As a follow-up to Art’s fantastic post, I figured it would be best to now share with you, dear readers, the pictures that I took while on our Next-to-Last Descent of the Romaine River. That’s right- word has come through the grapevine that another group, shortly after our trip, managed to make their way into the third gorge under the cover of darkness. I am not sure how they got away with that; it sounds unbelievable, but this life I have lived has given me plenty of chances to see or experience the unbelievable. So hat’s off to those mystery boaters who could not be told “NO!” No names are known and cerntainly would not be shared on the internet, but, if they happen to read this post: GOOD WORK, FOLKS!
Enough of that: this is my supplemental content post, so it’s time to cut to the chase! Here are the foggy, misty pictures of our trip that I managed to snap with a temperamental point-and-shoot that couldn’t quite cut it in the constant cold rain.
In my mind, our trip was done with direct inspiration from the “Down the River” chapter of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: we had a notorious river, a thing of spectacular beauty, that we knew was doomed. Days numbered, we felt it was absolutely necessary for us to go and see this river before it disappears for the remaining length of human existence. It was just as we expected, our journey best described as bittersweet: the scenery and whitewater were spectacular, the difficulty of the logistics and enduring the weather was a wonderful challenge. However, seeing the construction site and being faced directly with what we loose as we seek “progress” was a major bummer, as I could casually understate.
Back in my hometown, the questions are being asked about what price we pay for our energy consumption as shale drilling moves ahead full-bore. The cost is more evident and easily understood in our Appalachin case: We already have had the potentially upsetting connections between climate change and fossil fuels drilled into us as vigorously as any oil company sinking their wells. The spectre of spills and gas migration contaminating our water supply is, of course, an immediate perilous prospect that anyone would take notice of; it is even easier to notice when it is in the middle of your neighborhood, down the street or up the hill, another virtual street corner dealer supplying the fix of hydrocarbons our developed world is addicted to. But this was different! On La Romaine, we were confronted with the ugly side of “green” energy. Hydropower is frequently lauded as a major source of what is perceived as cheap, plentiful, zero-impact energy. With the Romaine Complex, our group had the fortune of seeing what is destroyed to make these billion dollar projects. Almost our entire trip upstream of La Grande Chute will be inundated by the dams once the project is completed. Roads bulldozed in what was formerly pristine wilderness and thousands of square kilometers of boreal forest submerged.
To what end? As I understand, Hydro-Quebec supplies 40% of all energy consumed in Quebec, successfully meeting the domestic electric demands of the province. What is left is a surplus to sell to the United States. Are these new lakes to just, in the short term, help the residents in New York City turn on their air conditioners? In the long term to facilitate the utilization (exploitation?) of natural resources in Nord-du-Quebec, a region of wilderness significantly larger than the state of Texas that remains almost entirely undeveloped? To those in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, shale gas is in our faces and people find it very easy to find a way to oppose it- this is different. Instead, we the public find it very easy to accept or even embrace these changes when they are somewhere we can’t see, somewhere no one we know has likely been. The questions now brought to me from our adventure are of the very value of what we know as progress. Do we need this electricity? Is it worth it to trade away the wilds to keep the juggernaut of progress moving forward? Our lives are immeasurably more comfortable than those of our predecessors- do we really need more? What of those in the developing world? Do they not deserve a slice of the same pie that I eat from? If we were to renounce modern life, what would replace it? Could any of us be satisfied by that? What would that even mean? The sight of the Romaine #2 Complex excavations raised nothing but questions and provided no definitive answers.