Last time America faced a man-made climate crisis we planted trees — hundreds of millions of them
via USDA

The Dust Bowl was the worst environmental disaster in American history. Throughout the 1930s, severe dust storms ravaged the Great Plains states, claiming thousands of lives and causing over two million people to leave the region.

The devastating storms destroyed farm houses and crops, choked livestock and, at times, blocked out the sun.

Much like the climate crisis we face today, the Dust Bowl was man-made. In the early 1920s, farmers began using new mechanized farming techniques that ripped up the prairie's natural drought-resistant grasses and fertile topsoil.


After a drought struck the region in 1931, huge dust storms known as black blizzards ravaged the plains. By the end of 1935, roughly 35 million acres of farmland had been destroyed and the topsoil covering 100 million acres had blown away.

the Dust Bowl in the Texas panhandle. Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahom

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Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

Wind erosion carries topsoil from farmland during the Dust Bowl.via NRCS photo Gallery

To provide a natural barrier against the dust storms, President Franklin Roosevelt mobilized the U.S. Forest Service, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps to create a shelterbelt of trees that ran in a 100-mile-wide zone from North Dakota to the Texas panhandle.

via U.S. Forest Service / Wikimedia Commons

The planting began in 1935 in Greer County, in southwestern Oklahoma, and the new trees were very effective at protecting the top soil and stabilizing the land. They also provided a natural barrier for blocking the dust from sweeping across the plains.

U.S. Department of Agriculture


via National Archives

By 1942, 30,233 shelter belts had been planted, stretching over 18,600 square miles, and containing over 220 million trees. It was "the largest and most-focused effort of the [U.S.] government to address an environmental problem," in the nation's history.

RELATED: Planting 1.2 trillion trees could reverse a decade of climate change. Here's how to do it.

Today, the shelterbelt is slowly being removed from the Great Plains. In Nebraska alone, an estimated 57% of "FDR's trees" have been cut down or burned as farmers try to maximize their land for planting.

Could we do it again?

Climate change is an ecological disaster on a scale that dwarfs the Dust Bowl in every way imaginable. However, it seems that in this century, America has lost its ability to do big things.

Planting 220 million trees seems like an impossible feat in a country that has neglected big infrastructure projects for decades.
But if America came together, could we plant enough trees to combat the country's contribution to climate change?

Tom Crowther, a climate change ecologist at Swiss university ETH Zurich estimates that if 1.2 trillion trees were planted across planet Earth, they would absorb 90 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

While that number wouldn't come close to the 1,000 gigatons that must be removed before the effects of climate change begin to reverse, trees are one of the few ways to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

Other countries are doing it, why can't we?

The Australian government announced it will plant one billion trees by 2030 and, since 1970, China has planted more than 50 billion in an anti-desertification program known as the "Great Green Wall."

The "Billion Tree" campaign by the UN has already planted 15 billion trees since its inception in 2006.

The American government was once able to do big things and rise to the occasion whether it was the Great Depression, World War II, or the Cold War. Hopefully, that will didn't die with the onset of the new Millennium, and we can come together for the greatest fight of all — the battle to save the planet.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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Canva

As millions of Americans have raced to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, millions of others have held back. Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new, of course, especially with new vaccines, but the information people use to weigh their decisions matters greatly. When choices based on flat-out wrong information can literally kill people, it's vital that we fight disinformation every which way we can.

Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to disrupting online hate and misinformation, and the group Anti-Vax Watch performed an analysis of social media posts that included false claims about the COVID-19 vaccines between February 1 and March 16, 2021. Of the disinformation content posted or shared more than 800,000 times, nearly two-thirds could be traced back to just 12 individuals. On Facebook alone, 73% of the false vaccine claims originated from those 12 people.

Dubbed the "Disinformation Dozen," these 12 anti-vaxxers have an outsized influence on social media. According to the CCDH, anti-vaccine accounts have a reach of more than 59 million people. And most of them have been spreading disinformation with impunity.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

Keep Reading Show less