September 1st, 2005

Snoopy Christmas

On Katrina

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
It’s been my intention to write a column about 9/11 every year – forever, or at least until my ticker runs out. The reason for that has become obvious these last few years: we, the people, are far too quick to forget.
So I’ll repeat my assertation that every man, woman and young person in America should be required every year to spend a day watching the footage from those attacks. But I must then go on to the event that has moved everything, even the war, to the back burner: Hurricane Katrina.
It appears Katrina may be America’s deadliest natural disaster since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and certainly one of the costliest. A city of half a million is under water, a million or more people lost power and telephone service, many have no water or sewer service, highways are gone, looters shoot at police and take what they want -- an entire nation is effected.
This is unimaginable, the type of disaster that happens to other countries – not us. But it happened. To us. We’ve even received some offers of assistance from other nations, a clear indication that things are not as the American people expect them to always be. I wonder if Katrina isn’t the clarion call we’ve needed, to make it clear to those who live in the prosperity and security of the United States that our way of life is not so much a given as we assume it is.
It may be this is the biggest signal yet that it really is a small world: That the people of other continents and cultures are not so very different from us as we tend to think. Take away the great technological achievements that we’ve come to depend on, and we’re all just human beings after all, looking for the same thing every human being everywhere wants: sustenance, shelter, and some indication that things will be better tomorrow than they are today.
Hit a coastal nation with a tsunami, an African country with a drought, a European kingdom with a wildfire, and the same things happen as happened in the U.S.: Innocents die, looters rampage, people despair, and stories spread of stupidity, cruelty, and heroics. No matter how they dress or what clothing they wear, people are people, after all.
A few quick notes on Katrina:
* I’ve heard some critics talk about how the Superdome, which sheltered thousands of people, “failed” because it lost part of its roof and its utility services. The Superdome was designed for games, not natural disasters – seems to me it did okay.
* It’s easy to criticize those who decided to stay behind, after being warned in no uncertain terms to evacuate. I’ve heard the excuse that many were too poor to leave, but certainly the authorities could have found some way – school buses, whatever – to get them out. So I confess to having only a little sympathy to those who, ignoring the immense scope of this catastrophe, have jumped on the “It’s the world’s fault for not helping us” bandwagon. I suspect those people are not only immensely stressed, but clueless about what it takes to mount a relief effort of this size.
Having said that, I’d also say they’ve been punished enough.
* On the same day the hurricane hit – the same day – The German Environmental Minister, liberal bloggers, and some media outlets were blaming President Bush for the hurricane. Seriously. Their argument is that Bush’s environmental policies are causing global warming, which in turn is partly to blame for Hurricane Katrina.
I’m no fan of Bush’s environmental policies, but that’s just plain dumb. Experts have been warning for decades that, sooner or later, New Orleans and the surrounding area were in for it. Hurricanes have been hitting the Gulf Coast since there’s been a Gulf Coast, long before the GOP came along and thumbed its nose at global warming.
Come to think of it, who was president in 1900, when the most deadly hurricane in our history hit Galveston? And what were his environmental policies?
All efforts on that day should have been toward assisting, supporting, and praying for the victims, not laying blame. The people trying to turn a hurricane to their political advantage are as much an enemy to this country as those trying to undermine the war effort for the purpose of winning elections.
* Having said that, I do think the rocketing gas prices make for a good time to reconsider our nation’s energy policy. There aren’t enough refineries (why doesn’t someone build more of those things?), there’s only one place to dock supertankers in America (oops, Gulf Coast), and we get way too much of our oil from people who don’t like us. To say we should be pushing harder for conservation and alternative energy is a massive understatement.
* What to do with New Orleans? It’s an evocative, historical city, but most of it lies below sea level. The city continues to sink at the rate of an inch every three years and, thanks in part to this global warming that’s not happening, the sea levels are rising.
I hate to be the first one to bring this up, but it might be more cost effective to relocate the city somewhere inland, rather than repair the dikes, pump out the water, and fix the damaged buildings (100% suffered damage, according to most estimates). History tells us it’s just a matter of time before another hurricane, tsunami, levee failure, terrorist attack, or something we haven’t even thought of floods the area yet again. Of course, all Americans live in an area endangered by some natural process, but New Orleans seems even more at risk than the rest of the country.
I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make that decision.
* I hope everyone’s hearts go out to the victims of Katrina. We should remember, as I said, that we all live in danger of some catastrophe, be it earthquake, flood, drought, tornado, or blizzard. We should pay no attention to those in other parts of the world who celebrate our misfortune, because they no more represent the majority than looters in New Orleans represent the majority of Americans. We are, quite literally, all in this together.