JMM and I watched this PBS presentation of Ken Burns' documentary about the Dust Bowl years in the Central Plains 1930-1940. If you missed it, I encourage you to watch it either at the PBS website or on DVD. It is excellent. Most of us are familiar with the basic facts that the farming practices of the time, the cyclical droughts and winds of the area combined to produce dust storms for a number of years. But seeing the pictures and hearing the interviews with people who were there and lived through it made it real. There were years where less than 10 inches of rain fell on land that had been plowed from horizon to horizon. The native grasses had been scoured from the earth leaving the top soil bare and easily blown by the strong prairie winds. The dust storms came four, five, and six times a month for months on end and no one knew when or if it would ever end. I am amazed that anyone survived in those conditions and just as amazed that only 25-30% of the population left; I would have thought anyone and everyone would have left. The soil and water conservation policies that were implemented through FDR's New Deal stabilized the soil enough that when the rain did return, crops could once again be grown. However, the farmers learned to irrigate crops using water from the Ogallala aquifer and are rapidly depleting it.
Which brings me to the thought that kept coming to mind over and over while watching the 4 hours of this show. We are doing the same thing on a global scale by pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Just as the farmers of the plains destroyed the native grasses and reaped the whirlwind of the Dust Bowl so will we reap the devastation of climate change. Are we so tremendously stupid that we think this will all go away? The people of the Dust Bowl faced starvation and watched their children die of dust pneumonia. What will our children and their children face as the very climate of our entire planet warms? As we watch the oceans produce less food? As we watch ocean levels rise? As population pressures increase? As fresh water becomes scarce? I don't know but there is a time of reckoning coming.