when they sold the land, she and her siblings insisted on keeping the water and mineral rights because they knew that was the most baluable long-term investment out there.

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