I am prone to overreact to events both positively and negatively but normally calm down fairly quickly. This morning, the extravagant phrase "second rate, third world nation" keeps running through my mind as I think about the situation in New Orleans, the idea being that our leaders have been acting with the competence of leaders of second rate third world nations. This consists of three main properties.
(1) Leaders of second rate third world nations do not heed the warnings of scientists that continuing a course of action could easily result in a catastrophe.Let me now defend these extravagant claims.
(2) Leaders of second rate third world nations do not make preparations for catastrophes.
(3) Leaders of second rate third world nations do not respond promptly and effectively to catastrophes.
A year or so ago, I watched a television program, possibly on PBS, describing the conditions that would arise in New Orleans should a hurricane cause the flooding of the city. I believe the suggested cause was a tidal wave overwhelming the levees protecting the city from the Gulf resulting from a hurricane. As I recall this scenario, the pumps that pump water out of New Orleans into Lake Pontrachain and the Mississippi River would be shorted out and since water cannot drain out of New Orleans in the way that it did in Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi and nearly every other city in the world after these cities were overwhelmed by a flood wall. The result would be a city that could not be saved from the destructive effects of standing water -- significant numbers of deaths, persons living in intollerable conditions, disease, serious damage to any building built of materials vulnerable to water.
American governments rarely heed the warnings of scientists until the dire predictions occur. This failure concerns both not changing things so as to avoid the problems predicted to occur and the failure to prepare for a problem should it occur. Of course, the second consequence is a virtual entailment of the first. If the government does not heed the warning and change national behavior to avoid the problem predicted they are very unlikely to make preparations should the problem occur.
When New Orleans was built it was built above sea level. The people who settled there weren't stupid enough build their businesses and homes in a soup bowl. However, they didn't understand the biochemistry of bogs and fens sufficiently to understand that if you pump water out of bogs and fens (the first occurring in lakes and the latter in moving waters) and then build on the resulting ground, your buildings and homes will gradually settle deeper and deeper as the eminently biodegradable organic material constituting bogs and fens degrades. The result will be a city in a soup bowl.
Naturally people didn't stop building as the city settled. A cousin of mine and her family owned a house in New Orleans that suffered a substantial resettling due to some project (probably a Corps of Engineers project given the level of incompetence shown)that caused a decrease in the level of ground water below their home. Their home, being heavy, settled. Their concrete steps, not being all that heavy, stayed put. So, new steps were built. This is in microcosm how New Orleans has acted in all of the affected areas.
Right now, the Mayor wants the entire city evacuated. This is an amazing prospect: an American city has to be abandoned because people can no longer live there. Of course, all of the politicians say that New Orleans will be rebuilt and be bigger and better and all that good stuff. But is this the right course of action?"
My ill-considered proposal is that, instead, we sink a fifty foot deep solid wall of concrete around the city to protect it from seepage of water out of or into the ground water under New Orleans. That was done at the stadium the Ohio State football team plays in to protect the field from the waters of the Olentangy river that runs past it. So, I know it can be done. Next, we build a thirty foot concrete wall on top of our fifty foot underground wall. We then bulldoze every building in the city and spread the debris out evenly, most of which would have to be bulldozed anyway because of the damage the standing water has done. . This will provide a quite substantial base as compared to that of the biomass that New Orleans was originally built on.
Next, we use this area so constructed as a national land fill, bring solid waste -- I would limit it to waste that is as free of quickly biodegradable matter as possible. Maybe just debris from buildings that are destroyed and the waste that results from building buildings. This will solve the problem cities face getting rid of such waste.
After our retaining wall is filled to the brim, we then run the compactors land fills use to compact waste over all of this on a 24/7 basis. Once we are satisfied that our land fill is maximally compacted, we then build a new city -- no high rises allowed. It will have a lovely section where booze and jazz flow freely and great casinos. Not only will these be tourist attractions, tourists will be drawn to our New Orleans wall much as they are drawn to the Great Wall of China.
What is absolutely clear is that it would be insane to rebuild New Orleans without protecting it from all worst case scenarios. The fact is that the worst case scenario I saw on the television show was not as bad as what occurred. Flooding resulting from the failure of levees means that even if you could pump water out of New Orleans it would do no good because the Lake would simply flow back into the city to replace the water pumped out. Flooding due to a wall of water higher than the levee is less of a problem.
Perhaps after this disaster our leaders will listen to scientists. I suggest they listen to those whose expertise lies in the area of actions we humans take that are causing global warming. Unfortunately, it is not possible to build a space ship that can travel faster than the speed of light despite what SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battleship Galactic teach us on Friday nights. This means that there is no chance we can abandon this planet for another one once we have ruined this one.
Those who have gotten this far in my mad ramblings will perhaps want to write me in as their choice for President in the next election. I couldn't do worse than Bush is doing. I don't have the capability to do worse. I don't have the time right now to edit this for coherence. Please forgive any errors.