Flushing Our Gulf Toilet

An interesting point of view a couple days ago from Donna Yowell.  Donna is the executive director of something called the Mississippi Urban Forest Council.  I checked out their web site and they have a slick little brochure there, even though the print is a mite too small for me.  They talk about the benefits of membership, the importance of trees and a bunch of other undeniable benefits to preferring trees over parking lots. 

But Donna is on the wrong scent when she talks about what Katrina did to her trees.  Specifically, she’s talking about Mississippi’s Clower-Thornton Nature Trail, which she toured recently.  “Every tree is brown, every leaf blown off," she says and Hurricane Katrina “has turned it into a toxic waste site overnight.”

Well, I don’t want to split hairs, Donna, but blaming Katrina for turning your favorite hiking trail into a toxic wasteland is sort of like blaming your toilet for the human waste that it’s designed to get rid of.  Hurricanes are nasty creatures when it comes to the man-made structures they come in contact with.  But they are also cleansers of the land they fall upon, flushing away what doesn’t belong and renewing the natural environment. They’ve been doing that for a good long time, an original and way early example of ‘intelligent design.’ Before people.  Before people even thought about being people.

The toxic stew that pollutes New Orleans, that we are this minute pumping into Lake Pontchartrain so it’ll be around a while in case we need it later, has no more to do with hurricanes than Walt Disney has to do with reality. We’re currently paying a monstrous price for decades of neglect, generations of not taking seriously all those nasty problems from industrial farming to the various ‘holding ponds’ that no longer held for chemical plants and refineries. 

Katrina pulled the chain.  What flushed was our doing.

There’s a panic on right now to ‘do something’ because we are not standers-by when the big challenge comes our way.  That’s more than understandable,  Toxic New Orleans must be pumped somewhere and both Pontchartrain and the Gulf are equally miserable decisions. 

Well, maybe not equally. Pontchartrain is probably the best of bad choices because it can be monitored closely over the nest twenty years and perhaps be brought back.  If we care enough.  Lake Erie was written off as a chemical soup and came back to be a fishing paradise, so there’s hope for Pontchartrain.

The Gulf is another matter, its ‘dead zone’ having expanded every year for the past thirty or so, virtually extinguishing the Gulf coast fishery.  Essentially, the Gulf is an inland sea, a closed bucket, like the Mediterranean and the lessons are much the same.  Surrounding countries flushing into the communal cesspool have pretty much destroyed the fishery; the Med over millennia and the Gulf over a few centuries.

Congress plans to examine the question soon.

Well, that cheers me considerably.  Way back in July, the Congress listened to a bunch of the world’s best climate researchers and, get this, a bipartisan group of Senators said they saw the need to take quick action.  Quick action.  They all said it, Democrats standing side by side to Republicans and saying it, “Quick action.” 

But they also said they were ‘struggling’ to reach a consensus on what to do.  I can understand that it’s a struggle whether to keep on cashing those big campaign-finance checks from Big Oil and Big Farming and Big Chemical or just give it up.  Maybe lease a cabin on Walden Pond and take turns waiting for the voice of Henry Thoreau to give them a tip . . . or a backbone . . . or some ethics . . . whatever.

So, don’t hold your breath.  My guess is that we’ll keep on keepin’ on until the next disaster, which . . . what was that sound? . . . was that hurricane Rita, sneakin’ up on Houston?

Damn! So soon?

See Taking My Country Personally on my personal web site.

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