Humanism Should Inspire Us to Reduce the Impact of Natural Disasters

power lines

I realize this may be too soon, seem insensitive, and be overly simplistic but I need to vent about something because awful but preventable things keep happening that lead to unnecessary human suffering. New Orleans appears to be without power because the one tower that evidently brought electricity to the entire city collapsed. Doesn't it seem fairly obvious that routing all the electricity for a major city through one fragile point was a disaster waiting to happen? It isn't like Ida was the first hurricane to hit New Orleans. And it isn't like the tower couldn't have been damaged in a non-weather-related incident as well. Why do we (i.e., Americans) keep doing things like this?

I live in a part of the county where none of the power lines are underground despite the fact that this means countless people lose power in every storm. While reading a report from one of the big power companies as Ida rolled in, a sentence caught my attention. It said that widespread and prolonged outrages were expected in areas with above-ground power lines. Yes, I would expect so. And yet, they are all above ground throughout this entire hurricane, tornado, and severe thunderstorm ravaged area! Maybe there are good reasons for that, but the result is that power outages are a common part of life here. People wonder why I have zero interest in owning an electric car, but it is because I live in a region of the United States that cannot (or will not) provide reliable electricity to residents.

I'm not victim-blaming here. I don't lay this burden on the people of New Orleans or anyone residing in that land mass that lies between New Orleans and Mobile. I'm sure most of them would prefer to have things like safe drinking water and reliable electricity, luxries people in many parts of the country can take for granted. Natural disasters are bound to do damage. But when the kind of damage they do is largely predictable (which it should be because we have so damn many of them), it seems like we'd do some target hardening to minimize their impact.

During every natural disaster, we have states of emergency declared and the feds pledge resources and assistance rebuilding, but relatively little seems to happen. Newer disasters happen, and the public quickly gets bored of the over-the-top news coverage of the earlier disasters. Without public pressure, the politicians forget about making good on their promises. There are parts of New Orleans that still haven't been rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, and that was 16 years ago! And of course, the same conditions that make natural disasters so much worse than they might otherwise be (e.g., poverty, prolonged neglect of public infrastructure) never seem to be addressed.

If there is one thing Americans seem to love it is fetishizing of our military. Maybe we need to give some thought to how we might use this for our collective benefit. Could disasters be seen as "the enemy" and could we not persuade people to strengthen our defenses? I realize that President Trump is (temporarily) out of the White House so that we aren't hearing as much about nuking hurricanes these days, but does that mean there is nothing we can do to lessen the predictable and repeated suffering they cause? I don't buy that. I realize that "hurricane proofing" is likely impossible, but I'd be surprised if we couldn't do plenty to reduce their impact if we were so inclined.