The finger pointing and blaming over the Katrina disaster are only just beginning. But we should look beyond the specifics of New Orleans and face our unwillingness as a nation to confront problems we do not consider imminent.
Here are a few problems for which we are woefully unprepared:
- Any disruption in food or water supply – caused by natural disaster or terrorist attack. No responsible family should be without at least a couple of weeks dehydrated food and water or at least MREs. These can be had for as little as $300-$400. Can’t afford it? What’s your life worth? Will you be counting on the government to pull you through?
- Economic disruption related to oil dependence. All our industries function on just-in-time delivery systems. Katrina took out 10% of oil supplies. What if a larger disaster took out 20-50%? This argues for transportation energy diversification even if there were no long-term oil shortage. Bring on the distributed energy web.
- Other levee systems around the country that may be at risk of flooding.
- Economic disruption related to huge government borrowing and the housing bubble. What if housing prices dropped 25%? What if the Chinese stopped buying U.S. Treasury Bills? We have no plan B.
As I write this, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is solving one problem while creating another worse one: They are pumping the toxic brew that now covers New Orleans back into the ocean and Lake Pontchartrain. Experts say even skin contact with the water is dangerous for humans. And this putrid bilge (which will take up to 3 months to drain) is expected to kill aquatic life over a wide area. An environmental disaster is in the making, as the government plunges ahead with its “cleanup.” WHAT”S THE RUSH? Is it really important to prove the obvious–that submerged buildings are ruined and probably contain many corpses? The entire city has become a toxic waste site. In normal times it would have been cordoned and sequestered by the EPA. Why not remediate the water in situ, or build treatment plants to filter it while pumping. If it takes a little longer, so what? Everyone’s evacuated in any case, and what’s important is that this vital port area and city have a functioning ecology in the future.
A final note: FEMA is now on record as banning any photos of deceased from being published. This has two results:
- It trumpets the fact that we are unwilling to face the human toll of our collective inaction. (And yes, we are all responsible. We elected the idiots, and tried unsuccessfully to cede the responsibility to them.)
- It is unconstitutional, for starters, and it smacks of the Bush policy during the Iraq war, which has been widely flouted. (Politicians know they get the blame for any visible carnage.) Media should, and will, make an extra effort to defy the ban.
Note: I’ve discussed the woeful state of US Civil Defense since the 1980s. We simply, individually and collectively, don’t plan for unforeseen events, or more importantly events we don’t want to face. Note that I discussed here a 25% drop in housing prices. Barely 3 years later, housing prices had collapsed more than 20% in the great recession of 2008, with some markets dropping 35% or more. And now we’re woefully unprepared for climate-driven disasters which threaten to be worse than anything we’ve experienced. This could lead to an even bigger financial crash, and even perhaps severe famines in parts of the world. We’re not ready for what’s coming. –Sean Prophet, August 2022