How much longer can we hold back the flood? Both the physical floods of melting glaciers and rising seas and the information tides of unpleasant news — climate disaster, oil shortages, little infrastructural planning, and trenchant joblessness?
A real deluge
Recently I’ve been considering the huge amount of flooding that people are dealing with the world over. From the Indonesian and Japan tsunamis to historic flooding in areas like Pakistan, Australia and the Midwest of the US, there’s water, water everywhere. Here in the States that’s lead to the Army Corps of Engineers effectively deciding which switches to flip on dams so that flooding can be averted in one place and funneled to another.
What a decision. Is it political (better not let floods happen to New Orleans again) or merely practical (all that flood water has to go somewhere)?
The heavy precipitation and huge snowpack melting in the mountains have combined to produce a tidal wave for which we — meaning, the Corps, the states, the communities, anyone living along the river — could not have been prepared. The bottom line is, when natural elements reach a critical mass, nature will always find a way to take control. And that’s what it’s doing now.
The editors’ views are what we often and rightly call common sense. Politicians, engineers, everyday folk — we certainly can’t control Mother Nature. On floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, disasters of all kinds, she ultimately has the last word.
More to come
I imagine with climate scientists predicting rapidly escalating glacial melts, and their natural downstream flow, we’re going to see a whole lot more of this kind of flood from every angle. Climate deniers can continue to claim that exponential increases in man made CO2 has nary to do with increasing global warming (and global weirding) but all that political hot air will not stop the flow of more and more water.
Like the story “The Little Dutch Boy” teaches us, better to have dealt with a small trickle in the dike before it becomes a flowing stream and then a raging torrent. Sadly, this was a lesson we, at least in the US, refused to learn. Now we’re likely to see more and more communities assaulted by the awesome power of Mother Nature, and powerless to do much beyond coping, crying, and relocating.
The EPA now advises that many key coastal areas either permanently adapt to wetter conditions or expect to be inundated by both storms and rising waters. Individuals who refuse to move will face huge insurance costs. With local government budgets in the trash can, municipalities can’t afford much mitigation, so they may just continue hoping for federal rescue after the fact. The question is, Will federal rescue be there if federal warnings weren’t heeded, or will localities be on their own?
Hampton Roads, home to the Virginia Beach-Norfolk metro area and one of the East Coast’s densest population zones, is learning that all too well. As The Washington Post reports, the EPA warns that places like Hampton Roads should not waste time or money on expensive projects designed to hold back the sea because they wont work. Instead, moving inland is the only answer.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the first manual on how not to hold (the sea) back, arguing that costly seawalls and dikes eventually fail because sea-level rise is unstoppable. The federal Global Change Research Program estimates that the sea level will rise 14 to 17 inches in the next century around Hampton Roads. The analysis, “Rolling Easements,” published on the EPA’s Web site, hopes “to get people on the path of not expecting to hold back the sea” as the warming climate is expected to melt ice around the globe, EPA researcher James G. Titus said.
Where cooler heads prevail
There’s fighting climate change and then there’s admitting that it’s coming no matter what we do and just trying to prepare for wetter, scarier weather, including more floods all the time.
The same thing on oil declines. At least if we admit it’s coming we can adjust future plans, or direct our policy and development accordingly.
On the fighting climate-change front, and to lessen dependence on foreign oil, European cities are stepping up their efforts to suppress auto travel in favor of pedestrian, mass transit and bicycling options. That’s all well and good for Europe, but they didn’t build their cities on the presumption of sprawl-based development and they’ve long helped lead more people out of cars both by not outrageously subsidizing oil and gas and then by taxing consumers appropriately when gas was used.
But compared to other industrial powers, it appears that the US is doing neither, which puts it on a path to go down like a lead balloon in a flood of stupidity. Here, under the plutocratic control of Big Oil, with its partners in crime in the auto industry and federal roads development, except in rare instances in individual states, the actions that European powers have taken are nearly verboten, seemingly just shy of treason.
Culturally we’re still busy calling transit “socialist” and whining when gas goes over $2.50 a gallon. In short we’re determined to stay on a stubborn path to our sure destruction, and neither the people, our leaders, or the media are raising enough clarion calls to avert it.
But like those rapidly melting glaciers and the floods in their wake, how long can the worldwide flood of news on climate disasters be held back? How long can energy stories be spun as if a rescue by shale gas and tar sands and a derrick at every beach is the key to “happy motoring” forever? How long can we continue to pretend that shuttered businesses and houses languishing on the market as nature slowly takes over is not happening? Will we continue to buy altered unemployment numbers while ignoring the other 10% of jobless who are no longer being counted?
How long will we be willing to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” and let our political process remain hostage to powers hostile to a shift in national policy on energy and climate?
And if we ignore all this what will be the cost to our notion of ourselves as the “greatest nation in the world” when most everyone else has adapted, and the big fat emperor has no clothes?
–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice