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The Three Gorges Dam and the dogshit government that built it

Here is a report about progress, so to speak, in the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China.

This dam, just as was earlier prophesied, is causing lots of environmental problems, as in real environmental problems, as in: people are finding themselves living in buildings that are collapsing, beside roads that are cracking up, on land that is sliding into the water. We are not talking imaginary rises in sea level here, but real damage to real human habitats. Earthquakes are now happening.

That Telegraph piece links to this Times report, which explains things thus:

As the water rises, it penetrates fissures and seeps into soil. Then it loosens the slopes that ascend at steep angles on either side of the river. Eventually, rocks, soil and stone give way. The landslides undermine the geology of the area. That, in turn, sets off earth tremors. It may be the world’s biggest case of rising damp.

The Times report also includes this choice little paragraph, concerning some crumbling building that was hurriedly vacated by government officials and allocated instead to mere people:

“What kind of dogshit government moves itself out and moves us into somewhere like this?” one of them complained.

A key point made by the Telegraph piece above is that less is now being done than you might expect by Chinese higher-ups to suppress such reports:

Three years ago stories were already emerging in the Chinese media about landslides, ecological deterioration and accumulation of algae further down the river. And less and less effort seems to be made to plug the leaks.

This all made me think of a book I read a year or two ago about the Western Way of War, or some such title, by Victor Davis Hanson (I think it was this book, although I believe I read a proof copy with a different title). The connection? Well, Hanson identifies one of the strengths of the Western Way of War to be the way that western war efforts are often preceded by almighty rows, often woundingly public, about how to set about, or even whether to set about, doing whatever it is they are attempting, which typically continue after the effort has begun. One of his major points being: this is not recent, it’s always been like this.

The result, for all the mess and unpleasantness and unfairly ruined careers, tends not to be the division and confusion that you might expect, or not only that, but also (a) better decisions, and (b) better understood decisions. Even the losers of such arguments at least understand the plan the others fellows are now making everyone follow, so even they follow it better. Both decision-making and decision-implementation are improved. Then, often with even greater doses of injustice, wars, even successful wars, are then raked over and argued about yet again, afterwards. It’s all very indecorous, and “debate” doesn’t do justice to the chaotic nature of such public rows. But the result is better decision-making and better informed and better prepared decision-makers, at all levels.

And for war, read: everything else big and dangerous also, like mega-engineering projects. Tyranny, aka dogshit government, in war and in everything big, imposes bad and un-thought-through decisions on baffled subordinates, decisions which still might have worked after a fashion if implemented properly, but not if even quite senior subordinates don’t really have a clue about what they are supposed to be doing and are just following orders blindly, or worse, perhaps not even doing that, because, you know, who gives a shit.

It must now be becoming clear to quite a few Chinese high-ups that had they had a big, messy, public ruckus about how exactly (or indeed whether at all) to build this damn great dam, then it might at least have been a damn sight better dam than it now looks like being. It might have been messier and more difficult and more stressful deciding about it all beforehand, but far better afterwards, once all the dust, and in this case also all the mud and all the various bits of collapsing land and roads and buildings that are now sliding and tumbling hither and thither, had settled.

And even if they failed to argue about the Three Gorges Dam properly beforehand, it would be better than nothing to at least have a bit of a public row about it now. At least that way, some harsh lessons might be learned and spread around, and such things might be done a bit better in the future.

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14 comments to The Three Gorges Dam and the dogshit government that built it

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Brilliant post. I’d add my two cents: the other day, I read somewhere (sorry, cannot remember where) that Thomas “the world is flat” Friedman had argued that we should be more like China, ie, we should be less worried about the niceties of democracy, consulting the unwashed electorates, and have more planning, control, etc. I have come across this sort of argument several times: “All those messy Anglo-Saxons and their chaotic markets should learn a bit about how the Chinese/assorted powerful states do things”.

    Well, that argument does not hold water (appalling pun!). Already, I am reading alarming stories about how whole factories, which are not justified on any commercial grounds, are being built all over China; there is huge malinvestment going on, and that country seems to be suffering big boom-busts in property and other markets.

  • Anyone with even a limited amount of geological expertise could (and did) tell them this was a train wreck waiting to happen. But then that’s long been the Chinese attitude, hasn’t it? Do what suits the government and screw the people – if they bother to think of them at all.

    All that said, reasoned discussion without ideologies and vested interests getting in the way would probably result in yet better outcomes for us here in the West, don’t you think?

  • Quin

    You completely misunderstand Hanson’s point and mine.

    Which is that unreasoned and very ideological discussion by the most vested and interested of vested interests can be just as helpful. The ideology and the interest makes sure that this is a real argument, rather than just a quiet little debate among a quiet little elite who basically all agree with each other and obey whoever is in charge.

    There’s nothing like an ideologist or a vested interest to dig up and publicise those embarrassing little facts of the type you mention. Left to themselves, those wanting only reasoned debate tend to ignore such things. Or if they do get their hands on some arkward facts, they don’t shout loud enough. Discussion that is merely reasoned doesn’t work nearly as well as what I described.

    So in a word: no.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    Er… I don’t think so… Yes, I think I get exactly the point you (and Hanson) were making and you’re undoubtedly right. I wasn’t suggesting otherwise.

    So, we agree that however bad our system is, it’s better than the Chinese way – but that was my point which I either put badly or maybe you in fact misunderstood me. I’m not suggesting “elite closed circle debate” in any way, shape or form, which is no better than the Chinese version – in fact it’s hardly different!

    What I was saying is that our current system may be better, but it’s still rubbish because all the vested interests and ideologists not only dig up the embarrassing facts you speak of, but don’t give a damn about truth and will happily manufacture and twist “facts” to suit their own purposes.

    Consequently, the average person (who to my mind is the important entity here) needs a mind like a corkscrew in order to follow what might actually be a line of truth in all the “sound bite” shouting matches. That’s perhaps better than no debate at all, but I don’t personally see it as being good by any standards. In fact, I suspect it makes a lot of people “switch off” discussions of topics that may be very important to them if only they understood them properly.

    I was simply saying there should be a better way, but perhaps that’s only in an ideal world.

  • @BrianMThtte “Left to themselves, those wanting only reasoned debate tend to ignore such things. Or if they do get their hands on some arkward facts, they don’t shout loud enough.”

    this is in part why I detest the EU and LibDems. Their focus in cosy consensus and reasoned debate.

  • llamas

    JP wrote:

    ‘Already, I am reading alarming stories about how whole factories, which are not justified on any commercial grounds, are being built all over China; there is huge malinvestment going on . . . ‘

    and while that is undoubtedly true, that doesn’t change the fact that there are (literally) any number of factories and businesses in China with A-Number-One business models and practices that are doing world-class production and turning a healthy profit doing so.

    China being so vast (in every way), their excesses and mistakles will necessarily be vast also. The TGD is a case in point, although massive public works like that have always been primarily a matter of political statement in all of the more-or-less-Communist countries.

    If the TVA were to even propose such an impoundment, you would be able to generate electricity by the megawatt just from the howls of anguished protest that would rise form the lips of ‘enviromentalists’ around the world. But China goes ahead and builds a thing like this, with geological and environmental impacts that we can barely begin to understand, and there’s not a peep of protest. Apparently, Communist dams can only be good.

    Quin does have a good point – but the slimy mess that is the Western way, for all its faults, is still streets better than the central-command-economy approach.

    Tx,

    jb

  • Ian F4

    Good commentary, but you don’t have to go far for evidence.

    Every day, thousands of socialist (with a small “s”) councils commit their tax base to the slavery that is domestic recycling, an exercise done so badly that actually generates CO2 and increases emissions. No one blinks, no one cares, no one complains, anyone who is really concerned about CO2 emissions would never agree to the policies in place but they say nothing. Multiply that by a millionfold and you have China.

  • @Ian F4 – I agree 100% and I care and I mind a whole lot, but it’s just you and me – apparently!

  • Petronius

    What I think is a problem in the West is the idea that China is still something of a totalitarian government who can marshall their millions into action, and thus must be accorded more respect than we might otherwise afford. But then we hear stories about bad construction, contaminated baby formula, people bribing local party men to waive the one-child laws, etc. It is becoming more obvious that China is not a fiendishly clever political manipulator on the world scene. it is barely in control of its own territory, and millions of its people don’t give a damn what the actual laws say. While we might hear of cases where somebody like the baby formula poisoners get shot, most people know the state will never catch them. I think the Chinese Party is hanging on by their fingernails, and when the correction to thieir economy comes, heads will role in Beijing.

    This is abit like the old Cold War fear of Russia. At some point in the 80s we realized that there was no ability to back up their truculence. Just like now.

  • Petronius

    What I think is a problem in the West is the idea that China is still something of a totalitarian government who can marshall their millions into action, and thus must be accorded more respect than we might otherwise afford. But then we hear stories about bad construction, contaminated baby formula, people bribing local party men to waive the one-child laws, etc. It is becoming more obvious that China is not a fiendishly clever political manipulator on the world scene. it is barely in control of its own territory, and millions of its people don’t give a damn what the actual laws say. While we might hear of cases where somebody like the baby formula poisoners get shot, most people know the state will never catch them. I think the Chinese Party is hanging on by their fingernails, and when the correction to thieir economy comes, heads will role in Beijing.

    This is abit like the old Cold War fear of Russia. At some point in the 80s we realized that there was no ability to back up their truculence. Just like now.

  • virgil xenophon

    Has it not occurred to anyone reading this article that the parallel between the building of the Three-Gorges Dam and the enactment of Obamacare are almost totally exact. Both are examples of massive programs both in terms of cost and numbers of people affected; and both were shoved down the throats of the populace despite wide-spread resistance/disapproval by authoritarian, statist governments. And both projects had numerous critics pointing out logical inconsistencies, numerous factual studies that argued against that were suppressed, ignored or scathingly derided along with predictions/projections by informed critics of dire second-order effects and the likelyhood of mucho unintended consequences–none of them good. And lo, in both cases, the predicted fatally dysfunctional aspects of these projects are already beginning to manifest themselves–in one case before the project is fully completed (dam) and the other even as it has barely begun to be fleshed out.

  • Paul Marks

    A very good post Brian.

    But the West is getting a bit unWestern in some of these big government projects.

    For example, when “Crossrail” and the 2012 games were announced for London I kept expecting a big row about these obviously absurd ideas.

    Yet all the major political parties supported both projects and just competed with each other to shout their support the loudest.

    It was nothing like the argument over big government projects in past days – where, indeed, there had always been an argument with loud voices in opposition.

    The whole thing was spooky – alien, and felt like “asiatic despotism”,

  • As soon as Red Dragon Communist China changes it’s constitution to human, equal rights and more freedoms it will have plenty more world allies.

    Three Gorges Dam will one day fail, but before that day comes china can re-enforce it with a second layer of steel and it all won’t be lost.

    An Earthquake, a land slide, volcano or a terrorist could blow up The Dam. A volcano may be far off, but it sets earthquakes as well.

    China with 1.3 population must adopt safe birth control and build water desalination plants in order to survive the coming heat waves from a warning Sun cycle.

    GOD’s Children and The rest of the population of china are being cheated out of an education from THE BIBLE.
    Matthew 24:14, 29-31. Tribulation will end. see.
    Matthew 28:16-20 The Kingdoms of God’s purpose for eternal life must be opened to educate the nations harvest for an invitation to eternal life.

    Where can we scape to with out GOD. Mars, The Moon or other planets in the milky way!?. Where ever we go Peace and co-existing with out war is the only solution for any race that depends on oxygen, water and food supplies.

    WWIII VS a change in constitutions that would insure a happier way of life and less slavery.
    What can a WW3 offer our dying world.

    Peace with upgrades that are progressive positive good programs will See THE WORLD to The End Of TRIBULATION and that can be done by removing the false two edge sword in world debates.

    THANK YOU for taking notes.

    To ‘a free Energy RICH WORLD NATION and well off persons’ can be in Globalization and an Equal clean scale pay check that will eliminate Inflation, “disparities of wage difference” Immigration, job insecurity, corruption, pornography and will secure the people and the governments for a lesser Armageddon and judgment day.

    Ghetto world awaits to be saved from perdition.
    No one can live 50 days and nights with out food and water.
    A 7cows like Egypt will in a Greater Depression/stock market crash wipe out hundreds of millions of people if not more.
    Survival and food supplies should be allowed for those that have monies because government alone can not feed all the populations at once, but gradual stocks of food will stimulate free economies and safe/save lots more people.
    some wants THE WORLD dead through Sodom horrors and depopulation of all kinds to include wars, but why count on them for safety. Elect free energy and hope for future generations. No trick or treat here. Just logic.

    Enjoy and GOD BLESS.

  • The concerns about the geological risks of the dam, and govt ignoring the warning signs, all sound horribly familiar. Do you know about the Vajont Dam