Over the course of history, water has proved to be the most essential aspect of human life. Ancient civilizations, powerful empires, and even the most populous cities in the world today have all been built on major waterways. Mesopotamia had the Tigris and the Euphrates; Rome had the Tiber; New York has the Hudson, and Shanghai has the Yangtze River Delta. Water has been and always will be crucial to agriculture, trade, and transportation, which is why it’s such a big deal when we don’t have enough of it.
As of late, water crises have been popping up all over the globe, but for many of us in the States, they seem like far removed issues. Relative to other nations (mostly island countries or states in the global south), America has not been as affected by the disasters caused by climate change—recently, however, the ignorant manner in which the U.S. approaches global warming has been challenged. The Mississippi River, one of the largest and most influential rivers in the country, has begun to experience severe declines in water level due to drought caused by summer heat and lack of rainfall. In September, the river dropped below the low-water threshold in many areas for the second year in a row.
The Mississippi is a vital waterway to a large portion of the United States. The river supports the agricultural industries of over 32 states, and is responsible for 92% of US agricultural exports and 78% of world exports of soy and feed grain. It provides fresh drinking water to over 20 million people and with the ongoing drought, an influx of salt water from the Gulf of Mexico threatens this water supply.
Because of the typically strong flow rate of the Mississippi, the fresh water of the river and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico don’t mix. Instead, the two different water types flow against each other. However, because of the drought, a salt water wedge has begun to push into the river. This intrusion of saltwater could potentially impact communities in southeastern Louisiana; without rainfall to raise the waterline of the river, the people in these areas would be reliant on bottled water for hydration.
The Mississippi River drought is unfortunately just one in hundreds of environmental crises that have exacerbated both in number and in severity in the last few years due to climate change. The drastic shifts in the global ecosystem have primarily affected underdeveloped coastal countries; with not enough resources and international support or attention to effectively address issues such as flooding, heatwaves, tropical storms, and famine, the ordinary people of these nations suffer greatly. These climate concerns, which have been directly linked to global warming, were primarily caused by Western nations in the never-ending push for more industry and innovation and yet, the West has only begun to take notice very recently, when the consequences of climate change arrived right on their doorstep.
The response to the Mississippi River drought, like other climate crises in recent years, has been lackluster to say the least. This drought, the abnormally low temperatures in Texas a while back, the forest fires in California, and thick smog in New York are just some of the crises brought on by rising global temperatures. United States infrastructure and government, although better prepared than most to deal with disasters such as these, is still barely keeping up with the economic and societal panic these calamities have caused. Money is allocated too slowly; humanitarian aid arrives late; by the time the government addresses most of these issues, the worst is already over.
The ignorance of the United States in terms of climate change is embarrassing; despite being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, our reliance on fossil fuels and our governments’ pandering to oil companies has exacerbated the disastrous effects of climate change on both a global and national scale.
America has been privileged in its ability to ignore natural disasters caused by global warming for a long time. A bigger push for climate-concerned and climate-conscious politicians and policies is needed if the health of American citizens in the future is to be ensured. The Biden administration promised drastic climate action, but the President approved an oil drilling initiative known as the Willow Project as recently as last March. In many ways, the United States is lacking in its approach to climate change. Without honesty and dedication from elected officials, crises like the Mississippi River drought will only become more common and more disastrous.
The future of American citizens rests in the decisions of politicians within the next five or so years—we need decisive, immediate action, or else we can expect many more droughts in the Mississippi for years to come.