“We were too selfish and we were trying to make money. It didn’t work out.” – Dust Bowl Survivor quoted in Ken Burns’s documentary, The Dust Bowl
Wednesday night, I attended an early preview of Ken Burns’ documentary, The Dust Bowl, which will be airing on PBS November the 18th. Mr. Burns presented 6 clips from the film, followed by a panel discussion that also included Dust Bowl survivor Cal Crabill, National Geographic editor Peter Miller, and CBS news correspondent Jim Axelrod.
As a former student of soil science and the history of agriculture in America, I was more than passingly familiar with the story of the Dust Bowl as a cautionary tale of the consequences of the coincidence of human greed, government policy, and extreme climate conditions. As I know the story, a favorable market for crops, speculation from wealthy investors, and encouragement from the federal government led to a massive plow-up of land in the Midwest and Plains States during the 1930s. This was before modern soil conservation practices evolved, when people really believed that their activities would not harm the land.
“The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset ...