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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

First things first.  I'd like to thank all the people who read and commented on this post Perspectives on Compliance with Citizenship-Based Taxation.  It's such a pleasure to read your words and your reactions and that is true whether you agree with my perspective or not.  I'm deeply grateful to have readers, to be of service, and to to connect with so many interesting people around this issue and others.  

One reader left a comment that I thought about all day yesterday and I re-read it this morning.  He/she wrote:  Throughout its very short history the USA has always reverted to isolationist policies. Due to the mere size and natural resources the USA could be self-sufficient (especially once the need for Middle East oil no longer exists).

I agree with the first statement but wasn't sure about the latter.  Much depends on how one defines "self-sufficient" but if we take it in this sense - the country doesn't need to import natural resources  - could the U.S. (if it were able to wean itself off foreign oil) be entirely self-sufficient?

Took me all day but I finally figured out why I'm not so sure that the U.S. really could reach this exalted state.  One word:  water.

I come from the American West where in so many places the only way people can live there and grow enough food to feed themselves is through irrigation - pulling water out of the ground or out of the major rivers.  Even Seattle, a city known for its abundant rainfall, gets much of its water from the snowpack in the mountains.  No snow, no water, and within my lifetime there have been droughts - periods where Seattleites were forced to conserve because the supply of drinking water was low enough to be a concern.  If you ever go over the mountains to Eastern Washington to admire the stunning apple orchards and endless golden fields of wheat, give a thought to how settlers made the desert bloom.  What made it possible are three rivers:  the Columbia, the Snake and the Yakima.   Lot of dams on these rivers.  I found this picture of one that was built many years on the Columbia.  It's the Chief Joseph Dam and I've been told that some of my recent ancestors worked on this one when it was being constructed in the late 1940's.

Americans talk constantly about oil but one could argue that water is even more precious and parts of the U.S. may simply not have enough to sustain settlement in certain areas unless they look elsewhere.  

To learn more I really recommend this book called Cadillac Desert:  The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner.   While you're waiting for the book to come, you might want to check out this paper on the Net, Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West.  

And where is water to be found if the American West runs dry?  I've been told that Canada is the most likely source if water management efforts fail.  How interesting.  Now that would certainly bring a whole new dimension to the U.S. Canada relationship.  Just imagine the U.S. in a position to have to beg their Canadian neighbors for sufficient water to keep Los Angeles going.

Unless, of course, you are an American like Rick Perry and you consider Canadian water (like Canadian oil) to be a domestic American resource and not a foreign one. :-)


Danny from Chicago said...

The Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is entirely within the boundaries of the United States, so any deal made between Great Lakes states and provinces would be rejiggered or just ignored in the event that the aquifers or the rivers dry up. We also have to remember that desalination technology is advancing at the same rate as other technologies and likely by the time there is an actual need, it will be a better viable alternative.

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria
How could I have overlooked such a precious resource as water. California is also a state that has experienced severe drought and water rationing with reserves, at times, almost completely depleted. This past summer was a disaster for many farmers in the midwest.
Do you really think the USA would ask Canada for water, seems more likely they would just take it. LOL.
So many "wars" have been fought in the USA and abroad over water rights.
I believe one of the Emirates once had a bit of polar ice shipped to them, or was that just a joke. Can't remember now.

Water is the world's most precious resource.
Thank you for reminding me !

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Danny, I hadn't though of those things. Thanks for pointing it out.

@anonymous, Took me awhile too. :-) I've heard that California is in real bad shape. I think in Cadillac Desert the author talks about people from the middle east coming over and watching how Californians use water for agriculture. They were appalled by the waste. They just couldn't believe that something so precious could be so flagrantly wasted. We have rights on the family farm in Oregon to tap into the aquifer but from what I've seen they are doing a pretty good job of regulating use. So some places at least are making an attempt at sustainable use.

Danny from Chicago said...

Ohh no problem :o) I love reading your blog I fell in love with France during a high school trip in 1998 so your posts are very interesting for me. I'm also glad to see it appears your treatments have been going well, get well soon!