The Geological Survey is sending out some most timely and important bulletins. It recently issued a warning to the people in regard to the indiscriminate and unscientific use of reinforced concrete in building. One of its latest bulletins calls attention to our waste fulness in deforestation. It shows that we allow more timber to be destroyed every year by preventable fires than is used in all the lumbering industries. It draws attention also to the fact that there is an enor mous amount of coal left and lost in the mines because of reckless processes of mining. The size of our country and its enormous natural resources have led us to believe that many things were inexhaustible, which as a matter of fact are being utterly and ruthlessly wasted at a most extravagant and foolish rate. Our people have developed habits of prodigality which, in a country less lavishly favored by nature, would spell ultimate national bankruptcy. In the matter of fires, for instance, we have reached the point where we really expect and plan for terrific losses. As an example, Washington's record which has just been completed, shows that there were 470 alarms of fire in the year, resulting in damage of only $250,000. This is one of the lowest and most satis factory records attained by any city in the land; yet these fires have inflicted a damage, small as we be lieve it to be, just 350 per cent greater than that suf fered by the average of sixteen European cities of equal size. Incidentally, all the fire adjustment and the other accompaniments of the San Francisco disaster have been tabulated and arranged; and it now transpires that what was supposed to be a total damage of about $350,000,000 amounts to much nearer $600,000,000. Only $200,000,000 can be properly charged up to insur ance, and, therefore, the country has suffered a total wiping out of existence, an obliteration of property, to the amount of $400,000,000 by that one fire. This is a matter worthy of our most serious consideration. It should teach us to build so as to make impossible the recurrence of such an awful conflagration, a recurrence that is imminently possible now in several cities, notably New Orleans, Boston, and Philadelphia.
This article was originally published with the title "Our National Wastefulness" in Scientific American 97, 21, 374 (November 1907)