Humans Solving Nature’s Failures….?

Amazing Hydroelectric Foresight and Human Feat.

Spokane River: Downtown Falls and Hydroelectric Station
Spokane River: Downtown Falls and Hydroelectric Station

Spokane, Wa, is a city of some 210 000 people, and is pretty spread out around the Spokane River which divides the downtown area and provides a two stage waterfall feature that forms part of a 1920 hydroelectric scheme. Having just 24 MW generating capacity versus its huge big brother 7000 MW Grand Coulee Dam facility just 85 miles west on the Columbia river, and completed in 1942, it was a great engineering feat of its time. With subsequent upgrades The Grand Coulee is the largest hydroelectric facility in the USA, and contributes significantly to Washington State being the leading American state (by far) in the use of renewable energy.  Interesting that these installations were built around the time that the big energy demand take off was about to happen.

This graph is nothing short of 'Scary'Y
This graph is nothing short of ‘Scary’Y

Human rational ingenuity once again showing itself as the human development trend: Both in the forward planning and technical innovation / project delivery dimensions.

I found this excerpt  from the book Grand Coulee: harnessing a dream, by Paul C. Pitzer, Pullman, Wash.: Washington State University Press, 1994.

“Settlers who came to the arid Columbia Basin in the 1870s and 1880s dreamed of irrigation. The Columbia Basin Project is the result of many overlapping and diverse visions, all aiming toward that end, which emerged from the late-nineteenth century through the present. The goal was always reclamation to compensate for “nature’s failure.” Once irrigated, the promoters felt certain that the land would support thousands of farmers who in turn would provide the human base for an industrial empire. The dam’s power would turn machines, illuminate cities, and bring prosperity to an area avoided as a no-man’s-land by those with lesser vision. The dam itself would be the biggest thing on earth, man’s greatest engineering undertaking, and a demonstration of modern civilization. It would symbolize the West’s bigness. It would make a part of the West like the East – the same, only better, and different.”  (Read the full article here)

I was (am?) a Chemical Engineer, yeah scary hey…? And for years in my early career days, I was driven by the dream of pushing engineering innovation, and helping progressing humankind’s needs through technical innovation and helping justification of developmental projects. (In saying this I’m in no way comparing myself with the legends of innovation, merely sharing that I have lived in my small way, the engineers’ inner innovation vision and drive, and I loved it!)

Like the Power / Irrigation Infrastructure field, I was in another fundamental product industry: The Oil Business. The projects are also big, their implications on human progress significant, and the engineers involved are driven to innovate for the maximum viability of the venture.  The project visionaries have to sell their vision, and raise the funding, often overcoming huge opposition of viability challenges, but eventually the innovative engines for future growth are put in place, and legacies are created. We see the results everywhere, maybe even bigger and more far reaching today? How human rational innovation capability and the unstoppable passion of the master visionaries has been the engine behind ‘Our Success.’

The magnificent White Nile leaving Lake Victoria. This is virtually the last natural rapid left. Hydroelectric Power taking priority of Pristine Nature. Too many people, too much consumption, or did Nature have a failing, than man's ingenuity solved?
The magnificent White Nile leaving Lake Victoria. This is virtually the last natural rapid left. Hydroelectric Power taking priority of Pristine Nature. Too many people, too much consumption, or did Nature have a failing, than man’s ingenuity solved?

With my One Point Zero curiosity, the reference to “Nature’s Failure” above just hit me between the eyes:  Whether it was meant like that or not, it provides a useful ‘thought for the day’:

Does Nature have Failures?  Is disease a failure of Nature? Is disease and sickness maybe from Satan? It seems like each time we humans can’t get what we want ‘from Nature’ or are negatively impacted by Nature we take up our Anthropocentric throne and imaginatively standing above Nature, presume it’s time to take over and cover ‘Nature’s failings’. Now isn’t that arrogance?!

Over the years of thinking deeply about all this I have concluded the Nature has ‘No Failings’, and each time we humans think Nature does, and we come up with a solution for ‘The failing’ we should be mindful of the impact of going around Nature’s Way.  Our amazing achievements in solving ‘Nature’s other failings’ in conquering our susceptibility to disease, medical conditions, has been amazing. The West has increased average longevity by an astonishing amount, and most of us have benefited from that, yet the other side says we have a huge overpopulation problem.

The sobering shock to me is that ‘The Facts’ are showing that in our Proud Human Success, we have got something quite seriously wrong!

This is not to say we shouldn’t have development:  I do believe we were given the extraordinary capabilities we humans have to use for our betterment, however at the same time this betterment should be within the constraint of us Human’s being Part Of Nature and not above or dissociated from Nature. Development should be on Nature’s Terms not Human terms.

Maybe ‘Nature’s failings’ were for a reason, and in our anthropocentric defiance and attempted domination we are paying a huge personal and planet price, and yet don’t want to admit ‘our failing’ and Nature’s ‘wisdom’ and ultimate ‘dominance’? A price that has lost us our spiritual belonging with Nature and made us less developed, rather than more developed, narcissistic, rational ‘hooligans’.

For me this is very difficult stuff, profound and sobering in many ways, and forcing one to explore what real human success and real human development is?