Thursday, September 01, 2005

Welcome to the future

The reports from Louisiana and Mississippi are not pretty. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, dead; bodies floating in the streets; a breakdown of law and order, with looters and gunfire common in places, vehicles being hijacked; and authorities calling for the complete evacuation of New Orleans. Fuel prices, already high by recent standards, rocket upward until the government steps in. This is one disaster. Imagine having to confront multiple such disasters simultaneously. Could central authorities cope? In the case of the Indian Ocean tsunami, aid poured in from the rest of the world, which remained unscathed.

Whether global warming has played a part in the New Orleans flood is not clear, but rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather phenomena, combined with overpopulation and an end to cheap energy, bode ill for the future: one prospect is a Hobbesian state of nature in which life is nasty, brutish, and short, relieved in spots by precarious order imposed by the strong, take-no-prisoners hand of authority.
The bulk of the city had long since vanished, and only the steel-supported buildings of the central commercial and financial areas had survived the encroaching flood waters. The brick houses and single-storey factories of the suburbs had disappeared completely below the drifting tides of silt. Where these broke surface, giant forests reared up into the burning dull-green sky, smothering the former wheatfields of temperate Europe and North America. Impenetrable Matto Grossos sometimes three hundred feet high, they were a nightmare world of competing organic forms returning rapidly to their Paleozoic past, and the only avenues of transit for the United Nations military units were through the lagoon systems that had superimposed themselves on the former cities. But even these were now being clogged with silt and then submerged.
J. G. Ballard, The Drowned World

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