It’s pretty hard to have a blog on climate issues and not comment on Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans and Mississippi. On the other hand, most comments to date emanating from climate circles seem very tasteless and suggest any comment from someone interested in climate will be pretty risky.
The focus will be on reconstruction. So let me detour through the reconstruction after World War II.
I think that one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the 20th century was winning the peace after World War II. This has always struck me as even more remarkable than winning the war. Unlike virtually every prior military victory in human history in which the victor exacted revenge on the defeated party, fueling hatred and revenge, the Allies, led by the Americans, set about re-building defeated Europe and Japan. The program in Europe was named the Marshall Plan, after General George Marshall. Two generations later, the centuries-old cycle of European wars has ended, seemingly for good.
The "invention" of a method of how to win a peace was essentially unprecedented and, in my opinion, George Marshall was one of the greatest men of the 20th century. (On a minor personal note, I have been criticized for presenting a speech sponsored by the George Marshall Institute; given my admiration and respect for George Marshall, I was flattered by the invitation and the opportunity for even a minor association with the institute bearing the name of such a great man.) While the program bore Marshall’s name, it needed broader support, which could only come from a populaiton generous in spirit.
I am unfamiliar with the detailed history of how the Marshall Plan came about. I am sure that there were many voices in the United States in 1945 who (rightly) blamed Germany and Japan for the devastation of World War II and resolutely opposed the Marshall Plan. Their positions were far more justified than that of today’s German Environment Minister, who blamed the devastation of New Orleans on American climate policy. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed after World War II and the backbiting of Marshall’s critics is long forgotten. Let’s hope that the same thing happens today.
I do not expect that Europe (or Canada) will play a major role in the reconstruction of New Orleans and coastal Mississippi. The U.S. will necessarily do this itself. But the first instinct of any civilized nation should be one of sympathy; and the second one should be to ask what they can do to help, if not in the American Gulf Coast, but elsewhere, perhaps picking up American undertakings in tsunami-affected areas and Africa so that the U.S. can more effectively attend to New Orleans and Mississippi.