NRDC: What Katrina revealed September 13, 2005 1:51 PM
Dear NRDC BioGems Defender,
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Hurricane Katrina has been, first and foremost, a human disaster -- a seemingly
endless tale of suffering marked by lives lost, communities dispersed and
families torn asunder. Our hearts go out to the hundreds of thousands of
displaced people who are now struggling to piece some semblance of their lives
NRDC is doing all that we can -- as I'm sure you are -- to aid the ongoing
relief effort in the Gulf states. We're also contributing our special expertise
on oil spills, toxic pollution and drinking water in order to help meet the
As the flood waters begin receding, Americans are also beginning to gain some
much-needed perspective on our fragile place in the natural world. Few events
in our lifetime have revealed so dramatically the deep interconnectedness
between people and nature.
As an environmental organization, NRDC has a profound obligation to ensure that
the environmental lessons of this disaster are not only learned, but that they
are heard loud and clear in our nation's capital. Hurricane Katrina destroyed
more than human lives and homes. She also blew away a decade's worth of denial
about major environmental problems that confront America.
Katrina destroyed the fantasy that we can blithely go on increasing our
dangerous dependence on oil -- whether imported or domestic. Our oil-addicted
economy is just too vulnerable to supply disruptions, as anyone who filled up
their gas tank last week discovered. The solution is NOT to drill and destroy
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- or our beautiful coastlines -- as many
in Congress are now suggesting. Drilling in the Arctic would not have any
impact on gas prices until 2025, and even then it would only reduce prices at
the pump by a trivial 1.5 cents per gallon. Our nation simply does not have
enough oil reserves to affect world oil prices. The only way out of this mess
is to reduce our appetite for oil by improving the fuel economy of our vehicles
(which consume 40 percent of our oil) and by relying on smarter, cleaner and
renewable ways to power our economy.
Katrina also exposed the fiction that we can dredge, bulldoze and fill millions
of acres of coastal wetlands without paying a price. Wetland ecosystems are
Mother Nature's perfect buffer against catastrophic storm surges. Destroy that
buffer and you destroy the last line of defense, not only for New Orleans but
for a host of other American cities. In this case, as in so many others, what's
good for the wildlife of coastal America is also indispensable to its people.
We are part of nature.
Katrina demolished the pretense that we needn't reckon with global warming.
While no single hurricane can be directly linked to global warming, climate
scientists agree that we are entering an epoch of warming oceans, rising sea
levels and much more intense storms. We know full well what kind of pollution
controls are required to reverse this trend. If we don't act, Katrina will be
our future. You can't say she didn't warn us.
Finally, Katrina tore the lid off one of our nation's most shameful truths:
that petrochemical plants, toxic waste sites, oil refineries and other
industrial threats to human health are most often sited next to low-income
minority communities. The rest of America regularly averts its eyes from this
injustice. But with the poorest neighborhoods of New Orleans drowning in a
hazardous sea of fuel, sewage and chemicals, it's hard not to notice just which
of our citizens are paying the ultimate price.
Oil addiction. Wetland destruction. Global warming. Environmental injustice.
You're well aware that NRDC has been working for years to awaken America to
these terrible problems and to champion urgently needed solutions. But Katrina
has changed everything. The public is finally paying attention. And officials
in Washington are looking to respond.
Our challenge is making sure our leaders take away the right lessons from this
disaster and respond with real solutions, not with the old ways of thinking or
business-as-usual giveaways to well-connected industries.
It won't be easy. The Bush administration and congressional leaders have spent
the last four years digging us ever deeper into a hole of oil dependence,
wetland destruction, global warming pollution and environmental injustice. It's
unspeakably tragic that it took a deadly hurricane to expose this gaping crater.
There's an old proverb that says, "If you find yourself in a hole, stop
digging." Getting our leaders to stop digging will be a tall order. But with
more hurricanes sure to follow in Katrina's wake, we have no choice but to
dedicate ourselves to the task at hand. As always, NRDC will be counting on
your commitment, your support and your activism at every step of the way.
John H. Adams
Natural Resources Defense Council
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