A past post spoke of the Mississippi River in natural terms. The River is a vast flood plain worthy of an unrestrained course without canyons, gorges, and other constraints. Typical of many rivers in the Midwest, it is a mud-bottom river that ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, floods and runs low. Its job is to be the drain for excess water from sixteen US States; its main tributaries are great rivers in their own right: The Wisconsin River, Minnesota River, Iowa River, Des Moines River, Illinois River, Missouri/North Platte Rivers, Arkansas River, and Ohio/Tennessee Rivers – among many other secondary tributaries that would add another dozen states to the Mississippi’s flood plain.
If one has the opportunity to visit the River, or better, live near it, one cannot escape an awareness of something that transcends humankind. It is the byproduct of a two million year ice age that ended ten thousand years ago. Even the least interested person readily sees flood plains that reach for miles on both sides. Wildlife depends on the River as much as humans and suffers – if not becomes extinct – when dams, levies, eliminated estuaries and chemicals are forced upon the River. Piling on is the massive abuse by real estate development within the River’s flood plain.
The human violation of a sacrosanct member of the biosphere has a price: the river floods every year, some years more than others. Yet humans are allowed to build homes, factories, roads and estuary-destroying flood walls at great expense to themselves while the River regularly ignores this folly and destroys most of it at great cost to industry, economics, and the private lives of thousands of families. At the delta of the River where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana fights an ongoing war with the River from massive fossil fuel plants to the fact that one cannot bury loved ones in the ground – the caskets have a way of rising to the surface in flood conditions.
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The Mississippi River is an excellent example of how nature ignores the ambitions of Homo sapiens sapiens. True, the River suffers ignoble abuse but continues with its job of draining flood waters from half of the contiguous United States. The River is an example of how nature will have its way regardless of human disrespect. Now Harvey has visited the coast of Texas. The loss of life, industry, possessions, and survival for years to come is on a scale of 10,000 times the conflict along the Mississippi River.
That hurricanes are an expected imposition on life and human ambition is not the issue; the storms are growing larger and stronger according to NOAA statistics. Several storms have set new records in the past three years. Mariner will not engage in the argument about global warming. Science has proven time and again in overwhelming ways that the Earth is warming. Of importance to humans and many other species, are two factors: the temperature of air and water on the planet is rising – the result is increased energy in weather systems – enough to permanently alter jet streams. Secondly, one of the major causes of warming is excessive carbon, which acidifies oceans and retains heat in the atmosphere. Both factors cause the melting of ice and permafrost in the Polar Regions which will raise ocean levels as much as nine feet in this century at a rate of 1-3 inches per year.
Now one can see the similarities between the Mississippi River and ocean fronts: flooding, irrecoverable cost, and humans, being as belligerent and persistent as they are, losing any battle when the biosphere decides to ignore human hubris. Living along the Mississippi, we have experience dealing with the biosphere. It foretells future life along the coasts of the world’s oceans. A future life that will submerge masses of land similar to Florida and includes the two dozen largest cities near ocean fronts, including New York City, Miami and Los Angeles. One can argue that New Orleans has been flooded for some time.
Will our governments respond properly with regulations and zoning? Will capitalism be set aside to accommodate the enormity of the situation?