Thursday, August 18, 2016

Who is to blame?

Not sure what it is the Advocate wants here... besides a few clicks, I guess. So bad on me for linking to it in the first place. Not that you haven't read it by this point. You have. Anyway, in the middle paragraph quoted here, they pretty much refute their entire editorial.
The optics of Obama golfing while Louisiana residents languished in flood waters was striking. It evoked the precedent of the passive federal response to the state’s agony in 2005, a chapter of history no one should ever repeat.

The president acted prudently in officially declaring a disaster for the flooded part of the state, a key step in advancing federal aid. We’ve been heartened so far by the active involvement of Craig Fugate, head of Federal Emergency Management Agency, a far cry from FEMA’s hapless Michael Brown in the days after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was slated to visit Louisiana today to assess the damage.

But a disaster this big begs for the personal presence of the president at ground zero. In coming here, the president can decisively demonstrate that Louisiana’s recovery is a priority for his administration – and the United States of America.
Unlike the week-long bickering, doddering, cluelessness of the Bush Administration after Katrina, the feds responded to this year's emergency immediately. The President declared a federal disaster making individuals and local governments in 20 parishes eligible for aassistance. National guard has been active in search and rescue. FEMA is here doing work. DHS is here doing work.  The Governor says he has no complaints.

Hell, the Advocate editorial board even says in that article, they are "heartened" by all of this. But.. you know.. those darn "optics." Adrastos believes he sees the problem here and who am I to disagree?
If the Advocate editorial board deigned to read their own reporting, they would know that emergency response efforts are ongoing. This is all about an ultra conservative Obama hating editor seeing a chance to take a shot at him. The prime suspect is former Picayune and current Advocate editor Peter Kovacs who went on CNN to toot his own horn. On the behalf of Peters everywhere, I’d like to apologize for his malakatude.
On the other hand, maybe optics are a thing. Or, at least, maybe perceptions matter more than facts do to some people. Evidence of this might be found in a most discouraging conversation I had about the flood yesterday. Maybe I'm just not very good at explaining things. But the person I was talking to certainly didn't have much grasp of the facts.. or even the basic geography of the flood as it made its way through places within thirty miles of where we sat. Whatever I said about the weather event itself or the communities affected by it, I kept getting the same questions over and over. "Didn't all these people know it was going to flood?" "Don't they have insurance?" And, "Why is their drainage so bad?"

These aren't the sort of questions you get when someone wants to understand what's happening.  They're the sort of questions you get when someone is already thinking about the "optics" of who or what is to blame. Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do about people like that. But it's worth noting, not only that they exist, but that they live and walk among us. Some of them even edit our newspapers. But since we're being asked, let's try and address some of it.  We've already noted that Peter Kovacs would like to blame the President. But who else are we blaming?

Some of us are blaming climate change.  And that's fine so long as we acknowledge that we can't really establish a verifiable causal link. But here is what we can say.
On Monday, climate researchers and weather experts were in what’s by now a familiar posture — explaining that, no, this event wasn’t “caused” by climate change, but then again, it’s precisely the sort of event that you’d expect to see more of on a warming planet.

“Climate change has already been shown to increase the amounts of rain falling in the most intense events across many parts of the world, and extreme rainfall events like this week’s Louisiana storm are expected [to] grow increasingly common in the coming years,” wrote the Weather Underground’s Bob Henson and Jeff Masters.

“Louisiana is always at risk of floods, naturally, but climate change is exacerbating that risk, weighting the dice against us,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech University, told The Washington Post. “How long will it be until we finally recognize that the dice are loaded?”
So just like we can't say "Global warming is false because it gets cold during winter," we also can't say, "This specific thunderstorm clearly happened because of global warming." But we can talk about how events like last weekend's are more likely to happen than historical statistics suggest they have been. And we can say that evidence links this to climate change.

About that event, by the way. See what happened was, it rained a lot.
The Louisiana Flood of 2016 was triggered by a complicated, slow-moving low-pressure weather system that dumped as much as two feet of rain on parts of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and St. Helena parishes in 48 hours. The record two-day rainfall in those areas had a 0.1 percent chance of occurring in any year, the equivalent of a "1,000-year rain", according to the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, based at the Slidell office of the National Weather Service.

In the two-day period ending Saturday at 7 a.m., several parishes saw rainfall amounts equaling a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year, a so-called 100-year event. They included including parts of Tangipahoa, East Feliciana, Washington, Ascension, Lafayette, Iberville and St. Martin
The flood's atmospheric origins can be traced to a mid-level low pressure system and a weak, surface-level low that got their start over the Big Bend region of the Florida Gulf Coast on Aug. 5. That's when the National Hurricane Center warned that storminess over Florida might drop into the Gulf of Mexico and form a tropical depression.

So is it reasonable to expect everyone to be insured against a "1,000 year rain" event?  Nope. But that's what we have this federal disaster declaration for.
The federal disaster declaration triggers assistance for those whose homes and businesses have been damaged or displaced. Those who don't have flood insurance can still qualify for grants up to $33,000 for repairs. Temporary housing assistance will also become available
Which, to be clear again, is why it's great that the Obama Administration is, in fact, doing its job in response to the emergency.  And, yes, I know that's not going to be nearly enough money.  There will be plenty of time to work on that too.

Also it should be obvious that two feet of rain in 48 hours is going to overwhelm almost any urban pump and drainage system. The massive pump and drain system that keeps water out of New Orleans boasts a capacity of 29 billion gallons per day.  In theory, even those "world class" utilities would have had to run at maximum efficiency to keep up with the deluge. They wouldn't have. In any case, it's just not reasonable to suggest that the flood was an engineering failure much less negligence or lack of civic foresight as I suspect the person I had to explain this to yesterday was implying.

It is reasonable, though, to ask how the next such event might be mitigated. Maybe there isn't anything we can do to stop the next 1,000 year flood from happening six months from now. But there might be ways we can prepare for it that hadn't occurred to us previously.  Maybe this I-12 lawsuit seems silly at first glance.  But maybe there is something to be learned from it too.

Finally, was there really any doubt that President would be along for a visit sooner rather than later? You know as soon as that is a safe and sensible thing for him to do.
Edwards said a presidential visit could cause additional problems for flood recovery efforts. Obama's motorcade requires many roadways to be shutdown -- and many local streets are still closed because of the flooding. Also, a presidential visit puts a strain on law enforcement. First responders shouldn't be pulled away to deal with Obama, when they are needed for search and rescue missions still, Edwards said.
In the meantime, we'll just have to make do with the opposite of safe and sensible. 
CNN is reporting that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, will travel to Baton Rouge on Friday to tour damage from catastrophic flooding in Louisiana.

Trump supporters have called on him to visit Louisiana to see the flood-affected areas first-hand, but his campaign has not announced a scheduled visit.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' office responded to news of Trump's visit with a statement encouraging him to spend his time here volunteering or donating money to the relief effort.

"Donald Trump hasn't called the governor to inform him of his visit. We welcome him to Louisiana, but not for a photo-op," the statement read. "Instead we hope he'll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the Louisiana Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm."
Maybe Trump will visit with Peter Kovacs too.  You know, just for the sake of "optics."  

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