Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cadillac Desert (Don't Try This At Home)

I hope before China's president Xi Jinping heads back home from his summit in Southern California with Barack Obama, he'll swing by Hoover Dam.

On the way, he can look out over the southwestern United States, the massive experiment in human engineering that Mark Reisner has referred to as "Cadillac Desert."

The eyes of the world have been on China in the last decade as it has completed the Three Gorges ("San Xia") Dam - a project that has changed the physical and human landscape of China in unprecedented ways. But it's important that people remember that, before San Xia, there was the Owens Valley, the California Water Wars, and the Central Arizona Project.

Reisner's book, Cadillac Desert (and the documentary of the same name), describe how ambitious American entrepeneurs, entranced by the potential to turn Southern California and Arizona into boom areas with the simple addition of a little bit of water, have upset the balance of nature and set us on a path for disaster.

So this seems like a good moment to remind people of the odd coincidence that China's geography closely parallels that of the U.S. -- a densely populated East, and a great desert in the West.

China has not embarked on a full blown "Cadillac Desert" effort of its own . . . yet . . . .  But if the U.S. can turn the desert green, why not China?

Well ... the "why not?" can be explained in terms of environmental destruction and the enormous expenditure of energy to enable people to live in a hostile environment (the energy spent transporting water, providing air conditioning, and on and on and on ....).

It has been pointed out that the history of modern China has been closely tied to its triumph over the physical environment. (See, for instance, Judith Shapiro's book, Mao's War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China.) But China has not been the only country making war on its own environment; the United States has been leading the way. Countries need to learn lessons from their own missteps, and engage in dialog with other countries about them.

One can only hope that Barack Obama and Xi Jinping will take a moment out from their talks about regional power politics to discuss our global future.

MORE: #chinaEARTHusa - Radical Change? or Planetocide?

Related posts

Some people in high places are starting to take the climate crisis seriously, as least as it relates to the New York metropolitan area.
But when all is said and done, the impression one gets from current plans is that our leaders believe, "We can construct our way out of this."

(See NYC + H2O = Uh-oh!)

There's nothing better than Zabriskie Point for commentary on student radicalism, dissent, capitalism, consumerism, patrimony, the environment ... plus some of the the most beautiful cinematography ever and a historic soundtrack. And (spoiler alert) an apocalyptic ending that transcends language.

(See Obama and Xi: Get to the Point!)

It has been announced that China and the U.S. will hold a top leadership meeting at the beginning of June. If the past is any indication, we will get a lot of cautious, lukewarm pronouncements about cooperation that don't begin to address the reality. It's time for activists in the U.S. and China to join hands and start to militate for radical change. We need a zero-carbon USA and a zero-carbon China. Anything less is planetocide.

(See #chinaEARTHusa - Radical Change? or Planetocide? )

Other related links

September 11, 2014 - In "With bullet trains as a new Silk Road, China tightens embrace of its restless West" (Washington Post), Simon Denyer describes how the Chinese expertise in high speed rail is being deployed to change the economic, political, and environmental face of Central Asia. "The train will run from Lanzhou to Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi; for the longer-term, China is even talking about trying to extend the high-speed network through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey to Bulgaria."