There is the dubious kind of "profit" that exports two-dollar wheat and gets in exchange a Dust Bowl.We may assume that most predictions put forward in 1937, like those of other years, would now be worth recalling only as examples of fallibility. But at least one prediction published in that year has since come to seem exceedingly perspicacious. It appeared in a book by Kenneth Burke, a literary critic:
Among the sciences, there is one little fellow named Ecology, and in time we shall pay him more attention. He teaches us that the total economy of this planet cannot be guided by an efficient rationale of exploitation alone, but that the exploiting part must itself eventually suffer if it too greatly disturbs the balance of the whole (as big beasts would starve, if they succeeded in catching all the little beasts that are their prey their very lack of efficiency in the exploitation of their ability as hunters thus acting as efficiency on a higher level, where considerations of balance count for more than consideration of one tracked purposiveness).In her article, "'One little fellow named Ecology': Ecological Rhetoric in Kenneth Burke's Attitudes toward History." ), Marika Seigel points out that Burke's awareness of ecology in 1937 was by no means unique or idiosyncratic. There was, as Burke himself capitalized in his footnote, a Dust Bowl going on and being reported dramatically in the popular press. Consider, for instance, the following montage of images from The New Republic, The Nation, News-week and Paul B. Sears's Deserts on the March. This 'mere sequence' of images, cited in Seigel's article, composes a compelling narrative: scene, characters, back-story, moral.
A black or yellow copper-brown cloud pokes its ugly head over the horizon. It rises slowly at first, then swiftly. It marches angrily, blotting out the world as it comes. Children scurry like chickens to their mother's wing. With a howl the storm burst upon us. The impact is like a shovelful of fine sand flung against the face. People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk.It takes grit to live in this country.
Three men and a woman are seated around a dust-caked lamp, on their faces grotesque masks of wet cloth. The children have been put to bed with towels tucked under their heads. My host greets us: "It takes grit to live in this country."
Two-dollar wheat during the war lured growers farther and farther into the West. The deeper they went, the dryer they found the country. Gang-plows ripped and chopped sage brush and the hardy native grasses. The roots of these plants had been the straw in the brick of the Great Plains' soil. When they were destroyed the soil crumbled. Each year's ploughing left a raw surface exposed to the winds.
No work of ignorance or malice is this but the inevitable result of a system which has ever encouraged immediate efficiency without regard to ultimate consequences.
Bowen, William. “Our New Awareness of the Great Web.” Fortune Feb. 1970: 198-99.