Whitley's Journal

The Lesson of the Storms

Another summer, another series of weather catastrophes worldwide. Monster rains kill hundreds in India, a gigantic area of Siberian permafrost melts, northern Europe floods while southern Europe experiences its worst drought ever recorded.

And now Katrina, which could well turn out to be the greatest environmental disaster in the history of the United States, and a terrifying warning of worse to come. As I write this, the governor of Louisiana is saying that the situation is "worse than our worst fears" and 80 percent of New Orleans is under water.

At virtually the same time, the House of Representatives, at the request of the Bush administration, cut 70 million dollars from the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for the New Orleans District. Last year, it essentially ended disaster planning for the region by transferring the chore to a private company, IEM Corp., and giving it a $500,000 budget. Now, it has shelved a study that was to determine ways to protect the city from a Category 5 hurricane.

These decisions were made because global warming is "just a theory" and its therefore senseless to plan for such an unlikely event. Additionally, New Orleans is the Christian right's 'sin city,' as evidenced by emails I received from fundamentalists after publishing a request for prayer two days ago in my website's newsletter.

There were hundreds of responses, most of them expressing their own hopes and prayers for the city and the region the storm was impacting. However, there was also another sort of response: "how dare you pray for that evil place. Jesus Christ is killing evil, it is purefication (sic)" and "God hates places like that, Whitley. You shame yourself by asking Him to help whom He despises."

New Orleans also votes heavily Democratic. So the administration therefore had three reasons to ignore the open and obvious needs of the city for proper disaster planning: it was on the wrong side of the political fence; the Christian community doesn't like it; and, anyway, global warming is just a theory.

In fact, weather experts have been warning for years that a confluence of a large cyclical pattern in hurricane formation and record high sea water temperatures in the Caribbean, the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico is extremely dangerous. To ignore these warnings even after last year's hurricane season is not simply ignorant, it is willfully, destructively ignorant.

The disaster that has befallen New Orleans could have been ameliorated if the Army Corps of Engineers had been able to examine the levees and if they had been adequately maintained. It did not have the budget to do this properly in recent years and, with the new cuts, has no ability even to repair levees, let alone reinforce them.

New Orleans has been abandoned to its fate by what I have come to believe is the worst administration in American history, even worse than the spectacularly corrupt Harding and Grant administrations. As most of you know, I am a moderate, neither a conservative nor a liberal, a Democrat or a Republican. But I know bad when I see bad, and what we have now is real bad.

Now, of course, they will send emergency assistance, etc., but the fact remains that they have dragged their heels on disaster planning for this city for years, and were preparing to abandon it to its fate altogether. No doubt, the Senate will quietly restore the 70 million to the Corps of Engineers budget that the Administration's congressional supporters scratched.

There is a very basic problem behind all this. It is that American politicians do not understand that nature is, literally, beyond politics, in the sense that nature never does anything except what it must do, and it can be counted on absolutely to do that. Therefore, the job of politicians is not to interject ideology into the equation, but rather to respond to the facts as they appear, and to respect the scientists who make an effort to understand and predict.

Of course there has been a debate over global warming. But after last year's appalling storms, and given the accuracy of seasonal hurricane prediction in recent years, to turn away from disaster planning for the Atlantic and Gulf coasts is not simply an innocent mistake, it is willful negligence. And to specifically single out the largest and most vulnerable city in the United States to bear the brunt of budget cuts borders on the criminal.

There is a larger issue, also. The administration not only doesn't "believe" in global warming, it is taking proactive steps to sabotage the work of scientists who are trying to understand the situation. For example, Congressman Joe Barton, at the request of the administration (a request generated by the Heritage Foundation) is making extreme record demands of climate scientists in an obvious effort to frighten and intimidate them. This outrageous activity is only one small part of a much larger problem: the whole way that the administration views the world, as divided between opponents and supporters is fallacious.

The reason that it does this is that it is too devoted to its ideology, which is a confused mish-mash of shibboleths, unsupported beliefs and wishful thinking. Global warming is a liberal theory. Jesus Christ will protect the good from harm, and if the worst happens who cares, there's always the Rapture. Big companies don't need big government to balance their power. In fact, they need big government to give them more power. The United States has an obligation to spread the idea of freedom--really, that large corporations should be unregulated--worldwide, even by force of arms if necessary.

What a mess we have ended up in because of this idiocy. Mark my words, we are headed for a catastrophe worse than the great depression, when a confluence of environmental disasters combine with ungovernable debt and resource scarcity to derail US and world economies in ways more profound than we have known since the economic disintegration that accompanied the collapse of the Roman imperial government in Western Europe and North Africa back in the fifth century.

It isn't all the fault of the Bush administration, of course--they are only the unfortunates who happened to be standing in the road when the Mack Truck came barreling along. But they could have heeded its screaming horns and flashing lights. Like the Clinton, Bush, Carter, Reagan and other modern administrations, they had warning and they ignored it.

Clinton knew well what the environmental situation was. He ignored it because he was under too much pressure from other directions to address issues that the public felt were unimportant. The rest ignored it for various reasons, largely ideological ones. But only the current administration has not only refused to listen to scientists, but proactively embarked on a campaign to terrorize them.

Going a little deeper, we find a gradual change in public sympathies regarding environmental issues that dates, essentially, from the rise of Rush Limbaugh 15 years ago, and, with him, the success of the conservative talk radio industry. From the beginning, the idea that global warming is liberal nonsense has been part of Mr. Limbaugh's mantra, and the mantras of his hundreds of camp followers nationwide.

They have appealed to our very human desire to believe that things are essentially okay and to be free of the burdens of taxation and governmental interference in our lives. Using these very natural desires, they have served a darker ideology, which is to free large corporations from any form of regulation at all.

This is what they are about, not personal freedom. The bigger companies get, the less freedom the individual has. Look at the news media: just a few years ago, your radio and TV stations were all locally owned and operated. Now, they're all owed by big, faceless companies that care only for their profits. You and your freedom matter to them only insofar as your hopes and fears draw you to their programming. And its the same in the rest of the media. And look at software: one gigantic company dominates and stifles development, to the point that, for the first time since 1875, the rate of innovation declined in 2003.

This decline is directly traceable to the fact that a single company and its products have, in effect, frozen the cutting edge of technological development in the past in order to maximize profits. Windows is technological ancient history. If we had competition in this field--real competition--we would be well on our way to the next level of data processing, which is fast, intuitive, accurate and, above all, cheap.

Companies like Microsoft and the media conglomerates should go the way of Ma Bell and the great oil trusts of the 19th Century. But instead, while shooting off their mouths about personal freedom, Limbaugh and his coterie of babbling camp followers urge the support of politicians who have a single ideological bias: give the big companies everything.

This means not inconveniencing them by nattering on about global warming and the sort of regulation solving the problem might require. That becomes liberal nonsense.

What is so monstrously ironic about all this, is that the most immediate way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions doesn't even involve big companies. It involves the individual, and proper leadership on the part of presidents, prime ministers and people of influence like Mr. Limbaugh could have had a gigantic effect. All they had to do was to have spent the last crucial fifteen years advocating private initiative in reducing emissions, instead of pretending that they don't mean anything, in order to preserve the earnings of their corporate masters.

Here is a simple set of instructions that were originally proposed by the Canadian Prime Minister, and which I preserve on the Quickwatch page of this website:

To reduce individual carbon dioxide emissions dramatically, only a few minor lifestyle changes are needed to effect these annual savings:

Get an energy efficient fridge: 3,000 pounds.

Discard one less 30 gal. bag of garbage a week: 300 pounds.

Leave the car at home two days per week: 1,590 pounds.

Recycle: 850 pounds.

Switch two light bulbs to fluorescents: 1,000 pounds.

Get a low-flow shower head: 300 pounds.

Turn the thermostat down two degrees: 500 pounds.

Cut vehicle fuel use by 10 gallons: 200 pounds.

Switch to cold water for laundry: 600 pounds.

If Rush Limbaugh had been advocating this simple set of personal initiatives, he could have become a major player in mankind's fight for a future. And if they had become a presidential initiative fifteen years ago, our world would not be in nearly the dire situation it finds itself in now.

Of course, it's only a small part of the solution, but it's there and it's available and it's damn sad that it is being ignored.

That gets me back to New Orleans right this moment. A short time ago, somebody committed suicide in the stifling, jam packed Superdome. Vast areas of the city are flooded. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a catastrophe. And the media are shouting about the forces of nature and showing pictures of Coast Guard helicopters to the rescue.

Nobody mentions that intelligent planning could have at least reduced the impact of this storm, and that long term attention to the reality of global warming and its consequences could have quite possibly meant that it would not have been as large or penetrated so far inland while still a hurricane.

What a world. And now I will once again get letters from those demon-infested popinjays who call themselves the Christian right full of death threats and spitting hate. I say, let them scream and spit, just for the love of God stop voting for them!

At this point, it is incumbent upon every American to seek out moderate politicians and vote for them, and for people of good sense and moderation to run for office in the political parties of their choice. Unless this country is run by a confluence of the middle, it is going to have its back broken by idiots and the stupid, ideology driven policies of the far left and the far right.

I want my children and my grandchildren to have a future. Right now, the screaming extremists who run this country have a very clear message for my children and grandchildren: forget the future, live for today, go into debt, abandon your freedom to corporate power and greed. And the left says the opposite: give your freedom to big government.

It's all a great waste, and time is much too short. In fact, for the people of New Orleans, Biloxi and God only knows how many other communities along the Gulf of Mexico, it has already run out.

NOTE: This Journal entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.



Subscribe to Unknowncountry sign up now