The United States currently faces three deepening and converging crises. The first and most obvious is the health crisis produced by COVID-19, which has killed more than 200,000 people nationwide and resulted in acute social isolation for millions of Americans. Second, the state and local lockdowns imposed to stem the virus’ spread have sparked the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. Finally, huge fires across California, Oregon, and Washington state, as well as multiple hurricanes bearing down one after another on the Gulf Coast, all serve as constant reminders that climate change has exacerbated extreme weather events that will only increase in number and severity.
While this convergence of social, economic, and environmental emergencies feels unprecedented, Americans during the 1930s faced a similar triple threat. The Great Depression crippled the stock market, increased the unemployment rate to 25%, and forced 9,000 banks across the country to close. Without work and a steady paycheck, millions of Americans struggled psychologically and physically, often unable to put food on their families’ tables. At the same moment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became alarmed by several environmental disasters, including flooding along major rivers; extensive deforestation; and, in 1934, the infamous Dust Bowl, which stripped fertile topsoil from farms throughout the Great Plains and blew it as far as the East Coast.