I wasn't sure where to put this.
It seems Chaos-related but in a different way than the other examples in this thread. The notion of a "butterfly" flapping its wings and causing something big to happen is about small changes within highly-complex systems leading to unpredictable events at very large scales (e.g., butterflies to hurricanes).
But in this case we've apparently built a "butterfly" the size of a 747 and when that mo'fo flaps its wings the U.S. will be in serious shit, and a few months later the world would follow. We've essentially made ourselves unbelievably vulnerable to Murphy's Law to a degree that is frankly mind-blowing in its myopic hubris.
You know those old cartoons where a character removes one single bolt or screw from something like a car or a train and removing it makes the whole thing fall apart? Turn out our economy has such a "bolt."
I thought that drought or relentless and massive storms might undo us first but it looks like all it's going to take to start the ecological and economic dominoes falling (hard) is either one sufficiently-strong storm (like Ida when it hit the Northeast) or a structural failure within a nearly 60-year old project that is literally holding the Mississippi River in place. For now.
It turns out that the Mississippi doesn't want to be where it is anymore, at least not below Baton Rouge. The mouth of the Mississippi has moved many times over the millennia. That's how rivers roll, of course. But we've built ourselves into a corner where it's critical that the river stay where it is. So the U.S. Government is basically at war with the Mississippi. When Man decides to fight Nature it's only a matter of time before Nature kicks our ass. We're an impatient, hasty bunch of apes while nature has all the time in the world, literally.
And based on what I've been reading this is something that can happen any given year and we won't have much warning. It WILL happen some day, it's just a matter of when and all it will take is enough rain upstream, which is very concerning now that we're seeing what used to be considered 100 or even 1000-year flood events happening somewhere every year or so. The ORC (Old River Control) almost failed in 1973, and if it had the Mississippi would no longer be flowing by New Orleans. The implications are staggering.
So, what happens if the ORCs fails?
A 1980 report by a team of scientists at Louisiana State University is a good place to start. Redirecting the bulk of the flow of North America’s mightiest river down the Atchafalaya River would cause the inundation and potential destruction of multiple towns.
The biggest city threatened would be Morgan City (population 12,000), which lies at the mouth of the Atchafalaya, near the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. The city’s current levee system is not designed to handle the flood, potentially forcing its permanent abandonment. At least six other small towns along the Atchafalaya would also see their existence threatened. A small piece of good news: The loss of life in such a flood should be low, since the area would receive sufficient warning time to evacuate.
The creation of the new river channel would destroy important natural gas and oil pipelines, along with multiple bridges, roads and rail lines. Natural gas supplies Louisiana with 75% of its electricity, and serious interruptions in power could be expected, impacting the oil refineries and major oil import sites lie in the corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, along with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of petrochemical plants, grain elevators and fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.
Major gas pipelines, like the Texas Gas Transmission, which moves natural gas across the Atchafalaya to far-flung customers in the Midwest and Northeast, would experience months-long interruptions. Two major oil pipelines that also cross the Atchafalaya carrying refined oil from Gulf Coast refineries to the East Coast could face significant interruptions.
The Mississippi’s switch to a new channel down the Atchafalaya would leave so little flow going down the old channel past New Orleans that the final 200-plus mile-long course of the current river will become a saltwater estuary of the Gulf of Mexico. The New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner, and Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux metropolitan areas, which collectively include nearly 1.5 million people, would lose their main source of fresh water.
“The biggest complication obviously is fresh water in New Orleans, and all the industry — the petrochemical industry between Baton Rouge and New Orleans — wouldn’t have fresh water on the river anymore,” Keim said. “Salt water would infiltrate into the New Orleans area and they lose their drinking water source, and all the petrochemical plants would have issues with not having fresh water as well for cooling and things like that. There would be some serious issues. The economic impacts would be dramatic in Louisiana.”
Between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Lower Mississippi River has four of the 15 largest ports in America, handling over 60% of all U.S. grain exports to the world on barges moving downriver. Going upriver, those barges transport the petrochemicals, fertilizers, and raw materials essential for the functioning of U.S. industry and agriculture. Hundreds of millions of dollars would be at stake every day, and closure for multiple months could cause a cascade of impacts across the U.S. economy.
And there is no substitute for Mississippi barges. A typical 15-barge load towed on the Mississippi River would require 1000 trucks or two 100-car trains to transport and equivalent amount of goods, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. There are simply not enough trucks and trains in the country to make up for the barge capacity that would be lost.
And the impacts would radiate outward. The greatest threat of climate change to civilization over the next 40 years is likely to be climate change-amplified extreme droughts and floods simultaneously hitting multiple major global grain-producing “breadbaskets” (covered previously). An interruption in U.S. grain exports due to failure of the ORCS, especially if it occurred during the same year that another major grain-producing nation experiences a serious drought or flood, could cause a frightening global food emergency.
The impact might be similar to what was outlined in a “Food System Shock” report issued in 2015 by insurance giant Lloyds of London, with rioting, terrorist attacks, civil war, mass starvation and severe losses to the global economy.
This is a long read, but is incredibly well-written and paints a very vivid picture of what's involved, and offers a fascinating historical perspective on the region that is worth reading for that all by itself: https://www.newyorke.../23/atchafalaya
Edited by TVCasualty, 06 September 2021 - 02:27 PM.