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David Linzee

Payback Time For Climate Change Haven Of The U.S.

September 22, 2011
"Aerotropolis" is the latest proposal to reverse St. Louis's economic decline. I don't know if this plan to turn Lambert Airport into an international cargo hub would work, but public debate has highlighted three flaws. First, the predominantly Republican and rural legislators in Jefferson City have to be persuaded to spend money on (actually, grant tax credits in) St. Louis. Second, extensive facilities have to be built around Lambert. Third, Chicago's O'Hare already has those facilities.

Let me propose an alternative. (As Bill McClellan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch likes to remind us, St. Louis can never get enough plans.) My concept would draw back to St. Louis the people and dollars we have lost and put us back in the Top 10. And it doesn't have the disadvantages of Aerotropolis. We won't need tax credits, because we don't have to build anything. We just have to publicize our favored geographical position, hundreds of miles from the sea and close (but not too close) to the junction of the continent's two largest rivers. My slogan is: St. Louis — Climate Change Haven.

The inspiration came to me as I perused a report called "Water Facts" on the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website. It details the threats our biggest cities are facing as global temperatures rise, which can be summarized roughly as too much salt water and not enough drinking water. (Neither is likely to be a problem for St. Louis.) The NRDC report was drawn from studies the cities themselves have prepared, since Washington isn't providing leadership.

It's a shameful flight from responsibility on the part of our national leaders — and it spells "opportunity" for St. Louis! Nothing's going to be done to halt or slow global warming; we'll just have to live with it, and the living will be easier here. Critics of my plan will object that a threat this dire cannot go unaddressed much longer. My response to these Nervous Nellies is, just look at the positions of the three leading presidential candidates on climate change. Rick Perry says it's a hoax. Mitt Romney says it's real, but he isn't going to do anything about it. Barack Obama said during his campaign that the threat had to be faced without delay. Since then, he's delayed.

Surely the people will demand action, my critics will say. St. Louis needn't worry about that, either. Americans have decided that they have too much to worry about. Something had to drop off the list, and they chose climate change. But the "environmental Pearl Harbor" will come, my terminally dense critics will say — the disaster that will rouse the nation to action. I reply that we can rest assured it will come too late.

Some will criticize my plan as too negative. St. Louis shouldn't take advantage of the misfortunes of other cities. What wimps! When our decline began early in the 20th century, and picked up speed after World War II, did these upstart parvenu cities show us any mercy? They lured our population away with publicity campaigns boasting of their attractive climate. Now it's payback time: the revenge of the rust belt. We'll turn their own slogans against them.

"Ski in the morning, surf in the afternoon," Los Angeles used to brag. Too bad, Angelenos. The snow you used to ski on will be melting sooner, meaning more flooding in the spring and less water for irrigation and drinking in the summer. The waves you surfed on are already crashing farther inland, contaminating the aquifers that supply fresh water. Wake up, California dreamers, and move to St. Louis. No slopes, no surf, but you won't have to drink salt water.

"Come to the beautiful city of hills!" San Francisco used to say. It's in danger of becoming the city of islands. Local government estimates that it will have to spend more than $5 billion on levees to keep the rising sea water out. Come to us, San Franciscans. We already have levees.

"Sunshine every day," bragged Phoenix. Well, that's one advantage of living in a desert. The disadvantage is, you rely on water coming from distant rivers, which are drying up. C'mon, Phoenecians, or whatever you call yourselves. We've got the two biggest rivers in American right nearby.

My campaign was looking good, until I made a chilling discovery. I was clicking down the NRDC's list, eager to find out what disasters will befall Miami, when I noticed that St. Louis is on the list of threatened cities. We can expect frequent destructive storms, more rain, increased flooding. Oh well. So much for my plan.

I'm embarrassed, but comfort myself that my complacency is widely shared. "The city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri generally lag behind the other cities and states featured in this report," scolded the NRDC. I guess I'm not the only person here who has to learn that where climate change is concerned, we're all in the same boat, with the water inching ever higher up the gunwales.

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