2012 Drought Rivals Dust Bowl

So says The Daily Beast in anticipation of a State of the Climate report from the National Climatic Data Center expected to be released today.

Few of us remember the Dirty Thirties, that decade of drought, dust, disease and death that came to be known as the Dust Bowl. This passage from the American Experience episode on the Dust Bowl recalls the horror of it:

Narrator: 1935. After years of drought and dust, the land was now being destroyed by another kind of plague. Hundreds of thousands of starving jack rabbits came down from the hills, devouring everything in their path.

Dust Bowlers were forced to begin an extermination campaign. Almost every Sunday people gathered to take part in rabbit drives.

J.R.Davison, Texhoma, Oklahoma: When we first came over the — the hill there on this one drive, there were big line of us. Just looked like the country below us just all began to move. Looked like a herd of sheep, but it was jackrabbits.

The first rabbit drive that I ever witnessed was with shotguns, but that was kind of dangerous, so then they decided later that they’d have some more of these rabbit drives, and we’d just use clubs. So they would form lines of people, and these lines of people would march down through that country and come together, and funnel these rabbits into those pens, and any that tried to get back by you, which would be a lot of `em, why you were supposed to knock them in the head with the club as they came by.

And then after they got them all in these pens, why, the young fellows would get in those pens with these clubs, which was like an old axe handle or something like this, and — and just club them to death. I can imagine, you know, what the Humane Society would say about that now. Whew.

Margie Daniels, Hooker, Oklahoma: You could hear the rabbits screaming you know. That’s what was scary to me. I think that sound affected everyone. I know it sounded terrible to me as a little girl. And you know I’d think sounds like a baby cryin’ or squealin’, or, you know, being hurt. It was really sad.

And then this dirt storm was coming in at that time. And it was starting to get dark. And you know, some people felt that was the wrath of God coming upon them when they’d kill these rabbits like this.

More powerful when you see and hear Margie Daniels tell it, she shines a different light on the children seen in this 1930s footage of those dust bowl jackrabbit drives. Those same farming practices that made the plains into one of the most prosperous regions of the country with drought turned it into barren blowing fields of dust.

Even after the cause was known and conservation practices were developed to stop it, farmers kept on with the old destructive planting and plowing methods. Ultimately, the government had to pay them to change their ways.

Do we ever learn?