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Energy Flow Systems
Richard White's Organic Machine, and William Cronon's Changes in the
Land, both examine environments as energy flow systems. The energy flow model
was utilized by the authors to explain relationships within ecosystems.
Richard White's thesis is to examine the river as an organic machine, as
an energy system that, although modified by human intervention, maintains it's
natural, its “unmade” qualities. White emphasizes on energy because it is a
useful concept that can be easily understood. He says, “the flow of the river
is energy, so is the electricity that comes from the dams that block that flow.
Human labor is energy; so are the calories that are stored as fat by salmon for
their journey upstream.” White notes that energy is as concrete as salmon,
human bodies, and the Grand Coulee Dam. White wants his readers to think about
nature and its relationship with humanity.
White explains how the river is energy. The Columbia River works as
gravity pulls it to the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is continuously cutting
into the terrain that it flows through. Over millions of years water rushed
through the Columbia Basin to form the Columbia River. Water carries soil, silt,
and debris downstream. The constant movement of material in the river cuts and
shapes the river basin into the land. This movement is a slow and inefficient
use of energy. According to White, only two percent of water's potential energy
results in the work ...