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Stop the spread of desertification


No matter where you live, increasingly frequent heat waves and droughts can make your hometown feel like a desert. And you might not be wrong: deserts make up more of the planet than they did a few decades ago, and that number continues to grow. Although the area classified as desert is expanding, technically speaking, what is happening is the degradation of other types of desert landscapes. This process of degradation of drylands is called desertification. And in many cases, this is not just a natural phenomenon, but the result of human activity.


The word desert conjures up images of sandy expanses devoid of vegetation under a scorching sun – places like the Sahara or the Gobi. But deserts are not always hot. And although they often appear sterile, they are never truly lifeless. The one characteristic common to all deserts is that they are dry. A desert is generally defined as an area of ​​land that receives no more than 10 inches of precipitation per year. Although there are many types of deserts, this drought usually creates harsh conditions. Drought, extreme temperature variations and other desert conditions limit ecosystem productivity. Although the result may seem barren, desert systems are often quite complex. However, they are also quite vulnerable to degradation. Damage to slow-growing plants and delicate desert soil can take decades or even centuries to heal.

growing deserts

Deserts exist on all continents and cover approximately one-fifth of the Earth’s land area. They are currently home to around 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the Earth’s population. More than 2.3 billion people are already facing water stress, but within 50 years, a third of the world’s population will live in areas with hot conditions close to the Sahara. The number and duration of droughts have increased by 29% since 2000. By 2050, droughts could affect more than three-quarters of the world’s population, perhaps even where you live. Regardless of the quality of water infrastructure, developed countries are not immune to the effects of climate change. Climate change-induced drought is causing more and more parts of the world to experience desert-like rainfall patterns.


Through climate change, desertification is ultimately the result of human activity. But more directly, desertification results from the degradation of dryland ecosystems through overexploitation and inappropriate land use. The main mechanisms of desertification are deforestation, overgrazing and intensive agriculture.

It may seem that not much can be done to prevent desertification. Because it results from land use decisions and farming practices, government officials and farmers appear to be in control. But everyone has a carbon footprint they can reduce, and everyone eats food. Individual actions and consumer choices contribute to the problem. And that means individuals can help solve it.

Stop desertification

More than half of all deforestation results from the expansion of agricultural land for agriculture, mining and drilling. Once land is cleared for agriculture, it further degrades in two ways. Industrial farming practices damage the soil of croplands, and overgrazing further degrades the soil where livestock are raised. Conversion to pasture contributes more to deforestation than conversion to cropland. But soy grown as fodder is a primary crop contributing to deforestation, meaning even cropland conversion is linked to animal agriculture. Thus, eating less meat is one of the most important steps individuals can take to preserve natural habitats and prevent desertification. Look for more sustainable choices when eating meat and try to support regenerative agriculture every time you shop.

You can help prevent the spread of degraded land closer to home by learning how to protect your local watershed, not contribute to diffuse water pollution, and properly manage stormwater on your own property. Urban expansion is not as important a factor as agriculture and industry. But in fragile ecosystems, it can contribute to desertification. If you live in a dry or sensitive area, pay attention to local elections and vote for candidates who support sustainable development and land use planning.

When you get out into nature, learn to hike and camp responsibly to avoid erosion and wildfires. Even better than leaving no trace is to make improvements to lands that have already been impacted by human activity. Support habitat restoration and reforestation projects, either by getting involved directly as a volunteer or by donating to programs like Canopy Project. In your home and landscapes, use water wisely. Minimize lawn areas and if you live in a dry climate, consider xeriscaping instead of a traditional garden.