Archive for August 31st, 2008

That Sinking Feeling…Again

Sharon August 31st, 2008

The first few lines in my book that aren’t thanking someone else are about Hurricane Katrina.   They focus on the fact that not only could our leadership have known just how devastating Katrina could be because they were briefed, and because there had been discussions of this issue for years before,  but because just a few months before Hurricane Katrina, Fox ran a low-budget docudrama called “Oil Storm” that did quite a good exploration of what might happen were a severe hurricane to hit New Orleans and the energy infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico.   

Although I do not say this part in my book, because it is somewhat tangential to the larger subject, I do find it interesting that even if you concede that our current president was probably not bright enough to understand the scientific assessment without his one-on-one aide, Dick present, the subject had already been reformatted for fearless leader by his favored network and in an accessible, beer-in-hand, fictionalized format.  And they still missed it.

Well, the Republicans aren’t going to make *that* mistake again – it looks as though they may actually postpone the convention so that McCain can fully compete with Obama at photo-ops helping rescue puppy dogs, and be ready to call for drilling in deep water off the California coast to offset the new $5.00 gallon cost of gas (without mentioning that it won’t kick in until gas is at $12 gallon), caused by having our oil infrastructure in deep, vulnerable water in a rapidly changing climate.

Meanwhile, while the people of New Orleans may not have to suffer in the superdome again, the damage likely to be caused by Gustav and his friends (Hanna is right behind him and there are several other tropical depressions forming), is likely to set back the partial rebuilding of New Orleans, remind us just how tenuous the future of coastal cities really is, and disrupt the lives of literally millions.  The future of those caught on the roads when the hurricane hits looks worrisome. Tens of thousands will be back to the brother-in-law on the couch, thousands will, if New Orleans is badly flooded, probably decide not to come back this time.  And it seems unlikely that our increasingly straitened government will be able to find the money for yet another rebuild – only 3 years later.  It is hard to look at this with anything other than a sick feeling at the pit of your stomach - both for the future of those who live in the Gulf, and for the future of our country. 

Meanwhile, there is a real chance that we are about to see how the US adapts to much, much higher energy costs, and an extended period of disruption.  Dramatic reduction in refining capacity will send gas and heating oil prices higher, and natural gas will probably follow.  A nation in the early stages of an economic crisis may see itself shoved, unceremoniously, into something significantly deeper.  The best coverage of this issue is at The Oil Drum, btw: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4468#more.

Or it may not.  Three years ago, I speculated about whether Hurricanes Katrina and Rita together, with their effect on energy prices, would be sufficient to tip us into full awareness of peak oil and climate change.  And while they did make some real and significant shifts, the truth is that things are being spun far faster than understanding is reaching the general public.  Thus we are told that Katrina was an isolated failure.  Thus we will be told that Gustav is yet another coincidence.  And some of us will believe.

Both Republicans and Democrats will be spinning this as fast as the hurricane itself rotates – we will be told that whatever disaster we face, it was not the fault of either of the candidates for president, but of the other and the other’s party.  We will be told that the right president will keep us safe in the future.  What we won’t be told is this – that sinking feeling that we get when disaster strikes, and we know we can’t fix it – that’s getting to be a familiar feeling, and that we are just going to have to get used to it.  But while Americans will often believe any lie they are told, at least some of them are going to grasp that we are in the early stages of the end of what we’ve known.  And even those who half-believe the lies are going to be increasingly angry that the lies can’t seem to do much good.

 Whoever becomes president will inherit a sinking economy, a world involuntarily and without preparation transitioning to much lower energy use, a nation full of people who wonder what happened to the future they were promised, and, I hope, I secret fear, an internal sinking feeling at the pit of his stomach.  Because honestly, perhaps the best thing we can hope for in a leader at this point is one with the ability to understand the difference between the reality and his own spin.

For those of you facing the Hurricanes, please get somewhere safe, and know that you are in my prayers.

Sharon