I just finished watching the Ken Burns documentary “The Dust Bowl,” which tells the same story as Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, a book I read a couple of weeks ago to help me put today’s economic woes in perspective.
Boy, I don’t know from suffering. I might as well be in the 1%, I am so exceedingly pampered compared to those poor souls in Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and Kansas (primarily) who struggled and suffered through the “dirty thirties” of heat, drought and blowing dust that killed their crops, their stock, and even their children. It was the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, that started with the plowing up of the buffalo grass on the southern High Plains to plant wheat all through the roaring ’20s when wheat prices were at record highs. When wheat prices crashed, the Great Depression began and the rains stopped, millions of acres of dry land were abandoned and left empty, with nothing on it to keep it from rising up and blowing away by the hundreds of thousands of tons.
Large sections of the High Plains have since recovered from these ravages, but industrial agriculture has returned there with a vengeance thanks to irrigation with water drawn up from the Ogallala Aquifer, which is being rapidly depleted in order to grow hog and cattle feed. They say in 20 years, there will be no natural source of drinking water left in the central states if withdrawal continues at the present rate. Total desertification of the High Plains and another dust bowl could happen again within a generation.
“The Dust Bowl” makes the point that pursuing a quick profit today without a care for the costs to be borne tomorrow, especially by the planet on which we live, leads to disaster. We did it to our country once, and it’s likely we will do it again because as long as there is easy money to be made from plundering natural resources, we will do it. That is the American way.
I hope the human race can turn the corner before it’s too late and realize that we don’t have anywhere else to go, anywhere else to live. If we use up all the clean air and water and cut down all the trees and poison all the oceans, where will we live? We must find both the will and the means to put the welfare of our planet above the drive for profit. There are no jobs on a dead planet.
Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.
~ George Santayana