Farmers across the Great Plains of Middle America are looking for relief from the ongoing, near-record drought. They're looking past the skies and on to Washington. Especially hard-hit is Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota. From cotton to corn, crops are drying up and cattle are going without what was once large expanses of high grass. This last July is the driest on record since 1936, the Dust Bowl's hottest and driest summer for much of the Great Plains.
A fascinating and heart-wrenching, historical account of the Dust Bowl can be found in Timothy Egan's book, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Egan seamlessly weaves together the tales and torments of those who stuck it out in the merciless heart of the Plains and illustrates with measurable credibility just how man and his government brought these horrendous storms to life.
Drought is not uncommon in the Plains, rather it is an environmental norm; and it was said before the tragedy of the Dust Bowl that farming the grasslands would bring about the demise of the land. Predictions and speculation about man's behavioral impact on the environment have been with us since very early on and were heard before and after Hurricane Katrina.
Not all scientists agree about how much man's activity has on the environment. Most are, however, in agreement that man is indeed stirring a pot of stew, with a list of ingredients he's not completely aware of, over an ever warming burner. "I'm not so much arguing that there might not be some worsening from global warming," says Chris Landsea at the National Hurricane Center, "but my question is, how much? One thing that does kind of scare me is that we are doing an experiment on Earth."
None of that would matter if a supervolcano erupted. Of the forty hot spots scientists have located around the world, one brews about 20 miles beneath Yellowstone National Park. Regular volcanoes are cone-shaped, but supervolcanoes emerge from huge canyons (calderas) measuring hundreds of miles wide. Beneath these canyons rest lakes of lava. When they erupt, all hell breaks loose in a series of explosions that destroys all surrounding life and showers much of the earth in ash. Seventy-four thousand years ago, a supervolcano erupted from beneath Lake Toba, in Sumatra, Indonesia, and killed all but a handful of the people on earth.
Beyond the borders of Earth lurks the menacing marvel known as the black hole. Once thought to be stationary, black holes have since been discovered wandering around the universe, vacuuming at will. Were one to get within even a billion miles of our solar system it would greatly disturb Earth's orbit, thus its tides. Any closer and Earth would spin out of the solar system or head for the sun. Either way, a black hole cozying up too close would dwarf the threat of a supervolcano.
Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at City University of New York, says, "The generation now alive, the generation that you see, looking around you, for the first time in history, is the generation that controls the destiny of the planet itself."
So, my fellow Earthlings — take heed, take comfort, and take care.