Friday, September 28, 2007

Fortune is the Yellow River

In Renaissance Florence, Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci collaborated on a now largely forgotten project to divert the river Arno from it's course through Pisa to an alternate route, cutting off Florence's enemy and, perhaps, bringing an inland seaport to Florence.

This remarkable engineering undertaking is now largely forgotten, because it failed--the river stayed right where is was. (Roger D Masters' book on the subject is a pretty good read).

China is currently at work on the largest water project in history, and it involves--surprise, surprise--redirecting a river. The NY Times has a great video piece here. The motivation here is different (getting water to the dry north from the lush south) and the risks are different as well (mostly environmental). On the whole, it looks like they'll probably succeed.

So, in the spirit of learning from history, I wonder if there isn't cause for concern. In Italy, several centuries ago, the only victims were the careers of two Florentine gentlemen at court. This time, at risk is the health and welfare of 1.3 billion Chinese and the environment beneath them.

It's a longshot, I suppose, but one hopes they hit the books first.
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