Friday, March 24, 2006

Consider This When You Vote in South Louisiana

Scientists seem reasonably sure that ocean levels (more relevantly for us, Gulf levels) are rising and will rise during the next century. This article documents recent findings. In the worst-case scenario (and we New Orleanians pay attention to worst-case scenarios these days), the levels will go up 15 to 20 feet.

Now, we all have this information. I would assume that people who put themselves up for public office know this at least as well as the average citizen.

How is it possible to know that scientists are saying this, and at the same time tell people they can rebuild their homes wherever and however (via grandfathering clauses) that they want to?

It's possible if you are a reckless coward who cannot muster the gonads to tell the truth.

We should all remember this when we vote. Thus, Mayor Nagin's pullback from the Bring Back New Orleans Commission's prudent report is important. Nagin says people can rebuild wherever they want "at their own risk." Almost every member of the City Council has said this too. (Jay Batt is a particular coward. He has opposed the BBNO Commission report on this issue, but if you look at his reelection website, he says he supports the plan. He's a liar.)

There are a couple of problems with this. First, does anyone really believe it will be "at their own risk"? People will rebuild, they will flood again, and there will be calls for justice from the government--grants, aid, etc.

I know I'm sounding like some kind of cynical Republican here. I'm not. I just think it's important for us to tell the truth and be real now. No one will take us seriously if we're not realistic about where we live.

I suspect insurance companies and the like will prevent people from rebuilding wherever they like by refusing to write policies, and they would be right to do so.

The "rebuild wherever, but at your own risk" position of Nagin & the City Council Idiot Chorus combines the worst of the free market and big government. It sounds like a free market position (let the people and the market decide), but I have no doubt that if people rebuild and get another flood, "their own risk" will mutate into "our cost." And that's me, a card-carrying Green Party Orleanian, saying this. What do you think they're thinking in Ohio and Wyoming?

Most people who say they believe in the free market are lying. Take the President. He's a big free market guy.

No, he's not. The no-bid contracts he oversees are anti-free-market. His demand for A PLAN from us "in that part of the world" is anti-free-market.

The free market is profoundly anti-plan.

I am pro-plan, and therefore anti-free-market when it comes to how to deal with rebuilding from this catastrophe.

  1. Use the best science in order to tell people unhappy truths about where and how they can rebuild. If they don't like it, buy their property and sell it to somebody who does.
  2. Planning for a smaller footprint means planning for a denser footprint. This means allowing radically new and forward-looking development in the unflooded parts of town. This will make status-quo people very unhappy.
  3. We've got to make this place more friendly to public transit and bikes. NOLA is a perfect place for that. This means building things (tracks, paths, etc.) that might have to change some 'hoods. But we'll all end up better off.
I don't hear many people saying things like that. The BBNO Plan pretty much says it, but nobody in power has the guts and follow-through to try to implement it.

We have to change. The planet is changing--in part because of human behavior--and we have to adapt. In the long run, we have to change behaviors that are making the planet worse off, and that "we" is everybody in the industrialized world. In the short run, we (on the coast) have to deal with the consequences of a changing planet--rising tides, stronger storms, subsidence. South Louisianans are reaping the consequences first for the behavior of everyone else. We have a responsibility to call LOUDLY for changes, but we also need to deal with those changes until we can get the ship turned around.


Anonymous said...

Those are fine ideas and I am all in favor of the greatest possible release of information, i.e. unhappy truths, but the tone of your post suggests that south Louisiana is a uniquely vulnerable spot which it isn't. The northeast, some say, is overdue for a hurricane hit. Is Long Island less vulnerable than Louisiana? How about Houston? A California or midwest earthquake? Or how about all the vast stretches of the midwest that experienced flooding in 1993? Have those places been abandoned?

bayoustjohndavid said...

Back in November, when sixty minutes had the report on the futility of rebuilding N.O. because of subsidence, i wondered if anyone would point out the elephant in the room. CBS pretended to be airing a tough controversial story, but it wouldn't bring up the one thing that nobody, anywhere wanted to talk about.

Schroeder said...

Hmmm ... yes, you present an excellent argument. I too am troubled by Nagin's cowardly uncommittal "plan."

Nevertheless, I still believe that every New Orleanian has a right to return, and the federal government is liable for the expense. I may not be able to justify that belief from any other than a social justice perspective.

The bottom line is that the right decisions, whether to rebuild or not, will require courage, when what we're seeing is cowardice. To rebuild will be costly, and to compensate people who can't rebuild will be costly. The noncommittal middle ground places the risk, and the cost, on the victims.

Anonymous said...

First, of all, I agree completely about Nagin. His "rebuild at your own risk" and failure to act is a sad mirror of his response before Katrina, when he failed to seize the chance to become a national hero by commandeering buses and driving them, and his constituency, out of harms way.

However, there is no reason we cannot rebuild in an areas like St. Bernard or the 9th Ward that was wiped out. We just have to suck it up, bulldoze all the houses,and raise the ground 20 feet before we do so. (Or optionally, raise salvageable houses on stilts 20 feet off the ground, which will be filled around with dirt later on.

Anyone who is a student of hurricane history knows that Galveston is more hurricane resistant because it's people raised the entire city some 7-15 feet after the great storm of 1900. Took them 50 years, but they did it.

Let the people of New Orleans - and their administration - accept the inevitable and work to prevent it, now. When the government is forced to build levees all over the damn coast, to protect cities like New York, Boston, Miami, and believe it or not - San Jose - New Orleans will be just one of the pack. If she has had the foresight to take care of her internal elevation problems, she will be much more likely to be looked upon favorably as a candidate for Federal shoreline funding.