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A Great Aridness:Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest [Kindle Edition]

William deBuys
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

With its soaring azure sky and stark landscapes, the American Southwest is one of the most hauntingly beautiful regions on earth. Yet staggering population growth, combined with the intensifying effects of climate change, is driving the oasis-based society close to the brink of a Dust-Bowl-scale catastrophe. In A Great Aridness, William deBuys paints a compelling picture of what the Southwest might look like when the heat turns up and the water runs out. This semi-arid land, vulnerable to water shortages, rising temperatures, wildfires, and a host of other environmental challenges, is poised to bear the heaviest consequences of global environmental change in the United States. Examining interrelated factors such as vanishing wildlife, forest die backs, and the over-allocation of the already stressed Colorado River--upon which nearly 30 million people depend--the author narrates the landscape's history--and future. He tells the inspiring stories of the climatologists and others who are helping untangle the complex, interlocking causes and effects of global warming. And while the fate of this region may seem at first blush to be of merely local interest, what happens in the Southwest, deBuys suggests, will provide a glimpse of what other mid-latitude arid lands worldwide--the Mediterranean Basin, southern Africa, and the Middle East--will experience in the coming years. Written with an elegance that recalls the prose of John McPhee and Wallace Stegner, A Great Aridness offers an unflinching look at the dramatic effects of climate change occurring right now in our own backyard. Praise for River of Traps: "Brims with gifts of language and vision." --Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review "An irresistibly engaging story...deBuys is a storyteller of poetic breadth with a discerning eye for subtle, sensitive associations." --The Nation

Editorial Reviews


"This is on the short list of key books for anyone who lives in or loves the American southwest--with scientific precision and understated emotional power, it explains what your future holds. If you live elsewhere: it's a deep glimpse into one place on our fast-changing planet, and you'll be able to do many extrapolations. Remarkable work!" - Bill McKibben, author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

"DeBuys delivers thoughtful portraits of efforts to ameliorate conditions . . . readers will appreciate this intelligent account of water politics, forest ecology and urban planning in a region seriously stressed even before global warming arrived to make matters worse."
--Kirkus Reviews

"With wide-eyed wonder and the clearest of prose, deBuys explains why we should care about these places, the people he portrays, and the conundrums over land and water he illuminates. No longer are aridity and climate change in the Southwest only of regional interest; deBuys is writing for America and we should all listen to what he has to say." --Booklist (starred review)

"Drawing on the work of climatologists and other scientists, deBuys's analysis of the eco-crisis - rising temperatures, wildfires, water shortages, disappearing wildlife - is a reasoned warning to heavily populated arid regions round the world." - Nature

"A Great Aridness is his most disturbing book, a jeremiad that ought to be required reading for politicians, economists, real-estate developers and anyone thinking about migrating to the Sunbelt." --American Scientist

"Non-experts who want a concrete sense of climate change's impact - and a lyrical reading experience - should turn to A Great Aridness." - Washington Post

"DeBuys's research takes place in the field, one of the real strengths of this book. In lyrical prose rich in place and politics, his stories take us from the Navajo reservation to research labs.... A Great Aridness is both fascinating and frightening." --Orion

"Across the board global warming in the Southwest will challenge us morally, artistically, economically, politically, and socially. DeBuy's triumpth is to summarize, in clear and elegant prose, those challenges as they appear today." --Western American Literature 49:3

"William deBuys, one of our finest environmental historians, offers a narrative that follows the trajectory of Keeling's awesome arc. ... The story deBuys tells is informative, thought provoking, and elegantly written." --Western Historical QUarterly

About the Author

William deBuys is the author of seven books, including River of Traps: A New Mexico Mountain Life, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction in 1991; Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range; The Walk (an excerpt of which won a Pushcart Prize in 2008), and Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California. An active conservationist, deBuys has helped protect more than 150,000 acres in New Mexico, Arizona, and North Carolina. He lives and writes on a small farm in northern New Mexico.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
William deBuys has written an environmental history of the American Southwest. He explores the history and present of the region so that he can offer a prognosis on what a warmer, drier world will mean for this region in the future. And that prognosis does not look good based on demographic and environmental trends.

In the history section, using archaeological records and other sources, deBuys explores the failed civilizations of the American southwest. He shows how they succumbed to the mega droughts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The drier world of the time led to the civilization of the time facing economic and demographic collapse. Some turned to violence. Others gave up on their homes and moved. When writing about these failed civilizations, there is a certain sadness to the author's voice that is quite touching. These were technologically advanced civilizations for the time period. And yet they could not do anything in the face of a warming world.

In the sections on the present, the author is at his best. The author systematically constructs the modern world that we live in, showing how policy, demographics, agriculture, immigration, and economics all interact to create a society that is using more water than is sustainable. And what an eye opener it is. No society can survive for long when it uses more water than is replaced. And yet according to the author, the American Southwest continues to add new people. But no new water is being added. Just the opposite. And that is just a demographic timebomb waiting to happen.

The author shows how present society's 'hydraulic cornucopia' is just a mirage in the desert. Eventually reality will set in. And then how will the society of the American Southwest deal with it? The author offers no solutions.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Warning to Heed March 13, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A Great Aridness is a beautifully written book about, at least to me, a very sad subject. If you want to know why Arizona is in a precarious balancing act with its water supply, read this book.

If you want to know factors causing the increase in forest fires, read this book.

If you want to find the connections of these facts to global warming/climate change read this book.

You will also will also learn, in almost poetical fashion, how all the above affects the Indian tribes of Arizona & New Mexico and many other people of the Southern Colorado Plateau/southwestern U.S. desert

I can't describe how much I have learned and how much I have been fascinated with this book.

John P. Jones
Helena, MT
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53 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read, but beware the booby traps. February 27, 2012
This is a fascinating, well written, technically flawed and schizoid document. I can't recall so loving and hating the same book. The author wants less growth, less construction, more construction, more growth, more science and less science in roughly that order. My linear mind just can't handle this degree of internal contradiction. I'm a policy wonk; I've been working on western water, energy, growth and environmental issues for over 35 years. I live in Tucson and California. DeBuys repeatedly reeled me in with some good writing and then he'd either hit a wall or a booby trap, you need to be an expert BEFORE you read it. Knee jerks will love this book, but those that retain an unfashionable degree of independent thought will want to read it with great care.

The best parts of the book are where he intertwines archaeology and policy with a travelogue. He takes the reader to some interesting spots and describes the many I know well . The book begins with a visit to the Colorado Plateau and the collapse of the Anasazi civilization. The theme of the book is that modern Arizona is headed for the same level of collapse. That's a wonderfully romantic notion that will appeal to fashionable gloomsters, but it requires decades of total policy idiocy. (Even Congress and the Arizona legislature won't be that stupid for that long.)

The first chapters are a good exposition of the extreme version of climate change. The book chugs along until we hit the first wall: climate change in the Southwest probably means less winter snow but more summer rain. He spends many pages on the less snow problem, but then stops with a few paragraphs on the likely growth of more summer rain.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and Moving Study of the Southwest February 9, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
William DeBuys offers an unsettling description of the developing climate crisis in the Southwest. It's especially disturbing as those events are indicators of future crises in other regions. His book is a heartfelt study of a distressing man-made and climate-made downward spiral of this beautiful and fragile land and its inhabitants. It's a poignant plea to take adaptive conservation action in the Southwest now. A must read for those who love the Southwest, and a should read for all others.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you live in the SW read this book March 1, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a great up to date comprehensive take on the water situation in the Southwest. It covers the latest climate science with a really interesting historical summary of how we got to where we are. To top it off it is emminently readable interweaving personal experiences and interesting personalities who are consequential to the story. If you live in the SW or are contemplating moving there you should make this book a must read
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Events Predicted are Coming to PASS
It's pretty amazing what our politicians do in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence; if the close their eyes to the problem, maybe it'll go away. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Frank Van Breedam
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Super fascinating story of the ecology and history of the southwest. Great book.
Published 6 months ago by John W
4.0 out of 5 stars I love the issues this book highlights
Though the writing and style is formulaic in places, I love the issues this book highlights. If you love the great southwest and have an interest in environmental and... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Michele Mattix
4.0 out of 5 stars Real Scarry
Seems to be a well written thoughtful account of potential climate change impacts on the southwestern US. Read more
Published 14 months ago by SWID
5.0 out of 5 stars deBuys versus the "Contract Wonk"
3.0 out of 5 stars Read, but beware the booby traps. Feb. 27 2012
By Richard Carlson
First of... Read more
Published 15 months ago by NoFacebookTwitter
5.0 out of 5 stars Pertinent information
Up to date pertinent information presented in an easy to read style. Anyone living in the Southwest should be reading this book!
Published 16 months ago by Michael G. Brooks
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book
DeBuys writes a sensible and readable story about how we are over-populating and thus over-using the water resources of the American Southwest. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Jon Willis
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
wonderful, disturbing, realistic. this is the first time that the multi state water contract issues have made any sense at all, other than "it's complicated. Read more
Published 16 months ago by jomeadow
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid understanding of the American Southwest
This book should be recommended reading for anyone living in the American Southwest that wants a good understanding of the problems this area is already facing, and will face in... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Christopher C Frazier
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent reasoning
As someone living in the southwest I'm living in an extended drought. The careful analysis of the historical droughts mixed with the shortage of water in the Colorado and Rio... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Karl Giese
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More About the Author

William deBuys's books include River of Traps (reissued in 2008), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1991. An excerpt from The Walk, which is set in the same mountain valley as River of Traps, won a 2008 Pushcart Prize. He was a 2008-2009 Guggenheim Fellow and spent his fellowship year working on "A Great Aridness: Climate Change in the North American Southwest." Long active in environmental matters in the Southwest, deBuys was the founding chairman of the Valles Caldera Trust (2001-2004), which manages the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico. Recent writing projects have taken him as far afield as Borneo and Lao PDR. He lives on a small farm in El Valle, New Mexico.

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