Friday, November 03, 2017

Above their pay grade

On NOLA.com, Bob Marshall laments that, at a recent forum on coastal and environmental issues, the mayoral candidates appeared to lack a basic grasp of "existential threat" of climate change to the city of New Orleans, let alone any sort of plan to deal with it. But see if you can spot the problem here.
But when it came to addressing climate change they left the audience troubled. Almost every question on warming and rising seas led to another discourse on improving drainage or higher levees -- even improving the work force to do that work. The candidates apparently didn't get what that educated audience already knew:  Without addressing the causes of warming, none of those other issues can be solved.

The concept isn't complicated.

Better drainage and S&WB management? We can have an all-star cast operating the best combination of pumps and green infrastructure in the world, but the continued warming of the oceans and atmosphere will mean more of those 10-inches-in-a-few-hours rainfalls that will overwhelm that system and flood homes.

Better levees? Engineers admit even the state-of-the art, $14.5 billion system now in place probably will be overtopped by the storm surge from current Category 3 storms. And as sea level rises due to warming in the future, that same Cat 3 storm will have much higher storm surge, pouring even more water over those levees and posing a real threat to that improved drainage system.

Supporting the state's coastal master plan? Absolutely. But the 2017 plan admits that without reducing the current rate of emissions sea level rise is likely to consume another 2,800 square miles of a coast by 2065 -- even if all those projects are completed. That greatly increases the threat of storm surge against the levees and the drainage system -- and possibly makes some of the current marsh creation projects obsolete.
Consider, though, that better drainage, levees, and "supporting" the coastal master plan are much closer to the actual job of being Mayor of New Orleans than is solving the global crisis of climate change. We're talking about stuff that happens way way way above the mayor's pay grade.

Marshall goes on to cite Mitch Landrieu's "Climate Action Strategy" as an example of what he'd like to see and hear from the candidates. But, frankly, that document is nothing more than a pamphlet meant to bolster Mitch's personal brand as much as anything else.  The next mayor can and probably will sign off on it. And that's fine. Anything to contribute in some small way to "the discourse." But it's also pretty much the extent of her power to do anything. Her role in this, like the the mayor of any one town will be little different from your household recycling bin's role in cleaning up the Pacific Garbage Patch.  It's symbolic, at best, and infinitesimally small.

On a more depressing note, this also indicates why we're never going to avoid this hazard. The politics of climate change are incongruous with anything that would suffice as a "solution." The problem is enormous. Its remedy requires global agreement. By comparison our political jurisdictions are tiny and represent opposing interests who are irreconcilable. 

The disaster is bigger than we are. It is already here. All we can do politically is fight over who bears the worst of its burdens. Who will pay the higher costs of  drainage, protection, insurance, and ultimately relocation? Whose losses will be remunerated? Whose operations will be subsidized? If you want to ask the next mayor what her plan is for climate change, ask her about it in that context.

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