Center for American Progress Action

RELEASE: CAP Action’s Romm Links Climate Change with Return of U.S. Dust Bowl
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Action’s Romm Links Climate Change with Return of U.S. Dust Bowl

U.S. Water Supply and Food Security at Risk Says New Article in Nature

Washington, D.C. — A new comment article, “The Next Dust Bowl,” by CAP Action Senior Fellow and physicist Dr. Joseph Romm, published today by the journal Nature, explains that the impact on the United States of prolonged drought from climate change is coming sooner and stronger than many Americans realize.

“This coming ‘Dust-Bowlification’ of the U.S. Heartland will seriously threaten food security and the availability of water for drinking, agriculture, energy generation and industrial uses,” said Dr. Romm. “Many Americans, even many policymakers, still believe that climate change will only affect far-away places in far-distant times. The evidence indicates that drought and Dust-Bowlification have the potential to make a devastating impact on U.S. citizens in the next few decades.”

Drawing on a wealth of recent research, Dr. Romm shows that precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will probably come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the sun’s energy bakes the soil. This leads to a further increase in air temperature. In addition, many regions are expected to see earlier snowmelt, so less water will be stored on mountaintops for the summer dry season. Added to natural climatic variation, such as the El Niño-La Niña cycle, these factors will intensify seasonal or decade-long droughts. Although not all models agree on the specifics, the overall drying trends are clear.

Already, signs of these changes are underway:

  • Snowpack reduction, early snowmelt and a decrease in dry-season river flow in the American West, forecast more than two decades ago, have now been measured. In much of the northern Rockies, the peak of the annual stream runoff is up to three or four weeks earlier than it was only 50 years ago.
  • Heat and drought—coupled with the greater impact of destructive species, such as bark beetles, aided by warming—have increased forest die-off and the risk of wildfire. For example, wildfires plagued a drought-stricken Texas throughout the summer, which was the hottest ever recorded for a U.S. state.

“During the last Dust Bowl era in the United States, hundreds of thousands of families fled the impacted regions. Now those same types of arid conditions could stretch all the way from Kansas to California within the next 40 years,” said Dr. Romm. “America’s financial future and the health and safety of our people are at serious risk if greenhouse gas pollution is not brought under control. Denial is simply not an option. The time for action is now.”

To speak with Dr. Joseph Romm, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected].