Pits, aggregate and extremeophiles…

After a little break and a delay on my part mammoth book club is back.

This week we discuss “Margins in our Midst Gravel” by Matthew Coolidge of The Center for Land Use Interpretation. Some of us focused on the possibilities of re-purposing the pits as sites of new program and function. Others were interested in issues of scale. How much aggregate is used, where and what these large systems can tell us about our priorities in terms of land use. I was particularly struck by Coolidge’s description of how the aggregate industry mines the alluvial fans coming down from the mountains. Although, the dams are primarily designed to serve as dams, in order for them to function in this capacity the industry dredges and as “a sort of slow, passive mining system” relies on the dam basins as a source of aggregate material. The now primary designed-use being a by-product or secondary result.

To put this in a national perspective, the aggregate industry overall has around 120,000 employees, and 10,000 quarries, making it easily the largest mining industry in the country.

Matthew Coolidge, Pg 70

The industrial processes described by Coolidge are thus ultimately the premier example of the sorts of mining operations (and subsequent reclamation operations) discussed by Alan Berger in Reclaiming the American West, of which there is one particular example that I would like to discuss.

The Berkeley Pit is also result of mining operations. Yet, unlike in Irwindale (where the powers that be would like to fill, or otherwise reclaim the pits) the city of Butte Montana has no such choice. The accidental lake which has since filled the pit is in fact highly acidic and the water is also laced with heavy metals and toxic compounds. As a SuperFund site there are plans for trying to address these challenges, yet the site has self-produced it’s own beneficial reclamation of sorts. Although the water are highly toxic the waters are not sterile. Life exists and even thrives thanks to natural selection. These extremophiles, researchers at Montana Tech have identified as sources for tumor fighting compounds that may hold the cure for certain types of cancers

Perhaps, what Irwindale needs is to replicate the conditions of the Berkeley Pit and with their own batches of extremophiles jump-start a new generation of bio-technologists. Is this the future of the city’s economic growth? Geologic scaled vats of bio-goop??

Either way, it seems clear that nature and natural selection along with geologic time make their own uses of such sites of extraction and temporary scarrification.


4 thoughts on “Pits, aggregate and extremeophiles…

  1. Apropos of this – I’ve also been ruminating on the “Stationary State” essay. There’s a lot in there, and I think that it’s best read against David Harvey’s argument that, in a dynamic multivariate system like capitalism, “revolutions” can arise from many quarters. (Everything from technology to family structure, really.) Balakrishnan’s argument seems to be that all of those dimensions are currently at an impasse.

    I think that it’s interesting that he doesn’t mention the resource impasse – we live on a finite planet even if policymakers act as though that’s not the case. Case in point: the toxic geographies left behind by extractive industries.

    I’m not a techno-optimist, but it seems as though the next technological revolution will either revolve around engineered bio-productivity, or not happen at all. So it’s interesting to hear that poisoned ponds are being mined again for genetic diversity.

    As the Greeks said, the spear that wounded you will also heal you…

  2. I have actually just started trying to read some Harvey in the original. So I wouldn’t want to speak to him too much. Had an interesting discussion with a friend recently which lead me to read the Harvey.

    Our discussion touched on the notion of technique vs ideology, and whether the two can be framed as different or whether they are in fact inseparable. Additional we discussed issues of objectivity. This all came up within a discussion of the military’s recent push towards “Design Intelligence”.

    As for your take on Balakrishnan I would say you are exactly right.

    I would tend to disagree with both though too the extent to which that as much as I would like to pretend otherwise) i am an optimist if not a techno-optimist at heart.

  3. I can’t say that I know much about ideology as Harvey applies to it – Gramsci, Poulantzas and Zizek are as close as I get. Zizek has been known to comment that nonideological technocratic centrism is the highest form of ideology.

    Regarding the optimism – I think the last ten years have been an ideal training for dystopianism. In retrospect, it seems like a constant lurch from catastrophe to catastrophe. 9/11. The Iraq War. Civil liberties clampdown. Stagnant wages and a choking manufacturing sector. Then we hear about global warming. Then the financial crash, and good luck getting a job just out of school.

    In a way, what’s most disheartening about this isn’t the multitude of Gordian knots, but the consistent inability of the left to pick up its sword and cut through them. I’m an optimist insofar as I don’t see the problems Balakrishnan describes as insoluble. However, they are virtually unsolvable without the articulation of and struggle for a coherent alternative.

    In that sense, we’re in an ideological, rather than economic or ecological, cul-de-sac.

  4. Pingback: reading the infrastructural city: chapter four index (updated may 31) – mammoth // building nothing out of something

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