We’re on the Brink of the Worst Drought in 1,000 Years

2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States. Widespread drought, wildfires and extreme heat affected human health and caused food prices to skyrocket. According to new research out of Columbia University, however, last year’s heat wave may be nothing compared to what’s just around the corner.

Researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory predict that a megadrought, the likes of which haven’t been experienced since the 12th century, could hit planet Earth within the next eight years, and it might never leave [PDF]. The cause? According to scientists, this drought will be brought on by “anthropogenic radiative forcing”, also known as ‘stronger-than-normal greenhouse warming caused by climate pollution’.

Because the human race, especially wealthy, super-polluters like the United States, have refused to heed the warnings about continued fossil fuel use, it’s likely that impending water shortages will make the 12th century droughts look like an unusually warm summer day.

“The new model simulations indicate that southwestern North America will become progressively more arid as the century advances with important changes appearing in the immediate future,” write the study’s authors. “Despite the fact that precipitation might increase in some regions and seasons (e.g. winter in northern California) while decrease in others, rising temperatures mean that a large majority of the model simulations project that spring and annual mean runoff will decrease. Soil moisture is also projected to decrease throughout the year, especially in Texas. The mean of the multiple climate models analyzed projects that annual mean runoff in the Colorado River headwaters in 2021-2040 will be 10 percent less than in the decades at the end of the 20th Century.”

There’s a lot of scientific terminology packed in there, but here’s a simple summary: Focusing on the near future, 2021–2040, the new simulations project declines in surface-water availability across the southwest that translates into reduced soil moisture and runoff in California and Nevada, the Colorado River headwaters and Texas. This is very bad news for anyone who eats or drinks water in America…which is everyone.

As Kim Martineau writes for Columbia’s Earth Institute blog, the study predicts “a 10 percent drop in the Colorado River’s flow in the next few decades [about 5 times the amount Las Vegas uses in one year]…enough to disrupt longtime water-sharing agreements between farms and cities across the American Southwest.” In case you were wondering, 40 million people depend on the Colorado River Basin for water and the river is already over-allocated.

Feeling alarmed? I don’t blame you. The idea that one of our biggest sources of fresh water will start to run dry in the next decade is more than a little troubling, yet I’ll bet this is the first you’ve heard of it. “The prepublication press release for this paper came out on December 23 and while it did get picked up by a few sources, the only major outlet was Agence France Press,” writes Bruce Melton for Truthout. “All of the coverage referenced the 10 percent reduction in streamflow that this work’s modeling projects for the near future. This seemingly small number appears to have limited journalists’ interest in the results of the research as a whole.”

Translation: mainstream media’s interest, which really means corporate interest. And then it becomes clear why no ones making any noise about this impending disaster–it might upset the fossil fuel companies who fund everything from your daily newspaper to your local politician. While the head-in-the-sand approach may be best for corporate profits, it’s detrimental for human survival.

Our addition to oil, gas and coal (despite a plethora of alternatives) is killing this planet, and soon, it will be killing us as well. Anyone who tells you different is either ignorant of the evidence, or financially invested in convincing you to ignore it.


Related Reading:

5 Signs The World Really Is Ending

Rising Sea Levels Mean Evacuation Of Island States in a Decade

Billionaires Secretly Funded Vast Climate Denial Network


Image via Thinkstock


Rosemary Lowe

Mark D., thank you for your reality-check comments. Much needed, but sadly, humans continue on their insane path of delusional thinking. What is even worse, so many supposedly "thinking" humans only can come up with more ideas about how to "fix things" with more manipulation of Nature--the very thing that has been destroying the Life Support System. And, it's all about survival for humans and their needs.There are many other species on this planet, and they have no voice, except from some of us. We are not the only species on this planet, but we are stupid and arrogant enough to think we are. Thank you again for your wise comments.

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo5 years ago

I'm enthralled by the discussion! I can see and hear the solutions to the problem emerging on the page from the brilliant minds of Care 2 members. Thanks for the well informed comments.

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo5 years ago

This is horrifying! My hair has incinerated, and I may undergo spontaneous combustion. We have to do all we can to save the earth. Thank you!

Ken G.
Ken Goldsmith5 years ago

"There’s a lot of scientific terminology packed in there, but here’s a simple summary: Focusing on the near future, 2021–2040, the new simulations project declines in surface-water availability across the southwest that translates into reduced soil moisture and runoff in California and Nevada, the Colorado River headwaters and Texas. "
This is very similar to pronouncements by our (Aus.) govt chief Scientist/con artist/total idiot, Tim "FlimFlam" Flannery. At the height of our drought, around 6 or 7 years back, he said we would never see full dams and flowing rivers again. So several states built de-sal plants, at a cost of B$. For the past few we have had repetitive floods, all the de-sal plants are mothballed, but still costing M$ pa in interest, land rates, etc.
Do those "simulations" have atmospheric water vapour in the equation? It is an overwhelmingly more powerful GHG than CO2 is, and there is a LOT more of it, but last I heard it was not included in the models because it was "too complicated" to do so.
Brian F.:"Mega storms, heat waves, Artic, and Greenland ice sheets melting, droughts, all prove humans are causing climate change." All that does not prove humans have anything to do with anything, Brian, because they have all occurred both before and after man evolved.

Mike Kowalchuk
Mike Kowalchuk5 years ago

Absolutly 1 degree is changing the worold,3 degrees in a short time would be catastrophic.

Nicolas M.
Nicolas Martin5 years ago

Thank you so, so much Beth Buczynski for writing this informative article! I support your tone and your approach in presenting this article entirely! "Fossil fuel companies who fund everything from your daily newspaper to your local politicians": Yeah: dead on!
I'm advocating that every Canadian/American/World "middle-class" citizen that earns over $30,000-$40,000 a year should donate at least one grant a year ($1000) to pro-climate NGO's (NGO's that work to stop climate change) in order to offset the undue sway held by the Fossil Fuel Industry over the news media and government. In the Us, Fossil Fuel spends up to $3-$5 billion dollars a year to buy themselves public opinion and political influence (particularly through radical lobbying to all levels of government etc.). The only way to counter this, since we cannot count on governments whose super-expensive electoral campaigns have already been bought out by Fossil Fuel, is "to fight $ with $. We, us, the environmentally clean citizenry, must come up with piles of cash (good all-mighty cold cash) to do the same thing that Fossil Fuel already does with government which is to BUY OURSELVES cash-based POLITICAL INFLUENCE to fight back our so far unrivalled Fossil Fuel enemy. Except that in our case: we must come up with yet more cash than Exon Mobile and its kin does. That is if we, the citizenry, could raise say $15-25 billion a year (we'd only need a few years of this until "critical political mass"

Val M.
Val M5 years ago


Rosemary Lowe

We humans never stop our penchant for trying to "fix" things, even when they are not "fixable" anymore. We have been very successful at manipulating the Natural World to our perceived advantage, and that is what has brought us to this planetary crisis. Yet, we just do not want to face the reality of our own destructive "success." The planet is now in crisis mode. Things have been set into motion that we are not capable of comprehending. Our downfall is that we are far too arrogant, a Rogue Species, if you will, which started out wrong long ago. We are Technological Gods in our own minds, but this is not recognized by Nature, our Life Support System. The planet is done with us, we have overburdened her with our numbers and our degradation and destruction of Nature. Trouble is, we are taking non-human life with us into The Darkness.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Jurgen I reckon an alternative to reverse osmosis is solar distillation. Something called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion is supposed to be energy efficient enough to cover its own energy needs with a tiny bit leftover. It can't be justified as a source of power; but if you consider water the main product and any surplus power a by-product, it might be competitive with reverse osmosis.