A Great Aridity

 

There's an old Doors song which tells us that "The future's uncertain and the end is always near." That pretty well sums up the message I got from the new book by William deBuys, A Great Aridity: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.

He takes us around the region -- its heart, he writes, is a stretch from the Four Corners south to where the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Chihuahua and Sonora almost come together -- to meet climatologists, archaeologists, river runners, forest rangers and border crossers, among many others.

DeBuys draws a river-running analogy:

You might say that the West, together with the rest of the world, is somewhere in the flat water above the rapids of global change. Not that we haven't felt some of the early effects of an altered climate, but the big excitement lies ahead. Our trip through the hazards will be a first run -- which is to say we will have the benefit of no one else's experience. Still, enough good science exists to constitute a decent scouting. Looking downstream, for instance, we know that the Southwest will become hotter and drier, with greater extremes of both storm and drought. Increased aridity is assured by higher temperatures, even if precipitation does not decline, which it is likely to do. A greater proportion of that precipitation will come as rain, less as snow, and runoff from winter snowpack will peak roughly a month or so earlier than it used to. These are some of the big rocks and ledges we know about. Other hazards -- waves of hyper-powerful forest fires, ecological die-offs, and dust storms -- lie downstream, but we are less sure where; we only know to look out for them. Additional and as yet unidentified dangers may also crowd our path, but their present invisibility could be just as well; if we seriously attend to what we already know about, our hands and our agenda will be full.

While that's a fair summary of the book, deBuys also touches on many other topics. I was glad to see that someone respectable agrees with me about water conservation. My city government is always encouraging us to conserve water, and as deBuys points out, that's usually so they have water for more subdivisions, not so there will be more in the river.

Despite the lively writing,  the book seems rather depressing. Yet deBuys offers some guarded optimism at the end, that we can be better at our "age-old duty to extend kindness other beings, to work together and with discipline on common challenges, and to learn to live in the marvelous aridlands without further spoiling them."

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colo.

High Country News Classifieds
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.