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I agree with Price when he wrote that Koppe’s review is lacking. “His indictment of boosterism and expansionary economics fails to connect policy with environmental consequences.” However, it’s also important to remember the state of the environmental movement at the time of the Dust Bowl. At this point in time we have national parks, the writings of Thoreau’s, and the beginnings of the Sierra Club – but not much policy. And so I again agree with Price when he wrote, “Over irrigation of water sources and overuse of soils certainly can have dangerous environmental impacts, but Koppes fails to identify any policy of wrongdoing.” Koppes casts the farmers in a negative light – though legally they had not done anything “wrong”.
Koppes writes, “Conservation as a cultural reform had come to be accepted only where and insofar as it had helped the plains culture reach its traditional expansionary aims.” So in that sense, although the foundations of environmentalism have been set, environmentalism is only valued to the point that it meets short-term economic efficiency and growth. Farmers were still thinking in the short term. Exploit the land now for a quick profit with heavy machinery, fossil fuels, and chemicals- but at a point at which you fail to incorporate ecological economics and place value on ecosystem services, you’ve got a lot of long-term consequences. But according to Koppes, “for the individual farmer, devoted to profit maximization in the present, the system is not irrational.” Koppes attempts to tie the Dust Bowl Tragedy to economic systems; capitalism, labor exploits, industry. But does not adequately address policy or culture.
But while I think that Koppe’s argument is somewhat lacking, I think his message is clear: there will likely be consequences when we exploit the land. He writes that the Dust Bowl is where “social forces and natural conditions converge”. And I believe this review serves as an important reminder that our actions can have potentially devastating consequences. Fortunately, our environmental policy has developed tremendously since the Dust Bowl, but we still have ways to go. And our culture as a driving force for conservation could still use some work too.