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Edwin Rimular

Professor Ludwig

English 101H

4 December 2017

A Dry Future

It has been well documented throughout history that humans have used natural resources

from the environment to their advantage, whether it be using wood to create shelters or using

acres of open land to raise livestock. However, concern for the planets future is arising because

of progressive human manipulation to the environment, causing desertification. In his poem

what the ants are saying, author Don Marquis highlights desertification caused by mankind.

Narrated by Archy the cockroach, Archy shares that ants claim that they will be the superior form

of life on Earth in the future due to the careless actions of mankind done to the environment.

Marquis addresses the problem that mankind is the reason why desertification is happening to the


Even those who are not familiar with the desertification may guess that it is the process of

a natural landscape forming into a desert-like environment over time. That assumption is correct,

as The Princeton University WordNet defines desertification as the gradual transformation of

habitable land into desert. There are multiple factors that are catalysts for this transformation.

Desertification can occur naturally in ways such as wind erosion, but concern arises when

desertification is caused by mankind. The overgrazing of livestock, poor irrigation methods, and

land degradation are all actions caused by man. Landscapes containing plenty of vegetation and

fertile soil are prone to desertification, as man targets these areas to establish farms and raise
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animals. As the soil progressively deteriorates, land becomes dry to the point that it is unable to

support plant life, which in turn renders it useless for humans and animals alike. In this case, land

owners will then transport their livestock and migrate to an unused fresh plot of land, only to

repeat the desertification process.

In order to assert the claim that the Earth will eventually succumb to desertification due

to mankinds actions, Archy the cockroach uses repetition. According to Archy, man is making

deserts of the earth (Marquis 235). By using the word deserts, Archy is evoking the image of

a dry area of land, with little to no life inhabiting the environment. With the context of the text in

mind, this brings attention to the future of the environment for the audience. He then claims that

man is cutting the ground from under/ his own feet making deserts deserts deserts (Marquis

237). In repeating the word deserts thrice, Archy is mirroring the actions of humans in the

desertification process. Man will discover an area then use the fresh land for commercial use.

Man will then till the land for growing purposes and raise livestock. Over time, the land that was

once able to support life has taken a toll, becoming dry and basically unprofitable for future

projects. In this situation, man will then abandon this useless plot of land and migrate to a new

area, only to repeat the process. Archy repeats the word deserts to explain how man will

constantly transform unaltered areas into deserts. There is a tradeoff between reaping economic

benefits and creating more deserts, hence why Archy says man is cutting the ground under his

own feet. By illustrating this scenario, Marquis is explains that if this desertification process is

not controlled, mankind will eventually cause the planet to become one giant desert.

To convey the idea of mans negative impact onto the environment further, Archy uses a

logical appeal. According to Archy each generation wastes a little more/ of the future with greed
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and lust for riches (Marquis 236). As mentioned previously, mankind is known to strip lands of

their natural resources for economic use. The greedy nature of past generations is shared

succeeding generations, and will inevitably be passed down to future generations. It would be

difficult for a new generation to refrain from using natural resources because they are vital for

economies to flourish. In Archys view, men talk of money/ economics/ while men talk

they are making deserts all the time (Marquis 237). In other words, Archy is highlighting mans

focus on economic success while disregarding the environments health. The health of the land is

deteriorating at the hands of humankind. Marquis uses a logical appeal to communicate to

readers that there is a tradeoff between economic success and the planets health. If the land

continues to be taken advantage of, Earth will progressively become a desert unsuitable for

nurturing life.

Through the narration of Archy, Marquis is emphasizing how not just one, but a series of

manmade decisions are the negative force in affecting the environment. It has been identified that

the overgrazing of livestock has had a negative impact on fertility of soil. In the article The

Impact of Overgrazing on Semiarid Ecosystem Soil Properties, researcher Qinxue Wang details

the direct and indirect physical effects that animals had onto the soil of Eastern Hovsgol Lake,

Mongolia. The compaction of soil is a direct example. Wang states that, livestock produce

mechanical pressure on the topsoil, resulting in the compaction of soil. By simply roaming

on an area, animals put pressure onto the soil, causing the ground they stand on to progressively

harden up over time. In other words, hardened soil is unable to support plant life due to the lack

of moisture. The consumption of plant life is an indirect action enacted by grazing livestock on

soil. The consumption of grass decreases the amount of vegetation present in an area, leading to
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decreased humus accumulation in soils (Wang). The presence of humus in the ground allows

water to easily travel to plants, while at the same time maintaining the moisture of the soil.

Livestock will eat the the vegetation in the grazing areas, causing humus content to decrease over

time. Both the direct and indirect actions enacted by livestock result in the same scenariothe

hardening of soil due to the lack of moisture. Water is a vital factor in the survival of any life

form on Earth. Wang includes data regarding water-holding capacity (WHC) in the overgrazed

Turag Valley and the untouched Dalbay Valley, both locations in Mongolia. Wangs research data

states that the WHC of the Dalbay Valley soil had an average of about 75%, while the Turag

Valley soil had an average of just below 50%. Both areas were tested in the same soil horizon. In

the same type of soil horizon, the Turag Valley has a significantly lower WHC than its

comparison, and will only get worse as overgrazing continues in the area. A lower WHC equals

less moisture in topsoil, a important component in soil fertility. Having undergone the

detrimental effects of overgrazing, the Turag Valley has a significant disadvantage in fostering

life compared to the healthy Dalbay Valley. The desertification process has already begun in the

Turag Valley, and if it continues to suffer from the effects of overgrazing, its soil will dry out to

the point of no return, rendering it useless for supporting life in the future.

Along with overgrazing, climate change has also played a role the desertification of the

planet. The greenhouse effect is a controversial subject in which many blame for Earths

increasingly warmer climate. An online article on climate change done by the National

Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) defines the greenhouse effect as warming that

results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space (Climate). NASA

claims that the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of
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atmospheric carbon dioxide (Climate). In other words, carbon dioxide, along with other

greenhouse gases, trap heat inside the Earths atmosphere, yielding overall warmer temperatures

at the ground level. The decomposition of trash from manmade landfills releases methane, while

the cultivation of crops produces nitrous oxide (Climate). According to the Fifth Assessment

Report, scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) state that rural

areas will suffer in water availability and supply, food security, agricultural incomes, [and]

shifts in production areas of food as a result of an increase in the Earths average temperature

(IPPC). Relating back to overgrazing, climate change also leads to a decrease in water supply. As

water scarcity grows, cultivators will not be able to grow and distribute as many crops as they

should, causing them to lose potential income in the market economy. Farmers will find the soil

which they inhabit to be unsuitable for farming activities, forcing them to leave the damaged area

in search of a suitable area. However, suitable areas will be increasingly harder to find as the

climate takes its toll on the environment. IPCCs globally average greenhouse gas concentration

data reveals that since the mid 19th century, carbon dioxide emissions have increased from 280

parts per million (ppm) to around 400 ppm (ppm is a measurement of how much gas is present in

the atmosphere). In other words, carbon dioxide gas emissions has increased and will continue to

increase at a faster rate due to societys industrial activities. The greenhouse effect explains why

the year of 2016 has been the warmest year in recorded history, as it was, 1.78 degrees

Fahrenheit warmer than the mid-20th century mean (NASA). Climate change caused by

mankind is increasing the rate at which desertification is happening.

Desertification is already taking its toll around the globe. Because desertifcation
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negatively impacts the environment, it undoubtedly brings many consequences to the human

population as well. The increasing dryness around the world is not only causing climate change,

but also poverty, food shortage, and the demand for healthy land. A constantly growing global

population does not help either. Khalidou Badara, a West African cattle header, notes that the

land around his home in Senegal has transformed into desert. In an article named

Desertification by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Badara claims that due to the rising

climate in Senegal, the grass does not grow anymore so each year, [my family] has to go

further and further away to find grazing for our cattle (Adjovi). Badara and his family are

suffering the consequences of climate change. Cheikou Lo is another Senegal man whose family

has been impacted by dry land conditions. Lo grows peanuts and beans, crops that he sells for

money and uses for food. However, the quality of his crops is becoming worse each year due to

the, lack of rain and soil erosion (Adjovi). A mix of poor soil fertility and drought is causing

his crops to suffer. The poor quality of his crops makes them only good for animal feed (Adjovi).

Lo mentions that his own children have chosen to move to other African cities in an attempt to

find jobs. His family is originally from a village that used their land to grow and sell crops, but

the condition of their area has worsened as a result of dry climate. Although Lo wants his

children to stay in the area, no jobs and no means has caused them to find a more sufficient

way of making ends meet (Adjovi). Badara and Los situation are prime examples of how

desertification impacts humans. Badara and Lo are two out of 1.5 billion people affected by the

desertification around the world (Adjovi). Because such dry conditions make it hard to live in

these areas, some of these unfortunate people are forced to live like nomads, constantly on the
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move with no permanent home. Slowing down climate change is crucial in preventing

desertification, especially in areas near the equator such as Africa.

Although it is true that humans play a role in desertification, mankind it not to blame

fully. Marquis claim is that man is the primary reason for desertification but he does not address

that desertification can happen naturally too. River erosion by winds in Sudan is an example of

natural desertification (UNEP). The people of Sudan had no control over this natural

phenomenon, therefore it would not be correct to blame them for this degradation of land.

Marquis blames mankind and mankind only in these processes, while disregarding that natural

desertification can happen without humans causing it. However, it is acceptable to assert from

Marquis argument that mankind is making the desertification process faster through careless

decisions. Marquis persuasive methods do a sufficient job of addressing this problem to his

readers. Nevertheless, the problem of desertification by mankind should not be ignored since its

effects are continually taking a toll on the planet currently.

It is apparent that mankinds actions are speeding up the process of the planets

desertification. In the poem what the ants are saying, Archy explains the future of the Earth as

mankind continues to treat the environment with carelessness. The overgrazing of livestock

degrades acres of land by drying out soil, while an increase in the planets overall temperature

due to industrial activity has a negative impact globally. Greater care for the environment should

be enacted otherwise Earth will eventually become one great desert in the future, unable to

sustain life.
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Works Cited

Adjovi, Laeila. Desertification: The People Whose Land Is Turning to Dust. BBC News, BBC,

12 Nov. 2015,

Climate change causes: A blanket around the Earth. NASA, NASA, 10 Aug. 2017,

IPPC Fifth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers. 2014,


Marquis, Don. from what the ants are saying. American Earth, Ed. Bill McKibben, The

Library of America, 2008, pp. 235-238

Northon, Karen. NASA, NOAA Data Show 2016 Warmest Year on Record Globally. NASA,

NASA, 18 Jan. 2017,


Princeton University "About WordNet." WordNet. Princeton University. 2010. <http://>

Sudan: Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment. UNEP, 2007.

Wang Q, Batkhishig O. Impact of Overgrazing on Semiarid Ecosystem Soil Properties: A Case

Study of the Eastern Hovsgol Lake Area. 2014, Mongolia. J Ecosys Ecograph 4:140.