The Politics of Ecology

Heard your commentary at noontime and I’d like to take issue with one statement you made. You mentioned that Judge Redden seemed to be siding with the environmentalists in refusing to accept the recommendations of the bureaucrats and their staff in the agencies. It’s much easier to argue that he’s accepted the framework originally set forth in 1996 by the scientific panel appointed to review management of the dam system.

The chief point made in their report was brutally simple: the fish evolved in tandem with the river systems they inhabit, with fast-flowing water as a primary force molding that evolution. Removing them from those river systems and those forces by trucking them around dams is in every way tantamount to removing gravity as a force on our physical

There’s a reason why we are symmetric left to right (no forces to bias the evolutionary outcome), less so front to back (we had to be able to escape somewhere and this became “forward”) and not at all top to bottom (we need to support ourselves from the gravity that surges from below not from above). Fish, much less subject to gravity because they are buoyant, are much more symmetric top to bottom. It’s the poetry of the
planet. Keep this in mind about the single-minded swimmers in our rivers: if we can’t preserve the ecosystem that made them what they are, not just the shards of a broken place but the dynamic forces that created the waterways and molded the aquiline creatures that navigate them, then we should hang it up – they will not be who they were any more than we will be who we were.

Most sublime: the anadromous fish that inhabit our fast-flowing Northwest streams are dying to deliver the goods from the upwelling-driven nutrient-rich coastline, to the sterile waters of the high-mountain interior watersheds. These watersheds have only recently emerged from the organic void, having been scraped clean by receding glaciers. The salmon, as living open systems, take in the energy that allows them to ignore the second law of thermodynamics. They take in even more than they need to triumph over the force of gravity disguised as fast-flowing waters. Their gift to us, in death, is the very streamside forests that clothe these deep canyon-riven watersheds. Most of the minerals that feed those gallery forests derived, in the past, from that gift. And without the fish, it becomes much harder to see those trees in our future.

Having started in the social sciences and moved on to physics and mathematics, I’m of the opinion that many in the human-centered disciplines remain willfully ignorant of what are really very simple principles. Easy to grasp, they can shatter the coccoon-like shells we so often build for ourselves. Take an ecologist to lunch. Invite an economist along. Have a physicist wait on your table. Put these ideas on the menu. Who knows? There might emerge a cost-benefit analysis that really means something, for the fish and trees, as well as the people who need them both. It can’t hurt can it?

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