Thursday, September 25, 2008

Liquid

Last night I attended a presentation by Peter Annin, author of The Great Lakes Water Wars. This was particularly timely because the Great Lakes Compact now needs only Bush's planned signature to become law after a multi-year process of being approved by the eight states surrounding the Lakes, and Congress. In theory at least this will help prevent the diversion of water away from the immediate watersheds, but there's a huge loophole which allows bottled water containers of less than 5.7 gallons to be taken and which some regional Congresspeople strongly opposed but failed to stop.

Annin spoke of how the 16 Senators from these states would now be able to better oppose future attempts to send the water to the southwest for example where New Mexico's Governor had already been making noise about wanting it. However, there are a lot more than eight states along the country's coasts and that didn't stop the elimination of the ban on offshore drilling. The difference of course is that the people in the coast states will benefit from the oil. We can continue our lifestyle for another month? Then drill, baby, drill! Folks around the Great Lakes won't get much out of sending water to the desert but I have no doubt that in the long run, this law won't keep the Great Lakes any safer than any area supposedly protected by environmental laws that stand opposed to American greed.

An objection can be made that people around the Lakes are dependent on products such as oil from elsewhere being sent to them so they shouldn't have the right to withhold what someone else needs. The difference is that people are dependent on oil and its products because of choices: what climate they live in, living 50 miles from where they work, eating food from around the world, etc. And of course we're all dependent on it by being born into this industrial society, not a choice any of us was allowed to make. So yes, without oil, a lot of people are going to suffer extreme hardships and many are going to die even if they're well hydrated. Without water, however, everyone is going to die within a few days regardless of how much oil they have.

Annin said there's enough water in the Great Lakes to cover the entire continental U.S. to a depth of 9 1/2 feet. Sounds pretty greedy to be selfish about that much water which could never run out, doesn't it? Ah, but it could, because all resources are finite, a lesson industrial civilization was too foolish to learn. Ask the folks in the southwest who are already overusing their water supply while more people continue to move to the area.

Annin told the story of the Aral Sea where it now takes 5 1/2 hours to drive from where the shoreline used to be to where it is now. Here's an excerpt from his book:
What happened to the Aral? In the 1950s, ambitious Soviet planners embarked on a massive water program designed to make the desert bloom. Engineers redirected much of the river flow that fed the sea, diverting the water to a massive complex of agricultural fields. The Soviets succeeded in their crusade; Central Asia became a booming marketplace—particularly for cotton. But this economic conquest had a severe ecological cost. In just a few decades, the water diversions left the Aral in ruins. Cut off from its freshwater feeder streams, the sea began shrinking. A generation later, the disastrous ecological effects of this grand plan have left thousands of Central Asians in shock. In less than half a century, water levels in the Aral have fallen by eighty vertical feet. The sea has lost 75 percent of its surface area and 90 percent of its volume. The farmer’s gain was the fisherman’s loss—jobs dried up with the water, leaving chronic unemployment and social paralysis. The climate is different too. Like the North American Great Lakes, the old Aral moderated temperature extremes near the shoreline. Now Muynak’s summers are hotter, winters colder, and regional precipitation patterns have changed.
I'm not sure how important fishing is to the Great Lakes economy, but shipping (which is already affected by normal variations in water levels) is a major industry.

Moving on from liquids to liquidity, with even the press and major politicians now admitting how close the entire economic house of cards is to collapsing, with the unemployment rate at a 5 year high nationally and at a 22 year high in this state, with Wall Street gladly accepting the handouts they criticize individuals for asking for, I'm happy to say that I outlasted one particular company.

For a couple years a couple decades ago I worked in mutual funds for a company which in some merger or purchase or some such nonsense became part of some version of American Express Shearson Lehman Blah Blah Blah Incorporated. I remember a conversation about corporate life which I had after I'd given my notice with one of the people I supervised. He talked about playing the game and taking the money, I talked about being so disgusted by the game that I wanted nothing to do with it. Wasn't I a great corporate mentor? I've had to play the game (poorly and always disgusted) a lot more than I wish I had in my life, but I'm still around and Lehman Brothers is not. So long, suckers.

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