Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast will raise the price of commodities from cosmetics to crude oil, gasoline to grain. How could one storm score a hit on every wallet in the country?
The answer is that as a society we lacked sufficient resiliencethe ability to recover from or adapt to adversityto avoid such an outcome. We permitted a situation to arise in which a huge proportion of the nation's energy-production infrastructure became concentrated in one regiona region prone to hurricane-related catastrophes, no less.
In both the private and public sectors, resilience is crucial. The buggy-whip manufacturers had to adapt to supplying automobile components to Henry Ford's assembly line, or die; and the federal government achieved a milestone in World War II's Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bombs that ended the war.
Resilience is in short supply these days, however, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Politicians (federal, state, and local), tend to be short-term thinkers, their purview often limited to the next election. Moreover, many of them are just not very smart, and they're particularly challenged in science and logic. The harsh truth is that there is little correlation between electability and problem-solving.
The nation as a whole would have been far more resilient to Katrina had we located oil refineries in other parts of the country and markedly reduced our dependence on oil by constructing additional nuclear power plants. However, these efforts have been blocked by failures of both government and non-governmental lobbying groups.
Nuclear energy has become the third rail of politics, and irresponsible radical environmentalists have prevented the construction of a single new oil refinery or nuclear power plant for decades. (And witness the seemingly endless acrimony over the creation of the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, NV).
These activists detest the oil and coal-mining companies, abhor nuclear power, and now are even complaining about wind turbines killing birdsso what do they approve of? Not long ago, a Greenpeace activist, who knocked on the door of my home tried to convince me that the answer to our energy needs was to grow vast quantities of hemp. Hemp? I threatened to set the dog on her.
Mindless, antitechnology activism, whether in NGOs or government, is inimical to resilience. It jeopardizes our survival as individuals and our success as a society. There are many examples.