Friday, April 30, 2010

Another Katrina?

By Luke Sherlock
aka "Irish"

It is just one week after the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day and the Earth is reminding us that it is in charge. The beginnings of a catastrophe are slowing coming ashore in New Orleans again. The effects of the recent oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico are making landfall. Tragedy, irony and politics will now play out in macabre theater for quite some time to come.

The “worse than expected” (when have we heard that before) oil leak from the aforementioned oil rig accident is about to bring upon New Orleans a second natural disaster; this one man made. That beleaguered city is still recovering from the aftereffects of hurricane Katrina; a disaster made more devastating by man’s folly. There seems to be a message here. The juxtaposition of the timing, the location, the political climate, the economy and what may be a false celebration of a significant event cannot be ignored.

New Orleans exists primarily because of where it is. A rich seaport on the Gulf of Mexico, it has attracted people and industry for centuries now. Literally, decades upon decades of people have been willing to fight the forces of nature to forge a vibrant city sitting well below sea level. But those same people have suffered at the hands of poor planning, cheap fixes, incompetent government and false security in terms of dealing with nature’s will. And now, as the life’s blood fishing industry was beginning to make a comeback from Katrina, uncounted gallons of waterborne oil threaten to choke it off.

The ongoing exercise to stem the flow of oil is being described as the largest such operation in history. Given the relatively primitive tools available for such a task, I believe this portends catastrophic damage to the coast line and beyond. The Gulf is currently experiencing 6 to 8 foot swells. How does one contain anything under such conditions?

The timing of this event is not insignificant. Just weeks ago the US suffered one of its worst mining accidents. Two controversial sources of energy now in our faces environmentally and politically.

Following a long and possibly artificially protracted health care debate, the President hoped to move on to energy. Something, politically at least, there was a sense of unified concern about. He had even declared that there was a need for more domestic off-shore drilling; essentially trumping a Republican campaign issue. Politics being what it is, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reed, who has the power to do so and is facing a real challenge in November, self-servingly opted to stall introduction the well planned and bipartisan supported Energy Bill, to bring Immigration to the fore.

No doubt the Immigration matter needs fair and square treatment; emphasis on the fair. But to jump it ahead of the line for political purposes with this wave of killing oil approaching our shores seems irresponsible. By the same token, reactive politics often leads to costly decisions. And, economically, whether any of the subject oil was destined for US consumption or not, the price of gasoline has risen by 13 cents in my neighborhood in the past few days.

I truly hope that proper attention is paid to this disaster, and that responsible government action and reaction follows suit. It does not provide any comfort or confidence, however, to look back and recall how long it took for Alaska to recover from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

We live on a planet that we cannot tame, no matter how hard we try, or how much we advance technologically. Respecting that fact is the first step in appreciating our responsibility to carefully regulate and assure the operation and safety of those man made implements being use to harness the natural resources we so freely consume. One of the legacies of the first Earth Day was to motivate us be up to this task. I believe it is obvious we still have a long way to go.

Photo/quote by R. Jay Taylor: "The lower 9th Ward still looks like this 4 years after Katrina - WOW!"

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