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Page added on June 12, 2018

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A global Dust Bowl is coming


More than 40 percent of the global population, more than 2 billion people, have a dust problem. Not “dust” meaning the grey puffs under the couch, but the dust of the Dust Bowl: microscopic soil particles, less than 0.05 millimeters across, so small that they get hoisted up into the wind and end up in people’s lungs.

We know that large amounts of dust is linked to premature death. However, climate change is expected to make the problem much worse in the next century, and scientists still don’t know how much. In the next century, the lethal range of dust is expected to proliferate. Between now and 2050, the many as 4 billion people, half the world’s population, are expected to live in drylands. It’s not because people are migrating there. Drylands are growing because of (you guessed it) climate change.

According to a research letter in Nature published in May from scientists from Harvard and George Washington University, airborne dust levels are expected to proliferate by 30 percent by 2100 due to climate change, and dust-related premature deaths could go up by as much as 130 percent.

“Despite [health] concerns, few studies have examined the impacts on air quality and public health of the projected hydroclimate changes in the southwestern United States,” the study reads.

As global warming speeds up evaporation, freshwater resources are expected to dry up around the world. This sets off a vicious cycle: Compared to, say, a tropical rainforest, dry soil and dust particles absorb less carbon dioxide from the air. As a result, dry, dust-prone areas actively keep themselves that way.

In excess, dust has been linked to not just asthma, lung disease, fibrosis, lung cancer, and difficulty breathing, but heart disease, heart attacks, irregular heart beats. These health risks a fact of life for people who live in “drylands,” or swaths of land that get little rain, has dry soil, and doesn’t have much plantlife. This doesn’t just include desserts, but also grasslands and prairies.

By the end of the twenty-first century, as much as half of the world’s landmass could be covered by drylands, especially in economically vulnerable areas in South America, Africa, and Mediterranean-bordering countries.

The most vulnerable areas are dangerously understudied. According to a research review from the University of Namur in Belgium, we still don’t understand the extremity of how climate change-driven dust from the largest desert, the Sahara, will hurt human health.

“[This paper] reveals an imbalance between the areas most exposed to dust and the areas most studied in terms of health effects,” write the authors. “None of these studies has been conducted in West Africa, despite the proximity of the Sahara, which produces about half of the yearly global mineral dust.”

According to a research review published in Environ Health in 2017, even socially and economically privileged areas, such as Europe, are a climate change dust blind spot. “There are few studies on health effects associated with climate change impacts alone on air quality,” the paper reads, “but these report higher [aerosol]-related health burdens in polluted populated regions and greater [dust] health burdens in these [European] emission regions.”

Since 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulated the amount of particulate matter—microscopic matter which includes soil dust, as well as other human-made chemical pollutants. In fact, the U.S. and other wealthy countries around the world have made curbing air pollution a priority for people in their countries. But regulating microscopic matter from factories won’t stop the larger force of climate change-driven desertification and the risk it presents to human health.

the outline

13 Comments on "A global Dust Bowl is coming"

  1. DerHundistLos on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 7:58 pm 

    “Trees That Have Lived for Millennia Are Suddenly Dying”

    The signs are everywhere…….

  2. JuanP on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 8:45 pm 

    One of the reasons I like living on an 18th floor in an oceanfront condo with a direct ocean view in Miami Beach is that with trade winds blowing from the ESE I get to breathe air that is among the purest in the Northern hemisphere. But, even here we get dust micro particles sometimes. It is not very often, but every two or three years we get red or yellow dust that blows here across the Atlantic Ocean all the way from the Sahara and Sahel deserts in North Africa. It is quite surreal to see this brightly colored dust covering everything because it is so foreign and alien to our environment. Our Florida soils are nothing like it. It is mind blowing to think that a sandstorm in North Africa can blow dust all the way to Miami and if I hadn’t experienced it myself a few times I would find it quite unbelievable, but it’s true?

  3. Sissyfuss on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 10:23 pm 

    Humans getting to the next century is a much more existential problem than the dust that is waiting for them there.

  4. GregT on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 10:51 pm 

    Catastrophic runaway global warming, ocean acidification, deforestation, soil erosion, water scarcity, and now dust?

    Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

  5. Dooma on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 1:27 am 

    JuanP. I know that you are quite intelligent and probably knew this but it is amazing how much of our skin we continually shed becomes household dust.

  6. JuanP on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 6:54 am 

    Dooma “… it is amazing how much of our skin we continually shed becomes household dust.” Yes, it is amazing and I admit that it gives me the creeps, particularly how much of it collects on our mattresses (which are quite an ecosystem). The other thing that is amazing and disgusting is how much of our body weight is composed of bacteria, it seems they are our best friends.

  7. peakyeast on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 7:10 am 

    When designed electronics for trains we have to strongly consider the built-up of dust inside the electronics until it is covered.

    From memory the dust is made out of about 90% human skin and hair and about 10% carbon dust.

  8. kanon on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 7:13 am 

    The number of bacteria cells in the human body is greater than the human cells. We are each a minority. It implies that even the most exalted life forms depend on symbiosis. To say it is disgusting shows a cultural orientation, possibly due to too many commercials about germs seen during childhood.

  9. JuanP on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 7:48 am 

    Kanon, You are correct and thanks for pointing that out! in my defense, I did say they are our best friends. I did make a mistake there, though, i should have said that I found the idea creepy when I first found out about it, but I no longer do and I retract that disgusting. I still think it is amazing, though! Thanks for pointing out my mistake; I like being corrected when I am wrong! 😉

  10. BenVincent on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 9:42 am 

    Replying to DerHundistLos:
    The poor in Africa do not have access to any fossil fuel sources of energy. No natural gas, no electricity, etc. They are forced to depend on open fires for cooking, etc. They are stripping the landscape bare by using trees and bushes for firewood. The loss of vegetation has resulted in there being less humidity in the air. Just like how cutting trees around Mt. Kilimanjaro reduced humidity and snowfall. Just like how urbanization in California has reduced humidity (in the news just two weeks ago). It is land use changes that are creating localized changes to the climate.

  11. BobInget on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 12:10 pm 

    Just published;

  12. DerHundistLos on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 4:06 pm 

    The poor in Africa have not had access to fossil fuels for thousands of years. What’s different now is the number of Africans. Africa today is experiencing a population explosion unprecedented in human history. In response, the Donald Dump administration eliminated all US funding for family planning services in order to placate his Republican constituency that demands the birth of unlimited babies. Naturally, once the babies are born mother and baby are on their own.

  13. Steve on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 5:57 pm 

    Aside from the bacteria hitching a ride, every one of our cells, excluding mature red blood cells, contains within it mitochondria. Mitochondria power the cells and are believed to be derived from captured bacteria eons ago. They have their own DNA, mtDNA, and are passed down maternally, as the sperm has no mitochondria. This symbiotic relationship is believed to have facilitated multi-cellular lifeforms. So, we are a virtual walking bacterial colony!

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