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 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 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 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 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.


TravelingMermaid said...

You're dancing my dance on this one. It astounds me with all the scientific evidence we have that some people (most especially so-called educated individuals in positions of power) think it's a joke. It's no joke. It's happening every day while we go merrily along emitting more and more shit into the atmosphere. Now with the rapid industrial growth in China and more and more people able to afford cars, the cloud grows larger and larger. and toxic car emissions are only the tip of the (quickly melting) iceberg. Eh.

bayoustjohndavid said...

That's been the elephant in the room all along. about a year ago, when it first became obvious that Bush had no intention of keeping his promises, I wondered if the same Republicans who denied global warming would use rising sea levels as an excuse. A friend of mine who's from here but lives and works in the D.C. area brought up the same theory , without my mentioning it. Of course there is an obvious irony or hypocrisy to the people that downplay the risk using it as an excuse, but as my friend said, they probably don't see the sense in spending billions to rebuild a doomed city. I don't know how many people in Washington think that way either secretely or subconciously, but I would assume that some do.

However, I don't know why you limit the denial to South Louisiana. If climate change means that rebuilding N.O. is throwing good money after, it would also mean that investing in most of our coastal cities is also very risky. New Orleans is just one of the more vulnerable spots, but the madness is nationwide. Personally, I'm investing my limited savings in Manitoba farmland.

Anonymous said...

Canute Rockne?

Rosie said...

Thanks for the heartfelt -- and extremely insightful -- post on your amazing city. I remember feeling that way the moment I came to Seattle, and wondering how long it would last. It's good to know that sensation lingers -- and tragic to have it threatened by so many people playing ostrich (find sand pile, insert head)

The weather has been freakish this year and it's only January. It amazes me the lenghths people will go to justify it (usually by trying to localize the phenomenon, rather than including it in the big picture of worldwide change) to deny the larger issue.

Thanks for keepin it real.

Anonymous said...

as children my little sister once described a scene to me where in the future, tourists coming to see the cajun life will take a scuba tour-
put on masks and tanks, dive and swim through little submursed cottages-

this post makes me think about much more, about generations of ancestral knowledge and death. great sums of death. if the city is indeed dying which it may be and i'll only reluctantly admit that in conversation with you because you know death so well, if the city is a great ancient dying thing, some new life will spring up in its decay. many new things. our lives, our childrens lives included, with weeds and what else we determine. what if the city is dying? if the water comes, what will happen to my pretty lamps, my books, my house? do we put our shotgun houses on semis and move to boring old america? they have tornados in the midwest!


Jason Brad Berry said...

- what if the city is dying? if the water comes, what will happen to my pretty lamps, my books, my house? do we put our shotgun houses on semis and move to boring old america? they have tornados in the midwest!

That's a thunk, Oya.....sarcasm aside, that's a thunk. Relocation isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Anonymous said...

Please note that before the industrial revolution or mankind, the earth has gone through heating and cooling cycles. The question is how much of current trends can be attributed to human action.

In my lifetime, I have been warned by "experts" that we are entering a new ice age, the worlds population would outstrip it's ability to produce food, we would run out of oil, tin, gold, and copper by 1990, the oceans will die in ten years, etc., etc.

The only thing all these dire predictions had in common is that they would happen soon enough to worry people, but not so soon that people would remember when they didn't come to pass.

I'm waiting for the next doomsday prediction so I can jump on the bandwagon and be trendy. This global warming thing is so yesterday.

Jason Brad Berry said...


"In your lifetime...?" Unless you're 10,000 years old, you probably haven't experienced what we're experiencing in the present. We know that weather patterns can take sharp and dramatic shifts...and we know that is happening now. Wether it's attributed to carbon emmisions or's real.

Since your so confident about it...I've got a house in the flood zone I'm trying to sell...interested???

Anonymous said...

I guess that makes us all a bunch of Canutes for thinking we can save the city.

As for anonymous, well, there was very little if any true scientific consensus about earlier doomsday scenarios. It wasn't "experts" crying for the end of the world, it was sensationalist book publishers and "documentary" filmmakers. What's different is that today, there is virtually universal scientific consensus about the fact that global warming is man made, and is a serious concern. I do love how deniers never want to show a chart of the exponential rise in atmospheric C02 over the 20th century, and the one-for-one rise in temperatures -- like these:


Greenhouse gases

And here's an interesting article about the threats to New Orleans posed by the nexus of disaster scenarios.