Richard White’s Organic Machine, and William Cronon’s Changes in theLand, both examine environments as energy flow systems. The energy flow modelwas utilized by the authors to explain relationships within ecosystems. Richard White’s thesis is to examine the river as an organic machine, asan energy system that, although modified by human intervention, maintains it’snatural, its unmade qualities.
White emphasizes on energy because it is auseful concept that can be easily understood. He says, the flow of the riveris energy, so is the electricity that comes from the dams that block that flow. Human labor is energy; so are the calories that are stored as fat by salmon fortheir journey upstream. White notes that energy is as concrete as salmon,human bodies, and the Grand Coulee Dam.
White wants his readers to think aboutnature and its relationship with humanity. White explains how the river is energy. The Columbia River works asgravity pulls it to the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is continuously cuttinginto the terrain that it flows through.Order now
Over millions of years water rushedthrough the Columbia Basin to form the Columbia River. Water carries soil, silt,and debris downstream. The constant movement of material in the river cuts andshapes the river basin into the land. This movement is a slow and inefficientuse of energy. According to White, only two percent of water’s potential energyresults in the work of erosion. The other ninety-eight percent of water’s energywas lost as water molecules rub against themselves, the river bed, and the riverbanks.
This energy was released as heat into the river. Often the energy of flowing water was not recognized. There areoccasions when rivers do show their power is destructive ways. Power wasusually demonstrated through floods, and more so in flash floods.
Thousands ofyears ago, an ice dam in the Columbia River, holding the glacial lake Missoula,broke and created the largest known freshwater flood in earth’s history. Theflood rushed into the Columbia Channel and created the Grand Coulee and otherrock channels that would have taken the Mississippi River three hundred years atfull flood to create. Salmon are also a part of the Colombian energy model. As the riverworks its way downward to the Pacific Ocean, the salmon work their way up theColumbia to spawn. The energy in salmon can be measured by their body fat andcaloric value.
Salmon start their run upstream prepared for the long hard run. Their bodies have stored fat and oil after a year worth of feeding at sea. Thestored energy in salmon is used as energy as they battle head to head againstthe force(energy) of the Columbia River. As the salmon work upstream, they usetheir stored energy and their bodies become leaner.
When the salmon reach theirdestination, they are in ill condition. The skinny salmon lay their eggs anddie of exhaustion. Work and energy also link humans to the Columbia River energy model. Alexander Ross and his crew learned how powerful the river was in 1811. Theyattempted to enter the mouth of the Columbia from the Pacific. Ross learnedthat the river’s current and the ocean’s tide work against each other creatingan astonishing amount of friction.
Fresh water is pushed several miles out tosea and the ocean tides can be felt one hundred and forty miles up river. Thetide form sandbars at the mouth of the river and the current crashing on themproduces huge waves and foaming breakers. These breakers form barriers thatAlexander Ross and his crew had to cross. Human energy challenged the energy of the river mouth in 1811. Thefirst attempt to cross the barrier was a failure.
Ross’s friend Fox and hiscrew were lost while battling the waves of the seemingly unapproachable mouth ofthe Columbia. Ross and his crew with will and muscle somehow survived the forceof the tide and current and made it across the river’s mouth for the first time. Ross’s drama to enter the river was explained by White by using the energy cycle. White explains that lunar energy causes the ocean tide and thesun provides all of the remaining energy of the cycle. The sun heats theatmosphere that heats and evaporates the ocean water and provides the wind tomove the moisture to the mountains. The clouds cool and moisture is released asrain or snow that falls to the land.
Gravity pulls the water to the ocean againthrough the rivers and the process starts over again. Man attempts to slow down the natural energy cycle to extract energyfrom the river by building dams. Dams are used to store and regulate waterthat is used to turn turbines. These turbines power generators that produceelectricity.
Hydroelectricity was first in abundance. Electricity was a productwithout much demand. Soon farmers used electricity to light their homes and torun small electrical devices such as toasters, irons, and washing machines. Electricity was also used to light city homes, factories, and streets. Thehydroelectric companies still needed more customers to consume the electricitybeing produced.
Californians bought electricity and soon major industries wereattracted to the Columbia area because of the abundance of electricity. Electricity was a necessity for the production of aluminum. Aluminum andElectricity were the perfect combination for the production of airplanes. U.
S. plane manufacturers are centrally located in the Colombian area because of thisunique utopia of energy. Later, electric energy in the Colombian river basin was producedautomatically. The Columbia River was fist a sewer for radioactive wasteproduced by the production of Uranium. The Columbia was also used to coolnuclear reactors. The result of waste dumping was contamination, and theresult of the Columbia cooling the nuclear reactors was the river’s temperaturerose after the warm water returned to the river.
White’s model of the energy cycle in the Columbia River Basin fullydescribes how energy is a naturally reassuring process that is altered by man,but can never be destroyed. William Cronon also uses an energy flow cycle in his book Changes inthe Land. Cronon describes how the Indians and the Colonists create differentcycles with the same environment. The European farmers cleared the forest for fields to plant corn andgrain.
Farmers also cleared land for their animals to graze on. The corn andgrain growing in the fields took energy from the rich soil and the water. Thisenergy was then passed to humans or animals that ate the food. The animals thatgrazed the land, took energy from the grass and water. They to would pass energy to humans by the form of labor or in the form of food.
The energy in the soil came from the trees that held the water and richtop soil in place. As the trees were cut, the valuable topsoil was washed awayfrom the rain and snow that easily washes into the streams and rivers. Soon thesoil dries and is lifeless because the energy system was disturbed. Cronon’s solution to the European’s problem was to sustain the farm land. Wood should be cut when necessary and new trees should be replaced to preservethe soil. In farm lands, crops need to be rotated ignored to sustain sufficientminerals in the soil for the harvest.
The trees will hold topsoil andimportantly water in the ground. The fields being sustained avoids the need toclear other fields for farm use. American Indians manipulated their natural environment in a differentway. Indian women were the farm workers. They grew their crops among the trees.
The trees held the soil and water. Indian women would also grow many cropstogether. This created a balance of mineral replacement and water replacement. Indian men hunted for meat instead of grazing domesticated animals. Indianswould create utopias for game by burning the forest floor annually.
By doingthis, the Indians create growth of small shrubs for the animals to hide inwithout destroying the forest. The sustained yield of crops and animalssupported the Indian lifestyle until it was disturbed by European influences. White and Cronon both use energy flow systems to explain environmentalhistory. Energy is easy to look at in history because man has used it andchanged it throughout time. Energy sustains life and is and ever lasting cycle.