2 September 2005
Gaia and eternal PMS
Bless you, Matt Welch:
[A]s a resident of Los Angeles, I'm particularly sensitive to the Hastertian vibe
you always get from the rest of the country at times like these ... why do you crazy people live there?
Instead of answering that, I'd like [to] turn the question around what parts of the country are actually sensible to live, in terms of avoiding natural catastrophes and constant reliance on guvmint to bail citizens out? Much of the Mississippi basin would be uninhabitable wetlands if we let the Big Muddy go where it actually wants to (for an account of this, and of the insanity of Southern California development, I highly recommend John McPhee's The Control of Nature
). The Midwest is a tornado-generating sinkhole of federal farm subsidies; everything west of the Rockies is a nightmare of water mismanagement, Florida and California are famously doomed, the Pacific Northwest is filled with active volcanoes, whole chunks of the Canada-adjacent strip are uninhabitable for several months a year (in my judgment, at least), and the entire eastern seaboard could be swallowed by a tsunami if that volcano on Montserrat
blows the wrong direction. Not to make light of a heartbreaking tragedy, but is there a sane, self-reliant place to live in this country? Or is wrestling with a hostile Mother Nature a feature, not a bug?
I'd say "San Diego," but someone is sure to bring up wildfires.
Meanwhile, I'm here in Tornado Alley, watching the sky. Anyone taking bets on the next asteroid strike?
Posted at 6:32 PM to Dyssynergy
What I wrote on Reason that no one will read:
This is a lot like saying "Well, I'm gonna die anyway, so I might as well smoke like a chimney and eat 40 doughnuts a day."
We shouldn't build cities where the odds are 1:1 that the city will be wiped off the map, resulting in thousands of casualties in <100 years.
Now as to rebuilding, isn't it reasonable to say that we shouldn't rebuild fungible, uninteresting buildings, strip malls, slums and other low-value real-estate under sea level?
Can we all agree to save the historically and monetarily valuable real estate with some truly AWESOME levees and rebuild the rest of NOLA on higher ground?
You may not have to rebuild "the rest of it"; I rather think a lot of people are simply not going to come back.
Then again, Forbes ran a piece this week listing the least-safe places to live based on horrible climactic events; New Orleans didn't even make the top ten. (Monroe, in northern Louisiana, was the worst; they have considerably less in the way of hurricane threat, but they're closer to Tornado Alley. Tulsa was 8th.) Their methodology was perhaps a bit dubious "extreme weather," either wicked hot or horrid cold, counted for just as much as big stormage, which probably explains how Dallas made #2 but ultimately you end up balancing between high-probability low-risk events (hail usually won't kill you) and low-probability high-risk events (like, um, 100-year hurricanes).
Pass the donuts.
I agree with the conclusion that there are no truly safe areas to live on this planet. Anywhere that people can live, disaster can strike. But unlike most of the areas Matt listed, New Orleans is in the rare situation of requiring constant engineering maintenance just to make the area habitable, i.e. blocking the fundamental law of water seeking its own level, and doing so in a hurricane-prone area below sea level and wedged between a lake, an ocean, and the big end of largest river in North America.
The only somewhat comparable areas I can think of are Venice and Holland. Of course, Venice is experiencing similar problems on a vastly longer timeframe. And Holland doesn't have such a density of infrastructure in those reclaimed areas that it would be *as* devastating if and when the water reclaimed some portion of it.
Sure, New Orleans should be rebuilt somehow, but could we at least build it above sea level?
Not to mention the fact that the Dutch have a lot more experience with keeping back the water than we do. Then again, their issue was pulling land out from under the sea, rather than keeping it from sliding away.
New New Orleans, if it's rebuilt elsewhere, will of necessity be a long way from the old New Orleans; assuming you go west, it's 30 miles or so (around Laplace) before you get even 10 feet above sea level. (North is blocked by Lake Pontchartrain; east and south are in similar dire straits already.)
Still, the present-day bowl has little or nothing to recommend it as a building site, so long as the ground continues to sink.
Montana. You get pickup truck, raise rabbits, and marry a big round American woman to cook them.