Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Katrina spins notions of global warming
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   09/02/2005)

Surely this irony is not lost on the oilmen we keep electing to run our rapidly dying world.

When that angry ballerina Katrina spun through, turning and turning in her widening gyre, sweeping through levees, washing away the dispossessed, the unprepared, the unlucky, the foolhardy, rendering cities toxic, uninhabitable, spinning off tornadoes, she also played havoc with the oil industry--rocking platforms, refineries and harbors as she blasted past.

They won't admit it, and there's no way of proving it, but somewhere some of the minions now polluting, militarizing and depleting our world have to be wondering. Did we do this to ourselves? Did our policies help conjure Katrina, who wrecked so much of our oil industry?

If pro-environmentalists like me are right, if Katrina is in some measure a product of over-reliance on fossil fuels, then you and I and everyone who drives are paying at the pump for the folly of electing leaders who told us for decades global warming was only a theory. Global warming was not real. OK, maybe it's real, some said, but we can control it. It could have good benefits even. In any event, the market place will fix it, they told us. Let's not do anything rash.

So you drive your SUV to work and on your way home the numbers spin round, surpassing $3 a gallon, now headed for $4, in part due to stormy weather. And while it rains on the just and the unjust, mostly it rains on the rural poor, of which we have our share in East Tennessee. It is they who take the hardest hit, they who pour the largest percentage of their paychecks into that little hole in their car. Maybe you're one of those rural people who drive a good distance to a so-so job. Meanwhile, oil companies turn record profits. How's that for irony? What do you say we give those dudes another tax break?

Already articles and programs are appearing that say global warming had nothing to do with Katrina. These things happen in natural cycles, they say. You hear such arguments in one form or another after every natural disaster. The record heat waves in Europe that killed 20,000 in 2003, record forest fires in Spain and Portugal in recent days and weeks, dropping water levels in France, record torrential rains that disrupted the lives of millions in India recently, on and on. These have nothing to do with global warming some say. And maybe they're right in one case or another. Maybe they're right about Katrina. I don't buy it though. The energy in a hurricane is related to the warmth of the seas. The big question is whether the unusual rise in temperatures recorded the past two centuries is natural or manmade. It's probably both.

We now face the unusual problem of a new inability to distinguish between natural effects and those that are manmade. If record temperatures recorded by scientists and farmers and reporters the past two centuries have been exacerbated by greenhouse gases, then how do we sort out humankind's effects from Ma Nature's natural rhythms?

Given that most scientists, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, are on record confirming that we've contributed to the heat of the sky, earth and seas, and given that Carl Sagan, Al Gore and many others predicted decades ago such calamities as we're now experiencing, the burden of proof shifts to those who deny the ill effects.

It's quite likely Katrina is a vision of the future brought to us by your friendly neighborhood gas station and Ma Nature working in concert--human effects layered upon natural effects. If we hold off raising the alarm until we're "certain" that's the case, we're asking for catastrophe. Could sane measures to reduce greenhouse emissions have reduced the power of Katrina enough to keep those New Orleans levees in place? Maybe not, but they might've prevented a dozen or a hundred more Katrinas that will surely waltz across this planet in coming decades.

Professor James Lovelock pointed out in his landmark book, “The Gaia Hypothesis,” that the earth is a self-regulating entity. One way she adjusts the thermostat is by melting glaciers and snowfields. Guess what? Another is by conjuring up horrific storms to spin off excess energy over vast areas. Can such blows be averted? Softened? Only if we get lots smarter, lots faster and throw the bums out who brought us to this pass.

There are all kinds of reasons to wean ourselves from politicians married to the fossil fuel industry. Katrina is only one of them. Your precious family is another. Or take that sweet songbird, singing outside your window.