Human nature

This is my last post on Katrina. There’s never been another storm that has fascinated, as well as frustrated and angered and saddened me as much as this one has. This is a storm that was tracked to grow into monsterous size and hit on or near New Orleans almost three days before it hit. Yet, mandatory evacuations weren’t given until the day before, if that.

And it didn’t matter when the evacuations were given–not when people didn’t have the sense to even leave a beachside apartment house directly in the path of a Category 4 hurricane.

Richard Louv wrote an excellent editorial on human nature and disaster:

Forget nature; the real problem is human nature.

Most people living on the Gulf Coast simply prefer to take their chances. So do Californians who live on the slippery bluffs of Malibu.

And San Diegans? Even after the devastating 2003 firestorms that marched from Cuyamaca to Scripps Ranch and back again, we seem to prefer denial and deflection.

Instead of investing in the creation of new firefighting technologies – including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles that could spot and even fight fires – we look to old technology, but even avoid simple fees that would upgrade our old-fashioned, out-dated firefighting tools. When it comes to enforcing tougher fire-resistance building standards, we wiggle and dissemble like teenagers facing homework on a sunny weekend. We prefer our risks manageable, and our thinking small.

Instead of preparing for true dangers posed by natural forces, people prefer to obsess about the relatively smaller threats of terrorism (but refuse to pay adequately for prevention in that arena, as well).

Or, more often, we fixate on the smallest of societal risks. Less than a month before Katrina’s bad breath battered Florida, Broward County schools, in an effort to cut down on injuries and lawsuits, erected “Rules of the Playground” at 137 elementary schools. No more swings, teeter-totters or hand-pulled merry-go-rounds. And “no running,” the new signs said, even as Katrina approached.

Kids running. Now there’s a manageable threat.

I am fascinated by weather, in all its forms. It is the show that’s put on daily to remind us for all of our technology and engineering, we’re still not much more than puny, hairless, apes swinging a club at forces that can swat us down like so many pesky gnats.

And weather is so wonderfully ironic. The same high pressure system that has been the cause of so much of our drought this year, is the same system that’s pushing the effects of Katrina away from us, and toward the Ohio Valley. You can actually see the two fighting it out in this animated doppler image, snapped from Weather Underground. I wonder which will triumph?


But what’s past is past or soon past; now we have to think on those who need help. Just one last note that this storm has not played itself out, and more lives and homes and businesses will be swept away before she’s through. FEMA will be there to help, in the short and long term, but no one beats the Red Cross when it comes to giving a hand to folks who just found out their home and everything they own has been completely swept away. And since Amazon and other companies have decided that the current Red Cross efforts don’t rate an extra helping hand, it’s up to us to issue a gentle reminder that this organization is putting more money into providing help for this storm than was spent for the entire hurricane season in 2004–and we still have the rest of the season to go, not to mention the ice storms and blizzards in the winter, and the floods come spring.

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