Desertification, primarily caused by overgrazing and expansion of crop-growing areas, is one of the greatest environmental challenges we are facing today. Not only is climate change accelerating the rate at which deserts are growing, but desertification itself is also contributing to climate change.
How is this possible? As once fertile land turns to desert, carbon stored in the drying land vegetation and soil is released to the atmosphere. Many scientific studies have been conducted into the causes and impacts of desertification. In one such study, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment reports that 20% of arid regions have already become desertified and that 2 billion people - one third of the human population of the planet - are at great risk of poverty, hunger and disease.
Another study by the Woods Hole Research Centre concluded that the Amazon Forest is at imminent risk of being turned into desert. If the 90 billion tons of carbon stored in the Forest were to be released into the atmosphere, it would have disastrous consequences on the world’s climate, increasing global warming by an estimated 50%. Up to 80% of deforestation, and 70% of our planet’s fresh water use is due to agriculture and livestock raising.
It is not only our forests that are giving us cause for concern. Many of our rivers are running dry. The Ganges, the Niger and the Colorado, 3 of the world’s largest rivers, have been drying up over the last 50 years due to climate change, posing dangerous consequences to heavily populated regions in West Africa, South Asia, China and Western USA.
What happens in one region of the planet affects all others. Dust from the Sahara Desert drifts far away to the Americas, impacting weather patterns on that continent, just as the water cycle in Amazonian Rainforest impacts weather patterns in Europe.