Driving through the desert makes global warming seem like a good thing

I know it’s counter-intuitive, but global warming might turn America’s vast southern desert into useful arable land.

Mojave desert deserts arable landWhen driving through the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California, my educated brain knows that those barren looking lands are, in fact, teeming with life. Plants that look ugly and scrubby to me provide provide shelter and sustenance to an abundance of small mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects.

Still, the American desert is not a land that provides much sustenance to humans. Driving through it, I made sure to be stocked up on water and never let my gas tank drop much below half full. I wanted some barrier against even the the thought of my car breaking down out there in the 104 degree heat.

If one shuts out the educated part of ones brain while driving down I-40, the one that says there is life out there, all that one sees is hundreds and hundreds of miles of . . . nothing. There’s very little human habitation (hence my always-semi-full gas tank), livestock are a rarity, and I couldn’t see anything that looked remotely like food crops. It’s just hot, dusty, and hostile.

What I couldn’t help thinking as I drove along was how little it takes to turn a desert into a fertile region. Think of the great irrigation projects in Mesopotamia or the annual desert reclamation that’s taken place along the Nile for thousands of years. Moreover, the “superbloom” that happened this spring in Death Valley was a reminder that Nature needs just a little water to be fruitful, very, very fruitful.

As I understand it, one of the main things that makes rain happen is an uptick in climate temperature. This uptick releases just some of the water trapped in the polar caps, which are estimated to have a lock on up to 75% of the earth’s fresh water. Water, as I said, makes deserts arable. If the world’s deserts could have access to enough water to bring forth crops, we could (a) feed billions more people and (b) have habitable lands for more people too. Even if we were to lose some coast line on continents around the world, it would almost certainly be made up for with new livable interior space.

That’s just one of the reasons it’s so desperately and ironically funny that the world’s elite frame their terror about global warming as a concern for “the little people.” In fact, their real hysteria comes about because their exclusive beachfront enclaves will vanish, even as the desert space around them that protects them from the hoi polloi will become a rich source of sustenance and shelter. The global cooling they seek (and which the sun seems intent upon imposing on us in any event), will simply decrease available arable land, increasing both economic inequity and starvation around the world.

My ruminations about warmth and more arable land find support in history. John Kelly’s The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time is an elegantly written book that reminds us how well the world does with a little warmth:

Sometime between 750 and 800, Europe entered the Little Optimum, * a period of global warming. Across the continent, temperatures increased by an average of more than 1 degree Celsius, but, rather than producing catastrophe, as many current theorists of global warming predict, the warm weather produced abundance. England and Poland became wine-growing countries, and even the inhabitants of Greenland began experimenting with vineyards. More important , the warm weather turned marginal farmland into decent farmland, and decent farmland into good farmland. In the final centuries of Roman rule, crop yields had fallen to two and three to one—a yield represents the amount of seed harvested to the amount planted: a return so meager, the Roman agricultural writer Columella feared that the land had grown old. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as winters became milder and summers warmer and drier, European farms began to produce yields of five and six to one, unprecedented by medieval standards.

When the Medieval Warming period ended, crop yields collapsed, leading to mass starvation. This lowered people’s resiliency, making them vulnerable to the Black Death. During its run, the Black Death killed 1/3 to 1/2 of Europe’s already declining population. Science can probably protect us from the worst of global cooling but we’d honestly do a lot better if the world warmed up a bit . . . even if the pooh-bahs in their coastal mansions got eroded out of their homes.