When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

02 September 2005

Thomas P.M. Barnett: Katrina's System Perturbation

Master strategist Tom Barnett thinks out loud about the long-term "horizontal scenarios" presented by Katrina:
First, there is the social scenario of seeing an American city so desperately humbled. We can say N.O. was a freak of man-made invention with the levee and the notion that you could keep a city that large below sea level, but still, this is one desperate scene. By definition, this will be a recovery of great length and with strong differentiation--meaning some will recover with reasonable speed while others with great delay or perhaps never. In general, America tends not to accept such humbling well, preferring to answer the challenge with a "never again" sort of resignation that can be expressed in a variety of explosive ways. And explosiveness is what defines the System Perturbation: a change so abrupt that incremental responses are abandoned in favor of radically new approaches.

If there are parts of N.O. that are written off as simply too hard to resurrect, then the environmental scenario may well become predominate, with a lot of finger-pointing regarding how America has overdeveloped coastal areas and run a boat-load of risks in a world featuring a warming global climate and rising sea levels. When you get a humbling of this magnitude, many will reach for biblical analogies and once you cross that line, the sense of transgressing God and Mother Nature may lead to a strong response not just in Louisiana but elsewhere across the nation.

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