September 5, 2005
During the 18th century when Louisiana and Mississippi were home to French-speaking Arcadians or Cajuns, their black slaves also spoke French.
Many of the slaves worked on the New Orleans dock, which at the time was the commercial centre of the cotton industry. When a ship docked safely, the stevedores shouted ï¿½au quai’ï¿½ to indicate that all was fine. Over time, this expression mutated into common parlance and eventually became along with Marlboro, Levis and Disney part of the lexicon of America.
Back in the 18th century, New Orleans was one of the great mercantile cities of the western trading world. Black slaves out numbered white masters by about five to one. Its white population the French speaking Cajuns were themselves victims of British ethnic cleansing of the French Arcadian populations of Nova Scotia in 1755 when the entire French speaking population was expelled. Many of them resettled in Louisiana.
Here they swelled the numbers of French speakers and the city formed one of the crucial points of a trading triangle which sawguns and steel being sold from France to African chiefs in French West Africa in return for slaves. These petrified misfortunates were then shipped out to the Caribbean and the French American colony of Louisiana named after the Sun King Louis the 14th.
In return for slaves, cotton was shipped back to France for the great garment cities on the Atlantic coast. This trading triangle, which was in no way exclusive to France the British, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese were up to their necks in it too lasted for over 150 years and was central to the wealth of Europe and the rise of the US.
The beginning of the 20th century saw a huge migration of recently-freed black slaves from Louisiana and Mississippi to the northern industrial cities of the US. There they could escape the segregationist South and could work in a less racist environment. Thus the southern states around the Gulf of Mexico, such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, experienced significant population declines relative to the rest of the US.
Recently this demographic story has changed dramatically, but so too has the weather. Up until 1990, Louisiana and Mississippi had the least mobile populations in the US, with locals staying put and outsiders staying out. But this is rapidly changing and they are now experiencing net immigration for the first time since the da and Alabama, the migration flows from north to south are unambiguous. As property prices in Florida get out of hand, many migrants are choosing to move to areas where the sun shines but property is cheaper.
However, this mass migration is occurring just as the weather is getting more erratic. In the southern US states, mankind and the elements are on a collision course. This implies that the devastation of Hurricane Katrina will be repeated. Global warming is the problem and the US is not part of the solution. Millions of Americans moving south in their gas guzzling SUVs are directly contributing to global warming. In this regard, as the world’s biggest polluter, America is the delinquent on the bloc.
Global warming is a man-made reality and America with its ferocious demand for fossil fuels is the world’s worst culprit. Global warming has enormous implications for weather patterns in the future. It is therefore bizarre that President Bush appears shocked at the ferocity of this week’s hurricane; his antediluvian environmental policies, which contend that global warming is not happening, are increasing the likelihood of hurricanes, tornadoes and the like. (Obviously even the most die-hard Democrat would be hard pressed to blame Bush for the plight of New Orleans, but a bit of joined up thinking in Washington would be welcome.)
Put simply, the warmer the globe becomes, the more unstable the weather. This is evident in recent weather patterns. You will have noticed the increased frequency of hurricane coverage from places like Florida over the past three years.
This is not just a function of the dumbing down of news coverage, it is actually happening. Data has shown that Florida and southern Florida in particular is experiencing a change in wind patterns, hurricanes and devastating high winds that are becoming more frequent. The other area where weather conditions have changed dramatically is the stretch between New Orleans and Mobil precisely where Katrina hit.
Yet these are exactly the parts of the US southern coast that are set to experience the greatest population growth in the next decade. And it is not just Americans. Irish investors have piled into Florida, buying condos, villas and apartments.
This interaction of large increases in populations and rapidly-changing weather conditions is a disaster for the global insurance industry. A senior global player in the industry told me that the industry could survive anything but natural disasters. He went on to say that if three hurricanes struck the US east coast with the severity of Katrina, the industry would be bankrupt.
If the risk of natural disasters is increasing, then the cost of underwriting will increase. But if the risk of natural disasters is increasing in areas where populations, possessions and property are also increasing in density, then the expected payouts will be enormous. As it was, Hurricane Charley did $42 billion worth of damage to the insurance industry last year alone. The final bill for Katrina will be much greater.
Quite apart from the impact on the personal finances of Irish investors and the plight of the insurance industry, which will affect all our insurance premiums in future, the hurricane is keeping the demand for fuel high, pushing oil prices back towards $70 a barrel. Against this sort of background, on the economic as well as the climatic front, the short-term forecast is most certainly not au quai.