I have been feeling a sense of unease lately. A nagging, powerless, growing certainty that The Times, They Are A’Changing. I’m not a tinfoil hat-wearer, or a big conspiracy theorist. But I’m smart, and I read. I know about peak oil and that we in North America have had a whole lotta luxuries for a long time that most of the world has never had. Gas currently costs two to three times as much as it did ten years ago. The prices aren’t going to go back down again in any significant way. And it’s still considerably cheaper here than in the rest of the world. I don’t think Mark Morford’s future is going to show up tomorrow, but the odds are increasingly good that it will show up. And as luck would have it, friendly, northern, gay, pot-smokin’, unarmed, pacifist Canadian oil is a lot more convenient to the US than the black gold currently in residence under Middle Eastern sands. We will get to a point where it is no longer feasible to just get in our cars and go. For some people, public transit, bikes, and feet are already realities. For country-raised folk like me, you couldn’t get anywhere without a car, and I have a physical reaction when mine isn’t available. My freedom has been restricted; I am inconvenienced, and it bothers me. It’ll bother me a lot more when I get to choose between gassing up and buying groceries.
But hey, who knows, maybe soaring gas prices and a continuing lack of Kumbaya among the world’s oil-producing nations will spur the death of urban sprawl, of soulless suburbs and exburbs and big box parks. Maybe Mom & Pop businesses will come back and we’ll get to know our neighbours and there’ll be lots of great bike trails and bike lanes and pedestrian arcades in every city. Unfortunately, though, I’ve read books like A Short History of Progress and Guns, Germs, and Steel. Hell, even No Logo, Nickel and Dimed, and Fast Food Nation. I know what we’re doing to ourselves and each other. Wonder if Dana and Coffee will have some room left in their yurt…?
Oh, but that’s not all. Thanks, in good part, to our love affair with cars and air conditioners and plastic packaging, ice shelves and tundra are melting and frogs and trees are dying and scientists are wondering where entire egosystems off the west coast went. I know about global warming, too. We did this. “Bad hurricane seasons” like the last couple years could be coincidences, but they’re not. We’re making the weather that’s wiping out entire cities. There will be more hurricanes. Mother Nature doesn’t particularly care that we “can’t deal” with more disasters. She ain’t about human convenience; a few hundred thousand people in Indonesia and the surrounding area probably wouldn’t argue with that. New Orleans is basically a write-off, and there’s no guarantee the 20% of it that’s not currently under water won’t be within the next couple of months. What’s left is currently stewing in a toxic soup of dead humans and animals, raw sewage, and chemicals. The gators and poisonous snakes and fire ants are nothing compared to the potential for pandemic-level disease that’s coming. Oh, and when they do get the water out of there? Toxic mold will make remaining structures uninhabitable. And did we mention it’s prime West Nile season down dere in da bayou?
There is a certain kind of hubris there that I simply cannot understand. You get rich people building multimillion dollar homes… on sand bars, on fault lines, in areas where hurricanes come around as often as the Avon lady. How many times do people think they can make an insurance claim, rebuild, restock, and get on with it? How many times do people think they’re going to live through it? How great a sense of entitlement does that require? Perhaps as the ice caps keep melting and sea levels rise, the rich people are planning to raise their houses up higher using a support structure composed of stacked poor people. Hell, there’ll be hundreds of thousands of homeless, jobless, dispossessed people in the coming months in the American South. Shouldn’t be any shortage, unless the shooting is allowed to get out of control as people lose patience, hope, and their tempers.
I have difficulty, however, understanding the logic of habitation. I freely admit I cannot possibly fathom the devastation and loss that has faced, and currently is facing people who’ve gone through natural (or man-made disasters). However, using New Orleans as an example, there was a mandatory evacuation order. There was notice. Okay, there are going to be people who can’t leave. Too old, too sick, too poor. But the others? The ones who’re strong and healthy and currently looting? The ones being plucked off their roofs by rescue helicopters? The ones whose corpses are currently floating down the streets they lived on? What’s their excuse? They were going to save their homes, businesses, possessions, and loved ones by… sheer force of will? I don’t think so.
But it goes back further than that. New Orleans was founded in 1718. That means people have been building on a Really Stupid Idea for just shy of 300 years. Alright, I get that the Mississippi Delta was well-situated for explorers and colonists and slave traders and rum runners and everyone else at the beginning of the 18th Century. And the soil is probably incredibly fertile there. All the lovely silt building up and up. So fine, farm on it. Don’t build a city on it. New Orleans is basically a bowl that is logic-defyingly placed on top of unstable, soft, leaky ground, and located in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. It is largely below sea level. The area has been prone to hurricanes since always. Hell, it’s part of the culture down there. So of course logic would dictate, if you were going to build a city in such an idyllic spot, that you would do everything possible to protect the city from Mother Nature, right? The question is not IF New Orleans will be salvaged and rebuilt, but why would you? Seriously, people, plenty of land available in Saskatchewan. And no hurricanes. Sheesh.
Oh, and, in perfect tying-together-the-ends-of-her-rants convenience, part of the reason that gas is currently over $1.20/litre is because of damage to the oil platforms in the Gulf. George W. says they’ll be releasing reserves to help out with that. Somehow I’m not holding my breath for the price of gas to drop much. Last I heard he was playing guitar in San Diego or something…