the death and life of the great lakes (dan egan)

more in the vein of my conservation kick. honestly, i have under appreciated the level of systems thinking that takes place in the world of wildlife biology. this is a fascinating rundown on the various ecological disasters that we’ve been stumbling through as we carve the st. lawrence seaway, reverse the river in chicago and engage in various bits of fishery hijinks in the south.

a few things that jumped out at me.

mid-20th century optimism

i really had no appreciation for the fact that carving out the st. lawrence seaway was a pretty recent affair. the economic considerations here seem pretty obvious, but likely only in retrospect and in the presence of the efficiencies wrought by containerized shipping.

up until the 1980s people really had aspirations for the north shore and the great lakes cities to effectively be a 4th coast. the fact that the lakes and the seaway froze up for 3 months out of the year didn’t seem to make anyone bat an eye. the scaled efficiencies of containerized shipping and the narrow form-factor of the canals seem to have put the nail in the coffin of scaling this up. which is probably for the best given the ecological disasters that the balance of the book digs into, at considerable depth.

that said, with climate change and winters being less reliably cold … how long is it before folks start looking to the great lakes chain again and wanting to dredge/expand the st. lawrence seaway to make this commercially viable for oceanic shipping?

systems thinking

… or the tyranny of second order effects.

blinded by a desire for commercial efficiencies, growth or just plain old fun, we have done some incredibly reckless things as a species. apparently salmon were released into the great lakes with the objective of balancing out the ecosystem of the warmer great lakes. this was an unsustainable commercial boon, but seems hilarious and incredibly irresponsible in retrospect.

ah, the 1960s and 1970s…

odd critiques of peoples facial features

Surveyor James Camak, a University of Georgia mathematics professor with a chin weak as an owl’s, knew almost right away he botched the job, but he insisted it wasn’t his fault. – p251

THE YEAR BEFORE THE GEORGIA RAILROAD SURVEYORS NAILED their stake in the forest that would become the heart of Atlanta, an 18-year-old boy with a beak for a nose and ears the size of saucers lighted out from upstate New York for the “Far West”-Wisconsin.

– p256