If only they knew back then

If only the nation had celebrated Earth Day back in, say, 1933.

There just might have been enough of an awareness of the damage that improper plowing can do to the ecosystem. But they didn’t commemorate such things way back then. Food producers just, um, plowed ahead.

Fast-forward about 80 years and we’ve been celebrating Earth Day for quite some time now. We just noted Earth Day on Monday. It’s a time to acknowledge that we live on a small celestial speak in the grand universe and that we must do all we can — everything possible — to protect what gives us life.

Earth Day has been around since 1970, the same year President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. One usually doesn’t think of President Nixon as an environmental pioneer, but he showed some foresight in creating the EPA. And every April 22, the nation and the world pay tribute to Planet Earth, to talk about issues of the day that threaten us and to pledge to do a better job of protecting our world.

And that brings us to some public television programming that will be re-aired Tuesday night, at 8, on KACV-TV. It will be a re-broadcast of Ken Burns’s acclaimed documentary, “The Dust Bowl: The Great Plow-Up.”

Burns’s gripping film puts the story in the hands of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle residents who lived through what’s been described as the greatest manmade ecological disaster in U.S. history, and it was the “great plowup” that contributed mightily to the years of suffering that befell the region. These residents, who were young back then, retell stories of horror, misery and suffering. They also tell stories of perseverance, courage and an indomitable spirit.

Farmers plowed native grassland under to plant their crops. They were able to produce food from those rows. But then the rain stopped falling, the wind started blowing and all that grassland that had kept the soil in place in heavy wind was, well, gone. The wind kept blowing and the dust kept billowing — and people, mostly the very young and very old, started dying of something called “dust pneumonia.” The incessant dust storms lasted for nine years. The human suffering could not be measured.

Why did this happen to our beloved region? Because we didn’t allow our precious land to protect us from Mother Nature’s fury. Ken Burns’s “The Dust Bowl” documentary will remind once again of those dangers.

If only our forebears had known about Earth Day back then.

If only …

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