17 November 2012

Ken Burns Presents “The Dust Bowl” on PBS

Posted by John Freeland

This coming Sunday and Monday nights (November 18-19), PBS is featuring the Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl. Burns calls it “the greatest man-made ecological disaster in Unites States history… A ten-year apocalypse superimposed over the worst economic cataclysm in our nation’s history, the Great Depression.”

From an article by James West at the Atlantic:

As the East Coast licks its wounds from superstorm Sandy, many in New York and New Jersey are still without power, wondering how on Earth it got this bad. Ken Burns, the great innovator of the American documentary, thinks this the perfect time to seek some wisdom from generations past.

His new film, The Dust Bowl, tells the story of the worst man-made ecological disaster in US history. For it, Burns and his team tracked down the last remaining survivors of the catastrophic dust storms of the 1930s and matched their intimate stories (most were children at the time) with lush archival footage.

Personal note: about five years ago, while working on environmental due diligence for a proposed ethanol plant in west Texas, I was fortunate enough to meet an elderly rancher on his property in Sherman County. He spent some time talking to us about growing up there as a kid.

We walked around making notes and taking pictures of features that might be environmentally significant: old wells, trash dumps, outbuildings with hazardous chemicals like fertilizers or pesticides. Oil spills. There was an underground bunker with a cement cover with the date, 1937, someone in his family etched into the wet cement at the time it was finished. The bunker was a storm shelter. He said during the dust storms, static electricity built up in the wind. Whenever they touched something, it set off a painful spark.

The program will also introduce the early days of the Soil Conservation Service, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Photo credit: NRCS