An unsustainable capitalist mindset is draining the landscape of the United States dry, writes Robyn Page-Cowman (Photograph by: Robert Couse-Baker)

America’s presidential race and election highlighted and obsession with being ‘great again’. However this cannot be attained unless it begins to live sustainable ‘again’.

Tocqueville, an 1880s American pioneer, distinguished the great, new American generation from their European counterparts after the Civil War. This was through America’s farming upbringing which developed a closer connection to the land; these ‘ideals’ of the self-sufficient American prospering amongst the boundless, fertile lands of ‘America’ are still seminal notions in its political rhetoric. However these pioneer farmers were made redundant by 19th Century Industrialisation and capitalist landscape.

Rudimentary farming methods which pioneers developed in line with the ecology of the land were thus industrialised to maximise production, such as through irrigation and large-scale production. Irrigation farming is the process of rooting out deep, foundational water supplies and spreading these over large areas of crops at regular intervals. Mainly irrigation is used to reinvigorate dry land areas with low rainfall to maximise farming lands. However, as the Midwestern farming states experienced hot climates with minimal rainfall, industrialised farming stripped the land from water.

Dry heat and drought built a ‘dry air space’ or literally, ‘Dustcloud’ of black smoke which spread over the Midwest in high-winds for extended periods; in Texas for ten years long. The Dustcloud literally stripped the land of any remaining prosperity thus shifting one million Midwestern pioneers or ‘Okies’ to California by the 1930s. Alongside this Midwestern climate change America suffered its worst economic recession – the Great Depression. The 1929 American stock market crash deflated worldwide GDP by 15% by 1932 and shot American unemployment to 25%; economists have estimated that every 1% of unemployment triggered 1,500 deaths. By 1950, this collective environmental-economic meltdown had displaced four million Okies to California’s more profitable and stable climate.

Politicians, artists and writers since the 1920s consistently hark back to the ‘greatness’ of the pioneer age or “American Frontier”, because these edenic lands and boundless pastures represent a simpler life pre-Industrialisation and modern-day bureaucracy. Focus is put on America’s ‘survival’ but not what was really great; that manmade climate change during the 1920s Dustcloud literally extinguished this ‘American Frontier’ – the land, peoples and crops – but also reaped the economic Depression as a result. Yet irrigation farming is still America’s most popular agricultural method.

In 2005, irrigation accounted for over 32 times more freshwater withdrawals than domestic use and since 1950 irrigation has represented about 65% of total water withdrawals. (If you google-map Texas it appears as a patchwork of irrigation circles – the green farms against the yellowy, droughted-Southern landscape). Scientists have linked irrigation farming directly to 1920-30s climate change and the current California drought which is in its fifth year, however the state still annually consumes 2.3 billion gallons and only enforced water restrictions in 2016. California is America’s most populous state and largest agricultural industry, yet conserving an essential life necessity – water – is not on the state or federal agenda.

Moreover all but one of the Republican Party’s Presidential finalists denied climate change. Marco Rubio totally denied the existence of this and its affect on his Floridian state (where sea rises by six inches per year); Ted Cruz believed “climate change is not science, it’s religion” pledging to prevent the Environment Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions; finally Trump tweeted in 2012 “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”.

During his Presidential campaign he also promised to leave the Paris Climate Change Agreements because “we could use a big fat dose of global warming in the North West.” History doesn’t just refute this, but the Obama administration has proven sustainable environments breed sustainable economies. Since 2008, National Park spaces have been expanded to 265 acres and now with every $1 invested in these $10 is invested back into the American economy. Moreover Nevada now houses the largest photovoltaic (solar energy) plant in the world and leads US renewable energy production. Since 2000 the American renewable energy industry has doubled in investment and production, plus it remained cheaper than domestic fossil fuel charges even during the 2015 oil crash. These both refute Trump’s manifesto endorsement of the fossil fuel industry, which promised to rescind Obama’s executive orders on responsible energy production because unleashing America’s “untapped” fossil fuels will create “at least a half million jobs a year, $30 billion in higher wages, and cheaper energy.”

Trump and the many who elected him have mythologised the images of the American Frontier and its “land of the free” into their ideals. Tocqueville, the Depression Migrants and the Obama Administration have all demonstrated that a great economy flourishes from a great society which both exist because of a ‘great’ or sustainable environment. Climate change skepticism is rooted in the mythologisation of the American Frontier’s ideals and images. The “land of the  free” will only become great again if it adopts an environmentally conscious outlook to its climate, food industry and resources. It shirks the immigrants in its country, but America’s unsustainable lifestyle will encourage its dependence on its neighbours. Making America sustainable again is really the only way to make America great again, or as great as it can be again

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