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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Global Warming

Seems to be here. We've seen what the one-two punch of Charley and Frances have done to Florida, while Ivan goes all Reagan on Grenada before it heads for Jamaica, Cuba, and maybe Florida. Cyndy links to an article about the extraordinary heat wave going on in the Yukon. And then there's China (emphasis added):
Floods unleashed by torrential rains have killed at least 161 people and left dozens more missing in southwestern China, prompting authorities to put the massive Three Gorges hydroelectric project on alert.
The halt to navigation on the Three Gorges Dam, the world's biggest hydroelectric project, was the first since the dam was reopened to river traffic in June 2003, the reports said.

The project, which required 1.3 million people to relocate, has been touted by authorities as a means of stemming flooding along the Yangtze.

Seasonal rains wreak havoc across much of China every summer, and with the amount of rainfall increasing each year the problems are only likely to grow worse, Sparrow said.

"You cannot build defenses in concrete and steel against flash floods and a changing climate," he said. "We must invest in community level disaster preparedness."
One of the most interesting books that I've read in the past three years was Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. Written back in the 1980's, it focused on the incredible wastefulness of bringing scarce water into the desert. It also described how destructive and pointless most dam projects were. They generally cost huge amounts of money, far beyond any reasonable payback received on electricity generated or irrigation water. They have often been sold as flood control, but often lead to less frequent but far more catastrophic flooding. Their damage to the environment is incalculable. But far from learning from America's mistakes, China seems determined to repeat them on an even larger scale. That the gigantic Three Gorges Dam is already failing to deliver on some of its promises is a bad sign. I don't know the details, but I'm guessing that if the rains continue leading to a catastrophic failure of the dam, there might well be millions of casualties.

I hate it when I see hydroelectric listed as "renewable" energy. It requires incredible amounts of energy to build a large dam, it alters ecosystems forever, and there is a limited lifespan as the dam inevitably silts up.

Even as the evidence for global warming becomes completely incontrovertible, I'm sure we'll still hear arguments that it is more a part of the natural cycle of the planet than it is man-made. They may even be right. But that is no excuse for not doing everything possible to keep it from being worse--because it's going to be very bad. And that means conservation, conservation, conservation. If most of the world's population is to survive, it will have to be at a much lower energy-use level. And Americans are by far the biggest energy pigs of all.