Monday, February 26, 2007

Altering the World

I have altered the world.

In truth, all I did was to carry a chunk of rock out of the woods behind my house up to my yard. It was a good-looking crystalline specimen. But that hefty rock has probably been in place since the Ice Age, since some run-off swollen ancestor of the nearby creek worked it loose from the distant mountains and then left it there, on the side of the hill, deep within the woods.

I have altered the world.

Sometimes when I pass a construction site and see the dozers at work, I wonder if anybody even cares about the natural record of the land that they are obliterating. Land that once told the story of a river's rise and fall, or of the shifting of a continent, is being pounded as flat as a cookie sheet, never to speak again of the eons of time that it witnessed.


chipazoid said...

You know it's funny, I too feel a tinge of pain whenever I see construction sites. It hurts to see man digging his claws into the earth exposing the soil underneath. I don't know why, perhaps it is because I'm sentimental.

On the other hand, however, if this wasn't done we wouldn't have our houses to live in, places to eat, or any buildings. Horrible trade-off though.

Eastcoastdweller said...

It's true, we can't live without making some alterations to the planet, but do we have to be so hard-core about it?

I remember visiting a construction site back when I was a news reporter and wanting to punch the developer when he just casually gestured with his finger at a line of trees on the edge of the property -- nowhere near the focus of his plans -- and ordered them all cut down, like weeds or something,for no reason that I could understand.

Especially in America, we are so wasteful of space. We build some sprawling school or shopping center across x number of acres, when we could just have easily made it more compact, or two-storied, and left some of the land the way nature intended it.

And if we don't pave over the remaining space, we just plant grass on it. Boring, non-native, grass that some poor guy has to mow all summer long. Grass that feeds no wildlife except maybe Canada geese. Grass that reveals an absolute lack of any landscape imagination, that is just slightly less sterile and stultifying than concrete.

I am told the Japanese are a lot more sensible than Westerners in that regard. Much more practical and aesthetically sensitive in their use of space.

chipazoid said...

Well, in countries like Japan and Singapore where space is quite restricted, we have no choice but to plan ahead.

Yeah it is boring, but I remember when I was a kid, and had to live in an apartment after awhile and it was cool and all but I still missed my backyard.

Stupid people tend to do stupid things, and it is getting increasingly hard to ignore this though. I would have socked him one good, or fed him a mild laxative.

Lance said...

As for the developer who wanted to take down trees for some minor aesthetic reason, that's terrible.

But on to the real damage-doers. Recently on my travels, I met some loggers of the Brazilian rainforest, and Bolivian cocaine smugglers. From the comfort of my own home, I have watched, indignantly, damning reports on these people before, some of whom were formerly environmentalists and strongly anti-drug smuggling. But I see now that they were basically forced to do things that they hated due to their own dire situations, local corruption, and inability to provide for their family.

So I think any intelligent, informed environmental policy needs to treat the underlying local economic situation and the country's institutions, at the same time as it treats the environmental degradation taking place. Which may mean large financial incentives for loggers to log sustainably

Lance said...

On the domestic situation though;

I've also come to the conclusion that while low buildings scattered over large distances may please citizens by LOOKING more environmentally friendly, density is better for the environment, as it reduces transport pollution, unnecessary tar, water and electrical infrastructure etc etc.

On the other hand, if you develop densely, that leaves space (that would otherwise have been occupied by a non-dense structure), and this space inevitably gets developed on anyway! It's like the population argument - more people, each consuming things, produces more environmental problems. But building denser and denser buildings allows the city to accommodate larger and larger populations, and it's less obvious that there's a population problem than it would be if people were spilling on to the streets.

On my third hand, owners of two-storeyed buildings in a burgeoning city get extremely generous offers to relocate so that developers can replace their buildings with bigger ones.
Insoluble problem unless we alter the whole law, all at once.

What people are looking for though is a trade off between seeing evidence of creatures other than Man, while also knowing that density is better for the environment. And many want accessibility to wilder places.

Tokyo and surrounds includes a few good planned wildlife places, but Buenos Aires is the best example of this that I've seen, I think. I'd alter Le Corbusier's Paris city-within-a-city designs a little [he has been savaged by critics who say that living there is dystopic], and we'd have pretty dense but distinctly different looking accommodations, with many well-utilised green spaces in between.

Lance said...

Also, we should build power plants as close to the centre of industry as possible.
Electrical power loss in a power line is proportional to the current squared, and the current must be raised to a very high level if it is to travel longer distances for consumption by industry and high density apartments etc. People who unscientifically campaign tirelessly to locate power stations out of sight end up polluting everything more. There is enough technology to safely redirect the emissions far away from the point of actual generation so that people don't inhale the wrong stuff, and architects can solve the aesthetic problems.

Although it's been pointed out to me that there could be environmental terrorists around. Can't please everybody

Eastcoastdweller said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

The developers always make the point, and it is a valid one, that are simply meeting human needs. If nobody was in need of a home, building new subdivisions would be financial suicide.

As I have thought about it, I like the idea of more density, and putting services where people live -- I believe they call that retro-village living or something.

My current residence is in a neighborhood that typifies the American problem -- an old, spread-out, worn-out suburb with at least a five minute drive to the nearest store, bank or library. No decent place for kids to play. No life, no soul. Just a blot on the environment.

I remember reading once that all the human beings on earth could actually live within the bounds of the state of Kansas, I think it was, leaving the rest of the planet in peace. Getting them to agree to do so would be a little difficult, I think.

Eastcoastdweller said...

One more thought:

It wasn't just the elimination of the flora and fauna that I meant to address in this post, but another issue, not usually considered -- the geological or climatological record of the land that an earth-moving machine utterly effaces.

Every grain of soil, every incline or bump in the land, tells the story, for someone who knows how to read it, of the passage of a river, of the movements of a glacier, of changes in sea level.

For example: A great island of rock looms at the edge of my neighborhood, girded now by a highway. I'm an absolute amateur, but even I can see, upon reflection, that this geological giant, upon which an apartment complex now sits, is the reason why the local river makes a sharp bend at that location.

Someone more knowledgeable than I, could explain how and why such a rock mass came to be,long ago.

My locality was once under a shallow sea. So was this thing originally a tiny island, birthed in a volcanic belch millions of years ago? Did it rise above the surface or was it a sea mount around which ancient sharks sought prey?

It survives today, because of its sheer size. But lesser wonders now lie beneath parking lots.