The most shocking statement in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was President George W. Bush’s remark that “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” that protect New Orleans from flooding. New Orleans is a city mostly below sea level, and must be protected by levees to keep water out. Concern that the levees might break in the midst of a powerful hurricane was widespread among scientists, engineers, and emergency-preparedness experts. Yet Bush apparently did not know of these concerns, even days after the hurricane destroyed the levees and flooded the city.
There is a simple fact on display here, one that goes well beyond this particular hurricane, and even this particular president. There is a deep disconnect in American politics between scientific knowledge and political decisions. Bush bears much responsibility for this. He has proven to be one of America’s least knowledgeable presidents when it comes to science – and one of the most ready to turn science into a political issue.
In recent months, Bush undermined biological theories of evolution in favor of Christian fundamentalist dogmas. He disdains climate science and public health science when it conflicts with the beliefs – and interests – of his core supporters. Simply put, Bush’s record on science policy is miserable.
Climate scientists have warned for years that global warming caused by manmade emissions of greenhouse gases will generate more extreme storms. While there is no scientific way to link a particular hurricane such as Katrina to the long-term trend – in the sense that Katrina might have been bad luck rather than a sign of manmade climate change – the energy of hurricanes throughout the world has been rising markedly.