Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

“‘Our forefathers would have built these projects!’ they say. ‘They had vision!’ That’s pure nonsense. It wasn’t the vision and principles of our forefathers that made this country great. It was the huge unused bonanza they found here. One wave of immigrants after another could occupy new land, new land, new land. There was topsoil, water-there was gold, silver, and iron ore lying right on top of the earth. We picked our way through a ripe orchard and made it bare…we’re going to pretend that things are as they always were. ‘Let’s just go out and find some money and build a dam and we’ll all be rich and better off.’ We’ve been so busy spending money and reaping the fruits that we’re blind to the fact there there are no more fruits. By trying to make things better, we’re making them worse and worse.”
– Glen Saunders, in Cadillac Desert

Quod me nutrit me destruit.

What nourishes me destroys me.

This is a tattoo Angelina Jolie has. I’ve always be fascinated with it, with the saying and the way it boils a truth to such diametric simplicity. It’s our fatal flaw. It’s the Shakespearian tragedy in each of us.

It’s like a river. Water is essential for life and to survive we must have access to water. Lakes and oceans are nice, but the source of this water and the transmission of this water is through our rivers.

Rivers provide drinking water, irrigation, recreation, and a source of optimism. Then, they turn on you. They dry up and take away their optimism. Then, they overflow, wiping away everything they helped build.

It’s the ebb and flow of nature. Ice ages and global warming. Decades of drought and decades of rain. And there’s human beings, trying to scratch out an existence on a planet that’s always been out of our control. Our fatal flaw, our nourishment turned destruction, is our egos.

We want to control nature and bend it to our will. This is probably why we’ve survived as a species so long. The opposable thumb is pretty great, but it would be useless without an ego to back it up.

Whether or not global warming is caused by humans, or by the cyclical nature of life is impossible to say for sure. The fact remains that there is plenty of evidence that human beings are destroying the earth.

Cadillac Desert is a fascinating survey of the damage wrought on the western United States by the egos of politicians wishing to control nature and bend nature to the political whims and desires of those in charge. It’s a story of corruption, greed, egotism, and idiocy. In other words, a quintessentially American story. (It’s also a pretty good argument for Libertarianism if you happen to dislike powerful governments with the ability to get that corrupt and greedy.)

We can protest environmentally detrimental projects. We can change our system of government and vote out leaders who seek to destroy us. We can do a million different things, but there’s an inevitability to environmental destruction.

As long as we have a planet to live on, the egos of human beings will pluck and pull and twist and wring it dry of every life giving thing it has, until there is nothing left.

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