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Too much, too little, too late

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 9, 2005


Well it seems the Bush Administration has actively created another quagmire for the citizens of the United States to deal with. With two weeks of non-stop disaster coverage pushing Iraq and the war for oil off the front page of media consciousness, it is quite clear history will remember George W. Bush as the disaster president.

Where the Bush Administration eagerly sought the Iraqi quagmire; the disengagement, delay and denial, that immediately followed Katrina, turned hurricane recovery into a quagmire of federal failures and bureaucratic finger pointing. On Saturday, August 27th, the day before Katrina hit, President Bush declared a federal emergency. 48 hours later, the Big Easy was having a hard time keeping its head above the rising floodwaters.

Five days late, George ended his vacation.

Sitting on the west coast under beautiful blue skies, New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta region seem a world away. They're not. The region affected by the worse hurricane damage in the past 300 years is in our backyard, federally speaking. Because of this federation, we too will eventually feel the impact of Hurricane Katrina. An impact made stronger due to a lack of federal leadership entrusted to the Homeland Security Department.

Watching this human drama unfold on a 24-hour news cycle, one press conference at a time, it's clear the federal government is unprepared to cope with ecological adversity. It must be sobering to millions of Americans to come to the same conclusion that Environmentalists have held for years. George W. Bush's ecological disconnect is a big a threat to the people of the North America, than any foreign terrorist.

In George's defense however, I will concede that anyone who could so easily oversee the gutting of 100 years of progressive environment regulation can hardly be expected to truly understand the environmental impacts of a class 5 hurricane passing over the Mississippi River delta. Looking at the President's performance record, his handling of the Katrina's aftermath is actually on par. George is always in over his head.

As much as would enjoy laying blame at the feet of the Bush Administration, I know that would be completely disingenuous. George inherited the problem. Ironically, from the men he has now asked to raise corporate disaster relief funds. Federal Administrations, both Democrat and Republican are guilty of dereliction of duty, as are generations of state and local governments. The conditions for disaster were created centuries ago, modern populations only added to them. Everyone is to blame.

Watching the parade of talking heads on CNN, I was grimly amused when Senator Joe Lieberman referred to Hurricane Katrina as an attack, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield referred to the hurricane as the enemy. If you follow that line of reasoning, it seems those in federal leadership positions view the environment as an enemy combatant.

So much for homeland defense, right?

If the war on terror now includes the environment, one has to wonder if the defenses of Southern California are in any better shape than the levees of New Orleans. How are we vulnerable? And where?

Living on the west coast, we rarely worry about Pacific storm surges. Ecological threats to southern California are assumed earthquakes, landslides and wildfire, and we prepare accordingly. Here in coastal San Diego County, residents depend on a government provided infrastructure. Imagine if that infrastructure failed. It would be mayhem.

Now that the federal government has proven incapable of providing environmental security, it becomes important for local government to plan accordingly. New Orleans was designed for disaster. I wonder if the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is prepared for a crisis of equal proportions. Are any of us prepared?

Imagine the economic impact of an El Nino storm destroyed portions of the Coast Highway and Interstate 5, where they cross coastal lagoons in Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside. The thought is far from encouraging.

Katrina should be a lesson to every Californian who trusts government to protect them from the weather. Planning and building in spite of ecological conditions only leads to disaster. Local municipalities should begin to assess their readiness to confront ecological adversity.

Building in flood plains, or on unstable bluffs and hillsides, should be actively discouraged, if not prohibited. Because drought is always a threat, population should never exceed locally available water sources. Remaining agricultural lands should be preserved as sustainability easements, and communities should begin to limit toxins made available for sale.

Nature happens. Disasters are man made. What are we planning for, and how will we respond when it happens?

You have to wonder.

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