Popular Science

We're barreling towards another Dust Bowl

Bone-dry fields, dark skies, and death-by-dust-pneumonia: remembering the horrors of the Dust Bowl can help us fight climate change.
Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas in 1935.
Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas in 1935. (NOAA George E. Marsh Album/)

In 1935, the Dust Bowl came to Washington—and if we don't change our ways, it could come back. A new report from the UN climate committee warns that much of the world risks the kind of land degradation that turned fertile farmland into desert during the 1930s. Luckily, this desolate stretch of history doesn't just serve as a warning. It also provides potential solutions.

The District of Columbia was an unlikely place for a dust storm. Though the Midwest had been shrouded in clouds of dust since 1932, the lawmakers discussing the Dust Bowl in March 1935 were more than 1,000 miles away from the disaster. Then, something uncanny happened: As lawmakers deliberated the very issue of how to stem a series of droughts and the erosion. That scenario may come to mind when you read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's new Climate Change and Land Report, which details the ways humans have stripped the planet and calls for sustainable land management practices, many of which were developed in the wake of the Dirty Thirties.

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