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Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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Solutions are drying up

Our national climate has become drier and dustier and could mark another Dust Bowl.

On Sunday and Monday nights, PBS aired Ken Burns’ new film, “The Dust Bowl.” The four-hour documentary follows accounts of those who were alive during the 1930s Dust Bowl and what led up to one of the biggest environmental catastrophes of American history.

Burns’ timing of the film could not be more appropriate. One of the questions raised in “The Dust Bowl” is how humans directly influenced the massive dust storms that ravaged America in the first half of the 20th century. The documentary covers what most of us already know — the 1929 stock market crash itself left millions of Americans in financial crisis. However, instead of attributing the weather to the main reason for the Dust Bowl, Burns covers how human farming activity in the warm and arid areas of the U.S. ultimately caused such devastation on the American climate. Decades of rigorous agricultural practices have left American lands barren.

History shows us that the Dust Bowl altered the way we make a living in America. Agricultural practices have been amended to account for the conservation of soil. That, accompanied with the movement to urbanize, made farming consequential to the American way of life.

It is surprisingly easy for unregulated farming processes to directly impact the environment. Consider that a good portion of our Midwest and Southern states have yet to recover from this summers’ land-drying drought complete with land-damaging dust storms. Now is our chance to make sure we don’t return to climate-damaging practices before we find ourselves in a hot, dusty and unbelievably dry crisis. 

Climate change is happening right now, and it’s occurring due to vast amounts of carbon dioxide, increased urban expansion and deforestation. These actions decrease a soil’s carbon content, converting some of the nutrient-providing carbon into carbon dioxide, which in turn continues to heat up the Earth’s atmosphere. This kind of vicious cycle could be blamed for the drought-like environments in the nation. Although it was the biggest drought since 1950, the drought of 2012 followed sizeable droughts in America only years before, in 2004 and the 1980s. This condition has become more frequent in recent years, and is predicted to even become routine in the future if human efforts don’t start immediately to change the way we’re interacting with our land. Carbon emissions make way for these predicted droughts, as well as dust storms and the rise of sea levels. Our land would dry up fast, too fast for even our current irrigation efforts to keep up with the parched climate.

 Take in case the Ogallala Aquifer, the irrigations system that provides underground water for almost 30 percent of the farmland in America. Although this is one of the biggest underground water sources on the planet, heavy use of the Ogallala Aquifer has depleted its resources so much in some areas of the U.S it has become unusable.  Farmers that use the aquifer have already begun to limit their consumption significantly. If fully emptied, the aquifer would take around 6000 years to refill. 

While the Southwest and plains area took an overheated beating this summer, budget cuts for conservation funding were significant. Among other cuts, the U.S. House passed legislation cutting up to 80 percent from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a measure that aids in habitat protection.

The irony of these actions shouldn’t be lost. Even mere mindfulness of this withering phenomenon is no longer enough. Instead, land and water conservation and improvement should be high priority to anyone who does not wish to experience another Dust Bowl firsthand.

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