LEFT TO BE SAID ABOUT KATRINA?
by Whit Gibbons
September 11, 2005
be long remembered, and the finger-pointing is unlikely to stop any time
soon. Blame will continue to be as abundant and nasty as the polluted
storm waters that were sitting second-story level for days in much of
the Crescent City. The list of culprits responsible for the current devastation
is longer than a New Orleans summer day with no drinking water. But the
question is not just a simple “who’s to blame?” First
you must identify what part of the disaster you are seeking to blame someone
for. The possibilities are endless.
has probably heard by now how the destruction of natural wetlands and
swamp forests removed the buffer that could have diminished the winds
and absorbed a surge tide. Most people now believe (or at least are wondering
if) global climate change is real and caused in part by the use of fossil
fuels and carbon dioxide emissions. That a consequence of that change
is highly energized hurricanes in the overly warm Atlantic and Gulf is
being forcibly brought home to us. Environmentalists are not happy that
New Orleans was devastated. But they are human, and “I told you
so” cannot be far from their thoughts.
predictions are never welcome. Remember the mythological character Cassandra?
She was the prophetess to whom Apollo gave extraordinary powers of foretelling
the future. But the sun god’s ego was bruised in his dealings with
the young maiden and he placed a curse on Cassandra: she would always
be right in her predictions, but no one would believe her. Did research
ecologists and environmentalists somehow offend Apollo? Are those who
predict dire environmental consequences today’s Cassandra?
I received last week asked, “Do you think it might be time for politicians
and business leaders to start listening to the scientists for a change?”
Another said, “Remember last year's National Geographic article
with the eerie prediction of a worst-case scenario for New Orleans. Maybe
all those ranting environmentalists aren't that crazy after all.”
Of course, Cassandra wasn’t crazy either.
an ecologist colleague from Florida made a well-stated observation about
the issue. “Although everyone is now focusing on search, rescue,
and recovery along the Gulf Coast, I hope someone, eventually, will look
at one of the serious contributing causes of the recent disaster--the
loss of the barrier island and marsh buffers that sheltered the area until
humans intervened to ‘tame nature.’” Ken goes on to
say that in seeming contrast to politicians, “ecologists, coastal
geologists, hydrologists and others associated with the study of coastal
ecosystem dynamics recognized the scale of the potential disaster.”
But like those Cassandra tried to warn, “few listened, or they dismissed
the warnings as from ‘environmentalists’ or (ironically) as
being too costly to solve. One wonders will they change their thinking
as planning and rebuilding are revisited.”
cost of Katrina’s wrath in human life and property will be terrible.
What will the environmental impact be on wildlife along the Gulf Coast?
Simple answer: native species will do fine, and some will do much better
for awhile than they were doing in urban and suburban areas. Among native
species, raccoons and crows will probably find a lot of abandoned human
food to scavenge over the next few weeks, as will many other species of
mammals and birds. Some snakes will also have more to eat as rat and mouse
populations increase. Mosquitoes will find plenty of places to lay eggs
as waters recede, leaving fish-free pools. In other words, animals will
abound along the Gulf Coast, although some of them will be unwelcome from
a human perspective. Nonetheless, no native species will be lost or ultimately
even negatively affected. As far as animals in the Audubon Zoo, what happened
to them? Remarkably only a handful of zoo animals died, apparently being
cared for better than some of the people.
coming months and years, officials will be looking at what went wrong,
trying to figure out how to prevent something like this from happening
again. Let's hope that ecologists will be an integral part of the discussion,
and that this time people will listen. It’s time to repudiate Apollo’s
curse and pay attention to Cassandra.
you have an environmental question or comment, email