Drowning New Orleans – A Modern Tragedy

September 1st, 2005 | by ian |

While I don’t want to distract the reality and immediacy of the disaster in the New Orleans area, a friend pointed out this October 2001 article to me and it is hard not to reflect on our prescience of this event:

“A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city”

This highlights a tragic flaw in human behaviour – the difficultly we have adjusting our behaviour in the short term to avoid crises in the longer term. On the trivial end of the scale we have skipping class resulting in massive stress, loss of sleep and cramming for exams. On the crying shame end we have a “tragedy of the commons” – including the ravishing of planetary resources leading to mass extirpation of species and global warming – and to bring this full circle I am pretty darn sure the warming of the earth will bring more frequent and more devastating hurricanes…

Governments are supposed to run the show so that society can generally avoid being victimized by human nature. What this points out to me more than anything is a massive failure of government, and highly unsound decision making regarding both land use and the allocation of funds, the latter of which is probably what everyone is going to focus on in the aftermath. What would it have cost to avoid this and what will be final cost of this disaster be?

  1. One Response to “Drowning New Orleans – A Modern Tragedy”

  2. By Environment Canada official on Sep 1, 2005 | Reply

    I guess I’ll never make it to the Mardi Gras tournament now, will I? I mean, who the hell builds a city in the middle of a flood plain!?

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