Today marks the open of the 18th annual UN Conference on Climate Change. Leaders from around the world gather as the COP or Conference of Parties negotiate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But sitting at the table and negotiating seems to be all they have accomplished as the effects of climate change grow ever more real around the globe.
My reflection on climate change actually started with a little history lesson, as I watched the latest
Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl. In the early 1900s the US Government offered land grants to those willing to move to the midwest and farm the land. It was a prosperous venture until the great depression. What started as a depressed market became complicated by a severe drought, and escalated quickly into an ecological disaster that changed the weather. As profits went down and crops failed, fields were left and the dust and dirt was picked up by the ever present winds of the midwest plains. Small dusters turned into ferocious dust storms burying fields and houses. It took five years of ever worsening storms before we realized it wasn’t going to stop unless we made some changes. The US government through the WPA planted miles and miles of trees to act as windbreaks while establishing the soil conservation commission to determine better farming practices and to educate farmers on those practices. By the 1940s rain and prosperity returned to the region.
Only lasting 10 years the story of the Dust Bowl is a small microcosm of what we are seeing today. But it should also be viewed as a story of hope. We caused the environmental problems of the Dust Bowl era, but we also learned from our mistakes and corrected the problem. So why can’t we seem to do that now?