Blowing Desert Dust Is Growing Environmental Problem

Dust blowing up from the Sahara Desert has increased tenfold in the last 50 years and represents a growing environmental threat, warned Oxford geography professor Andrew Goudie today. And SUVs are at least partly to blame. The replacement of camels with four-wheel-drive vehicles such as Toyota Land Cruisers in the Sahara, as well as the “Toyota-ization” of other deserts in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, has led to an increase in dust storms and a rise in the total amount of dust in the global atmosphere, to some 2 billion to 3 billion tons a year. The heavy off-road vehicles break the thin layer of lichen, algae, or gravel that holds the fine sand underneath in place. The dust contributes to a host of environmental problems by exacerbating climate change, salinizing soil, transporting disease, increasing air pollution, and fertilizing the growth of carbon dioxide-sucking algae in the oceans. Goudie recommends a ban on the vehicles in sensitive desert areas.