Magazine

Harsh Lessons From A Hurricane


"Katrina's wake" (Cover Story, Sept. 12) did a good job highlighting the costs of America's irresponsibility in managing its natural resources. Now, sadly, we suffer again opportunistic, shameless race-baiting and unstatesmanlike political sniping from some, when all should be pulling together. The sophomoric blame game and finger-pointing is unhelpful. Americans should appreciate two follies borne out by Katrina: disrupting Mother Nature; and electing or appointing government officials who are not honorable, capable, and strong leaders. We now must pay the price for such folly.

Colonel Harold B. Wilber (Ret.)

U.S. Marine Corps

High Springs, Fla.

A number of suggestions for public policy in "Let that be a warning" are clearly worthy of strong consideration (Cover Story, Sept. 12). Most Americans did not need Katrina to teach them how current U.S. policies are putting the future at risk. If, as stated in the last paragraph, "all these policies are simple, if not easy, and have been suggested for years," then the question before us is: Why have these policies not been implemented?

The answer is as simple as the policies themselves: As long as the politicians, from the very top on down, continue to be financially supported primarily by extremely powerful private interests (individuals and corporations) who stand to lose if these policies are put in place, we should not expect to see any great changes, even in the aftermath of one of the worst disasters our nation has seen, a disaster accurately described as "predictable -- and largely preventable."

Aaron Gewirtz

University of Maryland

University College in Europe

Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany

By perpetuating the false connection between global warming and hurricane intensity, BusinessWeek trivializes the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and detracts from serious consideration of what can and should be done to mitigate the damage from similar storms in the future. The preponderance of the actual science, rather than speculation, is that exactly the opposite is true. Hurricanes' frequency and severity rises and falls in a natural cycle, and hurricane researchers agree we are now unfortunately in the "high" part of the cycle. There is no evidence for the assertion that anthropogenic climate change has affected or is affecting the rate or severity of hurricanes.

Jeff Kueter

President

George Marshall Institute

Washington

Today, Sept. 2, five days after Hurricane Katrina, the only response I have seen from American corporations is the unconscionable increase in gasoline prices from the oil companies. Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) have both reported record earnings for the past few quarters and will probably report even higher earnings for this quarter, due to high prices at the pump, when their costs have not increased.

James V. Showalter

San Francisco

It is no coincidence that this disaster simultaneously struck one of the poorest regions of the country and crippled critical portions of our industrial and transportation infrastructure. Rich people don't live near oil refineries or work in heavy industry. For decades we have been letting our public infrastructure (roads, hospitals, bus systems, railways) crumble. The disinvestment in maintaining the levees in New Orleans is only one example. Public investment in our cities and infrastructure is critical. For example, a real mass transit system could have sped the evacuation and reduced the death toll.

Investment in our cities is a common responsibility that is properly done by the public sector. As much as large corporations may want to avoid taxes, right now most of them would have gladly have made the investment if only to have their trained workers available to repair facilities and restore commerce.

Michael J. DeWeert

Kailua, Hawaii

Two articles are striking in what they reveal about the priorities of our society. In "War of the screens" (International Business, Sept. 12), we learn that just two companies, L.G. Philips LCD Co. (LPL) and Samsung Electronics Co., will spend $45 billion to increase the size and reduce the cost of LCD flat-panel screens for TVs and computers. In "Power from the sunbaked desert" (Science & Technology, Sept. 12), we see a technology of similar -- perhaps less -- sophistication that could produce "green" electricity from the sun with great efficiency.

The current modest plan by Stirling Energy is to have a 500-megawatt demonstration power plant in five years. If we do not pursue technologies like this at least as aggressively as flat-panel screens, we will have only ourselves to blame when our screens go dark.

Don Murphy

Davis, Calif.

I am a strong proponent of solar energy. But as we push for such clean technologies, it's important to get the facts right and to have a dispassionate debate about the advantages and limitations of various alternatives to fossil fuels. Solar is not an "on-demand" energy source and therefore would require some sort of energy store. Further, such dishes are obviously vulnerable to hail and wind effects.

Unfortunately, those who advocate for solar and wind power seem to be at war with those who advocate for nuclear energy, trashing the viability of their respective technologies with half-truths, fear-mongering, and/or just bad science. The reality is that we need to press ahead with all nonfossil-based energy technologies and give those who would solve the technical difficulties of each the benefit of the doubt. The real enemy is continuing to rely on oil and coal.

Michael V. Micotto

Webster Groves, Mo.

Michael J. Mandel's "College: The payoff shrinks" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Sept. 12) on the wage stagnation of the college-educated was timely but unfortunately missed a key point. Many employers recognize that colleges today suffer from "grade inflation." The near-automatic graduation of college students who do little besides pay tuition, attend class, and act responsibly has diluted the college-educated workforce. The baccalaureate degree is supposed to distinguish its recipients as interested, literate, and able to analyze and problem-solve. As this guarantee is eroded, so is the confidence of employers in the quality of the college-educated.

Alvin Hutchinson

Washington

We have to face reality: The U.S. is a declining economic power. Instead of claiming to be the only superpower, we should accept the new reality -- that we are a relatively rich Third World country with the rest of the world owning our financial assets. My advice to our kids: Forget college -- it is not worth it. Corporate America has made sure of it.

Ashni Behal, M.D.

Lima, Ohio

Is it not the higher-educational institution's responsibility to train and form individuals with accountability and a high standard in decision-making, especially at a Master's or PhD/M.D. level ("Campus confidential," Management, Sept. 12)? And doesn't competition encourage students to strive harder and excel? Grades are a reflection of who we are. They represent our academic achievements as well as our ability to manage stress and our personal lives. They are a great motivator. Removing accountability removes motivation and inherent boundaries that help many people to strive. During an interview, a candidate can shine while explaining a challenging elective and the experiences learned from it.

Lauren J. Kopal

Danbury, Conn.


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