Stanley the Boss caught me during lunch. “There’s a meeting about that damned Panama project over in the library at one. Will you take it for me?”
“Before you get in bed – ask to see the two dollars.” Stanley had his on special way of giving instructions.
I was working as an ecologist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. A member of a small group looking into the fates and effects of radioactive waste. We’d taken on various environmental off-site studies from time to time.
I was aware of that Panama project. The US Atomic Energy Commission thought they might use “nuclear devices” to excavate a new Panama canal. They’d been burned rather badly in an attempt to dig a harbor on the northern shores of Alaska, because they’d ignored the environmental consequences. And in particular, they overlooked the Eskimo populations in the area. So the Commission wanted an environmental assessment right up front, this time.
When I got to the library early, I picked up the Britannica and scanned an article about Panama. A little preparation never hurts.
And as the meeting progressed, it developed that I was the Panama expert in the group. Nobody else knew Panama at all. Thanks to my five minutes in the library, I was able to go to a blackboard, sketch the Isthmus and show the Canal and its environs. Plus, I’d actually been there! I once passed through the Canal, courtesy of the US Navy.
Did I want to write a proposal to the AEC? Go to Panama? No, thanks, not I. Will somebody else take on a proposal? The meeting broke up.
Back it the office Stanley the Boss asked, “What happened?”
“I told ‘em to keep the two dollars.”
- - -
The Panama studies were eventually done by the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia, soon to be my employer. The National Laboratory did some research on the human ecology of Panama. Nothing came of it at that time, 50 years ago. But don’t be surprised if a sea-level canal connecting the two oceans doesn’t crop up again. It’s really not a good idea.
July 23, 2015
“More than likely, the moral and intellectual leadership of science will pass to biologists, and it is among them that we shall find the Rutherfords, Bohrs and Francks of the next generation. – Sir Charles P. Snow