Ken Burns: Before Sandy, There Was the Dust Bowl

The filmmaker talks about the worst man-made ecological disaster in US history, and what it teaches us about future climate catastrophes.

As the East Coast licks its wounds from Superstorm Sandy, many in New York and New Jersey are still without power, wondering how on earth it got this bad. Ken Burns, the great innovator of the American documentary, thinks this the perfect time to seek some wisdom from generations past.

His new film, The Dust Bowl, tells the story of the the worst man-made ecological disaster in US history. For it, Burns and and his team tracked down the last remaining survivors of the catastrophic dust storms of the 1930s and matched their intimate stories (most were children at the time) with lush archival footage.

When I caught up with Burns in New York City, he drew comparisons between what happened then and what is happening now—and how we can prevent future Dust Bowls and Sandys.

The Dust Bowl airs November 18 and 19 on PBS.

(A side note: As if interviewing one of my filmmaking heroes at the studios of another intimidatingly cool mega-personality (Stephen Colbert) wasn’t nerve-racking enough, running out of AA batteries before the interview was simply mortifying. Way embarrassing. Thank you Colbert Nation for your emergency supplies, and for rescuing what credibility I had left.)

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up to $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate