Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fiddling while Rome burns -- or New Orleans washes away

By Nancy Jane Moore

According to Sunday's Washington Post, scientists are squabbling about whether global warming is causing an increase in hurricanes.

But while this controversy is interesting -- there does appear to be a genuine scientific conflict here, unlike the made-up conflict about whether human beings are causing climate change (we are) -- The Post buried the most important point in the whole story in the last paragraph:
William Hooke, who directs the American Meteorological Society's policy program, said that whatever the answer turns out to be, "We ought not to lose sight of the fact that we're doing a poor job of protecting ourselves against the hurricanes we have now."
Even if we were not confronted by the frightening spectacle of climate change brought on by human actions, we would still need to improve how we deal with hurricanes. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and based solely on my personal experience (a blip of time when you're looking at climate patterns), I can guarantee you that hurricanes are going to hit with regularity all along the coast, and that some of them are going to be very destructive.

And yet we still allow people to build on barrier islands, continue to drain protective wetlands, build inadequate levees, and generally let human desire for land trump settled scientific knowledge about how best to protect ourselves from the worst of the storms. With or without global warming, storms are going to be worse as long as we ignore the knowledge we already have.

Not only that, we have inadequate disaster relief plans in place, something that can affect not only those who live in hurricane country, but also victims of other tornadoes, fires, blizzards, floods and other disasters, not to mention what might happen if we had a significant terrorist attack.

You can count me among the people who are very concerned about global warming. I often fear that even if the US has a political change of heart and starts working to deal with the problem, and even if it can convince China to go along -- both very big "ifs" -- we may already have affected the climate so much that there will still be untold destruction and suffering in our lifetimes and in generations to come.

And there is plenty of scientific evidence to back up the human effect on climate change. Real Climate, "a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists," is an excellent source of information on the subject. Their most recent post -- which includes comments by some of the authors mentioned in The Washington Post article -- gives insight into the discussion over the effect of global warming on climate change.

It's time for the rest of us to become scientifically literate. We not only need to stop wasting time on fake controversies (like evolution), but also to learn to understand the difference between politically inspired controversies (such as whether global warming is a problem) and real scientific debates (such whether last year's hurricane season was the result of global warming).

Good science education -- with a thorough grounding in scientific methods and principles and some training in how to evaluate statistics and experimental results -- should no longer be left only to those who plan to become scientists. We all need to understand everything we can about the world and universe around us.


Jamie Lynk said...

I live in Sarasota,FL, which is 55-miles North of Punta Gorda,FL, where Hurricane Charley came ashore
in 2004. I was evacuated 4 times that year.

Last year, we were glued to the Weather Channel while Katrina & Rita churned up the Gulf of Mexico on their way North. Then Wilma hit Florida's East Coast toward the end of Hurricane Season (June 1 to December 1). We on Florida's West Coast were happy none of them hit us.

Yet, we watched with sympathy, then
dismay, then horror, and finally anger what was happening in New Orleans; knowing "there but for the grace of God go I". We knew we
dodged a bullet; but, we also know that the Hurricane Gun is still aimed at us along with the entire Gulf Coast; and we know the big one's coming.

Even with all this awareness, new high-rises are going up within a mile of Sarasota Bay. Sarasota County's Barrier Islands (Casey, Siesta and South Longboat Key) are still being built-up. Old bungalows
are being torn down and new mega-homes are being built that are priced in the multi-million dollar
range. Even thos high-rise condos
are starting around a half-million and go up - and up - from there.

People should read CONDOMINIUM, a novel by John D McDonald. McDonald
was living in Sarasota and used it as the model for his fictional city
which gets hit by a big hurricane.
Just as in CONDOMINIUM, all the growth along the coastal areas is driven by one thing: GREED!

Which takes us back to Punta Gorda, FL: They're re-building; but
the poor people (mostly black old-time Floridians) who had older homes along the Peace River (primo property) have been displaced. Many had no hurricane insurance (most couldn't afford it anyway), so they couldn't rebuild. Along comes the "developer"; and then we get the "re-zoning" from single-family to multi-family; then we get
the various levels of government allowing "exceptions" so wetlands can be developed; etc. A few get rich (sometimes it's richer) and the rest get nothing.

Just like in New Orleans, the people that "have" will be able to evacuate - the people that "don't have" [i.e.: like in New Orleans that will be the poor, the working poor; and the retiree living on Social Security (many living in all
those Florida trailor parks because
that's all they can afford) will bear the brunt of the storm.

They estimate if a Catory-4/5 (like
Katrina) hit Tampa; the down-town area which is right on Tampa Bay would have 20-feet of water in the streets.

All the Florida Coastal Cities talk about evacuation plans; they show us their plans; they run drills; but, let's be realistic: they won't be able to evacuate all the people in the amount of time available. And what happens, if like with Charley, the hurricane takes a sudden shift of direction and comes ashore in a different place and quicker than expected?

The solution: Nobody should be allowed to live within any of the STORM SURGE zones.

Will that happen? WHEN COWS FLY.

So, everyone who lives on the Gulf Coast, or for that matter everyone who lives along the shore in any hurricane zones (which, by-the-way,
includes Long Island and which was hit by a big hurricane in the 30's)better face the fact that they'll probably be on their own when the big one hits.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Hey, Jamie -- glad you dropped by to give us the Florida perspective. You'd think that after the 2004 hurricane year -- what did Florida get, 4 hurricanes -- that people would start thinking seriously about where they should build. But instead we have lawsuits about people's right to build wherever they want. Sigh.