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It's only a disaster if humans are involved

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 2, 2005


Everyone knows I'm a destruction junkie. Nothing pleases me more than seeing nature bite back. Hurricane Katrina, arching from Southern Florida to the cities of the Mississippi delta, reminded all of us the folly of building to suit the desires of humans, instead in keeping with the ecological realities imposed by geology and geography.

The Gulf Coast landforms of Louisiana and Mississippi are products of the sediment deposited at the confluence between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. The coastal deltas are shifting bodies of sediment that are constantly being built by the deposition of the Mississippi River and torn down by the erosional effects of the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans has always been a discussion of economics over ecology. What else would prompt the development of a city in the middle of a delta flood plain?For centuries, the people of New Orleans have tempted fate by living below sea level, vulnerable, in the direct path of seasonal hurricanes. Watching the water rise, and the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX babble on, it is clear fate has caught up with the people of the Mississippi delta.

The building of dams, levees, and locks altered, and eliminated in some parts, the natural shoreline, wetlands, and bottomland hardwood forests that blanketed the area before colonization, all of which made possible human occupation of the tenuous landscape. Farming, agricultural mechanization, pesticide use, lumbering, manufacturing, and other practices led to erosion problems and water pollution as well.

The storm water dropped by Hurricane Katrina will wash all of this toxic pollution, into the river, the delta, and because of breaches in the levee system, into the City of New Orleans.

Regardless of hurricane damage, toxic chemicals, wastewater, and other types of manufactured pollution have always been, and are currently discharged in to the region's waterways. Manufacturing plants and wastewater treatment facilities distributed along the length of the Mississippi and its tributaries are prime sources of pollution. Petrochemical and crude oil discharges occur regularly. Agricultural runoff, including a mix of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and stockyard waste runoff are major contributors in lowering water quality in the region.

Hurricane generated floods don't help.

Agricultural fertilizer in storm water runoff will cause increased algae production in both rivers and coastal areas resulting in the eutrophication of coastal waters. The eutrophication process reduces the amount of oxygen available in the water and leads to the death of animal and plant species that require oxygen. This on top of the oil spills, human sewage, and the other pollutants such as household solvents and detergents, signals major biological impacts for generations to come.

As water builds up between broken levees, the threat to human health becomes more acute. Water-borne diseases, and mosquito-borne illness are more likely in hot and humid conditions when combined with water laden with animal and human waste. As reported, humans will soon compound the ecological damage by applying air borne pesticides to the effected area.Dead bodies rotting in the sun pose a health hazard as well.

Nature happens. Hurricanes are a part of nature, as are tornados, tsunamis, wildfires earthquakes, volcanoes, and blizzards. None of these things should be considered anything other natural processes doing what they do.Disasters only happen when human are involved. River deltas have always flooded. What are the chances the indigenous population that predated European settlement avoided the Mississippi delta during hurricane season?

Pretty good. I bet.

The point of these observations is to acknowledge the sobering fact that humans have no one to blame for "catastrophic disasters" other than themselves. Homes built below sea level will flood occasionally if not annually. People who refuse, or are unable to, evacuate in the face of dangerous weather systems, are experiencing social Darwinism up close and personal.

Only fools would blame natural systems for the toxic gumbo inundating New Orleans. The oil spills and chemical pollution is the result of humans trying to have it all, regardless of the long-term consequences. People who lost everything to the winds, rains and rising floodwaters should chalk the loss up to experience and move to higher ground.

Nature happens with or without humans to experience it. Disasters are what happen when nature gets the best of humans. Not surprising, the magnitude of a disaster is directly related to the amount of people affected. No one affected, no disaster.

It's that simple.

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