This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It was called "The worst hard time." The Dust Bowl, when millions of square miles of formerly productive earth literally dried up and blew away, and took the hopes and fortunes of much of America right along with it.
There were many reasons for the disaster, a perfect dust storm of causes natural (eight years of drought) and human (plowing up the Great Plains). The result was a depopulation of large swaths of America's midsection that have never recovered, mass migrations and social upheavals, and, to our credit, improved farming methods that take some care to keep the soil where it belongs.
And it could very well happen all over again. This time, in Utah. And, when it does, it will be even more our fault than it was the last time. Because now, supposedly, we know better.
Experts at the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California-Los Angeles have released a report showing that the Southwestern United States is on the brink of another kind of dust bowl. Again, it will be a result of many factors, including that the process begins with a climate that is generally pretty darn dry to begin with and is exacerbated by global climate change and local disregard for the sensitivity of our soils.
Don't let the recent run of snow and rain fool you. That's only weather. Climate is what's important, and the climate is changing. The global trends, accelerated, if not entirely caused, by our insistence on filling our atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, are magnified locally by our embarrassing lack of knowledge about our own ecosystems.
One major problem that needs to be corrected is the constant demand by activists who want to play with their toys, er, ride their ATVs and Jeeps on parts of Utah that, to the willfully ignorant eyes, are barren moonscapes unfit for anything else. That betrays a towering ignorance of basic biology and geology that must, in turn, be ignored by responsible policy makers.
Just because vast expanses of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado don't look like a bluegrass lawn, or aren't covered by amber waves of grain, doesn't mean that the crusty soil, and the tiny life forms that have built up there over time the Southwest's own Great Barrier Reef don't play a key roll in keeping the dirt on the ground and out of our lungs.
Other policies that require a fresh look include farming and grazing policies, especially those subsidized by the taxpayers.
Because it could all happen again.