Having faith in human ingenuity to solve our many environmental issues

The Mall of America is located in Bloomington, Minn. It encompasses 96 acres, houses 530 stores, employs 12,000 people, and gets 40 million visitors a year. It is as much a tourist destination as a shopper’s haven.

One of the largest covered shopping centers in the world, the mall does not have a central heating system. In fact, the Mall of America often needs cooling for comfort, even in February.

I lived in Minnesota for several years. I have trouble imagining any need for refrigeration during the winter in Minnesota.

The primary heating element is people. Skylights and electrical equipment help, but humans generate most of the warmth.

Based on a recent report from the History Channel, scientists are convinced that big cities create their own weather, and provide video and other evidence to prove it. Concentrations of people in large urban areas generate bodacious amounts of warm air, or in Washington, D.C., hot air. This accumulation of heat and humidity rises and mixes with air of another temperature and, sometimes, generates lightning and occasionally, thunderstorms.

This phenomenon would not occur if people spread out a little, but with an expanding population, there is reduced opportunity for that. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are 7.06 billion people on Earth. One woman fluent in geography said there is less than an acre of land per person available. That person is the sister-in-law of a friend, making this information unimpeachable. Nevertheless, climate change believers and open space advocates are on a collision course.

There is growing evidence that the huge dams built, in part, to allow for generation of electricity, have so harmed the salmon population that the impact is being felt as far away from the Pacific Ocean as Idaho. The health of the mountain forests and the animals that live in them is suffering.

Fish ladders, intended to allow this primary food source access to its spawning beds, aren’t working as planned. Neither are fish hatcheries. Even when hatchlings are transplanted to what in the past were the original salmon fry production areas, natural reproduction doesn’t occur to the degree anticipated. Some complain that we are going to run out of salmon if we continue down this road, so commercial salmon fishing is being curtailed.

At the same time, the president and clean air regulators seem bent on ending energy production that comes from coal-fired generation plants. Making sure the air is clean enough for the men and women who won’t have jobs in the coal extraction industry takes precedence, they say.

Take down those dams, some insist. Figure out another way to produce electricity, but it had best not be with nuclear power because that is suicide. They point to Japan and Chernobyl.

Some fear that fracking, the process that allows deep drilling to recover natural gas, has long-term dangers and must be eliminated. If fracking doesn’t contaminate ground water, as seems to have been demonstrated, the fear is that using water to capture the gas is a waste of Earth’s primary life support substance.

Electrical energy generation through giant windmills offends those who want open space and unmarred natural vistas to be left available for coming generations. Wildlife enthusiasts suggest they harm birds, or at least force them to alter their normal flight paths, which to them is unthinkable.

Supporters of the new automobile emission standards that are in place say these new guidelines will force the development of electric cars. Never mind that there needs to be some way to generate the electricity and that the batteries, when they are no longer receptive to recharging, are about as tough on the environment as is nuclear waste.

Fortunately, at the moment all of this is just one big conundrum. Were all of these advocates to pull in the same direction we might have to shut down everything.

In the meantime, while each of these issues presents a problem, I have faith in the ingenuity that cleared the black soot-filled air over major cities when coal was the primary heat source and kerosene was what lit buildings and streets at night. I have faith in the ingenuity that put out the fires on the Cuyahoga River and cleaned up Lake Union in Seattle. In other words, while the concerns may be valid, I am not afraid. We will fix it.

Hawkins is retired after 35 years as a construction industry association manager. He was a broadcast reporter and news anchor in Denver. As a Navy officer, he saw action in Vietnam in the River Assault Squadrons and is the recipient of a Silver Star and Purple Heart. He can be reached at

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