Drought, Trees, and Water



Recently there have been many articles relating to NASA’s research and predictions of “mega-droughts” for the American West.  See one example from the BBC, here.

The ultimate conclusion reached by the scientists states that “The cause of the drying was twofold: reduced precipitation – that is, reductions in rainfall and snowfall; but also increased evaporation, driven by higher temperatures, leading to more parched soils.”

Certainly, in California, and even in Washington, where the snow-pack is at record lows right now, and where February has felt more and more like April with each passing day, none can deny the significance of such a report.

NASA’s findings of reduced rainfall and increased temperatures and evaporation seem to be characteristics of a desert, not the causes of desertification. What then, are the causes?

In the article, scientist Cook states “The droughts that people do know about like the 1930s ‘dustbowl’ or the 1950s drought or even the ongoing drought in California and the Southwest today – these are all naturally occurring droughts…”

The language which catches my attention is the ‘natural’ part. What exactly is natural, and what is caused by our own interactions with the earth?

In George Steinbeck’s haunting and compelling novel The Grapes of Wrath, we see a desperate farming family fleeing the dust bowl of Oklahoma in the 1930’s, in hopes of finding new life in the lush central valley of California. Unfortunately for them, no such hope exists, and the chilling ending foreshadows California’s own future. What Steinbeck makes clear, is that the Dust Bowl conditions spreading throughout the Plains are no natural phenomenon, but rather a product of man, money, machines, and the desire to control nature for our own perceived benefit. Where did all that dust come from, if not our actions in exposing the soil that was once stable grassland ecosystem?


Though studies such as these mega-drought projections may be helpful in raising the awareness of the severity of our environmental shifts, they do little to offer solutions, nor take responsibility as a people or (agri)culture for the actions which have brought about such changes.

In the writings of Masanobu Fukuoka, Japanese natural farmer, he offers some practical causes and solutions.

Upon visiting the lush and fertile American west in the 1980’s, he was shocked to be greeted by a new American desert. “Clouds no longer form here, and rain no longer wets the ground.” “I explained to one farmer that his soil had not always been poor. I told him that the soil had probably grown leaner each time the tiller had turned it over.”

What Fukuoka goes on to suggest, is that we as God’s children inhabiting this planet are in need of a revolution of our own thoughts. “Perhaps rain falls from above meteorologically, but philosophically it falls from below. If there is vegetation on the ground, then water vapor rises here, condenses into clouds, and falls back down to the earth as rain.”

In this statement, we see a very real basis for understanding that our activity on the planet will either bring forth the rain, or limit it. When we remove all the trees, and repeatedly till the soil, we are depleting the earth’s natural reservoirs. Soils become parched when the organic material is removed. The organic material in the soil comes from permanent plant root systems, decaying plant matter, and soil microorganisms. When we practice a form of agriculture that seeks to control nature and excludes all Life but our own, the desert isn’t merely forming in the soil, but it is growing also in our own hearts. We must shift our way of thinking, to view trees and weeds alike, all as serving a purpose in facilitating Life. We can do this through the cultivation of loving acceptance for all Creation.


As quickly as the trees and vegetation have been removed, they can return, and with them the water. As we grow in awareness of what is happening in the world, and accept responsibility for our collective actions, we can yet again be stewards of life on this planet. The ‘news’ of mega-droughts need not destroy our spirit, but rather send us back to the source of Spirit itself. In the trees, plants, and animals of this earth, there exists the one flowing Spirit of all life.

Happy tree planting everybody!