Feb 6 2014
Can We Reverse Human Nature?
The media buzz about California’s drought is increasing daily. Long before any mention was made in the print and broadcast media, I was writing “Water Shock, The Day California Went Dry” that was released in September of 2013. The following is in the Afterword in the book. It is becoming more relevant every day.
“Researching the historical data for this book has deepened my understanding of how temporary are the changes to our ecosystem made by human endeavors, from the Hohokam in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix, Arizona) thousands of years ago to the Central Valley in California in the twentieth century.
In the span of just fifty years in the area west of the one-hundredth meridian, government, politicians, and private industry altered the ecosystem in the West. But in future centuries, the land will likely return to the equilibrium of the past, driven by none other than—water.
The inhabitants of a society have no other choice than to move where sustainable crop production is possible. Forcing the production of food where two to four inches of precipitation occurs naturally, when it takes twenty to twenty-four inches, is simply not sustainable, especially as population growth occurs.
We can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. We cannot replace the finite supply of water with anything else. We can transmit energy over thousands of miles; we cannot move water, weighing 8.35 pounds per gallon, very far without incurring huge energy penalties that can only be economical if subsidized by creating massive government debt. We can pump fossil fuels out of the ground and not worry about replenishment; we cannot pump water placed there millions of years ago without replenishing the aquifers from whence it came.
This story is about how little control we really have over our ecosystem when we view it from the perspective of history. The too-often-used metaphor of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic applies here. As James Lawrence Powell said so succinctly in his book Dead Pool, “Irrigation societies have three enemies, silt, salt, and their own internal and political weakness.”
Over thousands of years, humans have made the same mistakes over and over again. And judging from history, we will continue to make the same mistakes. The learning curve is as flat as a table top.
While all of this may sound fatalistic and hopeless, we can learn from the past. But those who have the power to control the destiny of finite water resources must do something that is entirely against human nature—they must set aside their personal agendas and actually work in harmony with the hard fact that the hydrologic cycle is like the law of gravity. It cannot be repealed. You may say, “Well, you did it with the anti-grav vehicles available in 2079.” Is it possible? I don’t know, but it ranks with the same questions about reversing human nature. So we will see.
Maybe a discovery will be made of a catalyst, like the imagined rare-earth mineral xanantite, that will revolutionize human endeavors to actually create water from oxygen and hydrogen. A hundred fifty years ago, if someone could have seen the future of the internal combustion engine, they would have been in similar disbelief. Think about it. As automobiles cruise silently along, a series of explosions occur in microseconds, driving the pistons down, and exhaust gases are expelled, converting vertical up-and-down motion to circular motion at 2,000 to 6,000 revolutions per minute. The laws of physics and the raw materials were always there. All it took was human ingenuity and the need for faster and faster transportation to move us from oxen and horses through internal combustion engines to interstellar rockets. Amazing, isn’t it?”
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of “Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry”
About Alumni at the University of Montana