Is Katrina the wave of the future?

Bill McKibben says the hurricane marks Year One on the world's new calendar.

By T.g.

Published September 8, 2005 8:02PM (EDT)

If the news stories and photographs from New Orleans aren't awful enough for you, perhaps you should plunge yourself deeper into despair by reading this essay in Grist from "The End of Nature" author Bill McKibben.

"If the images of skyscrapers collapsed in heaps of ash were the end of one story -- the U.S. safe on its isolated continent from the turmoil of the world -- then the picture of the sodden Superdome with its peeling roof marks the beginning of the next story," McKibben writes. The "next story," he says, is the one that finds the United States "befuddled about how to cope with a planet suddenly turned unstable and unpredictable."

McKibben complains -- and whatever you think about the linkage between global warming and Hurricane Katrina, he's plainly right about this -- that a "scandalous lack of planning" has "kept us from even beginning to address climate change." The result: Land we've long considered terra firma isn't anymore. "For the 10,000 years of human civilization, we've relied on the planet's basic physical stability," McKibben says. "Sure, there have been hurricanes and droughts and volcanoes and tsunamis, but averaged out across the earth, it's been a remarkably stable run. If your grandparents inhabited a particular island, chances were that you could too. If you could grow corn in your field, you could pretty much count on your grandkids being able to do likewise. Those are now suckers' bets."

McKibben says the residents of the Gulf Coast are faced with that reality now, and the rest of us are at least seeing it on our TV screens. Will we learn? McKibben doesn't sound particularly optimistic. "Our rulers have insisted by both word and deed that the laws of physics and chemistry do not apply to us," he says. "That delusion will now start to vanish. Katrina marks Year One of our new calendar, the start of an age in which the physical world has flipped from sure and secure to volatile and unhinged. New Orleans doesn't look like the America we've lived in. But it very much resembles the planet we will inhabit for the rest of our lives."

By T.g.


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