Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Need to Seriously Think Through What to do With Gulf Coast

As countless people who have lived along the Gulf Coast still try to recover from hurricane Katrina, each evening we see leaders and residents alike talk about not letting Mother Nature win, and the need to rebuild New Orleans and other destroyed communities. I love to see such resiliency and determination, but in the heat of the moment there is a strong emotional element that is involved when these statements are made. In the long run, cooler heads need to seriously consider whether such massive investments are the wise thing to do.

On August 8, I wrote about how research showed a key prediction from global warming models has been confirmed. It only took three weeks before we had more supporting evidence with Katrina. The prediction is that with global warming comes warmer surface water temperature, and a consequence of this is not more frequent hurricanes, but rather more intense and destructive hurricanes. I have heard that Katrina was the strongest hurricane ever recorded via air pressure measurements. This was predicted and expected according to scientists who study global weather patterns and models, and the Nature article concluded with the prophetical prediction that

"results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and—taking into account an increasing coastal population—a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century."

Our leaders need to consider the science and increasing evidence that such ferocious storms will likely happen again before rebuilding begins. Obviously there are serious consequences, and it is time to weigh in hard data before emotional responses are acted upon.

If you can afford to donate for relief efforts, here is a direct link to the Red Cross.


Lucky Balaraman said...

After the Storm blog
EDITOR'S NOTE: This daily roundup of Web and blogosphere coverage of Hurricane Katrina appears on the Web Site of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss.
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Erica said...

Are you suggesting that New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt because it's just going to get torn down again by another hurricane? If so, I see your point that we should do anything possible to avoid another tragedy like this one. However, not rebuilding the city seems like a very passive way of dealing with the hurricane problem. After all, New Orleans is not the only part of the country that gets hurricanes, and keeping people away from that one small section of the coast is not going to change the fact that any one of the hundreds of other towns on the coast could get hit and destroyed next.

Wouldn't it be better for the residents of New Orleans if people developed new architectural techniques to make buildings more hurricane-proof and THEN rebuilt the city, making it more resiliant? I don't know much about engineering, but there must be ways to do that. After all, they made Stanford essentially earthquake-proof after the big quake of '89, when our quad sort of split in half.

While it's true that we can't stop nature, we can find smart ways to get around it. If we didn't rebuild New Orleans, we would be hiding from nature instead of working with it, and that's just not practical. We can't all live inland.

vonny said...

The first comment is a cheap way of advertising which I wish would be stopped.

Erica -
The thing that separates New Orleans from other areas is simply that it is several feet below sea level. If Katrina hti head-on rather than drifting a few miles east, the potential storm surge could have been 25-30 feet high, while the levee is only ~13 feet high. I cannot imagine what would have happened had this occurred.

You are absolutely right that it si impractical and essentially impossble not to bild on the coasts. Or national economy is strongly dependent on the entire Gulf area, as well as our national energy and defense. What I am saying is that the trend has been, and the science suggests, that storms of this strength may actually become more frequent and, worst-case, the norm. We need to plan and build in anticipation of Katrina type storms and even stronger ones...we need to learn from this experience. We cannot and should not hide from Nature (potentially bad things can occur everywhere), but we damn well better respect what it can do.

I am no expert on the latest architectural and engineering techniques and technology, but it is clear that we are not there yet. It would also be interesting to find out how much effort and research is being done in these areas, because rebuilding needs to begin asap. Thanks for the always excellent comments.