Tures: Applying the lessons of Hurricane Pam to climate change

Published 1:02 pm Monday, July 8, 2019

John A. Tures
Professor of Political Science LaGrange College

Ever heard of Hurricane Pam? It hit New Orleans in July of 2004. The Category 3 storm made a direct hit on the Crescent City, destroying half-a-million homes, displacing a million residents, and killing an estimated 25,000 to 100,000 citizens.

By now you’re probably wondering what’s up. Hurricane “Pam” was actually a simulation of what would happen if New Orleans received a direct hit from a Category 3 storm. A host of government agencies found that such a catastrophe was the worst natural disaster that could hit the USA, topping both a St. Louis and San Francisco earthquake in terms of casualties.

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The Department of Homeland Security read the findings…and did little, if anything. They praised themselves for handling everything well, and learning during the process. Yet a year later, Hurricane Katrina blasted through the Gulf of Mexico, slamming well to the East in Pass Christian, Mississippi. New Orleans didn’t even get a direct hit. The failure of the levees was a human-made disaster. And clearly FEMA wasn’t ready for something that was just a fraction of what Hurricane Pam could do.

President George W. Bush and Homeland Security Michael Chertoff claimed that nobody could have anticipated the results of Hurricane Katrina. But their own government did, and did little about it, which explains the awful response.

We’re about to make the same mistake on climate change.

Every year, more than a dozen government agencies put together the National Climate Assessment, which explains what could happen with climate change, including its worst effects. But the government has recently repeated its error on Hurricane Pam, preventing the National Climate Assessment scientists from reporting its findings on scenarios.

For example, the Department of Agriculture was unable to assess how changes in the weather could hamper farming in the United States of America. As a local farmer’s bumper sticker reads “No Farms, No Food.”

As they did in 2004, the scientists provided the answers on the natural world. But it’s our government appointees who are replacing these assessments with their own opinions.

It’s not just Democrats and Independents who recognize the danger of climate change. “Nearly 8-in-10 Americans (78 percent) believe the world’s climate is undergoing a change that is causing more extreme weather patterns and sea level rise, up from 70 percent in December 2015,” writes Monmouth University’s pollsters. “Of note, nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) now believe in climate change, a 15 point jump from just under half (49 percent) three years ago.”

The poor handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 helped bring about the Democratic Party takeover of Congress in 2006, and a change in the presidency in 2008. Unless the administration takes these reports seriously, they won’t be around long enough to keep them under wraps.