I'm on the road today, on a trip to a jobsite inspection. I have just driven down from Portland to the coast, beneath a doomy, portentious sky lying like a blanket over hills soaked by rain, whipped by strong winds, and clothed with trees turning color. But my mind was entertaining a very different image as I drove.
It was a vision of a formerly green, well-watered valley, now become a parched, cracked landscape beneath a sky of brass in which hung a merciless sun. The land was littered with signs of a former prosperity and fertility that had evaporated away – plantings of trees now dead from drought, a few empty shells of decrepit buildings suggestive of a ghost town, skeletons picked clean, and a desperate, humbled mass of gaunt survivors now trying to figure out how to come to peace with their altered surroundings, that they might somehow live.
Yet their efforts were being thwarted by a small group of extremely wealthy people – the very people who had drained the valley of its life-giving water. For as the valley was being exhausted of its water, the drainers of the valley were sending their agents to seize the stored and hoarded water of the poor survivors. But not even this was enough to satisfy the exponentially increasing thirst of the rich. Thus they began even to seize the survivors to feed them into a giant machine in order to suck the moisture out of their bodies. The machine had several names. Two of its names were “Corporatocracy” and “Crony Capitalism.” Those who passed through this machine were spit back onto the landscape like so much human jerky.
Maybe it's a hokey image (a novelist I am not!). But I think it fits the economic news I've been reading lately. This week, the Oregonian newspaper is running a series on the housing and foreclosure crisis. One of their stories talks about a couple who owned three houses during the height of the real estate boom, yet is now reduced to sharing a condo with a relative and taking food stamps. While it is certainly possible to find fault with this couple for over-reaching, the article makes the telling point that the (really big) banks are getting all kinds of help from the Federal Government (really, that's us taxpayers), while the banks are giving absolutely no help to the average debtor. The Oregonian article also describes the plight of many other people who were not over-extended, yet got into trouble because of the present economic downturn, and who were given no help by the banks.
There's also a blog I recently discovered, called The Automatic Earth, which talks about how out of 4 million home mortgages in trouble so far, only around 1700 have been permanently modified under the Federal mortgage rescue program. Yet the banks were given $75 billion to help rescue distressed homeowners. (You can read more here: Don't audit the Fed, pull the rug) Lastly, I have noticed that people are finally starting to get angry about the medical insurance “industry's” attempt to force the Federal government to define “health care reform” as “forcing everyone to buy private insurance.” Many more people need to get angry, and to let their anger be known. Otherwise, we'll all be sucked dry.
But now, speaking of literal water, I have noticed that my post, The "Congress Created Dust Bowl", seems to be a bit more popular than I expected it to be. Thanks to all of you who have read and commented on it. I mention this post because of a conversation I had with a co-worker a couple of weeks ago. He talked disparagingly about how “the Federal Government is interfering with economic growth by cutting off water to California central valley farmers!” Of course, he knows my views and he was trying to get a reaction out of me.
I mentioned to him that there was a sea in the Soviet Union which the Soviet government ruined in order to promote economic growth in a certain region. Basically, they pumped the sea nearly dry over a period of a few decades. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the name of the sea during my conversation (although the mention of this event did silence my co-worker). But now I remember: it's the Aral Sea. The Wikipedia article on the Aral Sea shows how much it has shrunk since the 1960's, and describes the corresponding ecological damage:
The Aral Sea fishing industry, which at one time produced one-sixth of the Soviet Union's entire fish catch, has been wiped out.
The muskrat population in some of the adjoining deltas has been wiped out.
The sea has shrunk to ten percent of its original size and is now nearly three times as salty as the ocean.
The dry plains left by the sea's disappearance are covered with salt and toxic chemicals, which are blown onto neighboring populations via dust storms. This has led to high rates of certain cancers and lung diseases.
These are just some of the effects of human stupidity and greed in that part of the world. Could the people demanding more irrigation water from the Sacramento River do the same thing to that river that was done to the Aral Sea?
Answering that question would not be very difficult. One would only need to know how much water was being diverted for farming, how it was being altered, and the likely effect of the diversion and altering (pollution) of the water on the river and its ecosystems. But that doesn't seem like the sort of science project that would interest Fox News or the people putting up the “Congress Created Dust Bowl” signs.