Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw

All I need now is another book to read (among the multitude on my list) but The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw by Bruce Barcott looks like a must as he shows how corruption, greed and plain stupidity can triumph over common sense and the common good when it comes to nature, politics and, in this case, the disastrous impact of a dam on the habitat of the Scarlet Macaw, a bird considered by many to be the most beautiful in the world. As reference point, this passage from an earlier book written by a different author dealing with similar issues succinctly describes what transpires in Barcott's work.

"In his unparalleled "Encounters With the Archdruid," John McPhee describes the conservationist's version of "hell on earth" as a series of concentric circles. At the outermost ring of the "devil's world" is a moat "filled mainly with DDT" (this was 1971, remember). Next comes "a moat of burning gasoline," then there are bulldozers and chain saws, until one reaches "the absolute epicenter. . . where stands a dam." Why? "Because rivers are the ultimate metaphors of existence, and dams destroy rivers." It's that simple."

Read this passage from Macaw to get Barcott's take on what happens when big money is factored into the equation of environmental violation. "the dam was a fiasco: environmentally devastating, economically unsound, geologically suspect and stinking of monopoly profiteering."

Blowback and tech go hand in hand in terms of comparing benefits versus costs of any given project. Looking at the Aswan Dam, one sees short term gain (Electricity) vs long term loss (Soil erosion). Which wins out, only time will tell.

Blowback's law of unforeseen consequences also applies to what the Chinese are doing with the Three Gorges Yangtze Dam, a 29 billion dollar project that could be a rather expensive folly in the making according to the Washington Post if environmental devastation rears its ugly head. While the jury is out on this one (dam was completed in 2006), environmentalists did win out on another Yangtze dam project (Tiger Leaping Falls) because of it's projected negative impact on biodiversity. To learn more about industrialization and its effect on China's environment, read Choking on Growth.

Sadly this wasn't the case when dams went up to generate electricity with little regard for salmon as... "Several populations of wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake River basins are extinct, and others are near extinction."

"Brownie, You're doing a heck of a job." - G.W. Bush
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