Will we learn more from the Earth Day oil spill than from Katrina?

Richard Register

Happy Earth Day! Here comes the oil spill! BP’s Deepwater Horizon, state of the art oil drilling platform digging into the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico 5,000 feet below explodes, killed 11 workers, burned into early morning Earth Day April 2010, toppled, sunk and released what may end up as the worst technologically caused natural disaster in American history. Blame is everywhere: BP, Transocean the owners of the drilling rig, insufficient regulation, a faulty “blowout preventer.”

Has anyone suggested it might be the car driver’s fault, or the people who laid out the sprawling city thus addicting everyone to oil, oil, oil? No one mentions consumer’s responsibility.

With that level of willing ignorance or guilt or whatever it is that won’t even look at the most obvious link of all, the ultimate cause, what should we say? At least we should say, well, do something about getting rid of your car and helping reshape your city so you are not addicted to oil.

Five and a half years ago Katrina hit the coast exactly where the oil is hitting it now. Afterward not a word was said about sprawl development that placed car-dependent single-family houses on thousands of acres below sea level. That’s denial at the most fundament level, the level of most basic demand for the oil that, when burned, makes seas higher, air hotter and hurricanes more furious.

The solution then is to rebuild with apartments and mixed uses – and on a very small amount of land – in that region with elevated fill. The French Quarter is built like that on a natural high levee. The University New Orleans, too, but on artificial fill. In the floods of Katrina that school had little damage while those below seal level experienced millions of dollars in damages. Compact development also goes along with energy conserving streetcars and bicycles. It also means much land could go back to the natural buffering of regional wetlands. Artificial fill is what the first cities in human history were built on so that, 4,500 years ago, the cities of the Sumerian civilization simply rose above the flooding Tirgis and Eupherates – nobody hurt!

Truly basic solutions like that last thousands of years. That dense way of building – and kicking out the car – remains the solution and will deep into the future, preventing oil spills and stopping climate change.

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