I wasn’t surprised to see Mark Fischetti on the phone when I got to work today. Mark has been our hall neighbor since 1998, with an office set in the midst of ours, and he’s been a welcome friend and colleague with many similar interests. He is a journalist specializing in science and technology, and the reason I expected to see him on the phone is that four years ago he wrote a major article for Scientific American (where he is a contributing editor) called â€œDrowning New Orleans.â€
â€œA major hurricane,” the headline went, “could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city.â€ The article is available online, and Mark was today pleading with Scientific American to make it free, while juggling requests for interviews and an oped for the New York Times.
For those who don’t have subscription access to Mark’s excellent and thorough article, here’s just a little of it:
“Fixing the delta would serve as a valuable test case for the country and the world. Coastal marshes are disappearing along the eastern seaboard, the other Gulf Coast states, San Francisco Bay and the Columbia River estuary for many of the same reason besetting Louisiana. Parts of Houston are sinking faster than New Orleans. Major deltas around the globe–from the Orinoco in Venezuela, to the Nile in Egypt, to the Mekong in Vietnam–are in the same delicate state today that the Mississippi Delta was in 100 to 200 years ago. Lessons from New Orleans could help establish guidelines for safer development in these areas, and the state could export restoration technology worldwide. In Europe, the Rhine, Rhone and Po deltas are losing land. And if sea level rises substantially because of global warming in the next 100 years or so, numerous low-lying coastal cities such as New York would need to take protective measures similar to those proposed for Louisiana.” Mark, too, thinks globally.
I hadn’t thought that this disaster would be connected with the war on terror (whoops–the struggle against violent extremism), but we’ve heard that there aren’t enough soldiers to help in New Orleans because so many of the National Guard units are in Iraq. (I’m not connecting Iraq with terrorism here, but pointing out that terrorism has been the justification for sending soldiers there.)