Thursday, January 04, 2007
The Madness of Canute
The legend states that King Canute, ruler of an empire which included modern day England, Denmark, Norway, and part of Sweden, was exalted by his sycophantic courtiers in the most absurd manner. They went so far as to convince him he was not just a king, but a demi-god. He came to believe that he could hold back the motion of the great sea, itself.
Canute was pious, he knew he was merely a man, but he became deluded by his subjects. So much so that he decided to put the claim to the test. He had his throne carried to the seashore where he majestically commanded the tide to halt.
His majesty soon found himself, his throne, and his subjects, engulfed in the briny.
I've been thinking about that legend a lot lately. I've been thinking about my city a lot lately.
I've always felt like I was closely tied to the pulse of this city. I don't know why, but the moment I landed in New Orleans I was injected into it's circulatory system like the contents of a syringe being plunged into a vein.
I can say with a certain degree of confidence that I "know" it.
I don't fully know it...no one ever will. It's a city whose mystery is labyrinth. But through strange twists of fate, I have floated through myriad cultural circles in this city from elite uptown cliques to the seedy underside of the Quarter. There isn't much that could shock me. I've seen the depths of depravity and the heights of ecstasy...the passion play which is New Orleans, acted out by a cast of characters more eccentric than any casting agent in L.A. could fathom.
This thing...New Orleans...I am her friend.
I am worried about my friend. I think she may be dying...I think she is dying....she's dying but she refuses to acknowledge it.
It reminds me of the old man I would serve vodka sodas to at 6 in the morning when I worked at a hole in the wall in the Quarter. He would wake up, come in the bar, and start drinking. He would make it to about 11 a.m....5 drinks...then stumble back to his apartment on St. Philip and pass out. He'd wake up again at around 6 p.m., come back in and start all over until around 1 a.m. It was a endless cycle of destruction.
Sometimes he would go over his limit and start raising billy hell...upon which I would kick him out of the bar and send him home early. I watched this pattern for about 8 months.
I tried to talk to him about it one morning. I asked him if he realized he was killing himself. He told me I should mind my own fucking business. To that extent he was right. I was being paid to sell alcohol and he was one of the bar's best customers.
The guy died from liver failure within the year.
Maybe he had already resigned his life away and was just staying drunk until it ended. Who knows? Regardless, he refused to confront the condition he was in. He blindly spiraled down the same old path....straight to hell.
We've been called "The Isle of Denial". I've been calling it strategic delusion.
Denial...delusion....semantics aside, there are some cold hard facts upon which this city I love is going to have to come to Jesus. The main one being...we cannot hold back the sea.
We talk about levees, we talk about barrier islands, we talk about wetlands restoration....and we talk about the oil and gas royalties we need to conduct the largest terraforming project ever attempted by mankind. The one thing we're not talking about, is rising ocean levels and global warming. Maybe because some people don't believe it's real, maybe because some people think it's a bi-partisan political issue...and not something that will actually affect them, or maybe because it's just one big question mark in people's minds...an unknown.
Well, I've been dealing with nothing but question marks since Katrina, so I guess they don't bother me so much any more...I want to know what's gonna happen and what it means to us.
I'm not sure if anyone else noticed it, but In Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", Louisiana was conspicuously absent in the map projections of what will happen as ocean level's rise. Katrina and New Orleans were all over the place, until they started showing the maps.
I suspected it was a political move...the filmmakers didn't want to show the maps in fear that it would adversely affect our efforts to get federal funding....it could have been used as a tool to justify conservative pundit's arugments not to rebuild the city.
I walked out of the film thinking only about the effect a melting planet was going to have on us....I wanted to see the maps and the reality.
No one knows for sure, the acceleration rate of global, glacial decay. The two big flashpoints are the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves. If they go, it would mean sea levels will rise at least 20 feet...about 7 meters.
We know that the Greenland shelf is deteriorating at a much faster rate of acceleration than we previously thought. A Nasa study of the Greenland shelf estimated that it was currently melting at rate of 51 cubic kilometers per year which will raise ocean levels by .005 inches per year. While that doesn't seem like a lot, we're not sure how fast the acceleration is accelerating.
It's reasonable to guess that within a half century, ocean levels could rise by one to two meters, possibly more.
What will that mean to New Orleans and South Louisiana?
Check this out....these are projections from the University of Arizona Department of Geosciences Environmental Studies Laboratory. They have a really great map app. which shows the global effects of rising ocean levels.
We'll start at 1 meter...a conservative projection, you can click the image to make it larger:
That's three feet...and we're fucked. Build a bigger levee wall? then we'll be an island mudhole on the edge of the gulf.
Here's 3 meters:
Oceanfront property in Baton Rouge...damn....
Heres the 20 feet/6 meter scenario:
So long Lafayette.
The important thing to understand: this shit is real. At the most conservative scenario....1 meter....we're going under. This isn't centuries away....it could happen within our lifetime and most certainly our children's lifetime.
Maybe I'm oversimplifying the scenario, or not taking all the factors into account....I welcome any input.
I'm bringing this up, because I haven't seen anyone else talking about it. I just want to know the reality....and just how delusional we really are.