Archive for Dust Bowl

What Have “WE” Learned?

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security, Natural Disasters, Popular Culture, Rhetoric, Risk & Fear, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by Taylor Manuel

The Dust Bowl era, and the suggestions which the coined term perpetuate, has become a forgotten blemish in the annals of American history. The effects of which began with the undertaken challenge to farm on a land with little forethought on the climate of the region and its compatibility with producing non-native plants. It goes back even further however, to the very ideal that America was founded on, to the notion of America as the new Eden, plush and plentiful in resources available for appropriation.

This ideal allowed for the acquisition of wealth in every meaning of the word, it is the foundation of our cultural identity and monetary economy. Since the depression and the failed agriculture of the Midwest, the government was determined to “re-build” to place into effect numerous federal programs as a safety net both for banks, corporations, farming industry, and lastly individuals. FDR’s alphabetic remedies, in an attempt to both stimulate the economy and safeguard it from another failure have had long lasting effects on the system in which our Capitalist economy operates today. And, arguably would not be standing on the “crutches” it is without his action.

However, what are those effects of  the depression and jointly the Dust Bowl today? Is it safe to say we recovered? That we managed to safeguard not only our economy but the success of the agricultural (nowadays) industry? Or have we but prolonged the future “Black Monday” and the future “Dust Bowl”?  Interesting questions, and ones which I do not have the knowledge or understanding to answer, and arguably I don’t know if anyone could. Hindsight is 20/20, but the present is never the past, and at what point is the past no longer a part of the present? Today government management, or “support” of the agricultural system helps to monitor the economic and environmental intricacies of American agriculture. Implementing, “farm price support” which provides subsidies to corporate farms which are already producing an oversupply of crops.

We don’t practice bio-regionalism in which we only grow and appropriate from resources that are native, and sustainable to particular regions and ecosystems. For example, if we were to practice bio-regionalism here in Alaska we would not eat fruit (besides naturally grown berries). This is a very abbreviated definition. In full practice, bio-regionalism would take into account watershed boundaries as well as soil and terrain boundaries.

Instead, what has occurred in the history of American agriculture, and capitalism is the anthropocentric view that in altering landscape and resources we can appropriate whatever we want. Using technology we can alter entire ecosystems to our liking, and essentially grow (non-native) crops on unsuitable land.  The solution to the “natural disaster” of the Dust Bowl, was water, and to this day it is what sustains agriculture which otherwise would be impossible. The effects of which are beginning to be revealed, but have yet to fully “flower”. The Ogallala Aquifer for example, was eventually tapped with advanced technology and has irrigated the Dust Bowl region, and much of the nations agricultural regions ever since. What happens when it runs out? California’s San Joaquin, Owens and San Fernando Valleys are yet other examples. Aquafornia

With water projects beginning on the same time-line as those that faced the Dust Bowl, FDR’s programs helped  construct California’s water supply infrastructure. An endeavor that was deeply buried in bribery and monopolization, and popularized in the Hollywood film, Chinatown in 1974. California is said to be “the most hydrologically altered landmass on the planet”.

So where does this leave us? According to the government we overcame the challenges that “confronted US” in American agriculture of the 1930’s, but have we really learned a lesson? Much of our economy relies on the corn, and wheat grown in the Midwest, and the fruit, vegetables and dairy  produced in California, but how long can we maintain this “Eden”? Today, we are faced with similar economic struggles as those of the 1920’s and 30’s. Only today, our producers are no longer family farmers but corporate entities, who have the money and political power to postpone and perpetuate practices that are neither sustainable to the environment nor possible in the long term.

As a suggestion to the problems that we continue to face, one need not look far. Organic, farming has become a popularized and sought out resource, bringing agriculture back to smaller companies, but in the shadow of larger corporation. Green has become the new Black, but prices are high and availability low, increasingly so in the face of growing economic burden. I encourage you to look at this piece regarding organic farming in Nevada, yet another region not well supported for agriculture. Patagonia’s FB note on Organic Farming in Nevada.

What has changed and what have we learned from the Dust Bowl Era? I hope this spawns some interesting topics of discussion.

EcoCollapse is a Social Crisis: The Dust Bowl

Posted in Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Risk & Fear, Uncategorized with tags , on February 24, 2010 by coolaccordionest

How to explain a place where black dirt fell from the sky, where children died from playing outdoors, where rabbits were clubbed to death by adrenaline-primed nesters still wearing their Sunday-school clothes, where grasshoppers descended on weakened fields and ate everything but doorknobs?  How to explain a place where hollow-bellied horses chewed on fence posts, where static electricity made it painful to shake another man’s hand, where the only thing growing that a human or a cow could eat was an unwelcome foreigner, the Russian thistle? How to explain fifty thousand or more houses abandoned throughout the Great Plains, never to hear a child’s laugh or a woman’s song inside their walls? How to explain nine million acres of farmland without a master? America was passing this land by. Its day was done.

–  pages 305 and 306, The Word Hard Time by Timothy Egan

Photos of the Dust Bowl

1st Interview with Tim Egan on Dialogue: The Worst Hard Time

Watch Surviving the Dust Bowl: The American Experience , a PBS Documentary

Surviving the Dust Bowl is the remarkable story of the determined people who clung to their homes and way of life, enduring drought, dust, disease—even death—for nearly a decade. Less well-known than those who sought refuge in California, typified by the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” the Dust Bowlers who stayed overcame an almost unbelievable series of calamities and disasters.

“Only one-quarter of the Dust Bowlers fled to California—most stayed, persevering through ten grueling years,” says producer Chana Gazit.  “I was intrigued by their stories—their stamina and resilience to battle through frighteningly powerful, devastating wind and dust storms.”

Rain: A Dust Bowl Story
Since our class is a English class, Doc. Ray showed me this great website that has poetry about the Dust Bowl.
“Enter the world of a small fictional community that puts a human face on the greatest economic disaster and the greatest environmental disaster of  our history.”

Blame the Government: The Dust Bowl is Man Made

Apocalyptic Living Today

On September 23, 2009, Sydneysiders woke up Wednesday to a confusing orange haze that turned out to be one of the worst dust storms on record, grounding flights and causing all kinds of chaos, wonder and amazement.   Dust Storms In Australia

Is this a picture of what is going to happen with global warming and over-using the land?

Great Depression, Dust Bowl, New Deal, Dams: Environmental Crisis as Social Crisis

Posted in Natural Disasters with tags , , on February 23, 2010 by Sarah

As we prepare to discuss the Dust Bowl and Egan’s text, it might be helpful to get somewhat familiarized with this historical period.  The late 20s through the 30s were a particularly important period in US history.   The Great Depression challenged Americans’ faith in the nation and its heretofore treasured myths of abundance and the pursuit of happiness, to say the least.  Furthermore, Franklin Roosevelt’s approach to address the Depression was unprecedented: he invested in the country by– gasp!– supporting the arts, of all things.   Imagine this approach in our own economic crisis; the first funding to go is for the arts, music, and anything deemed inessential to turning around the economy.  Roosevelt, in contrast, pumped funding into what would seem counterintuitive to us in our era, when economic crisis is an excuse for compromising the public good.  Can we imagine Bush or Obama getting away with promoting environmental conservation and the humanities in our downturn, as Roosevelt did? 

You should spend some time looking up New Deal or Works Projects Administration (WPA) projects and consider writing about them in your blog posts.  Dorothea Lange, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and all kinds of other great things came of the New Deal.  All those gorgeous bridges across the Pacific Coastline highways in Oregon and California– those were built in this era under the WPA program.  All those awesome log cabins throughout the Northwest and California (such as Crater Lake)– also built by the CCC.   The New Deal put people to work, but it did so in ways that would sound absolutely crazy today.

But equally, Roosevelt’s approach involved an unprecedented effort to control nature.  Consider the Tennessee Valley Authority (1933) and the Bureau of Reclamation (just consider that name, for starters!), the latter of which, although set up in 1902, found new purpose under the New Deal. This was THE era of dams across the West.   Getting out of the Depression and into a new era meant overcoming nature’s grip on Americans, as the Dust Bowl illustrated, and dams were the silver-bullet answer to all of America’s problems (including its desire to have a stake in WW II).   

Another major consideration is (as you might have anticipated) what were the causes of the Dust Bowl?  What are the different stories that claim different causes?  We’re particularly interested in understanding how an environmental crisis, such as the Dust Bowl, is really a cultural crisis.  That is, cultural, economic, and political ignorance of ecological processes created the conditions for the Dust Bowl.

Just some context to get us started…