Now that the worst has happened, many pundits, particularly on the left, are pointing to the budget cuts that have hamstrung the Army Corps of Engineers in its endless battle of New Orleans: "The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars."
That's all true -- and it's always worth reminding people of the lunatic fiscal priorities of the Cheney administration and its supporters in the congressional pork chop caucus. But the bigger story behind the drowning of New Orleans is what it reveals about the longer-term consequences of America's lunatic environmental priorities. For nearly 160 years, private industry and governments alike have been chopping and channeling the Mississippi and its tributaries -- turning rivers into drainage ditches, riverbanks into Maginot Line-style fortifications, and wetlands into factory farms. This has created the same self-defeating spiral that doomed New Orleans -- the rivers rise, the riverbanks sink, forcing the levees higher and higher, until some of them are now as tall as four-story buildings.
The real lesson of Katrina, though, is that the scenes we've been watching in New Orleans could be repeated in many other places in the decades ahead, if the worst-case scenarios generated by the global climate change models become realities.
It's easy, even for reasonable people, to disregard those scenarios. The worst case, after all, doesn't usually happen. But the flooding of New Orleans, like the destruction of Pompeii, is a graphic demonstration of the fact that sometimes the worst case (or something like it) does happen, especially when it is preceded by years of willful ignorance and blind self interest.
If the worst case for global climate change comes to pass, the environmental and economic losses will dwarf, many times over, the costs of Hurricane Katrina. They'll also reduce into insignificance the price tag on the Kyoto Treaty -- which itself may be too little, too late. If Shrub really thinks that doing something about climate change would "wreck the economy," he should spend some of his unused vacation time thinking about what just happened to New Orleans.
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Billmon on Katrina
As usual, he gets it like few others do.