Home > Uncategorized > “Obama’s Katrina”?  Sure, in the trivial sense of…

“Obama’s Katrina”?  Sure, in the trivial sense of…

May 30, 2010

Is the oil spill “Obama’s Katrina”?  Yes, absolutely; in the utterly trivial sense that it’s a horrible thing that happened while he was president.  But the government had an agency, called FEMA, in place specifically to deal with hurricanes and stocked with people whose expertise was in that field. 

Or at least it did, during the Clinton administration.  George Bush put one of his old college buddies in charge of it, whose only expertise was in managing Arabian horse shows, and otherwise used the agency to dole out plum jobs to supporters.

So when Katrina hit, the government agency tasked with providing relief from natural disasters, tripped over its own shoelaces.

Conservatives, smarting from that criticism have been trying to pin some crisis of incompetence on Obama but for the most part he’s done a very capable job.  He’s even pretty much restored FEMA.  But he has had his hands full trying to get his agenda (the one we elected him on, remember?) moved forward with every Republican and quite a few Blue Dog Democrats throwing banana peels at his feet.

There are some parallels between Katrina and the BP spill. There’s even an incompetent government agency, the MMS, tasked not with responding to a disaster like this, but preventing it.  And they’ve been rubber-stamping drilling applications right and left.  But how did it become incompetent?  Obama’s new director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, wasn’t able to stop the practice and go back and retroactively fix all the old rubber-stamped ones in the scant nine months she was on the job.

Think about what it means to turn an agency around: first you have to get the new director approved.  That hasn’t been easy with the Republicans stonewalling new appointments for reasons that blaze new frontiers of triviality.  Then that person has to review the existing operation, devise new policies, and if necessary hire new people to implement them.  It’s anybody’s guess how cooperative the old-guard staff were with her efforts to do this. 

Enter Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer prize-winner and smug conservative party liner, who thinks the BP spill is the Republicans’ big chance:

Here’s my question: Why are we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?

Many reasons, but this one goes unmentioned: Environmental chic has driven us out there. As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama’s tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.) And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we’ve had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

So we go deep, ultra deep — to such a technological frontier that no precedent exists for the April 20 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Charles Krauthammer: Oil spill could be Obama’s Katrina.

Get that?  The spill is the environmentalists’ fault!  Rush Limbaugh said the same thing so you know this is a talking point making the rounds of the Republican intellectual vaccuusphere. 

Reality check: it isn’t “environmental chic”, it’s both science and economics.  The tiny amount that Arctic Refuge oil would push the “peak” into the future simply wouldn’t be worth the environmental cost.

And environmentalists weren’t in favor of offshore drilling, either.  We’ve been saying the entire carbon energy industry is unsustainable.  But the oil companies have been relentless not only in lobbying for access but also in spreading confusion about the real costs of different kinds of energy.  So when vote-driven politicians (who as a class aren’t particularly literate about environmental issues) make a decision, they take the fewest political risks they can.

We have had at least an entire generation for the transition from carbon energy to renewables.  During that time, little has been done because the public has not understood either the external costs or the global risks.  Well some people are damn well getting the message now.

The carbon energy industry is guilty of a profit-driven crime against humanity.  Not just the Deepwater, but the effects on our climate and on the Ocean pH as well.  It’s time to add it all up and see the real picture.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 31, 2010 at 06:53 | #1

    Okay, I’m not going to be stupid and call this Obama’s Katrina. Now you know I’m more conservative than liberal, but I consider myself libertarian. Now you think I’m some crazy, fringe radical. I agree that carbon energy resources are not as long term sustainable as other energy resources (none of which are eternally sustainable, only practically eternally sustainable, as all of them end when the sun dies). Now you think I’m a liar.

    Here’s one of my main problems with environmentalists, by which I technically mean people using or attempting to use political power to protect nonhuman citizens of the environment more than human citizens of the environment.

    There seems to be a general lack of acknowledgment that they are part of the problem. You’ve typed up this wonderful summary on a computer made with plastic parts powered by electricity, all of which came from carbon energy. Environmentalists stay (basically) “stop it” and offer options that they think are good (I agree) which will not provide for the energy demands they are already putting on the environment. The people who live as they preach – i.e., actually act toward a sustainable life in their personal lives why telling everyone else to stop it – prove to be few in numbers.

    (Note: I’ve met George and his family – I do NOT put him in this group. I know that while we all can improve, George is better by far than most on having integrity in his life, i.e., living as he preaches.)

    The people who are truly working toward changing their own living habits when it comes toward environmental sustainability (conservationists?) have let too many of the extremists speak for what they believe, in part because they are famous enough or extreme enough to be heard. This is the same problem liberals and conservatives have politically. The sensible people (BOTH liberal and conservative), i.e., the general mass, of each movement have been hard to hear while the extremists are throwing their shots across each others’ bows, and the general population in the middle are the ones that suffer the war wounds.

  2. Chas, PE SE
    May 31, 2010 at 09:40 | #2

    There was ONR govt. agency that did a good job at Katrina:  The U.S. Coast Guard.  CG helos were in the air before Katrina cleared Louisiana.  And Cmdr John Jones, CO of air station New Orleans, said that the first time he flew over the city, he saw Coast Guard Auxiliary air and water facilities already above and below him.  At one point, CG people cut thru a fence, brolke into FEMA trailers, and distributed the goods inside to those who needed them.  A police chief, asked what the Government should do to help, said “Fire FEMA and give their resources to the Coast Guard”

    Semper Paratus (had to brag)

    I enjoy your blog, George

  3. May 31, 2010 at 10:20 | #3

    Thanks Chas!  I’m with you on that: the Coast Guard is definitely under-appreciated.  The big threats to our country are coming in very small packages now.  I’d be happy with fewer big-ticket aircraft carriers and missile defense systems that won’t work, and more resources to the Coast Guard. 

    David – I wrote a reply to you, that was so long my own blog rejected it!  At least I think it did, so if you get two copies in your email, I apologize.  Anyway, here’s the first half:

    In your first paragraph you came up with two things that you think I think you are, and got both of them wrong.  I don’t think you’re a crazy fringe radical, but I do think you have too narrow a view of “sustainability” and that your ideology blinds you in that respect.  Not the same as being a liar.

    “Sustainable” addresses more than whether something will run out.  It also means; can we live with the effects of whatever it is?  Will those effects build up and cause Very Bad Results?

    Think of it this way: you have a good income, so you can buy stuff.  A little bit of stuff each week.  But you only throw out some of the packaging.  You keep every fifth cereal box, for instance.  Sooner or later, your house is full of cereal boxes: not sustainable.  You need to get rid of one cereal box for every one that comes into the house.

    Your second paragraph posits a false dichotomy: that nonhuman citizens of our environment are somehow in competition with us.  Instead, they are a good indicator of what will happen to US if we keep operating in nonsustainable ways.  They’re passengers in the lower decks of the ship, as it were; if they are drowning, we are in trouble.

    As for computers using electricity and being made of plastic, that’s a red herring that we’ll get back to in a moment.

    Then a straw man: the environmentalist who says “Stop it!”  Ahh yes, the stereotypical back-to-the-land hippie.  That isn’t an option and not very many are saying it is. 

    In fact if you have six billion people to support, cities are a much better environmental bargain than rural life, hands down.  And especially in our country, better urban planning, basically an end to the suburbs by making our cities more livable.

  4. May 31, 2010 at 10:21 | #4

    Part 2 of stuff I wrote for David:

    We do need to ratchet down our population but the way to do it isn’t so bad.  Mostly it boils down to full equal rights for women on a global scale.  Not easy but proven effective and in the end much better than some China policy. 

    Now about that plastic computer and personal living habits.  Yes, individuals should try to save energy and use less stuff, and thanks for acknowledging that our family does try to do that.  The aggregate effect of millions of people living better by consuming less is an important part of the puzzle.  But it won’t fix the problem, not entirely, mostly because you won’t get enough people to change the way they live even if no real sacrifice is involved. 

    A very large part of the world’s population just doesn’t give a damn and never will.  It isn’t a moral failing on their part; they just don’t see the connections between products they buy, energy they use, polar bears, farmers in Africa, European climate, ocean pH, and a thousand other things that lead right back to their doorstep.

    I seem to recall that Al Gore makes your blood boil but he is very realistic on this point.  His message is; We’re in real trouble but we are not in a position where we can just “Stop it”.  Our best shot is a multi-path approach: recognition of the problem, start building changes in our industrial infrastructure NOW (we should have started a generation ago but we didn’t so here we are) and actually make it cheaper to live well. 

    The all-important step is to build external costs into products and services.  So we put a price on carbon emissions and build the recycling cost of my plasic computer (the plastic being the least environmentally problematic part of the system) into its purchase price. 

    Now about carbon energy being practically sustainable forever.  You have surely done some reading on “Peak Oil” so no need to go into that here.  But the sustainability of carbon energy is much more strongly affected by factors external to its supply.  The climate is changing and the ocean is becoming more acid – both effects of reintroducing fossil carbon to the atmosphere.  Of course the oil and coal industries have been doing their level best to confuse these issues with phony “grassroots” think tanks and PR campaigns but the science is really very clear: carbon-positive energy must become carbon-neutral or carbon-negative.

    Libertarianism seems to be saying; the free market will sort it all out.  But simple answers have a poor track record when applied to complex problems.

  5. June 1, 2010 at 09:21 | #5

    Always glad to help test your comment system.

    The opening paragraph was more for your readers that haven’t met me. Most liberals I hear believe conservatives are lying if they acknowledge carbon energy isn’t sustainable because everyone “knows” conservatives are “evil,” etc. Same goes to the libertarian being “fringe radical.”

    My second paragraph is my sense of what environmentalists – or perhaps the more vocal extremists of the political, environmental movement – seem to say. But I do want to acknowledge you’re correct when saying my understanding of sustainability is limited.

    The back-to-the-land hippies may be “straw men,” but they are the more vocal, just as liberals complain about all conservatives because they’ve heard Limbaugh without hearing less extreme voices.

    I am agreeing, however, if not making it clear, that carbon energy is not practically sustainable forever. I also agree that we need to begin making infrastructure changes as it comes to energy availability and use.

    I guess, at heart, I don’t have a philosophical difference with the goals of conservationists and even some environmentalists. My problems come about because of differences with their “means to the end,” i.e., more legislature to control the people they can’t convince through education.

    Oh, and yes, I consider Gore to be one of those more vocal political environmentalists with a rather obvious agenda that does not match his words and actions. Your information on Ed Begley Jr’s local speech, however, is much more inspirational. To me.

  6. June 1, 2010 at 13:55 | #6

    Oh my, the idea of getting political power by pushing environmentalism amuses me.  In a country where we only recently quite buying Hummers…

  7. June 1, 2010 at 14:05 | #7

    Um, not “getting political power by pushing environmentalism.” It’s “using political power to push environmentalism.”

    Now, I grant that the environmentalist movement has only relatively recently come into any kind of political power, and it is often much more constrained than historically others (big business, etc.) have been, but the fact that they are using the same tactics that others have used before them doesn’t make me feel any better about the use of the tactic.

  8. June 1, 2010 at 18:53 | #8

    Yeah, that would be awful if it was all fake and we made a cleaner, safer, more just world for nothing.

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