Chapter 4                       Dance With The Devil         By Gunther Schwab                   Written in 1963.

 

THE GREEN LIGHT WENT ON. AFTER A BRIEF CONVERSATION

on the intercom. the Devil turned to his guests. "Grabbleskrit is coming," he said,

"a most efficient fellow, you'll see." "What is his department?"

"Barrenness and Thirst."

A young man of medium height entered the room. He hardly looked at the visitors;

but immediately began his report.

"Among the preconditions for the existence of life, water is the most important."

"He's got too good an opinion of himself, like the rest of them," grunted the Devil.

"Water is a very special fluid. It is not a raw material, but a living thing.

Coal, iron and oil may one day be replaced by sub­stitutes; water remains irreplaceable.

Every particle of water is a part of breathing nature and every sin against water has conse­quences

which extend over the length and breadth of the land.

Water is an organism, it converts matter; it moves. In order to be able to unfold itself,

it needs a natural vessel – the land as it was originally made, the character of the banks

and of the river­bed and of its immediate surroundings, the natural plant life.

 

All these things are of importance for the preservation of water and, indeed, of life itself.

Flowing water is the creative power of the valleys. It must have freedom of movement;

it must be able to twist and wind, widen and narrow as its natural dynamic dictates.

"The circulation of water upon earth is a process similar to that of blood in the body;

every healthy circulation is governed by a certain unchanging rhythm and the rhythm

of the circulation of water is a gentle one. It is the wise intention of Nature that the movement

of a raindrop from the time of its failing to the ground until it joins the sea shall be as slow

as possible, she tends to retard the speed at which water flows.

Nature puts a brake on that speed, by letting the trees build up over the earth a roof of leaves

and by the network of roots in the woods and prairies.

Nature creates storage space in the mosses, in the loose humus, in the swamps and the fens

which absorb the melting snows and the great storms of rain. All this prevents the precious water

from running away too fast, and ensures that it is retained as long as possible

to benefit the surrounding earth.

 

The gentle­ness that marks the natural flow of water ensures the provision of adequate ground water

and allows evaporation to take place. Without these two things there would be no fertility

and so no human life. If ever I achieve success in my particular field,

it will be because I increased to the very maximum the presumption and self-glory of man.

Once that was done, the foundation was laid for all that followed. Man lost his respect for water

as an element of life and began to regard it as a dead thing, as raw material that might be necessary

or superfluous, according to the circumstances of the case. I inspired him to change the character

of banks and river beds and so to deprive water of its natural freedom of movement and to disturb

the rhythm that had estab­lished itself over centuries.

"If the circulation of the blood is artificially accelerated, the organism falls sick;

if the circulation of water is artificially accelerated, then the whole land falls sick.

A sick land begets sick life —"

"That is the aim that I always have in mind," interrupted the Devil.

He was obviously satisfied.

"When I speak of success, I must not claim all the success as my own.

My colleagues of the departments of de-forestation and of destruction of the soil

and all the other devils have played A distinguished part in all this."

 

"Yes, yes, it all hangs together. Get to the point."

"If there is interference with the quiet of the natural move­ment of water, it takes its revenge.

It becomes an element of destruction. We began this process by cutting down the forests,

and we had immediate results; from hills and mountains now utterly bare, the rainwater

and the water from the melting snows rushed in a wild torrent into the valley.

But there was more to come, for soon all the springs disappeared. In South Africa and the U.S.A.

springs have dried up over a wide area because of extensive de-forestation

and whole settlements have had to be abandoned because of water shortage.

"Our next step was the draining of swamps and fens.

Peat moss holds water to the extent of thirty-four times its own weight. Bogs and fens

are the natural safeguards against catas­trophe.

That is why I and my assistants are continually making propaganda for drainage;

we speak of 'improvement' of the land, although we know very well that ultimately life becomes

much more difficult as the result of this.

 

We cannot shout loud enough about the fertility of fenland once it has been drained,

although in reality it is of little agricultural value. We do not mention ... that the territories

which adjoin such fens and bogs will, if these are undisturbed, produce excellent harvests

because of the dampness in the atmosphere. Also the water now no longer held captive gushes

forth in disastrous floods, precisely as it does when there has been excessive de-forestation.

The brooks and rivers can't carry away the excess. Meanwhile, rubble and earth pile

up in the old river-beds. The arteriosclerosis and, with it, the gradual death of the land has begun."

Rolande made a sign that she had something to say. With a gesture the Devil invited her to speak.

"All these things are well known," she said, "and, in my view, inevitable.

Man needs wood and he needs land for agri­culture if he is to keep alive."

 

Grabbleskrit turned to his lord and master. "Has anything been said so far about man's food

and the parasitical nature of human life?"

The Devil angrily shook his head. "You must first hear the reports of these departments,"

said Grabbleskrit to the guests, "if you are to form a correct judgement."

Groot interrupted. "We started to regulate rivers a long time ago _',

"Yes," said Grabbleskrit, "about a hundred and forty years back.,,

"And yet the damage is hardly remarkable."

"When it comes to measuring time, we devils look upon things rather differently.

A hundred and forty years may seem a long time to you – for us and for Nature,

it's just the twinkling of an eye.

 

"From 1815 to 1847 the Rhine was regulated according to plans drawn up by a hydraulic engineer

called Tulla, and the course of the river was shortened by some sixty miles,

the speed of flow being increased by some 30 per cent.

There were no more devastating floods and the cities of the Rhine hastened to put up monuments

to their benefactor. After Tulla's death his principles continued to inspire hydraulic engineers

all over the world —"

The Boss seemed bored. "Was this Tulla fellow one of us or not?"

Grabbleskrit gave an enigmatic smile. "Please be patient. Since the regulation of the Rhine,

the level of its surface has been falling by over an inch and a half a year.

Admittedly, it no longer overflows its banks but soon there just won't be any water

to overflow at all and in the summer, ships will get stuck in the mud.

Near Bale the ground water table has fallen by approxi­mately ten feet, near Neuenburg,

at a distance of two miles from the river, by some 15 feet.

At other places it has fallen over 25 feet and at some places by nearly 80 feet.

"What has been the result? In South Baden some 25,000 acres today show all the symptoms

of reverting to steppe; in

 

Alsatia, 200,000 acres have been damaged by the lowering of the water table.

Agricultural productivity has fallen by three-quarters. We should be very grateful indeed

to this man Tulla. Thanks to his example, the water systems over whole continents have been

interfered with and damaged. The rivers now have become soulless things,

resembling canals flowing between cement banks, straight as a stretched piece of string;

their course is determined by T-square and slide rule, and they are robbed of the natural

protection of their banks, that is trees and bushes.

"A river system is a unity from the point of its source up to the point where it flows into the sea.

If the upper course of a river is corrected, its lower course must be corrected also, and vice versa.

 

If a river is cut off from its natural terrain, its waters in their artificial channels begin to move

at an excessive speed. Instead of taking months, or even years, the water only takes a few hours

or days to travel from its source to the sea.

"What's excellent about all this is that water doesn't travel alone.

From the hills that have been denuded of their trees, from the agricultural land,

whole acres of fruitful soil are carried away by the rushing water."

"There's one thing you've failed to mention," remarked Groot with some heat.

"The regulation of the channels has one distinct advantage: by doing away with all the unnecessary

windings and by narrowing the bed of the river and accelerating the rate of flow,

the river is prevented from throwing up banks of sand and gravel.

That means that much less dredging has to be done and the ships can proceed without risk,

even though they go a little more slowly when travelling upstream."

 

Rolande put a question.

"But where do all the great masses of gravel remain?

They must go somewhere."

"Of course they must," said Grabbleskrit. "The river pushes them forward along its bottom;

the bed of the river is always moving. Naturally, in the lower course of the river and in the estuaries

where the rate of flow is slower the gravel begins once more to pile up.

There's a certain gain in the upper course be­cause the channel is kept free,

but the lower course and the harbours get silted up. It costs much more to keep them open

for shipping than it would have cost to dredge the upper course."

"Surely," said Rolande, "these so-called experts will one day realize how disastrous

their activities are —"

Grabbleskrit laughed. "In the offices of hydraulic engineers you will find nobody with

a real biological grounding; they are all technicians;

they never grow weary of their dangerous experi­ments."

 

But here Stolpe interrupted. "I seem to have heard that there's been a change of outlook

among hydraulic engineers and that they're now, as far as possible,

trying to restore the original structure of the water system and to refrain

from too much artificial straightening."

Grabbleskrit nodded. "Yes, I've heard about that. Some of my enemies have even discovered

that the roots of trees and bushes are the best way of strengthening river banks.

They replace themselves without any effort on the part of man.

But don't worry — I've settled their hash.

All they get for their pains is that people make fun of them and treat them as dangerous Iunatics.

They can't do us any harm."

 

Rolande resignedly shook her head.

"How utterly abomin­able," she said, almost speaking to herself.

Sten raised his hand and the Boss motioned him to speak.

"No doubt it would suit you very well if mankind were to allow itself to be finished off

by you and your agents, but it isn't pre­pared to do anything of the kind, gentlemen.

In almost every country of the world there are now societies, associations,

unions and so on whose purposes are the protection of Nature against the sinister powers

of ignorance and thoughtlessness and against those who care for nothing but a quick profit."

Grabbleskrit waved him aside with a bored gesture.

"A wretched little group of visionaries! Whenever they come up against real businessmen

they just get trampled underfoot. I can only laugh at them."

 

"Laugh away," said Sten, "but they aren't as unimportant or such failures as you pretend.

The United States today is making desperate efforts to repair the damage done in the past."

"It can no longer be repaired."

"Over there they seem to take a different view. By the con­struction of ponds, of artificial fens

and swamps, they're trying to raise the ground water level and so restore fertility to great tracts

of country that have become infertile. In the Soviet Union a planned operation with a similar

purpose is being steadily carried out; millions upon millions of acres are being affected."

"An utterly useless waste of money."

"Don't judge too hastily, Mr. Grabbleskrit. They're trying the most amazing things.

In distant parts of Canada where there are springs, they're dropping pairs of beavers

by parachute, planning that they will breed and retard the flow of water by the dams they build.

They hope in this way to protect agricultural land from floods."

 

Grabbleskrit remained unmoved. "I shan't allow that kind of foolery to interfere

with my programme for world-wide drought. In accordance with my orders and at my suggestion,

the hydraulic engineers of the world have spent enormous sums to bring about the final

disappearance of water at a very early date. This means that agricultural land must revert

to steppe and desert, which is the same as saying that it means the end of man.

Water shortage is already an omnipresent fact. The drought in the autumn of 1953 spread all over Europe;

in some parts of Friesland there was no drinking water and it had to be supplied from 20 miles away;

the consequence was —"

"Thank goodness for our noble hydraulic engineers," grunted the Devil.

"Back in the 'thirties of this century, drought hit the great plains in the United States;

the south and middle west, once famous for their fertility,

have been fighting for five years against drought. In Williamstown, Arizona,

where there are 2,000 inhabitants, they had to have 1,000 tons of water brought in by train daily

from forty miles away. The worst hit were the cattlemen; many of the giant herds had to be broken up;

there was a mass flight of farmers from the land. Land could only be reclaimed for agriculture

at the cost of a gigantic effort and enormous expenditure; irrigation systems were constructed

cost­ing 45 million dollars, but they were utterly insufficient.

 

Next time there is a period of drought, the catastrophe that has been preparing

for so long will at last have arrived."

"Hm," said the Devil, "don't count your chickens before they're hatched."

"What you say may be true temporarily of certain limited areas," said Groot,

"but I simply can't believe that there'll be a world catastrophe because of water shortage.

Seven-tenths of the earth's surface consists of water and it isn't a matter of surface alone,

but of cubic content. In my view, supplies can never be exhausted."

"Go on spreading those views, Mr. Groot," the Drought Devil grinned as he spoke.

"It will only induce people to be more slap-dash with their water than they are at present.

As long ;is mankind has not invented an economic process in order to make sea-water drinkable,

those seven-tenths won't help you very much."

"Just a moment," Sten broke in.

"You say that this water shortage has been caused by the regulation of the rivers, don't  you?

Well, I just can't make that out.

There's still ground water there —"

Grabbleskrit was obviously trying to be patient. "That's just what there isn't, Mr. Stolpe.

 

The rivers and streams which once used to pass slowly across the country could never

make their beds very deep in the ground, but because they have been dammed

in and confined to narrow beds which they can no longer leave,

and because their course has been shortened by being straightened,

the rate of flow has become much more rapid. The increased pressure of water

within the confined space and the rapidity of the flow are continually deepening the river beds."

"I see," said Harding, "it's as if a man had sharpened a blunt knife and used it to cut into the ground."

"That's exactly it," said Grabbleskrit. "Between Ulm and Passau the Danube which has,

of course, been regulated, deepens its bed by half an inch a year."

"That's not very much."

"In ten years, that's five inches; in a hundred years, it's fifty inches."

"Well, what of it?"

"You think that's very little in so long a space of time?

But even today in many places in the Danube plain the land is revert­ing to steppe.

 

Even if the ground water is not impaired im­mediately the regulation is effected,

it's bound to happen at a later stage. As soon as the river water has begun to deepen its bed,

the quickly-flowing water acts like a pump on the ground water; it sucks the country dry.

In some soils this make a great difference to the harvest; the roots can't get down to the water properly."

"I thought that plants lived on rainwater?" said Rolande.

Grabbleskrit turned towards her and his face wore a rather more friendly look.

"The annual precipitation in Central Europe is, on an average, about twenty-five inches. T

his means that about 20,000 cubic feet of water will fall on every acre of ground.

Only about a third of this goes to feed the plants, the rest runs off, oozes away, or evaporates.

To get a good harvest you need something in the neighbourhood of 15,000 cubic feet of water

– about double what the plant gets from the rain; the balance has to be made good by ground water."

 

Groot argued. "But you'll always get the water on to the land by artificial means.

Irrigation, pipes, that kind of thing."

Grabbleskrit smiled. "Excellent ! To the costs of regulating the river you now add other costs – and,

you know, there are Iimits to that kind of thing. There are parts of California where the water table,

thanks to the pumping works used in the great fruit plantations, has fallen over 60 feet below sea level.

Thanks to this, sea water penetrates some 300 yards further every year into the places which originally

stored ground water and now have been pumped dry.

By 1975 they will reach the stage where they can only bring salt water to the surface

and that'll be the end of their precious fruit plantations.

"Ground water's growing less and less all over the world, yet 75 per cent of our water used

for drinking and other purposes comes from ground water supplies.

 

The water table of Baltim­ore, in the United States, fell between 1916 and 1948 by over 150 feet.

If there were a really big fire there might actually not ke enough water to put it out.

"New York's drinking supplies are becoming steadily more salty.

The city gets the greater part of its water from the ground water in Long Island.

Here, however, the sweet water floats on too) of the salt water and since the demand on the water supply

is getting greater, more and more salt water is getting into the mains.

"The way in which cities are built and in which cities grow disturbs the natural circulation of water.

Over huge stretches of territory water is not properly absorbed into the ground.

A great Dart of the rainwater that falls evaporates immediately.

The rest go us into the drains; it doesn't seep into the ground as it should.

So in the cities the ground water supply doesn't benefit from precipitation."

Now Groot had something to say.

"You've told us a lot about tic harm done by regulating rivers, but you've said nothing

about the benefits we get from increased electrical supplies and from the dams which provide them."

 

"Artificial dams can never replace the work done by the natural storage of water.

If the water level is raised to abnormal heights, then the same thing happens with the ground water table

and large stretches of territory can be made infertile by that,

just as they can when the ground water table falls."

"What are we to do? The demand for electricity is rising from year to year."

"That is one of the achievements of my colleague of the Liv­ing Standard's Department.

Every household today must have its electrical cooker, its refrigerator,

its record players and other gadgets. Low deposits, easy payments, three years' credit if you want it.

Grand business for those who deal in electrical appli­ances

– and for those who sell electricity, too, for that matter !

"But you're already paying the price.

Take the case of Bavaria, where there are 21 million people – that's 25 per cent of its population

– without adequate water supplies. In a number of villages the teachers have to forbid

the children to wash every day, because every drop of water is needed for drinking by man and beast.

There was a question about this in the Bavarian legis­lature and the House was told

that it was all due to de-forestation and the violence done to the natural water supply."

 

The Devil said, "Here, we can't have people waking up to that, you know."

"Don't worry, Boss. It dawns on people now and then that our hydraulic engineers have dissipated

the land's life blood while actually professing to conserve it. But the bit of shouting that you sometimes

get because of this doesn't really amount to anything. I can say – and I say it with pride

– that thanks to me it won't be long now before it will become utterly impossible to keep up industrial

output at its present level, or for that matter, even to maintain human life."

"Bit of an optimist, aren't you?" grumbled the Boss.

"I don't think so. Look how easy I've made it for man to waste his dwindling supply.

Once every drink of water had to be fetched from the river or the well.

Today, all he need do is reach out his hand to the tap. Nobody thinks twice before wast­ing water.

Far from it; piped water supplies are mushrooming all over the place.

 

Thanks to me, it's hurrah for hygiene, and so you see more bathrooms and more water-closets

all over the place - which means that there is now a world-wide waste of water and valuable dung material,

with rivers getting poisoned into the bargain. Not so very long ago,

man managed with 6 or 7 gallons of water a day – and managed very well, but today, in the cities,

the consumption is up to nearly 100 gallons a day."

"Long live the standard of living! "

"The water consumption of the United States is about 500 biIIion gallons a year and ten years from now,

it'll be well above 1,000 billion; but by then we'll have reached the point where the demand

can no longer be satisfied because the water just won't be there.

 

"In the great cities and industrial centres much more is taken out of the ground water supplies

than is put back into it by nature. Every businessman seems to claim the right to bore wells so long

as he does it on his own ground, and to take as much water from the earth as he pleases,

without any regard to the consequences for his neighbours."

Rolande seemed puzzled.

"But why does industry need all this water?"

Grabbleskrit searched eagerly through his brief-case and puIIed out some papers.

"To produce a ton of cement you have to use about 800 gallons of water

and about 1,000 for a ton of iron ore. You need 4,000 gallons for a ton of coke,

and about 4,500 for a ton of steel. For paper you need between 50 and 70,000;

for artificial silk 150,000 and, incidentally, you need 35 gallons of water to produce a gallon of beer.

And so, as the national product rises, up goes the consumption of water.

 

So on the one hand we use all our technical skills to ensure a maxi­mum waste of water,

and on the other we boost the demand for it to astronomical proportions.

An excellent arrangement, for it can only end in catastrophe."

Satan invited Groot to comment, which he promptly did.

"What observations has Mr. Grabbleskrit to make on the fact that two Dortmund foundries

have managed substantially to cut down the use of water?

Instead of using 4,500 gallons to pro­duce a ton of steel,

 they've managed to do it with between 900 and 1,100 gallons,

and also to filter the waste water so effici­ently that it can be used for drinking.

What can be done in Dortmund will certainly be done in other industrial centres.

 

Grabbleskrit sneered, "An isolated experiment that has no dangers so far as I'm concerned."

Groot persisted, "I must point out that scientists don't attri­bute the water crisis to the blunders

of the hydraulic engineers, but to climatic changes which, among other things,

have in­volved a gradual rise of temperature, and it is this which, according to these people,

has caused a lowering of the ground water table and the reversion of much land

in Central Europe to steppe.”

The Boss waved him angrily aside. "There is no doubt what­ever that the water situation is due,

first and foremost, to the interference of man. As to climatic changes, you heard what the head

of my department for air poisoning said: the gases from industry raise the quantity of carbon dioxide

in the atmosphere. This causes the climate to become warmer and this contributes

to the disappearance of water. It all hangs together; the diabolical circle is closed."

Grabbleskrit eagerly came to his master's support.

"The change of climate," he cried, "has at worst only helped to in­crease the general water shortage,

and I make it my business to spread the view that this increasing shortage has absolutely noth­ing

to do with de-forestation, the regulation of rivers or anything of that kind.

 

I must take this opportunity of saying what wonderful co-operation I have from the Press,

in the newsreels and so on, all of which go to great lengths to describe all kinds of catastrophes

without ever saying a word about their causes. This makes it possible for us to go on with our work

without being disturbed.

"You see, people never realize what an appalling mess they're in.

My Soft Soap boys see to that, and believe you me, I keep them busy.

I plan their work most carefully and that's how the great idiot of a public is made to believe

that our present gigantic waste of water (which, remember, is my doing),

serves the cause of good business and humanity. If a biologist or a man with a real sense

of the sanctity of Nature tries to teach them differently, they send him to blazes.

 

So they eat the very sub­stance of the land and never wake up to the fact

that they're dancing on their own grave."

"Finished?"

"Finished, Boss."

But here Sten Stolpe made a remark. "I've heard very little about the poisoning of water," he said.

"Can the Devil have forgotten that this provides a magnificent opportunity of assist­ing

in the extermination of man?"

The Devil turned towards him with a look of pity. "We have forgotten nothing, Mr. Poet."

Grabbleskrit broke in, "Quite the contrary, this field is so large and so important

that it seemed worth organizing a special section of my Department to deal with it.

If you're willing, my of league, the Foul Water Devil, will have the pleasure of Addressing you.

I've instructed him to come here and he's ready And waiting."

 

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