Green and Not So Green Energy

I started this blog as a place in which to think about energy in the desert landscapes of British Columbia and Washington, in a way that also included beauty as part of the technology. Let’s have a closer look at that today. Here’s a site of energy flow at Maryhill, Washington. The Columbia River lies far below these southward facing hills.

Cheatgrass HIll

Complex energy flow mechanisms that once existed in this location have been killed off by industrial approaches to land use. What on earth do I mean? Why, cattle. Munch munch. This is a landscape that has been reduced to the image of an industrial purpose. Aesthetically, it is rather barren. Economically, it is useless.

For the sake of comparison, here’s a hill from the other side of the Horse Heaven, which has not been grazed off:

Bunchgrass and Big Sage Steppe, Yakima Indian Reservation, Toppenish, Washington

Complex energy flow mechanisms are still in place here. It remains economically rich.

And, in comparison to them both, here’s a contemporary form of energy production, just north of Maryhill:

Windmills in the Horse Heaven Hills 

This is what is called “Green Energy”. Energy that in the past flowed from clouds into plants and then moved organically through the landscape, now flows through wires instead, as a kind of electrical potential.

A society only reaches this point when it has reduced natural systems to states of poverty. The nature beneath these mills has been reduced to monoculture cultivation of certain technologically manipulated biological species (wheat), sustained by petrochemical fertilizers (and weedkillers to maintain biological uniformity). This form of simplification down to elemental industrial processes is called farming. It is as much like real farming as the windmills are like organic forms of energy transfer.

Weedkiller Application in the Springtime with Hydroelectric Wires for Portland for Decoration

Horse Heaven Hills

This form of industrialization of landscape is like the cheatgrass hills that overgrazing has brought to the Columbia grasslands. Biologically, this is what energy poverty looks like. If this were a purely engineered machine instead of an organic one, it would be thrown away, as it requires more energy input, in the form of seed and petroleum (including fertilizers and weedkillers) than comes out of the bread produced with its wheat. The curious thing about this poverty is that it costs billions of dollars every year to maintain. Now, back to the reserve…

Sky to Tree to Stone

Coyote Rocks in Oak Savanna, Yakima Indian Reservation

Economically, American society has not figured out how to generate an economy from this site, yet it remains a source of wealth. And that’s an important point. A culture that can register this setting as wealth, and build its processes around the processes at work here, is a culture that will survive in the new world that’s coming on us like the wind, a world in which the earth takes primacy over human activities upon it.

Eight Mile Creek Falls

Columbia Hills State Park. Note that this is called a desert. Weird.

It might be as simple as putting your city at the foot of these falls, and using only as much water as it delivers. It will likely be a lot more than that, but that acknowledgement of the primacy of natural processes remains a touchstone. This is a planet, not a laboratory model.

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