Population Research and Policy Review 22: 297–331, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Blowin’ down the road: Investigating bilateral causality between
dust storms and population in the Great Plains
& MYRON P. GUTMANN
Department of Sociology and Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional
Research, SUNY University at Albany, USA;
Department of History and Inter-University
Consortium for Political and Social Research, Institute for Social Research, The University
of Michigan, USA
Abstract. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences concluded “it is clear that popula-
tion and the environment are usually interrelated ...”. This paper directly tests the expected
interrelationship using annual county-level population estimates provided by the U.S. Census
Bureau and annual counts of dust storms from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s at weather stations
situated throughout the U.S. Great Plains. In doing so, it implements a research design that
extends methods (far removed from conventional demography) for pure time series analysis
with multilevel regression models. The result is a method for causal modeling in panel data
that produces, in this application, evidence of bilateral causality between population size and
deleterious environmental conditions.
Keywords: climate change, granger causality, population and environment, U.S.Great Plains
Recently, in a reﬂection on the current (and future) state of demography,
Samuel Preston observed that “Several forces are converging to create
powerful pressures for conducting research between population growth and
environmental quality ....Thenecessary research designs, incorporating both
macro and micro-level features, are far removed from those conventional in
demography ....Although the study of relations between population growth
and environmental change isn’t demography, it isn’t anything else either. We
can expect new interdisciplinary research structures to be created in which
demographers will play a prominent role” (Preston 1993: 600).
In the same year, the National Academy of Sciences concluded “it is clear
that population and the environment are usually interrelated, but the strength
and mechanism of action of the relationship varies widely from setting to set-
ting ....Todate, cross-national studies have been intriguing, but have failed
to resolve the magnitude and mechanism of action governing the relationship
between population and environment. The next logical step for research is to
examine a number of case studies of differing dimensions to see how popu-
lationchange and the environment are interrelated ....Itis alsoimportant to
account for the changes over time and to be able to relate population change
to the environment meaningfully” (NAS 1993).