From 1850, wind pumping allowed the growth of settlement in the west of the United States. It tapped the abundant wind energy to alleviate water scarcity by exploiting ground water.
The west seemed wetter than usual, leading to unrealistic expectations of land productivity. The amount of land required to support a family in more arid regions was already larger than the amount that could realistically be irrigated by a family, but this fact was only made more obvious by the drought in 1890 through 1896.
The US Federal government started to assist with irrigation with the 1902 Reclamation Act. The US Congress authorized several reclamation projects in the Western states. Such projects consisted of dams, reservoirs, and waterways. The purpose of these projects was to regulate and distribute water for agricultural, industrial, and municipal uses.
376 weeks of drought in California, beginning on December 27, 2011 and ending on March 5th, 2019, brought out that people are entitled to more water from the Colorado than has flowed through it, on average, over the last 110 years.
The wind pumping simply hid the water scarcity while creating a ground water exploitation engine.
It removed the feedback of water scarcity, removing the essential skin in the game to protect water resources, from those who depended on it. It created a signal of abundance, when there was none.
It made it seem as if the problem was solved when in fact it was becoming even more deadly serious.
The dams, reservoirs and waterways, likewise, created a signal of abundance, particularly for those far away who enjoyed the continuous flow of water without any feedback or responsibility to the protection of the water cycle that provided their water security. The big dams and canals built to ferry this water did not solve the water problem, it only spread it and made it even larger. The problem only got worse as it got delayed and removed from being noticed, thanks to technology.
It is not very different with other technology interventions…
For over a century, cement, steel, fossil fuels and automobiles allowed us to connect to places further and further away to move people, goods and resources to zig-zag across the globe. It claimed to address the “problem” of remoteness or scarcity imposed by the local resource limits.
What it did was that it removed the feedback that our consumption had exceeded the limits of local resources. It removed our skin in the game, or our vested interest, to protect the local neighborhood.
Building taller buildings gave us the illusion of being in control of the housing “problem” that was nothing but a symptom of attracting more and more people to stay in the same city. It allowed us to stretch the limits of housing in our city and removed our attention from the ever more attractiveness of our city. It shifted our attention on other symptoms including water and food scarcity, mobility, the enormous pile up of urban waste.
It sunk us deeper into our addiction to technology to address the growing number of symptoms that made our lives more and more difficult. To make matters worse we labeled technology, not harmony, as progress.
Like an addict, we believed we were in control.
As we removed the green cover and poured concrete in our city to address the housing, our city got warmer and warmer. We found fans and air-conditioners and removed the feedback of rising temperatures telling us that we had destroyed the ability of our land to cool itself by retaining soil moisture and by providing humidity and shade through the tree cover.
We removed our skin in the game to protect our natural mechanisms to keep our city pleasant.
Meanwhile the concrete became a heat sink to retain the heat of our ever-warmer cities. Our air-conditioners threw out increasing heat from our buildings to the environment of our cities, making them warmer. The power plants producing energy to drive our air-conditioners emitted more and more carbon dioxide to add to the atmospheric carbon.
The increased atmospheric carbon trapped more of the sun’s radiation in the atmosphere. The trapped radiation continued to cause global rise in temperatures and unleash a climate crisis.
Technology addresses the symptoms, not the problem. It helps us to hide the limits of the system we are a part of. It shifts the burden of addressing the problem away from us. It destroys our skin in the game to protect the system. It rewards exploitation of our system, not its protection. As the problem worsens, and our attention is shifted to symptoms crying for attention, technology erodes our ability to address the problem.
Technology is not a solution; it is the opium of the short-termer. It destroys our ability to address the Short Now, the lifetime of a child born today.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph