Saturday, September 10, 2011

The sequel

There are two things that blow: Wind and Politics. Just add some wildfires and see what happens. Texas is in the middle of a series of wildfires that are absolutely large in terms of fire sizes and number of fires. They have received very little rain statewide for the last year and this was a record breaking hot year. Almost off the charts hot. The drought will continue for the foreseeable future with another (expected weaker) projected La Nina.

What struck me about all of this is what has happened in the political mainstream as of late, with Ron Paul (representing the Galveston area) having stated that FEMA should be deconstructed (circa just last week) and Gov. Rick Perry stating outright that states can handle disasters better as long as FEMA still gives him money to handle them (circa early 2009). But then the wildfires took the mainstage and Perry backed off of criticizing FEMA, arguing on TV that the issue he was discussing was in the past and was more about efficiency and equipment and that discussion would left for another day.

But then factor in this: Texas had planned in their state budget to cut firefighting budgets from 30 to 7 million. All of these facts seem to be playing into the type of disaster that *could* go down as being a natural disaster turned into human accelerated disaster. This is exactly the type of disaster we will face more of in the future.

This same problem will crop up in Iowa ... in the 500 year flood plain where rebuilding will be the norm and those same people will be flooded out. I believe Iowa is actually trying to navigate that situation by doing actual work on developing a risk analysis and presenting it to the people through research and outreach.

The same problem is occurring in New Orleans, sitting below sea level, where new homes have to be built on stilts. Or in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi coastlines where hurricane strikes and storm surges will be the main threat. Lets add New Jersey and New York to that list.

The bottom line is that we as a society (the entire United States) are more vulnerable because of human decisions and risk-taking. Natural phenomenon have not changed all that much, but our level of risk-taking, and our exposure has. And for every decision we make there will be consequences.

Throw in a little bit of climate change (adding new potential weather threats) to communities unaccustomed to them, and you have the makings of a period in our history where there will be significant disasters every year ... accelerated in part by our poor decisions.

I am reminded of the Veggie Tales (kid substitute for the bible) story about the 7 year feast/famine episode. What would you do if you knew you had seven years of extreme prosperity and then seven years of extreme hardship? We should be in that mindset instead of coasting for seven years then scrambling for seven years complaining how we didn't do anything to plan for it. This is actually being discussed in some of our scientific disciplines (Space Shuttle program for one). But it needs to be in the general electorates mind as well.

And lets not forget that Presidential disaster declarations for 2011 are on a record pace. Remember La Nina? She took some blame for this years disasters. Are you ready for the sequel?