Let’s stop dissing deserts!


In response to a recent post about “transit deserts” on The Market Urbanism Report’s Facebook page, I made the following comment:

“I think we need to rethink using the term ‘desert’ to describe an area lacking something. Deserts can be gloriously beautiful, rich, and vibrant ecosystems. How about ‘transit vacuums’ instead?”

Ever since the term “food desert” became popularized, it seems that “desert” is the term du jour for describing anything that’s lacking. Personally, I find this to be a grossly unfair and inaccurate use of the word “desert.” It is also dangerous to the protection and preservation of these beautiful ecosystems.

Sonoran Desert dusky winter scene

Anyone who has ever visited the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, California, and Mexico can tell you it is an amazing ecological wonder that is filled will a diverse range of flora and fauna. Here’s a brief summary of how many species call this gorgeous desert landscape their home:
  • 60 species of mammals, including the only jaguar in North America
  • 350 species of birds
  • 20 species of amphibians
  • 100+ species of reptiles
  • 30 native fish species
  • 1,000+ native bee species
  • 2,000+ native plant species, including the only place in the world where you will find the majestic Saguaro cactus

Even the vast Sahara Desert of North Africa contains more than 2,800 species of vascular plants, while the Atacama Desert in South America is much more diverse ecologically than one would expect given its extreme dryness.

My suggestion is the term “vacuum” be used instead of “desert.” Dictionary.com includes the following in the definition of “vacuum:” a space not filled or occupied; emptiness; void.
This seems like an appropriate word for what we planners are trying to relate to the public and decision makers, without dissing an entire fragile ecosystem in the process.
The greatest danger associated with applying a negative connotation to an entire ecosystem, is that we begin to diminish its importance and need. That’s exactly the kind of poor rationale (or excuse) that was used to drain those “pesky, mosquito-filled” wetlands, marshes, and swamps back in the day…and still today. Let’s not accidentally open Pandora’s Box to such environmental mistreatment for the Earth’s amazing deserts.
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This entry was posted in Advocacy, Animal rights, Animals, climate change, deserts, diversity, ecosystems, environment, geography, history, land use, nature, planning, Science, sustainability, topography, tourism, Travel, weather, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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