Biblical Anxieties

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Biblical Anxieties by James Howard Kunstler

The sore beset people of this land may be good and go**am sick of politics, RussiaGate, and Trump-inspired social strife, but they may soon have something more down-to-earth to worry about: Biblical floods and plagues.

Media hysteria around the Mueller Report has nearly eclipsed news of historic flooding in the midwest that has already caused $3 billion in damage to farms, homes, livestock, and infrastructure. With spring rainfall already at 200 percent of normal levels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a statement in late March saying, “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”

More to the point, two major western dams show disturbing signs of potential failure that may bring on unprecedented disasters. The Oroville Dam on the Feather River north of Sacramento — the highest earthen dam in the US — nearly blew out in February 2017 when record rains damaged the main spillway, threatening to send a 30-foot wall of water downstream towards California’s capital and towns along the way. When that spillway was closed to assess the damage, which was significant, the secondary emergency spillway was opened for the first time since the dam was built in 1968. It too started disintegrating and before long Lake Oroville began flowing over the top of the dam itself. The state had to order evacuation of 188,000 people in three counties. Frantic efforts to drop sandbags from helicopters stabilized the damage and, luckily, the rain stopped.

Subsequent lawsuits against the state’s Department of Water Resources revealed shoddy maintenance, theft of equipment, and poor record keeping. Now, two years later, new cracks have appeared in the repaired Oroville Dam main spillway. The Sierra Nevada snowpack stands at 153 percent above average, and the National Weather Service predicts that weak El Nino conditions with above-average Pacific Ocean temperatures are likely to produce above-average rainfall this spring along with the snowpack melt.

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James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” Home From Nowhere was a continuation of that discussion with an emphasis on the remedies. A portion of it appeared as the cover story in the September 1996 Atlantic Monthly. His next book in the series, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, published by Simon & Schuster / Free Press, is a look a wide-ranging look at cities here and abroad, an inquiry into what makes them great (or miserable), and in particular what America is going to do with it’s mutilated cities.