Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"He deserves a rich, full life. And he's not going to get one."

Try to read this TomDispatch...
A trip to the edge of Lake Powell in the canyon country of southern Utah in June revealed the bigger picture. A ten-story-high "bathtub ring" -- the band of white mineral deposits left behind on the reservoir's walls as the waterline dropped -- stretches the almost 200-mile length of the reservoir.

Recreational boat users, hoping against hope that the reservoir will refill, have regularly been issuing predictions about a return to "normal" levels, but it just hasn't happened. Side canyons, once submerged under 100 feet of water, have now been under the sun long enough to have turned into lush, mature habitats filled with willows and brush, birds and pack rats. A view from a cliff high above the once bustling, now ghostlike Hite Marina on the receding eastern side of Lake Powell shows the futility of chasing the retreating shoreline with cement: the water's edge and a much-extended boat-launching ramp now have 100 acres of dried mud, grass, and fresh shrubs between them.
...and not think immediately of the fate of Lake Baikal the Aral Sea in the former USSR. [a-doy, thanks Zack]

The "bathtub ring" Ward describes is fully in evidence at Lake Mead as well, as I saw this spring doing, uh, research in Las Vegas. Yes. Research. Totally serious was my purpose in the American southwest.

Of course, the drying of the American west is just one symptom of the warming of our planet. Given that there's basically no chance we'll keep the planet's fever below 2 degrees now, any sane plan for dealing for the next few thousand years of badness is going to mean an exodus from the hot, dry places of the Earth: places that were pleasant enough when water, and then AC, were plentiful, but whose continued habitation is a risky bet at the very best. The collapse of the American southwest will, once and for all, demonstrate the futility of trying to technocratically "manage" our problems away. The idea of artificially filling the basins of the Colorado is a kind of fantasy that no doubt appeal to those who think global warming can be solved with orbiting mirrors, but quickly fails the laugh test. (Desalination? Where do we put the gigatons of leftover brine?)

The entire discussion puts me in mind of the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Inner Light" where Picard relives the life of a doomed man on a baking world. One of the best episodes ever, though it makes me think our civilization too will only be remembered by the probes we've launched in to space.

1 comment:

Zack said...

Maybe it's just me, but I immediately thought of the Aral Sea. Lake Baikal is still pretty wet :P