Especially for those who refuse to learn from it . . .
Dust storm approaches Rolla, KS – April 14, 1935 – Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library Collection.
I just finished watching a show about the American Dust Bowl Years titled “Black Blizzard” on History Channel. It was a pretty good analysis of the disastrous Dust Bowl years in the Great Plains, as well as the government policies and programs that lead up to them. “Plant more wheat! Eat more bread!,” “Breadbasket to the World!,” etc.
For anyone unfamiliar with that portion of our history, I highly recommend the 2-hour documentary. Right at the end though, there is a bit of irony: The narrator says “Others need to learn from our experiences, as today we are seeing giant dust storms in Western China and Sub-equatorial Africa.” To give them their due, they do cut back to a pair of Dust Bowl survivors from Oklahoma and Texas who warn that we are experiencing years as hot & dry in the High Plains now as they were in the years leading up to the Dust Bowl. One says that the only reason we are not seeing dust storms like they had in the 1930s is because they are pumping water out of the Ogllala aquifer at unprecedented rates to irrigate crops and pastures. He warns: “When the water runs out – and it will – we’re going to be in trouble.”
But, there is more to the story than that.
I remember my oldest son & daughter’s great grandfather telling me in 1980 that we were heading back to the Dust Bowl just as fast as farmers could rip out shelter belts, fill in water retention ponds and runoff waterways, and flatten contour terraces. The culprit? High wheat prices and new large-scale machinery that let one man farm more acres of land. We were pheasant hunting in Northern Kansas, and he showed me a one-lane county road that ran between two large wheat fields: “See that road? Five years ago, it was two lanes wide with a ditch on either side. You can’t drive on it for a week after a rain, now. If the county doesn’t stop these guys, it will be gone in a couple years.”
Yet, it’s the people in China and Africa that need to learn from our mistakes?
Abandoned Farm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1937 – US Library of Congress Prints & Photographs On-line Collection