Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snow Removal

Much of the East Coast experienced a major snow event this weekend. In this kind of storm, there is so much snow to remove that you don’t count on the snow plows coming by within 24 hours. I have a hunch, though, that all the streets will be cleared before the Super Bowl starts.

As I was out with my shovel doing my part in the snow removal, I was struck by the scale of the process. I single-handedly made a snow pile larger than my car. Then a front-end loader came by and was moving snow half a ton at a time. And this is just what was happening in the area of one house. In terms of the amount of solid material moved, snow removal ranks as one of the largest activities of the industrial age. In a storm like this, a snow plow may move a ton of snow every five meters, and there are more snow plows in the world than I can imagine. Snow removal makes cold-weather cities like Novosibirsk possible, and it makes many of the great cities of the world far more productive in winter.

If we don’t pay so much attention to snow removal, it is because it is highly productive and rarely controversial. The more unproductive and controversial work gives the appearance of making up most of the economy. Yet in truth, the work we take for granted, such as snow removal, is just as important.