Archive for HypermOdeRnIZatiON

Black Sunday Environment

Posted in Environmental Security, Natural Disasters with tags , , , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by jessicabarranco

The Great Plains, the Panhandle, the Dust Bowl, a label for another environmental problem that is a natural part of Manifest Destiny, the American Dream.  Historically, the United States embraces progress, capitalism, and a disregard for anything that comes in the way of these goals.  The American way of life includes a land free for the taking, stripped from its native biotic species, and completely transformed to the riches of society.   To progress in society, one cannot simply allow nature to run free and wild; nature is to be dominated by any means possible, so that it can bear the valuable fruits of hard work and mastery of the elements at large.  The untouched land is a commodity that needs to be brought down by the horns, beaten to submission, and controlled by the will of Man.  But in reality, is the land not a live part of the biotic system?

The historical account of the environmental degradation and government mistakes in The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, illustrates the good intentions of the U.S. government to spread progress to every inch of American soil.  The government hoaxed people into believing that the Great Plains were fertile for commercial farming, encouraged people to maximize profits through technology, and no matter what happens, it is the duty of the people to master the land.

The wheat came in just as the government had predicted – a record, in excess of 250 million bushels nationwide.  The greatest agricultural accomplishment in the history of tilling the land, some called it.  The tractors had done what no hailstorm, no blizzard, no tornado, no drought, no epic siege of frost, no prairie fire, nothing in the natural history of the southern plains had ever done.  They had removed the native prairie grass, a web of perennial species evolved over twenty thousand years or more, so completely that by the end of 1931 it was a different land – thirty-three million acres stripped bare in the southern plains.  (Egan 101)

Technological advances separate people from the source of nature, and provides an advantage, a catalyst to the end goal.  Why do we need technology to achieve record output of the things nature provides?   Frederick Buell explains Hypermodernization in From Apocalypse to Way of Life, that modern development dominates nature, distances people from appreciation and experience of nature, reduces biodiversity, and dismantles nature’s barriers to human intervention, in which nature becomes products and property of individuals (Buell 153).  Using this model for the agricultural push to dominate the Great Plains, the only reasonable outcome was collapse.

The government projected technology and access to the farmers in the Great Plains, which impacted nature with stronger force.  They neglected to replenish the land and over-worked every inch until it was limp and useless.  “Farmers had taken their machines to the fields and produced the biggest wheat crops in history, transforming the great grasslands into a vast medium for turning out a global commodity.  And then they ditched it” (Egan 112).  What’s the next step?  The government needed people to accommodate to nature, and endure the storms of uplifted sand, dust pneumonia, and arid land, so that “…when new technologies seek social acceptance and adoption by promising to repair the excesses and damage wrought by the old” (Buell 161).  People are easily swayed to follow the government, when they have been so easily duped and are left “growling” on land that can no longer sustain itself, land that was never used sustainably.  So what does the government do?  It muddies its hands in nature yet again… and behold… plague!

Nature was out of whack.  In place of buffalo grass, prairie chickens, and mourning doves were black blizzards, black widows, cutworms, rabbits, and not this – a frenzied sky of grasshoppers.  They had come out of the dry Rocky Mountains, the government men said, locusts that laid eggs in the flatlands and multiplied during dry years without predators.  A wet year would usually produce a fungus that killed many of them.  Birds that used to populate the High Plains year round or descend on its stubble during the migrating season had disappeared.  Same with rattlesnakes.  A farmer used to fill a bucket in the spring with all the rattlers he shot on his half-section.  But no more.  For five years, people had rarely seen a rattler.  Snakes and birds ate grasshoppers.  When they were taken out of the prairie life cycle, the hoppers metastasized.  That much, people could see; it was obvious.  The early ecologists in Bennett’s soil service were only beginning to examine how much life had frayed below the surface, among the small world of insects and microorganisms.  (Egan 285)

So to whom or what do we owe the success of the Dust Bowl?  If the environment could talk, would it say something like, ‘I told ya so’?  or would it just snigger and wait for people to continue digging their own graves?  Nature has its carrying capacity, and it doesn’t discriminate against the plains or Washington’s highest seat.  When pressed to the limit, whose mouth will be fouled?  Maybe next time it won’t just be dust.