Desertification or Degradation?


In this chapter on desertification. Diana K. Davis argues that people overuse and misuse the term desertification. She explains that many places where people think desertification are just experiencing natural fluxes in precipitation. In addition, she critiques outdated colonial ideas about desertification caused by overgrazing and land mismanagement, usually blamed on indigenous cultures. This idea was used to justify taking over land and the management of it. In response to this idea, people who had taken over land often reduced grazing and tried to reforest the land, often improperly. These tactics often made things much worse. Davis sites the failure of afforestation in southern Europe to reduce warming. She says that much of arid and dry lands have non-equilibrial systems, but people impose the idea that there needs to be an equilibrium upon them and try to manage them. She goes on to clarify that land degradation does occur, but that scientists do not yet have a good way to measure whether or not lower occurrence of rainfall is due to anthropogenic land degradation or other causes. 

I have little frame of reference to critique her critique, but I think that Davis is missing a discussion about how climate change causes more drought and less rainfall. She effectively considers the difference between land degradation and desertification and the negative effects of thinking that the existence of a desert is something to be corrected. However, she doesn’t discuss anthropogenic climate change as a cause of drought and land degradation. As she talks about changing weather patterns and how they affect rainfall levels, she doesn’t address how climate change might affect those levels. I think this is an important aspect of changing landscapes that cause people to blame anthropogenic desertification of drought. 

Desertification does not directly relate to the topic of my thesis. However there is a small group of artists making work that considers land regeneration and natural resources. Being acquainted with the complexities of land degradation and desertification will help me think critically about these artists cause and how they approach it. 

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