The Mississippi River is 1,475 feet above sea level at its source at Lake Itasca. It descends about 700 feet en route to the Twin Cities, and another 40 or so to Winona, where it seems to shuck any sense of Minnesota industriousness -- to slow down and maybe even get a little lazy in anticipation of its merger with the Missouri and the rest of the trip down to New Orleans.
From our vantage point up here at the head of the river, with our tall pines, our reestablished bald eagles, and our if not quite pristine, at least not completely corrupted ecosystems, it's easy to look down the river -- and down our noses -- at the tragedy erupting in the Gulf of Mexico. After all, it's been, "Drill, baby drill," down there for decades. Live by the oil company, die by the oil company.
But to simply dismiss the spill as their problem and their fault is to miss the message writ large and coming ashore in lethal, gooey glops from Louisiana to Florida.
We can't always count on technology to save us from us. Our technological reach always has and always will exceed our grasp. And the bigger and more sophisticated our enterprises become, the higher the stakes.
This time, down in the Gulf, we may have gambled away entire ecosystems. We may have created a new Dead Sea. For all our technological cleverness, we may have rolled the dice and crapped out.
What will we play for next? Who will look the politicians in the eye, promise perfect technology and absolute safety, and wheedle for the leases and permits required to extract what?
From up here in Minnesota, water flows in three directions -- north to Hudson's Bay, east into the Great Lakes, and south to the Gulf. Drill baby drill doesn't cut it any more. Not these days. Not with these resources.
We owe ourselves, our children, and the people and ecosystems of an increasingly interdependent and fragile world much more sober and deliberate decisions from now on.