Developing Stories in New Orleans and St. Paul

By David L. Brown

Two somewhat related items to discuss today. First, the possibility for another hurricane strike on New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA). The present path projection for Tropical Storm Gustav, which is estimated to be a Catagory 3 hurricane by the time it finishes crossing the Gulf, is eerily reminiscent of the path Katrina took a few years ago. Here’s the graphic produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration a few hours ago:

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The question is, will New Orleans be better prepared this time? Billions have been invested in trying to shore up the aging infrastructure of the city’s levees, but recent reports indicate they are still vulnerable. The NOAA projection has a wide range of margin of error at this early stage, as indicated by the white area and the white stippled area further north. But the center line of the projection has NOLA in its sights like a bowling ball on target for a strike.

Last time the Katrina mess was all the fault of George W. Bush and was a racist plot against Black people. (How critics can say on the one hand that Bush is a moron, and on  the other that he is capable of orchestrating truly Machiavellian plots of astonishing complexity is beyond me.) Ray Nagin is still the mayor of NOLA, and of course he was absolutely in no way to blame for the Katrina disaster, even though he was right on the spot and had full responsibility for handling the disaster. Former governor Kathleen Blanco is no longer in office, and even though it was she who failed to authorize the federal government to take action until it was too late, she, too, was blameless of course (being a Democrat and all). At least Louisianans were impressed enough (not!) by her actions during Katrina to elect a Republican governor.

Nor is NOLA the only concern as Gustav makes its way northward. Oil prices spiked sharply upward today in the face of fears the storm could damage the critical Gulf oil facilities. This is a very real danger, as this graphic shows:

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Each of those blue dots represents an offshore oil rig, and the nearby shoreline is home to a majority of America’s refineries. Major storm damage could brutally impact the domestic oil supply, and that is not a good prospect at all. We will watch the tracking path of Gustav, which if it should hit NOLA will be striking just about the time the Republican National Convention convenes in St. Paul.

That’s the bad news, now here is some (possibly) good news in my second subject today:

Republican Party Platform May Address Global Warming

This is positive news, as reported this morning on the Washington Post website:

While the 2004 platform did not mention global warming, the draft document Republican delegates took up today in committee includes a one-page section “addressing climate change responsibly.” For the first time, the platform acknowledges that human activity has contributed to global warming: “The same human activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Increased atmospheric carbon has a warming effect on the earth.”

But the document remains silent on the question of capping carbon emissions — a policy McCain endorses — and tamps down the idea of using broad government regulation to address the problem.

“Republicans caution against the doomsday climate change scenarios peddled by aficionados of centralized command-and-control government,” the platform draft reads. “We can — and should — address global warming without succumbing to the no-growth radicalism that treats climate questions as dogma rather than as situations to be managed responsibly.”

True, the wording hedges around the subject. I actually agree with the use of the word “responsibly,” except that I fear that this buzz word will be used as cover for a lack of action. Doing too much (of the wrong things) or doing too little are equally troublesome scenarios. It’s like the Three Bears and their porridge — we need to get this just right. (Do bears actually eat porridge? I didn’t know that!)

Obviously the subject requires a broad range of actions and there are certainly no easy, silver bullet solutions. Cap and trade plans may have their place, if they are done in a way that does not end up punishing some and creating windfalls for others, as has been the case in other places where cap and trade schemes have been tried.

It is my feeling that a full-bore attack against global warming through the path of rapidly developing clean and sustainable alternative energy sources could be a boon for the economy. Yes, it might gore (no pun intended) the oxen of the old-line entities that have gotten us into this mess (Detroit, Big Oil, Big Power and Congress). But if those entities are smart (which is debatable) they will jump ahead of this parade and turn the perceived threat to their business models and pork barrel goodies into new opportunities. Some companies are already moving in that direction, for example by building wind farms and solar facilities, or making serious efforts to engineer more efficient vehicles.

A lot more could be done if the government simply stopped subsidizing the bad old ways and introduced incentives for clean alternatives. Ethanol from corn should be stopped right now, and the several billion dollars now going to support this evil practice diverted to alternatives that do not take food from starving people. Oil depletion allowances may be due to be phased out, but over time to allow adjustments to be made. Punitive so-called windfall profits taxes on oil companies should be absolutely shunned; it is time to use carrots, not sticks.

Small scale solar installations that homeowners could place on their roofs can make sense, especially as new technologies bring costs down. Still, the initial cost is a stumbling block. Tax credits, cash incentives, or low-cost loans could turn small scale solar into a booming enterprise. Smart energy companies could put themselves into the picture to profit, and that would mean jobs and corporate earnings here at home, instead of billions sent to criminal nations such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and all their ilk just to buy the crude oil that Big Oil then needs to transport, process and market.

We need to wait and see on both of the issues I have discussed today, but not for long. By Monday, we should know whether NOLA is going to be hit once more with a deadly hurricane, and also whether the proposed global warming issue has made it out of the platform committee meeting in St. Paul. Stay tuned …

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