Monday, September 05, 2005

Lessons from New Orleans?

Here's my simplistic view of the whole planetary environmental problem.

There are now a lot of us.
Some of us can afford to buy stuff we don't need.
And we all like to travel a lot if we can.

Addressing even one of those issues effectively is political dynamite
no current statesperson I can think of, or even group of same, is/are
capable of, much less articulating, at least not at the same time as
staying elected.

Especially because of how things now get shared and perceived, thanks
to our being connected in a communications sense in ever more immediate
and intimate ways, which are not always helpful in getting considered,
balanced views. The stampede of hype and its thirst for short-termism
can trample any slowly developing shoot that needs time to adapt and

All topics for another time. But for now let me concentrate on New

A week or more on from Katrina, there seem to be many - in most cases
justified - angry questions raised and passions roused, but also a few
opportunistic camps being staked out that are getting in the way of
looking at this as objectively as I'd like.

'Maybe Bush will address global warming now'. 'The world's superpower
reduced to a 3rd world nation'. ‘It’s all the fault of school Moms’.

Responsibility for actions and (lack of) reactions maybe topics for yet
more blogs, for sure, but the main issue here seems to be that a vast
area was flattened or flooded, and more critically a modern city of
millions of souls was built below sea level, and the barrier designed
to keep it all out was designed to withstand a force a few notches down
from what can, and did, eventually happen. And this despite a lot of
warning, for instance...


But has there never been a category 5 hurricane before? Or is this just
the first time it came ashore where a whole bunch of people were
concentrated? It's a numbers game that can obscure what is actually the
problem and how best to solve it.

There seems no doubt that there is some nasty stuff brewing around the
planet, and 'we' are likely responsible for a significant percentage of
it and almost certainly making things worse, though I'm still trying to
get a handle on how much.

Unless the bigger issues in the mix get prioritised first, much that
grabs the headlines seems a tad like worrying about whether the
deckchairs on the Titanic were made from recycled cans and fairtrade
cotton (PC-alert! That's just making a glib point.’s efforts
at encouraging reuse are much less in the great scheme of things,
though we all become cumulatively significant).

And just like all the other positive-intentioned, proactive guys out
there, at we'll continue doing our little thing, because
that's all we can do. It’s also possible that beyond our inherent
usefulness to users, maybe we will have value beyond our service in the
future, when we have an audience who can be motivated to respond and
are significant enough be listened to. At the end of the day, it is the
actions of individuals which will count.

But for now, to those in power, activism and the media, I have one
thing to suggest:

'Focus, people... focus!

Don't look for the soft or symbolic targets; the easy victories. Ignore
the lobbyists from greedy corporations, and at other extremes those
eco-pressure groups with their own agendas. And don't pander to the
media's desire for ratings-rich stories. Now is the time to concentrate
on the big stuff.

All we need to do is prioritise what that is. Peat burning in
Indonesia? Air travel? Carbon-based power generation vs. nuclear?
Amazon logging? Please let's address them in sequence… pronto.