Monday, May 07, 2007

Life and death in Kansas

The pictures from Greensburg, KS look more like Nagasaki than anything I have ever seen of US disaster photography.

That story was pushed off the front page this morning by the carnage in Iraq and the folly in Washington.

Like Fallwell or Robertson pointing to New Orleans and saying god is mad at us for tolerating gay lifestyle, I will point to poor Greensburg KS and remind you that more frequent and more energetic cyclonic weather is a given when we cause the atmosphere to retain more heat energy. If I speak of a sky god who is angry that we dump methane into the sky, will you understand? If I compare the evil of our incessant polluting to the devils these fundies denounce, will you understand? The people in Greensburg seem a decent and, for farm town Kansas typically religious lot. They will ask, (it is hard not to,) "What did we do to deserve this?"


Or rather nothing more than their tiny share in the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane, which is 23 times as effective at reflecting escaping heat back toward earth as CO2. Methane only lasts a few years in the atmosphere before breaking down to CO2 and, away from livestock, swamps and certain industries, is at much lower concentrations than CO2. More like the inundation of New Orleans and unlike the Indonesian tsunami or the deadly Kashmir earthquake two years ago, the need to find causes and fix blame is not entirely in vain here. Greensburg is surrounded by feedlots. [see map toward end of pdf "rattlesnake watershed boundary"]. Those sources of methane are just one tiny part of the problem of greenhouse gases but an ignored part. The lack of alarm about global warming and the tendency to stick with poor but personally profitable practices because there is no one huge polluter to blame is a huge problem. Kansas does know feedlots contribute to water pollution. As measured by miles of dirtied rivers, feedlots are the worst polluters of moving water in the state:

miles of polluted waterway
industrial point sources 927
municipal point sources3608
combined sewer overflow152
nonirrigated crop production 14851
irrigated crop production9280
feedlots 17241
urban runoff 2683
surface mining 522
petroleum activities 5953
septic tanks 104
channelization 313
flow regulation/modification 0
removal of riparian vegetation 11879
streambank modification 0
source unknown 8865

Only three, much more populous, states have bigger feedlot industries. The last thing this post is meant to do is kick some people that are already down. Raising grain and feeding it to animals is one of the main ways, with or without subsidies, that Kansans have ever made a living. It is our preference for steaks burgers and pork chops that makes the feedlot such a an important part of the KS economy, bringing in over 600 million/year revenue. Their soybean crop has has increased and their feedlot business has been off just a bit in the last few years. That is a wholesome trend for consumers that keeps Kansans on the farm. Better switch to veggie burgers. The people in Greensburg feed you, let them feed you something that is good for all of us.

You can send money to the red cross if you don't live close enough to lend an empty bedroom or donate some furniture. Not all counted yet but 10 deaths out of such devastation seems miraculous. That sad but relatively benign statistic shows the power of having enough warning and the technology, the network of radars, barometers and signalling to sound the sirens 20 minutes before the monster tornado came through. Getting the now homeless towns people into real homes would be ideal: their basements saved them but that was not that last tornado Kansas will see and trailer houses have no basement.

You could buy a quilt to have a souvenir for the good you have done. Last year Greensburg chipped in a few quilts of its own but that may be hard to repeat this year.

UPDATE: This is what I am talking about: read editorial memo at the top of the page.