Agriculture has been turning lush forests and prairies into barren deserts since the dawn of human history, but the pace has exploded since the advent of factory farming in the 1950s. It’s hard to believe that North America East of the Rockies was once covered by a luscious forest. The devastation is now continuing in the Amazon River Basin.
The process begins with clear-cutting of forests to create pastures for cattle and other ruminants. This is a major loss, because trees provide wildlife habitats, keep topsoil in place, replenish groundwater aquifers, absorb carbon dioxide, and stabilize climate.
As pastures become overgrazed and trampled, they are plowed under and turned into animal feed croplands. With little plant growth to hold it in place, topsoil is carried by rain and melting snow into streams and lakes, destroying the land’s productivity.
This process is accelerated by the use of marginal sloping lands to meet the insatiable demand for animal feed. The final result is barren desert so much in evidence throughout the once-verdant Middle East, the cradle of human civilization.