Published on Author williamsj18

degre_ext400 million individuals in China have been impacted by desertification over the past decade. Desertification in China has two primary causes. First, in the mid 1900s excessive farming began to cause soil degradation. In Naiman, desertification had turned 300,000 acres of grassland into desert by 2005. However, nowadays the bigger threat is climate change. Many areas, such as Inner Mongolia, receive 10% less rain and experience a higher average temperature of one degree Fahrenheit than they did in 2000. These two effects have caused the water table to fall. For example, farmers who used to have to dig 30-foot wells now are forced to delve 140 feet to reach water. This drop in the water table has caused the death of millions of trees, which help protect against desertification.

Since the 1960s there have been many attempts to stop and reverse desertification. Both the Chinese government and outside organizations spend billions each year planting trees to stop erosion. In fact, these programs had been so successful that some areas experienced a reversal in land degradation. For example degraded land in Naiman decreased from 733 square miles in 1985 to 463 square miles in 2005. However, recently climate change has begun to reverse this desertificationtrend. Millions of these planted trees have died due to climate change. As a result, the government has implemented other policies to stop desertification. In many areas they have limited the number of wells farmers can dig. The Chinese government have also offered farmers thousands of Yuan per year to convert their fields into grassland and forest.
However, not everyone agrees on how to combat desertification. Some believe that planting trees will eventual lead to an increase in land degradation. These individuals argue that planting trees will only strain the ecosystem by further lowering the water table. They state that too much vegetation causes land degradation, so adding more will only worsen its effects in the long run. Also, the goals of the local and central governments often conflict on this issue. While the national government has implemented programs to protect the environment, local governments are primarily focused on developing their economy and increasing GDP. As a result, they encourage exploitation of natural resources, which often leads to desertification. For example, many towns encourage the development of coal mining, which consumes vast amounts of water. The fight against desertification is far from over, and its outcome will impact millions of individuals.




6 Responses to Desertification

  1. Nice graphs. Note the big encircled white area in Western China – already desert with no rainfall, so can’t get worse and hence no color.

    Of course tree planting is covered in Hessler. Aquifers are not. In arid areas, which includes eastern Colorado in the US, groundwater recharges slowly. You can irrigate for a while, but once the well runs dry, it will stay that way for a few millennia (or more). When that happens, water for other purposes (human drinking and sanitation) will also run out. So sooner rather than later either all irrigated agriculture must cease and grassland restored, or agriculture will cease and the regions will become uninhabitable. Not great choices.

    The loess (wind-blown soil) of the north China plain indicate desertification has happened before. Clear skies will remain unusual in Beijing, even if the government ends all burning of coal (as apparently is gradually happening in Shenyang, see the previous post by Haley.

  2. It is unfortunate from an environmental aspect that the government setup encourages desertification and the abuse of natural resources at the local level. However, it is also somewhat understandable. It is difficult to forgo immediate income for long-term return. The government sees the need to and attempts to reverse desertification, but the wide-scale lens through which it views the problem is not available to local institutions.

    The economic situation in rural China will need to change dramatically so that rural people will not disregard the desertification problem. Additional income will need to be available through other avenues (that is, other than the over-harvest of land). Then, perhaps, the local government will not need to benefit as much from corruption, the national government’s efforts will be noticed, and the land will consequently benefit.

  3. The unwelcoming nature of China’s interior is not a new concept. While desertification is being contributed to by human activity, some of these areas have been inhospitable for thousands of years. To make some of these areas arable again, there will have to be large irrigation and water redirection projects, which may or may not be viable. Beyond viability, we’ve seen that by the time water reaches the interior, it may be too polluted for crops. Perhaps fighting desertification is a sisyphean task. The article mentions that a huge problem is that many of these areas receive little to no rainfall. Why not use this to your advantage? Low rainfall means little cloud cover; perfect conditions for solar power projects. The Chinese government must continue to address the underlying causes of desertification and soil degradation, but maybe they should accept the cards they’ve been dealt and start to playing to the advantages of the inhospitable climate.

  4. With people opposed to planting trees as a solution to desertification, it is interesting that the ‘Green Wall of China’ project, which has planted 66 million trees thus far, is still in effect. Also, I would assume this project would have had a positive influence on air quality, which is hard to tell given the quantity of harsh pollutants.

    It is also interesting to note the types of people being impacted by desertification. The threat of increased desertification can potentially cause political unrest with minority groups, especially Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians. Government restrictions on agricultural practices in these peoples’ regions seems to be an impending source of ethno-regional conflict.

  5. Like before the Green Revolution in the US, China needs to have an homogenous ruling on how to implement sustainable farming like rotation and different ways to irrigate without erosion. The increased desertification will make China rely heavily on hybrid seeds and other GMOs and will decrease food stability nation wide. Like in Hessler, ways that the government has tried to decrease erosion and rejuvenate the soil is by planting large numbers of trees. This project provides jobs and will help the environment.

  6. In the environmental aspect, it falls in a bad loop: people leave rural areas because of bad harvest. Bad harvest is caused by desertification. Desertification needs human capital/human farming to be reduced. In the economic aspect, this loop can be broken only if there’s some governmental subsidies that can keep farmers from moving to the city.