The American West Is Sleepwalking Towards a Disaster
The American west is careening towards a disaster of epic proportions. The impending crisis has a little bit to do with climate change and a lot to do with the historical climate of the region. The American west is dry — much drier than people initially realized. This poses an existential crisis for the millions of people who live in the American southwest and yet no one is really willing to talk about it.
The west is facing a bevy of large issues that do not have clear or simple answers. Development is continuing apace without any signs of slowing down. There has been little done to address the dwindling water supplies and people have not been dissuaded for continuing to move to these areas en mass. The results could be a west with no water and massive fires that could lead to an economic and societal meltdown.
Drier Than Originally Believed
Our modern understanding of the American west only dates back about 200 years. Before the massive migrations of people to the western frontier in the 19th century westerners had no data about the area they were moving into. The natives could have likely shared some valuable information but many times the two sides were more interested in killing each other than swapping meteorological knowledge.
It hasn’t been until very recently that a clearer picture of the historic climate of this region has come into focus. It turns out that the 20th century was extremely wet for the American southwest. And that is very, very worrisome.
The 20th century saw one of the greatest movements of people to the region and much of this was based on temporary climate data. The climate that they were moving into was not the permanent climate but an anomaly that only occurs once every few hundred years. Worse, every few hundred years the west also faces massive droughts that can last decades or even centuries. Millions of water-guzzling Americans moved into an area where, historically, there is very little water.
The implications of this are only now starting to come into focus.