Can our own ingenuity upend natural laws? — High Country News

Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP
Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP

Here’s an essay with ideas about the discussion from Katherine E. Standefer writing for the High Country News. Click through to read the whole thing and for the photo from Hoover Dam. Here’s an excerpt:

“Tours are not recommended for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia, or has a pacemaker or defibrillator,” read the sign in the gift shop. “Tours are conducted in confined spaces and in a power plant with generators emitting electromagnetic fields.”

“Well,” I told my friends, “I guess I’ll see you guys after.” I climbed the long staircase back up into thin October sun. I’d get a tea at the concession stand, I decided. The dam hummed behind me…

Styrofoam cup in hand, I went out to the patio and pressed my belly against the concrete divider, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the water. Sparrows nipped crumbs beside me. If I was honest, it was OK to miss the tour. Despite having a motherboard implanted above my left breast, I’d never been charmed by technology. I was grumpy in my complicity, always resisting new developments before lurching into them. I owned a flip phone. I didn’t watch TV. So when I looked at the bowed white concrete, gleaming in the sunlight, it was with Ed Abbey’s rants in mind. I liked to think I agreed with him: that the dams were less a world wonder than a monstrosity. That a free-flowing river trumped the amenities it could power.

I liked to think I agreed with him, but the defibrillator in my chest was really no different than a dam. Both were part of the cultural belief that man’s ingenuity could upend natural laws. Both created the illusion of security; both answered a sense of urgency. Both delayed the inevitable for a while. We’d manufactured water in the desert, a life without death. Even a Luddite like me could see there was human brilliance at work here.

When the first defibrillator was invented, doctors dubbed it the “Lazarus machine.” The Hoover Dam, too, seemed the salvation of the Southwest, approved in 1928 to provide irrigation and municipal water to a wide swath of desert, allowing cities to sprawl where before cacti reigned.

And yet, looking at the white bathtub ring on the cliffs along Lake Mead, I knew the inevitabilities were still inevitable: L.A. and Vegas would be constrained by water. And I, of course, would still die. I was cyborg enough to be barred from the dam but not cyborg enough to avoid that dust-to-dust business altogether.