Hurricanes, human irrationality, and Gulf Coast ecosystems.
Keddy, Paul*,1, 1 Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, LA
ABSTRACT- The coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico have a long history of perturbation from hurricanes. Sea levels and coastal ecosystems have changed thorugh time as glaciers have advanced and retreated. The current state of New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast in general, arise from two processes. First, human populations have grown, settlements have extended into wetlands, and levees were built to protect these settlements. Second, the same levees have caused degradation of coastal wetlands, and industrial development (e.g. the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet) has accelerated rates of wetland loss. The balance between these processes has been determined by the many decisions of the citizens of Louisiana. At the federal scale, citizens have selected a federal administration that opposes government intervention in local affairs, that advocates industrial exploitation of ecosystems, and that denies the existence of threats from rising sea levels attributed to global warming. At the local scale, citizens have allowed levee boards to be staffed by cronyism and have refused to adopt rational land use planning. This is not a special case. From the American dust bowl to the collapse of the Canadian cod fishery to African overpopulation of the Sahel, humans have chosen development trajectories that are catastrophic in the longer term. Future trajectories for the Gulf coast lie between two extremes: a strict adherence to tradition, or a willingness to adapt to the dynamic nature of coastal ecosystems.
Key words: coastal ecosystems
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