Saturday, December 8, 2012

#342 / Goldi-Locks And The Bay
Climate change is a reality that is beginning to make its presence ever more evident to non-scientists. Mark Baird is one of those non-scientists who is thinking about the problem. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Baird is an Alameda resident who is a pilot and aircraft mechanic; he has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 50 years. Baird has authored a recent "Op-Ed" column, published in the Chronicle, which outlines what he thinks should be done. In short, Baird proposes that the public construct a set of "locks" at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, presumably underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Here is how Baird describes the project and its impacts: 

First, unlike most lock systems, they will have to operate against the natural influx of the sea, not with it, which will demand pumps instead of gravity flow to drive them. So in addition to building the locks, we'll have to start engineering the Farallones Offshore Windmill Farm to supply an inexhaustible, nonpolluting source of power.
Second, the Golden Gate Locks will not just allow ships to pass into the bay but will also artificially maintain the bay's tides to preserve the wetlands and to prevent the demarcation between saltwater and freshwater from shifting too far up into the delta and wrecking all the great bass fishing. The entire output of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers will have to be pumped into the sea, as not a drop of it will be able to defy gravity to flow into it. This will require larger pumps than we could buy off the shelf at Home Depot. Again, more reason to start thinking about all this now, not later.
Finally, there will be the matter of what color to paint the Golden Gate Locks. The history of contention over the color of the Golden Gate Bridge reminds us that settling this important detail could tie up the entire project for years. That the Golden Gate Locks invariably will wind up being called the Goldi-Locks could shortcut that decision.

I don't know Mr. Baird. I am hoping that the idea he is presenting here is a "tongue in cheek" send up of the kind of thinking that all too often typifies human activity. But he may be totally serious. "Engineering" solutions to the impacts that the laws of nature have on desired human outcomes is all too common. Why not an "Offshore Windmill Farm" to pump water against gravity, and why shouldn't human beings "artificially maintain" the bay's tides? 

The more I think about it, the more I think that Mr. Baird must be making fun of the idea that we can ever be successful in efforts to construct a world that operates "against," instead of "with," the laws of nature. 

Anyway, I hope that is Mr. Baird's intention. Unfortunately, I think some will decide that his idea might be worth pursuing. It plays to our confidence that we can build and "operate" a world separate from the world of nature, which is the world upon which we ultimately depend. If this becomes a serious proposal - with suggestions that we spend our money figuring out how we can start pumping the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers into the bay, against gravity, and how we can start regulating the tides, I am going to vote "no." 

I'd rather see those baylands submerged, myself.


  1. I dunno, Gary. I think that some alarmism is at work here. Checking NOAA's Tides and Currents excellent web site, we read that at San Francisco Bay;

    "The mean sea level trend is 2.01 mm/year with a 95% confidence interval of +/- 0.21 mm/year based on monthly mean sea level data from 1897 to 2006 which is equivalent to a change of 0.66 feet in 100 years."

    And for Santa Cruz we find a smaller increase:

    "The mean sea level trend is 1.34 mm/year with a 95% confidence interval of +/- 1.35 mm/year based on monthly mean sea level data from 1973 to 2006 which is equivalent to a change of 0.44 feet in 100 years."

    NOAA's web site is cool! It is like a GOOGLE Maps can look at coastal areas worldwide. Check it out at

  2. I think that this entire op-ed was (probably) a spoof, and thus was not intended to reflect the realities. I am not really sure, though! The only verified tip-off within the text is the fact that the author ends up saying that the system of locks that he proposes should be called the "Goldi-Locks."

    Thanks for the great reference to the NOAA website. I hadn't seen it before.


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