ruralavalon wrote:Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner.
This book is a recap of dam building and water projects in the Western US. This is the most negative book I have read in a long time. The author seems to think that almost everyone living West of Iowa is a fool a knave or both, including but not limited to farmers, ranchers, developers, city dwellers, liberals, conservatives, lawyers, engineers, Mormons, politicians of all stripes starting with Theodore Roosevelt, and especially the Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
It is, and was, a total classic.
He was being a Cassandra. And in fact he was right-- from the perspective of the environment (the physical capacity of an environment to produce water for development) the West was a total fiasco-- you couldn't have set out to make it worse.
And like Silent Spring
(Rachel Carson) we can fairly say that Cadillac Desert changed history
. It brought an environmental awareness to the book that has changed what and how we do things. Many of the ways water is used in the US West are still nonsensical, stupid and unsustainable BUT humans have found ways to use water more efficiently, to price water more optimally, and to accommodate further growth. Of course we still have the California drought, and the end of El Nino does not end that particular problem.
So the story he tells of historic greed, ignorance and wilful blindness is true, but there's also a story (since) of an awakening awareness of water sustainability, and what must be done to achieve that. Of major steps towards more sensible allocation and use of water in the US West.
In a very real sense it's a parable of human civilization. If you go with Garett Harding and Tragedy of the Commons
, then humans never learn, and eventually we destroy our natural resource base by consumption and/ or effluent (followed by, see Jared Diamond, catastrophic collapse, but even Diamond is not a total pessimist).
Or, and this was Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize
, we evolve ways, as a community, that allow us to live sustainably in the face of natural limits (yes, technology can move limits, but against exponential growth, even technology can eventually fail). Some civilizations do figure this out.
And so the 2 polarities: nihilistic pessimism (leading fairly inevitably to conflict, war, collapse) and (naive?) optimism.
We are capable of choosing either path. As we have been since we left the Garden of Eden. Evolution has embedded both the reason for our success, as history's most powerful primate, and the reason for our failure.