Thursday, October 20, 2011

Don't mess with Mama

Bangkok is abuzz about the flood "of the Century" (an already worn-out phrase used across the globe to describe recent natural disasters--We're only 11 years into this century and already we somehow know that this one will be worse than any in the next 89 years). Anyone with a scientific understanding of heat and water can tell you that there will be many to come that will be far worse. But that is irrelevant at the moment. 

Almost anything that could have been done to prevent this devastation was not done, beginning with the filling in of Bangkok's drainage canals (klongs) a century ago to make room for pavement that would cater to the automobile. The resulting gridlock and pollution do not seem to deter the typical Bangkokian: more autos add to the traffic headaches daily. The swift elevated skytrain and subway systems help, but are too little too late; they cannot offset the new vehicles being sold. 

The Thai army and engineers are feverishly working to build dikes and dredge the klongs in an effort to divert billions of cubic meters of flood waters around the city center to preserve the financial district (and of course the important embassies and homes of the wealthy). This could have been done years ago, but of course, human behavior dictates only reacting to effects, not prevention. Finger pointing is the choice of communication. As of this writing, the main body of the flood waters are just reaching the city. There is little to do but get possessions to the second floor, buy canned food and bottled water, and wait.

An obvious lack of understanding was indicated earlier this month, even as flood waters began their slow march to the gulf: Thai and Cambodian officials celebrated an agreement to jointly drill for more oil offshore. But it doesn't really matter if people believe the overwhelming scientific evidence regarding global warming and climate change: Physics will dictate more powerful storms, continued bleaching of coral reefs (a friend told me a few days ago that the beautiful coral he saw three years ago off Koh Tao in the gulf is completely gone), heavier rains and resulting floods. Nature pays no attention to surveys.

Every once in a while, to quote my wife Kat, "nature shows us just how unimportant the physical things are that we place arbitrary value on, and forces us to deal with it."

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