Museums as Post Peak Oil education tools?
|By Matt Mayer in Peak Oil, Travel | November 20, 2006|
I hadn’t realized what a major fishery the Mississippi River was until we visited this museum. The amount and different varieties of fish was just amazing. And some of the sizes were unbelievable. Given all the pollution currently in the river it may be a while before the fish populations recover, and they run the risk of overfishing in the years after protein sources become more scarce, but over time these populations should return as the population declines and that will obviously be good for this area. As recently as 100 years ago there were commercial fisherpeople (don’t want to be sexist and say men you know) using the River to make a living. I imagine this new type of economic activity will be great for this area in terms of providing both incomes and good local food for consumers. Not to mention the possibility of catching your own fish to provide protein for yourself or your family.
The scale of commercial ice harvesting in the winter from the river was also quite amazing. I’ve seen seen some pictures and records of this activity here in the Cedar Rapids area, but using the Mighty Mississippi for ice harvesting puts this endeavor on a whole other scale. This could also be another source of income in the future.
The records of the river as a means of transporting goods were also quite amazing. Not just today’s transportation when you see how big a barge container is and learn that one barge container holds 22,500 tons of goods (usually grain). Or that one container equals 60 semi truck trailers. Or even when you learn that a normal tugboat/barge operation on the river will start their trip down the river with 15 containers in Minnesota and by the time they get south of Iowa they will have 45 containers on their way to Louisiana. It’s not even amazing when you realize that each year 55 Million tons of grain is exported out of this country using the Mississippi River.
What’s amazing to me is all the ways that goods were transported before the discovery of oil. There were hybrid canoes that could carry goods. There were keelboats that used sails and river current to move downstream. And obviously there were steam engine paddleboats that used coal and wood to move up and down the river, albeit more slowly than today, but proving transportation of goods is possible in an oil free environment. We even saw a bicycle powered paddleboat that some college students used to travel the entire length of the river in 1999 while on summer break. (Why didn’t I do any cool stuff like this when I was in college?) It would seem using a pedal powered boat would even be possible for smaller loads especially for deliveries in the nearby areas.
Another thing that struck me about our relationship to the River (and really probably all rivers) was how much we have forced our needs and desires onto it. A lot of the downtown portion of the city of Dubuque is clearly in the floodplain of the River, and in the long, long future when our flood control measures have crumbled from disrepair will this part of the city need to be abandoned? What about all the other cities along rivers in the same predicament? What kind of impacts will this have on these cities and other cities that might depend on these river towns for a measure of their survival? Most of the railroad tracks in and around the Rivers around here also travel in the river’s floodplain. How will this impact our country when these areas are repeatedly flooded and we are in a situation where we do not have limitless money to fund their reconstruction? What will happen then? I don’t now, but this wasn’t something I had thought of before.
Also on display at the museum was a steam powered dredging ship, two paddleboats and a houseboat. Only the dredging ship was open for visitors due to the weather, but seeing these older ships gives me some idea of how things along the river could revert back to those options and still get things done. Perhaps not as many things would get done, they wouldn’t get done as quickly, and not as efficiently, but we can use these older methods and still achieve some semblance of a lifestyle.
I think the biggest thing that I came to realize from the trip was that it opened up my eyes to the potential bonanza museums hold for helping us rediscover our past so we can accomplish our goals in the future without oil being available. I’m sure there are plenty of museums around this country that are just like this one. They can get us back in touch with how things were done pre-oil. Hopefully these assets will help us make the changes we’ll need to in the future and react effectively to the changing times.