Sunday, August 28, 2005

"Katrina" And The Discontents She Brings: From Annals of People Who Are Paying Attention 

I'm feeling so dyspeptic this morning, I half suspect they deliberately gave Al Gore's daughter's name to this terrible storm heading for the gulf coast. Probably not; I think we can still trust that the National Hurricane Center is still staffed with actual scientists.

Before I write another word, let me add Corrente's name to all other blogs that are reminding anyone who is in the path of this storm - LEAVE, IMMEDIATELY; TURN ON YOUR RADIO OR TV, FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS OF YOUR LOCAL FIRST RESPONDERS; TAKE WHAT YOU CAN, BUT GET OUT, NOW.


Let us all hope and pray in whatever way makes sense that "Katrina" never makes landfall.

Better the discontents of civilization than the discontents of a level five hurricane.

For New Orleans, already located below sea level, this has always been the nightmare scenario.

At the risk of being accused of politicizing a hurricane, the fact is the threat here has a political dimension. The potential harm being outlined on CNN et al is of a magnitude previously unknown on American soil. If we're lucky enough to escape its full impact, should we not be able to realize, without having to live through the actuality, that what is happening in the gulf is a harbinger of our changed circumstances on this planet, the implications of which far outweigh those of 9/11, about which we have been endlessly told, changed everything, and required us to change our way of thinking about everything.

Journalists are supposed to pay attention; you could say that such is a definition of their job. It has been the lamentable task of blogs on the left to point out how poor is both the quantity and the quality of attention paid by professional journalists to so many vital subjects. So, I've been collecting a category of "People Who Are Paying Attention." The journalism quotient is fairly low, but it is there.

One of the bright stars among the cohort is Chris Mooney. Most of you probably know who he is, that he's focused his recent career on first-rate reporting and analysis of stories and issues in the field of science, and that he has his first book coming out next month, The Republican War On Science."

We were lucky enough to receive an advance copy of the book, and an interview with Chris, and we'll be posting on both through-out next week; I'll leave it at that for now. I don't want to use the potential disaster as an advertisement.

However, Chris Mooney, who grew up in New Orleans, was paying attention back in May, 2005 to the implications of the announced expectation from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of another hyper-active hurricane season in the gulf, and he wrote a typically astute, and, one hopes, not a prescient article about it in the American Prospect.
Currently, pretty much every long-term trend cuts against the safety of New Orleans. Levees are subsiding; coastal wetlands (which can slow storm surges) are continually disappearing; and sea levels are rising. And then there's global warming -- a warmer world with warmer ocean temperatures should theoretically experience worse hurricanes. Most importantly, the Atlantic Ocean appears to have entered an active hurricane cycle, with the potential to fling storms at the Gulf Coast for years to come. This puts New Orleans on the vanguard among U.S. coastal cities (including New York) that will have to think hard about their growing vulnerabilities in the coming years. The process of deciding how to save an entire coastal metropolis has begun, but the discussion has largely been confined to experts, and not nearly broad or ambitious enough yet.
Yes, models of global warming are predictive of what we've seen happening in the gulf, and though Mooney is too honest not to note that "active hurricane cycle," which may or not be caused by global warming, surely there is something odd about the total lack of coverage by all the big media outlets of this particular implication of both the increased severity and the increased occurrences of hurricanes? Or, maybe not so odd. Tune in next week.

Read the whole article here; you'll be discomforted, but glad you did.

UPDATE Talked to a friend of mine who grew up in New Orleans. The 28-foot surge against the 18-foot levee is pretty frightening; add to that that New Orleans has a 72-hour evacuation plan but Katrina blew up in 48 hours. Then, if the Mississippi bursts the banks the Army Corp of Engineers built for it, a lot of oil refineries could go.... So, I guess we need to pray to God as we understand God that the worst does not happen.—Lambert

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