NAMAZU AND FRANKENSTORM
What the Namazu School of Climate Change Thought Had To Offer The Federal Government Before "Frankenstorm" , (AKA Hurricane Sandy, Tropical Storm Sandy, Hurricane Sandy revival, Weird Winter Storm/Tropical combo killer event supposedly never seen before hence, "FRANKENSTORM".
|Hurricane Sandy would have stayed an ordinary hurricane and hit the usual targets on the Gulf Coast had it not been for an early cold front and now its doing things never seen before, or more properly never seen during the short period that mankind has kept reliable weather records .|
What is the Namazu School ?
Namazu the mythological Giant catfish of ancient Japan whose wiggling was credited with causing earthquakes and tsunamis is the name we have adopted for our on going discussions of climate change. Departing a bit from our usually laser sharp focus on things maritime we said that we'd open the Namazu discussions to other changes like food security that may not appear so maritime in nature, yet it is grain exports that provide a little less than half of the cargoes for the American towboat and barge industry. Its' a connected world and waterborne transport does a lot of the connection. Today, as we write, ports from Southern Virginia to New York are under threat from the weather event formerly known as Hurricane Sandy but now co-mingled with two winter storm systems into what can only be described as "Frankenstorm".
The other thing that makes the Namazu School a different type of climate change forum is that we aren't concerned with the source of climate change. The entire series began with a guest blog posting describing the Namazu legend and the many ways that climate can change radically, suddenly, and without any input from man. While we debate the present situation surrounding our own influence on climate through our industrial, transportation, and domestic consumption activities; solar flares, a wide spread outbreak of vulcanism, axis wobble, ocean current changes, or any combination of these and other elements can generate a massive global climate change over night. The Namazu school notes that this has happened before in the earth's past, all of the climate change elements still exist in nature, so it can happen again. What we have been soliciting comment on is the measures that governments national, regional, and local should take to mitigate the effects of a radical and unexpected climate change. We want to focus on this, vice the present arguments over what to do to reduce any effects that human activity may be having on climate change. If we are successful in neutralizing our own effects on the atmosphere, that doesn't eliminate the probability of climate change, and it can be sudden, radical and dangerous and caused by cosmic forces over which we have no control.
There will be those who will argue that "Frankenstorm" is a sign of global climate change, others will argue that it is only a rare weather event. In either case it presents more than half a dozen low lying industrial and naval ports in the Mid Atlantic and North East of the United States with the necessity to deal with a temporary rise in sea level that is truly catastrophic and the opportunity to consider how to rebuild in such a way that temporary weather induced , or long term climate change induced major changes in sea level do not disrupt port operations in the long term.
The Namazu School started back in March of 2012 when the blog was just starting up. There have been a few postings on the subject since but many of our visitors have missed the previous postings so we repeat our basic focus again here. The previous postings are up, if interested, scroll through the postings starting in March 2012 and look for "Oceanography, Climate Change", or the Key Word "NAMAZU".
AS THE STORM CLOSES ON THE PORTS OF NEW YORK, PHILADELPHIA BALTIMORE, PORTSMOUTH, NORFOLK, AND OTHERS SOME NAMAZU TYPE THOUGHTS COME TO THE FORE.
New Orleans is Not the Only Port that is Low in Terms of Sea Level. Hurricanes Tend to Destroy Them One at a Time and We do tend to Rebuild. But a Large Enough "Frankenstorm, or Tsunami could wipe Out All of the Low Elevation Ports on a Single Coast at Once and Instantly. What Should We Do to Mitigate Against that Eventuality?
What should we do? In some ways the fact that sea level is in fact slowly rising may help us to be willing to finance the changes that we must make to mitigate the damages that will occur the day when sea level changes over night such as in the wake of a meteor strike. In America perhaps an earlier civilization may have left us a hint. The Mississippi Valley was once peopled by a civilization that we call the Mound Builders who fostered urban developments of as many as 50,000 people at a time when a big town in Europe had about 15,000 people. The Mound Builders did this in a major flood plain. Their large wooden public buildings of real consequence to their society were all built atop large rubble mounds that were elevated well above all remembered over flows of the Great River. Certainly the lesson of Katrina ought to be that levees and pumping stations not with standing, we ought to elevate police and fire stations, public libraries, hospitals, and old folks homes on such mounds. Some how the water always eventually gets into even the best ring levee system. In the port itself perhaps the most expensive infrastructure that can be so elevated, should be, and what can not, we may have to ask ourselves if we shouldn't shift to floating docks and similar port infrastructure.
Namazu School thinking accepts that sudden dramatic climate change can mean sudden dramatic sea level change. The Namazu School also accepts that while the threat may not be immediate it is real. And the threat to nearly 60 million Americans who don't usually have to deal with hurricane force tides, winds and rains is immediate today as "Frankenstorm" approaches. The questions of climate change/sea level change are not will it happen, but when. So at a very minimum we ought to be thinking, discussing, and writing about what to do to mitigate the damages on that day. Houston, Galveston, Tampa, Charleston, New York are just a few of the ports that would be wiped out by a change in sea level of just a few feet. It is almost as though the periodic ruin of New Orleans is a lesson and warning to us to do the necessary there and everywhere else to assure that we have working ports the day after the next sudden and dramatic climate change throws a monkey wrench into human history.
After "Frankenstorm" passes there will have to be rebuilding in the port areas. The media and FEMA focus will be on the restoration of power and getting the newly homeless adequately sheltered. However, there are some untold stories to post Katrina New Orleans that ought to now be considered. While the news media was focused on video of dramatic Coast Guard helicopter rescues of people stranded on roof tops, other less dramatic elements of the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineer, State Pilot's Associations, Port Authorities, Longshoremen and Harbor Workers struggled to bring the Port of New Orleans back on line. Its been seven years since the storm's passage and the city still bears visible scars, but the port was 86% operational within 48 hours of storm passage due to non stop work by the above described maritime organizations. The rapid rescue of a major portion of the ports operational capacity saved not only the economic base of the City of New Orleans but possibly a major portion of the economy of 18 to 33 American states linked to New Orleans by inland barge transport.
Katrina struck New Orleans at the start of the export grain season when at least a portion of the export grain production of 33 American states, and the overwhelming vast majority of the production of 18 states is shipped to New Orleans by river barge for reloading to ships for export. In many of the 18 directly shipping states as many as 7 out of 10 jobs are in some way related to, if not outright dependent on the export grain trade. At that same moment in time it was the start of the heating oil shipping season out of New Orleans and Baton Rouge refineries to the Mid West with much of the production transported up the Mississippi, Ohio river navigation systems by tank barge. While the nation watched the people of New Orleans try and dig out from under the wreckage of their city few realized that thousands of maritime workers , many of them newly homeless themselves labored 16 hour days to restore port operations. The consequences of failure? Plain and simply had these workers and military members failed grain would have rotted on the ground as 33 states suffered economic damage and perhaps 18 were cast into a 1930s style depression, all while many portions of the Mid West froze in the dark.
But there was a down side to the rapid restoration of navigation in New Orleans. Every thing was restored to the pre- storm levels and once up and operating little thought and virtually no expense has gone into improving the lower Mississippi port infrastructure to make it less vulnerable to future such events, and they will come. Fortunately no one port in the target area of "Frankenstorm" is as connected to a hinterland as vast as the New Orleans connection to the Mid West , but their collective impact probably approaches the type of net loss that a prolonged closure of the Port of New Orleans represents. After "Frankenstorm", will we start building some elevated road ways into these ports and elevating cargo warehouses, administration buildings, other critical infrastructure that assures enough surviving operational capacity to resume business rapidly after a major weather event or in response to a slow but steady rise in water levels due to climate change?
The New Orleans metropolitan area when Katrina hit probably had a total population of a little over one million people and the adjacent Mississippi Gulf Coast maybe had a half million people.
Federal, state, and local governments, business, and people in general continue to struggle with recovery efforts now seven years after the storms' passage. Basically we proved during Katrina and continue to prove in the South East Louisiana Coastal Mississippi region that the United States is ill equipped for disaster recovery. Now "Frankenstorm" will affect 60 million people in states with serious Congressional representation and Electoral College power.
Will the U.S. Government perform better, especially considering that it is still borrowing half of every dollar it spends? More importantly will we build the key ports back up in such a way as to seriously mitigate the effects of the next such event?
The Namazu School always begins with the absolute belief that there will be a next time, so each time we should rebuild better and more damage resistant; or in some cases, we should build cheap and readily replaceable. In all cases when presented with the necessity to rebuild we should rebuild with the sure and certain knowledge that the earth and climate/weather are not static. Whatever has happened can and will happen again. We have less than 200 years of solid formal weather observations recorded. But the fossil records do tell us that mankind has enjoyed a relatively favorable global climate for the last 5,000 years compared to previous periods of similar length. If past is prelude, that has to change and probably not for the better. We need to start dealing with that reality.