We Are Responsible

By Gus Tyler

Published November 11, 2005, issue of November 11, 2005.

Who is responsible for the New Orleans catastrophe? A one-word answer might well be “we.” The conclusion is based on the history of floods from Noah to New Orleans. Too often, in trying to explain the origin of natural phenomena, we are inclined to overlook the role of humans — individually or collectively — in government.

Let’s take a look at the earliest civilization on Earth: the city-state of Sumeria, which is part of Iraq. What do we mean when we refer to Sumeria as the first “civilization”? We mean a community that is not some nomadic tribe changing residence with each change in the season. What attracted the settlers to Sumeria? The answer is floods. Each spring, when the winter snows of the North melted, the two great rivers Tigris and Euphrates overflowed their banks and deluged the soil with all sorts of fertile mud. The result was a huge expanse of extraordinary agricultural potential to attract folks from far and wide.

But there was the constant danger of floods, until human intervention turned minuses into pluses. First, dikes were erected. When the dikes proved insufficient, the Sumerians developed a system of canals and waterways to divert the floodwaters.

Then there is Holland. The very name describes it as a country that on the whole is below sea level. But as in the case of Sumeria, the Netherlands survives and prospers, thanks to dikes and waterways.

Our many references to “sea level’ may have created the impression that “sea level’ is a constant. Not so. In our lifetime, the sea level has been on the rise. If it continues to rise, Manhattan Island may within our lifetime be an endangered land.

Why is the sea level around the world threatening a repeat of a flood that would wipe out everyone, with the exception of Noah and his family? The biblical explanation is that God was angry with humans for their immoral ways. The great biblical flood was the work of God. But the present rise in the sea level is the result of human behavior — namely, global warming, due to the use of fuels that turn the atmosphere into a hothouse.

Here is what happens: Global warming melts the gigantic mass of icebergs in the arctic regions; the melted icicles turn into water, and the sea level rises. This is not a subject of speculation. At a world conference of nations held in Kyoto, Japan, the parties agreed to pursue policies to halt global warming. The United States was an exception.

President Bush said that the United States would not go unless Third World countries were included in the accord.

Why did Bush do this, when Third Word countries were contributing hardly anything at all to global warming and America is responsible for generating about half the total warming? Many believe that Bush vetoed Kyoto because of his and Vice President Dick Cheney’s personal interests in the oil business.

All of which brings us back to our opening question in which we suggest that we are the guilty party!



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