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In 1956, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) published The Future of Arid Lands, edited by Gilbert F. White. It contains a collection of papers that were presented at the “International Arid Lands Meetings” in New Mexico, in 1955. Organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, these meetings convened a panel of experts with the aim of considering the issues that confronted arid lands and developing a research agenda to address them. They heralded the opening of a period of sustained interest in the drylands.

Papers contained in The Future of Arid Lands are organized into four broad categories: (1) variability and predictability of water supply, (2) better use of present resources, (3) prospects for additional water resources, and (4) better adaptation of plants and animals to arid conditions. The choice of topical areas reflects what were then considered the most critical issues pertaining to arid lands and the general direction of the book. The assumption on which the book is based is that arid lands represent a resource to be utilized in some way. Thus, the thrust of the (1956) book is not necessarily about better understanding the nature of arid lands, but defining the limits of knowledge to making better productive use of them, and to chart out a course to address those limits.

Fifty years later, under the auspices of ICRSE and with support from Unesco, a team from the Office of Arid Land Studies (OALS) at the University of Arizona in Tucson prepared a volume that revisits The Future of Arid Lands (1956) under the premise that we are now living and working in the future that was the topic of White’s volume.

The Future of Drylands – Revisited affords us the unique opportunity to look back in time and assess where we are now relative to then. Not only are we able to consider changes in science and technology, but also the political and social/economic contexts which framed them and, perhaps most importantly, an understanding of what were considered the critical issues of the day. A reflection of the past state of knowledge on drylands, as well as the general attitudes and scientific paradigms that shaped it, provides us with valuable lessons for today and the future. Particularly the critical consideration of the unintended consequences of past thinking, which often are visible/obvious in drylands today, as well as policy alternatives will be useful to an audience of decision makers.


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