Friday, September 23, 2005

We Still Don't Get It

This morning Hurricane Rita chugs along at 140 mph, on target to flatten the coastline in her path as a Cat 4 storm. Better than a 5, absolutely, but its's troubling that it has lost so little power in the time it was downgraded yesterday.
I woke a little while ago to BBC World's dreary recitation of woes being experienced by the 2 million people fleeing Rita across the Gulf Coast: stalled lines of traffic more than 20 miles long, overheated and stalled and gasless cars lying in dead hulks by the roadsides, nightmare lines at the gas pumps and shortages there, calls from the governor of Texas to be patient and know that the irritated evacuees have done the right thing. And in the NYTimes the situation sounds even worse:
" Heeding days of dire warnings about Hurricane Rita, as many as 2.5 million people jammed evacuation routes on Thursday, creating colossal 100-mile-long traffic jams that left many people stranded and out of gas as the huge storm bore down on the Texas coast.
Acknowledging that "being on the highway is a deathtrap," Mayor Bill White asked for military help in rushing scarce fuel to stranded drivers. "
If the whole unfolding mess isn't futher proof of the utter failure of the Deptartment of Homeland Security in planning and helping municipalities plan for disasters,there's this:
"The Houston area's two major air gateways, Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental, suffered major delays when more than 150 screeners from the Transportation Security Administration, facing their own evacuation concerns, did not show up for work. The agency later rushed in replacements, a spokeswoman said, but passengers, already burdening the system with extra luggage for their trips to safety, waited for hours to go through security."
Don't even think about what might happen if we were faced with a more sudden emergency like a nuclear attack.

BBC World, who was reporting on all this as I blearily groped for the snooze alarm, turned to a by-now familiar bete noir of the Right's, global warming and its effect on the formation of hurricanes. They spoke with Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the British government, who told them in no uncertain terms that the waffling arguments being presented against global warning may represent dissent about it amongst laypeople, but in the scientific community there is no disagreement. Hurricanes form most frequently when the water's temperature goes to 28 degrees C and higher, and we have not seen the kind of temperatures that have led to Katrina and Rita in over a million years. CNN also reported today on a Brit scientist, Sir John Lawton, who has had it with the political agendists in the US who refuse to believe what’s right in front of their noses on this issue:
"Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution which advises the government, made what the Independent newspaper said was a thinly disguised attack on the stance of U.S. President George W. Bush's administration.
"The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming," Lawton told the newspaper in an interview.
"If this makes the climate loonies in the States realize we've got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation," said Lawton...
"There are a group of people in various parts of the world ... who simply don't want to accept human activities can change climate and are changing the climate. I'd liken them to the people who denied that smoking causes lung cancer."
Lawton said hurricanes were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because of the rising temperature of the sea.
"Increasingly it looks like a smoking gun," he said."
Thinking of that, combined with the nightmare attempts at evacuation ongoing now and during Katrina which have all dependent on the use of gasoline, roadways, and gas-powered vehicles to get people to safety, reminded me of a James Kunstler column he wrote right after Katrina on the viscious circle we have created for ourselves:
"The truth is that it does not really matter whether the freeways are crammed full of SUVs or nimble hybrid cars. The problem is car-dependency and the infrastructure for daily living predicated on it, not the kind of vehicles we run. I have yet to hear one US senator of either party propose that part of the recent $300 billion highway bill ought to be redirected to rebuilding America's passenger rail system -- even after the bitter lesson of Katrina, which demonstrated that people who don't own cars can't get out of harm's way in this country.
Another Big Thought still clogging the collective imagination is the idea that if only we switch to "alternative fuels" we can run the interstate highway system, Disney World, and WalMart just like before. The country is full of people now who want gold stars for running their household car fleet on discarded Fry-Max oil from the local Dunkin Donuts. . . or on oil squeezed from hemp seeds. Notice that the premise of a drive-in society remains."
As played out so perfectly in our flailing attempts to use it right now. We still don't get it, even after Katrina, even after the sky-high prices at the pumps. Maybe record numbers of deaths during the winter, when people can't afford to heat their homes, may wake us up.

But I doubt it, now. We're just a gigantic old drunk too long gone to stop drinking now.

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