Tuesday, July 29, 2008

They still won't go - the Katrina Chronicles

In the Friday, 25 July 2008 Baton Rouge Advocate, there is an interesting and fundamentally sad article on Louisiana residents and their attitudes about hurricane evacuations. According to the story, 17% of those surveyed – almost all of whom likely suffered in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, would NOT leave their homes again if told to by authorities. And, as Jerry Sneed, director of the Office of Preparedness for the City of New Orleans, put it in the article - “I don’t know why they’re so reluctant,” he added. “It’s as if they don’t trust anybody.”

Well duh! Has he forgotten the days that New Orleans residents spent clinging to roof tops waiting to be rescued? Did it slip his mind how many residents of Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, returned to slabs instead of homes? Does he not know the area’s history enough to know how fiercely proud of their homes most of my fellow Louisianians are?

Here’s the thing. While I and many others worked really hard to put the area right after Katrina (I was a Corps of Engineers Blue Roof staffer in Hancock County, Mississippi), the overall government response was too slow, too small, and too disorganized to make much difference. Most of the reconstruction successes have come, not from anything FEMA did, but from church groups, not for profits, and, of all things, the Amish community. I was on the ground, picking my way through broken house, crumpled roads, and downed power lines while FEMA contractors sat in air conditioned call centers wondering why no one was calling in for help. Seriously. So when I hear emergency officials ask why no one on the Gulf Coast trusts government, especially as related to hurricanes. I can only shake my head. They STILL don’t get it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alaska Burns - and Global Climate change looses

Burning the Alaskan wilderness seems to have an impact on tundra temperatures. On the one hand, this shouldn’t be news. Anyone who has watched the temperature plummet after a good rain fall under a black cloud knows that if you limit how much sun reaches you, you can cool off. And anyone who has ready about Pompeii or any other catastrophic volcano has probably heard about lowered temperatures lasting weeks.

Back in the 1980’s there were many “doom and gloom” scenarios about Nuclear Winter , all variations on the theme that with a Mutually Assured Destruction type exchange between the US and USSR, the amount of debris and fallout would darken the skies for years. This would plunge us all into winter, causing further hardship for the survivors of the war.

Based on this climate work, it seems they were right about that one, though the scientists caution about the usual uncertainties that come with their work. And there is where I have a problem with the language. You see, too many scientists think that because they understand statistical uncertainty, everyone does. So they don’t bother to explain statements about how something “might” be caused by something else, or what they mean by an event being “highly likely.” By approaching their topic this way, scientists leave themselves open to criticism from groups opposed to whatever principle they are advocating. Doubly so for anything having to do with Anthropogenic Global Warming.

So, by being open and honest about the uncertainty surrounding the impacts of forest fire smoke on tundra, as these scientists are at the end of the article, they leave open a small door for others to take their conclusions and run in a totally inappropriate direction. “See,” those opposed to human climate impacts will say,” nature caused Alaska and Canada to burn, and the fires LOWERED temperatures in Arctic regions. Those fires were x times as much (or as little) as the carbon we generate in our powerplant/manufacturing plant/tailpipes, and it helped lower the temperature. So humans can’t raising the temperature by burning stuff. All this global climate change language is just a scare tactic.” Or something like that.