25 June 2013

Learning from Katrina

I finished watching Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke" -- a four hour documentary on the aftermath of hurricane Katrina [focussing on New Orleans but applicable to the whole area] that was particularly interesting in the context of recent floods in Calgary and the last few years that I've spent living among Dutch people who have "fear of flood" in their DNA. It's also relevant to the conference I am attending today, on Canadian groundwater resources [read the paper at that link], as you'll see in a few paragraphs.

The documentary starts with the arrival of the storm but it spends most of its time on people's responses, the government's failure to respond, and how people felt about that. They were afraid and angry because the devastation of the storm ("We'd never expected something like that") was followed by incompetence and indifference on a massive scale ("George Bush decided to spend billions on Iraq but couldn't find money for us here"). A few thoughts:

The Army Corps of Engineers really failed to deliver, but I'm not surprised. They have been stretched for ages between developers' and politicians' desire to build in risky places and a total lack of adequate funding to protect those places. (USACE culture may be part of the problem, but engineers can protect anything with enough resources.)

Community, city and state resources were overwhelmed. Communities can take care of themselves when the size of the disaster is small enough and locals care enough about each other. NOLA is a tight community, but you can't help your neighbor when you're already drowning.

Government corruption and disorganization made preparation, response and recovery much harder. The Dutch would have had a plan. Four Calgarians have died in their floods, but over 1,800 died in Katrina. (The 265 deaths in "Super storm" "New normal" Sandy were foreseen in the movie, when one scientist says "the Boston-DC corridor would get North Carolina-sized storms due to climate change".)

The appalling lack of response from the Bush government and FEMA is deeply troubling. I think it reflects not racism ("Bush doesn't like black people") but indifference. Bush was responsible for two disastrous wars, the destruction of governmental institutions, a fiscal black hole, and abuse of many people. I'm not sure why he has never been tried for treason, but perhaps Obama's continuation of Bush policies (with help from other branches of government) confirms that this is business as usual. WTF, America?

Katrina was a storm. Storms have happened for eons, but their damages are getting worse because more people are living in harm's way and climate change is increasing the size of storms and the areas they affect.

Which brings me back to Canada and groundwater. Aquifers and wetlands are both good at absorbing and then gradually releasing large quantities of water, but we've over-exploited both for a little too long. Overdraft an aquifer and you lose water that you may want in a drought (as well as killing streams that depend on aquifer discharges to maintain year-round base flows). Dry out or build on wetlands and you lose their ability to absorb storm surges and clean water (as well as killing ecosystems that provide food and biodiversity). Climate change is making aquifers and wetlands ever more valuable, but it's rare to see people leaving them in place, let alone restoring them. That's a mistake, as their values to humans and societies are MUCH GREATER than the value derived from drying them out for subsidized agri-stupid or yet-another faceless tract of beach condos.

Bottom Line: We will have more Katrinas -- bad storms and painful human suffering -- when we put short-term cash flows ahead of long-term community and ecological resilience.

* Miami is in denial about its impending doom (even the Dutch can't prevent water from flooding you from below), but the Cubans -- realistic in their poverty -- are trying to restore the coasts that may protect them.

1 comment:

Karen Worthington said...

Man made global warming is not happening. Co2 does not drive temperature increase. ‘The climate change agenda was a construct of the Club of Rome’ – see attached – under “the common enemy of humanity is man’. The science in the IPCC report is weak and hand pecked to support that agenda (I was an expert reviewer of the report). If you are a trained scientist you understand that science is also a moving entity.

If you are interested. I have a blog I just started. I don’t like to impose myself on others but here it is:

http://karenworthington.blogspot.ca/

Yes we are hurting the planet (and ourselves) but the solution is not socialism and higher taxes that benefit the few and weaken the rest even more.