Yep, it’s those dams again. But this one, folks, is a doozy. You haven’t lived until you read the editorials in today’s New York Times (Salmon Test, Aug. 12, 2009, at p. A20) and the Los Anglest Times (Giving Snake River Salmon a Lift, Aug. 12, 2009, http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-salmon12-2009aug12,0,3449261.story ).
You could say that both these editorials act out the fable of the mice trying to decide how to bell the cat. They both articulate a clear idea of what they think should be done (breach the dams) but neither one has any idea of how to do it without incurring heavy penalties in the form of lost power, increased fossil fuel consumption, increased air pollution, etc. They both agree that Snake River salmon are having problems, and that something should be done about it. But by their lights that “something” would be the breaching of some four dams on the Snake River, that account for 4% or 5% (depending on which paper you read) of the region’s electrical power supplies, to say nothing of losing the ability to transport Idaho’s grain crop to market by barge.
Obviously, shutting off that source of hydroelectric power would create all sorts of problems, not the least of which would be additional fossil fuel consumption, with the attendant carbon dioxide emissions, i.e., consumption of energy that now can be used for other purposes. And let’s not forget air pollution both from the combustion of that extra fossil fuel and from the exhaust of all those trucks that would now have to bring the Idaho grain crop to market, instead of letting it float down the river.
But, says the Los Angeles Times, some of the salmon are now being trucked in tankers around the dams, and it makes more sense to truck wheat instead. True enough, but we doubt whether the volume of those transported salmon comes close to the mass of the wheat that would now have to be transported by truck. Besides, the L.A. Times also lets it be known that some of the decline in salmon population is attributable to climate change, and we have trouble seeing how trucking vast quantities of wheat by truck will help that.
The N.Y. Times says that “Ways must be found to replace the power that the dams generate . . .” but tells us not what those ways might be. So you could say that, though brimming with good intentions, the N.Y. Times finds itself between a rock and the first law of thermodynamics. We could go on like that, but the bottom line of the N.Y. Times editorial is that unless the Secretary of the Interior comes up with a solution, the local federal judge — here it comes, folks — will have to “place the operation of the hydroelectric system under court order and devise a plan of his own.” We can’t wait.
Federal judges have done such a wonderfuil job running schools and prisons, etc. that it’s time for them to screw up electrical power generation. We mean no disrespect to our black-robed betters, but we are not aware of anything in a typical judge’s background and education that would qualify him to become a superlative systems engineer capable of solving what is at bottom an insoluble problem that no one else knows how to deal with. The problem is insoluble because to achieve the results that the critcs of the status quo want, and to do what must be done to achieve them are utterly incompatible.
So we offer a hearty “rots of ruck,” to the Honorable James Redden of the U.S. District Court in Oregon, to whom fate has handed that hot potato. We can’t wait to see how he will accomplish what to us appears to be a clear violation of the first law of thermodynamics. In the meantime, we’ll console ourselves by consuming some nice gravlachs while the supply lasts.