Thirty

Back in Biloxi on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. Despite the ravages of Katrina, Biloxi is once again in full bore growth mode, throwing up flimsy hotels and gaudy casinos right on the water, albeit with at least some architectural acknowledgement that serious danger lurks beyond the beach.

My hotel sits across the street from the beach, basically on stilts, and interestingly positioned adjacent to the Hurricane Camille memorial and vacant lots. Hurricane Katrina cleared out whatever man made structures once stood there. Only nature’s work, the stately Live Oaks with their massive limbs dipping downward like huge arms, survived.

We think we’re a pretty smart species, but we apparently don’t learn much from hurricanes. Once the storm passes and the water recedes, we’re back to building, right in the same spot as before. Supposedly higher and sturdier. I’m a skeptic of course and even admit to actually pulling for Mother Nature to once again point out our folly. I get more excited than Jim Cantore with big storms and find some grim satisfaction in saying, “I told ya so.”

But as is most often the case, it’s money and economic growth that trump everything. Economists like to say, “If you ain’t growing, you’re dying,” but of course without any thought as to the long term consequences of uncontrolled growth. No American city knows this better than Houston, and it was again a hurricane that thought them a hard lesson.

Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer Prize winning staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “God Save Texas,” a critical look the cultural and economic history of the Lone Star State. In the book, he states that Houston has endured more flooding than any other American city of the past forty years. On average, developers build 40,000 new houses a year to accommodate a growing population, but the growth comes at the cost of floodplain. In order to bank that big money, developers paved over the grassland prairie that formerly soaked up excess water, and in the process created the most flood prone city in the country.

Perhaps The Club for Growth maniacs should have paid more attention to a 1972 report developed by a team of scientists at MIT titled, “The Limits to Growth.” It weighed economic growth and the pressures of industrialization against declining or damaged natural resources and concluded that uncontrolled growth would kill us. Boots up. X’s in our eyes.

“The basic behavior mode of the world system is exponential growth of population and capital, followed by collapse.” They added that the only way to avoid collapse is to establish “equilibrium.” Fat chance of that happening.

Forty-seven years later we just experienced the hottest July on record. Polar Bears are looking for apartments in the city. Ice sheets are disappearing as the President unbelievably talks about burning more coal and rolling back regulations.

Will humans change and adapt? If I was a betting man, I’d bet “no.” In fact, my chances are much better at the slot machines across the street at the Beau Rivage casino than for humans to figure out the relationship between biology and economics before we slow roast. Even if 100 hurricanes pounded the Gulf Coast, making it supremely clear the area is not fit for long term human habitation, we’d rebuild and resume the growth mania.

We’re a planet of boiling frogs.

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