The Imperfect Storm 2
Mark Fischetti warned in a Scientific American article entitled Drowning New Orleans, published in 2001, that the pattern of land use development in Louisiana made a disaster inevitable.
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. ...
A direct hit is inevitable. Large hurricanes come close every year. In 1965 Hurricane Betsy put parts of the city under eight feet of water. In 1992 monstrous Hurricane Andrew missed the city by only 100 miles. In 1998 Hurricane Georges veered east at the last moment but still caused billions of dollars of damage. At fault are natural processes that have been artificially accelerated by human tinkering--levying rivers, draining wetlands, dredging channels and cutting canals through marshes. Ironically, scientists and engineers say the only hope is more manipulation, although they don't necessarily agree on which proposed projects to pursue. Without intervention, experts at L.S.U. warn, the protective delta will be gone by 2090. The sunken city would sit directly on the sea--at best a troubled Venice, at worst a modern-day Atlantis.
Nor is the problem confined to Lousiana. Fischetti continues.
Fixing the delta would serve as a valuable test case for the country and the world. Coastal marshes are disappearing along the eastern seaboard, the other Gulf Coast states, San Francisco Bay and the Columbia River estuary for many of the same reasons besetting Louisiana. Parts of Houston are sinking faster than New Orleans. Major deltas around the globe--from the Orinoco in Venezuela, to the Nile in Egypt, to the Mekong in Vietnam--are in the same delicate state today that the Mississippi Delta was in 100 to 200 years ago.
The last Belmont Club post, Imperfect Storm, wrote:
One of the reasons that typhoons in the northern Indian Ocean, comprising India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, and Pakistan kill the most people year after year is because of population concentrations in the low-lying coastal areas. One of the reasons Katrina was so devastating was the location of Gulf coast cities and oil rigs. This suggests that zoning and resistant architecture and contingency planning might do far more to limit disaster than immense investments in windmills or solar panels.
I had not at the time seen the Scientific American article. But it makes perfect sense. The disaster in Louisiana is the cumulative result of decades of a certain type of land use; land use driven as much by local politics as anything else, crossing all conceivable party lines and ideologies. As I argued in the Imperfect Storm, the evidence suggests that we can only make a limited impact on hurricane power and duration by adjusting fossil fuel consumption. But we can make a major reduction in human tragedy by zoning, protective architecture and contingency planning. Yet it will be hard. The Scientific American article recalls:
Since the late 1980s Louisiana's senators have made various pleas to Congress to fund massive remedial work. But they were not backed by a unified voice. L.S.U. had its surge models, and the Corps had others. Despite agreement on general solutions, competition abounded as to whose specific projects would be most effective. The Corps sometimes painted academics' cries about disaster as veiled pitches for research money. Academia occasionally retorted that the Corps's solution to everything was to bulldoze more dirt and pour more concrete, without scientific rationale. Meanwhile oystermen and shrimpers complained that the proposals from both the scientists and the engineers would ruin their fishing grounds.