Thursday, September 01, 2005


(WARNING: I'm pissed off today, folks.)

The other day, I was reading a conservative blogger who speculated on how long it would be before someone on the Left would link Hurricane Katrina with the Bush Administration's scuttling of the Kyoto Accords. As much as I hated to admit it, I knew that this particular blogger was right -- someone would be dumb enough to say that. I figured, though, it would be someone fairly obscure -- a diarist over at Daily KOS, maybe, or that Ward Churchill guy. I didn't think it would be Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Ugh. Talk about making the wrong point at the wrong time.

Now, it may well be that global warming played a role in how strong Hurricane Katrina became, but it's probably dead certain that had Kyoto been followed by the US to the letter, the resultant drop in CO2 emissions wouldn't have been enough to prevent it in the short time since Kyoto, and so on. There's a way to argue that Katrina points the way toward taking global warming more seriously, but continuing to harp on Kyoto isn't that way at all. Besides, there may be another, more direct way in which human activity has enhanced the destruction wreaked by Katrina:

(M)any scientists say the real problem is what has been wrought on the ground in the Gulf Coast region itself. Most serious of all may be the loss of the wetlands.

Wetlands, along the edges of rivers and near the coast itself, are vital for absorbing and storing floodwaters. As such, they gave New Orleans a natural defence against storm surges.

But, according to the US Geological Survey, Louisiana has lost 5000sq km of wetland in the past seven decades - an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The draining of the wetlands to make way for roads, malls, beach communities, marinas and condominiums has also meant shrinkage of the shoreline. Louisiana loses 65sq km of coast every year.

General Robert Flowers, head of the US Army Corps of Engineers until last year, is concerned about the loss of a "natural storm protection" along Louisiana's coast.

"With that loss of wetlands, we had to build hurricane protection. A longer-term solution to replenish wetlands will better serve us."

I'm no knee-jerk environmentalist, but I've never understood the belief that we can rework so much of the Earth in our pursuit of commerce and not have an effect -- sometimes a highly adverse effect -- on some of the physical processes of our world and how those physical processes affect us in return.

And I'll now be frank: our response to the situation that now exists is unacceptable, and the seeds of our poor response were sowed long ago. And when I read that President Bush said this morning that "No one expected the levees to burst", I just want to start banging my head on my desk. In the run-up to Katrina's landfall, nearly everything I read or watched on the news said the same thing: "Jesus, they're in serious trouble if and when those levees burst." But the Administration didn't expect it.

Read this, and wonder why it is that every person in Blogistan last weekend was posting to the effects of "My God, the Gulf Coast is in for a major disaster", while FEMA was twiddling its thumbs. Here's the money quote, the one that has my jaw on the floor and my anger rising:

Federal officials said a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday.

I'm sitting here in Buffalo, wondering how much of tomorrow's paycheck I can afford to give to relief agencies -- and my government has a hospital ship in Baltimore whose mooring lines are still tied to the pier.

And maybe this is totally crass, but I'm angry today and I frankly don't care right now: the people who appointed those who are making these decisions also appointed the people who are making the decisions in Iraq.

UPDATE: In comments, LCScotty writes:

Getting a ship underway isn't like driving to work, and I suspect that the delay is likely caused by the engine room being torn apart or something like that.

That's certainly true, so I did a little more digging and found this press release from the Navy itself, which reports on the specific ship being sent, the USNS Comfort:

The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), based here, was activated Aug. 31 in support of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) efforts to provide medical support in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Comfort, one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States, is being readied quickly for her mission and is expected to get underway for the Gulf Coast by September 3.

So apparently it takes four days for this ship to be readied, from the day of activation until the time it ships out. Note that date: September 3, which isn't tomorrow but the day after tomorrow. And then it will take the Comfort seven days (according to the article) to reach the Gulf Coast. So Comfort will not be on the scene until September 10. A lot of people can die between now and then, of course.

But imagine if Comfort had been activated, say, last Friday, when it was initially suspected that Katrina might be heading for the Gulf Coast and strengthening rapidly. Assuming the same four days to get ready, Comfort could have left port on Tuesday, and thus be halfway there already. Then, if it turns out that Katrina weakens or her impact isn't as bad as feared, you'd have the ship stand down. This would probably cost a lot of money, obviously -- but I doubt anyone would complain. It's called planning for contingencies, which is something that frankly the Bush Administration just doesn't do. Ever. At all.

UPDATE II: John Scalzi makes the same general points as I, but with less spittle adorning his dying monitor as he does so:

No doubt the adminstration will do what it always does when confronted with its own incompetence: Attempt to change the subject, question the motives of those who question them, and work to conceal the proof of their incompetence. I doubt it will work. This is an American city that's sunk beneath the water, and this time the administration can't keep the press from showing pictures of our American dead.

No, damn it, it's not about them being Republican. A competent Republican adminstration would be like ice cream on a summer day compared to these people. There's nothing inherently Republican or Democratic about making sure one of America's major cities -- and our major port -- doesn't get erased under the water of a nearby lake. You're not suddenly paying over $3 for a gallon of gas (when you can find it) because George Bush is a nominal Republican. You're paying that much because he's completely goddamned useless, and he's dragged the government down to his sorry level.

What really gets me is that he's so right in that second paragraph. I can't imagine George Bush the Elder mucking things up this badly. I was never a fan of Ronald Reagan, but he didn't exactly surround himself with the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. This isn't political. It's a desire for this gang to stop screwing things up.

UPDATE III: Nick Mamatas, responding to a mastodonically stupid op-ed that argues that rebuilding NOLA might not be worth it, drives home the point that New Orleans isn't some quaint town with great jazz, gumbo, and Mardi Gras: it's an extremely important sea port. And, in his typically understated way, he makes another suggestion regarding the rebuilding:

Oh, and NOLA residents? Here's something for your Christmas list to Santa. Moveable storm surge walls. Yeah, they're not pretty like those little fire escapes, but they'll keep your ankles dry. Enjoy your new skyline!

Maybe if you're all very nice to the Dutch (you know, the below-sea-level people who are gaining rather than losing land) maybe they'll build some for you.

What? Learn something from those pesky Europeans? Who does that?

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