The impact environmentalism has on public policy is strong and examining it from the perspective that it is a religion, as many observers have noted, helps put its proclamations and practice in a better relation to Catholicism.
A good starting point is to contrast the control of water by human technology, as it is viewed by the Dutch and an environmentalist writer on Hoover Dam.
The Dutch favor optimal thinking as it relates to protecting their country from flooding.
Optimal thinking is doing whatever we can do to ensure that there is no possibility of flooding.
Optimal thinking is what the Dutch—and the Japanese—apply to flooding. They are the world’s experts on flooding, possessing the need and the will to protect their citizens from floods.
Stoner (2005) contrasting the flooding in New Orleans and the Netherlands said:
“As the world now knows, not the river [Mississippi] but the lake [Pontchartrain] was the cause of the terrible flooding of New Orleans. The lake rose as the storm surged water in from the Gulf and added rains of its own, and it soon broke through a couple of levees….
“Lake Pontchartrain is geologically very similar to the Zuider Zee in the Netherlands. [where thousands died in flooding over the centuries] But the Zuider Zee has been tamed by human engineering. A 1918 act initiated the project after flooding two years before, and by 1932 a dam had been completed across its mouth. Some land behind the dam has been reclaimed in polders, some for dwelling, some for farming. What is essential is that the Zuider Zee has never flooded with waters from a North Sea storm since the project was completed, even in 1953 when a winter storm devastated Holland’s then-unprotected south. The replacement of individual dikes with a uniform dam and sea wall…effectively removed vulnerability from the Zuider Zee. A modern series of movable sea walls and dikes has since been built in the southern region, allowing continued tidal flow in fair weather but closable in foul. Modern engineering, with increasing sensitivity to the natural environment so far as is consistent with protecting human life, has restored to the “Low Countries” of Europe the kind of wealth they had known several years before.” (Stoner J. R. Jr. (2005, September 25) Saving a Great City: Why America should rebuild New Orleans. Weekly Standard, p. 23-24)
This is optimal thinking—the Dutch way—and is the way in which we should be approaching our flood protection.
It is certainly not the way Leslie (2005) sees dams and the flood protection they provide, much preferring the free-flowing river:
“Hoover’s [Dam] image became one of the nation’s most popular exports: after it, every country wanted dams, and every major country, regardless of ideology, built them. Between Hoover and the end of the century, more than forty-five thousand dams—dams at least five stories tall—were built in 140 countries. By now the planet has expended $2 trillion on dams, the equivalent of the entire 2003 U.S. government budget. The world’s dams have shifted so much weight that geophysicists believe they have slightly altered the speed of the earth’s rotation, the tilt of its axis, and the shape of its gravitational field. They adorn 60 percent of the world’s two-hundred—plus major river basins, and the water behind them blots out a terrain bigger than California. Their turbines generate a fifth of the world’s electricity supply, and the water they store makes possible as much as a sixth of the earth’s food production. Take away Hoover Dam, and you take away a bearing, a confidence, a sense of what nations are for.
“Yet in a sense, that’s what’s happening. Even if Hoover lasts another eleven hundred years (by which time Bureau of Reclamation officials say Lake mead will be filled with sediment, turning the dam into an expensive waterfall), its teleological edifice has already begun to crumble. In seven decades we have learned that if you take away Hoover, you also take away millions of tons of salt that the Colorado once carried to the sea but that have instead been strewn across the irrigated landscape, slowly poisoning the soil. Take away the Colorado River dams, and you return the silt gathering behind them to a free-flowing river, allowing it again to enrich the downstream wetlands and the once fantastically abundant, now often caked, arid, and refuse-fouled delta. Take away the dams, and the Cocopa Indians, whose ancestors fished and farmed the delta for more than a millennium, might have a chance of avoiding cultural extinction. Take away the dams, and the Colorado would again bring its nutrients to the Gulf of California, helping that depleted fishery to recover the status it held a half century ago as an unparalleled repository of marine life. Take away the dams, finally, and the Colorado River returns to its virgin state: tempestuous, fickle, in some stretches astonishing….[however what also is lost is] Hoover provides 90 percent of Las Vegas’s water…take away Hoover, and you might also have to take away the Allied victory in World War II, which partly depended on warplanes and ships built in Southern California…and take away modern Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix: you reverse the twentieth-century shift of American economic power from East Coast to West.” (Leslie J. (2005). Deep water: The epic struggle over dams, displaced people, and the environment. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. pp.4 – 5.)
This is the thinking that places nature above human beings, this is the thinking that sees—as more than one environmentalist has remarked—“human beings are a cancerous virus upon the earth”.
Part two tomorrow.