was much more than a natural event; human hands played
a role in the damage and in the storm's equally disastrous
aftermath," writes former New Orleans Times-Picayune
reporter John McQuaid in the latest issue of World Watch
magazine, devoted to unraveling the factors that exacerbated
the impact of Hurricane Katrina. The issue also looks
at the government's role in disaster mitigation and at
the question of whether or not to rebuild a historically
Among the failures leading up to the
storm, government reaction was crippled by misplaced priorities,
argue Michael Renner and Zoë Chafe of the Worldwatch
Institute, who write that Katrina "revealed the consequences
of over-investing in a militarized approach to security
while applying a conservative 'starve the beast' ideology
hostile to many civilian functions of government."
Louisiana State University geographer
Craig E. Colten notes that levees provided the false sense
of security that encouraged inappropriate development
in the most vulnerable neighborhoods in New Orleans, "conspiring
with the drainage works, subsiding soils, public officials,
and developers to create a situation exploited by a powerful
UK-based journalist Julian Cheatle points
out the economic and national security impacts of such
failures, particularly their effects on energy and trade.
"Katrina hinted at what effect a major disaster...
could have when such assets are put at risk." For
example, the consumer price index, a measure of inflation,
jumped by 1.2 percentage points - the largest one-month
increase since 1980 - as a result of the gas-price spike.
The threat of escalating damage from
such disasters is rising, writes former Worldwatch researcher
John Young, thanks to rising seas and warmer waters that
may increase the intensity and destructiveness of future
storms; both are effects of global climate change. While
one study has projected a near-one-meter gradual rise
in sea level by the 2080s, a catastrophic scenario, such
as the sudden collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet,
could bring a five- or six-meter increase in sea level
within a few decades, reshaping coastlines so radically
as to make them unrecognizable.
"Does losing a city teach anything?"
asks George Woodwell of the Woods Hole Research Center
in Massachusetts, on the issue of rebuilding the beleaguered
city. "We need the delta as a delta, feeding and
sustaining the river and the gulf, absorbing nitrogen
and sediments form the continent the river drains, stabilizing
the coast and the quality of water on it, protecting the
region from the inevitable storm surges of the future,
maintaining the coastal fisheries, and performing its
myriad functions on an Earth we are struggling to keep
habitable to humans."
Poet, essayist, and long-time New Orleans
resident Andrei Codrescu in contrast argues that the world's
greatest cities in theory shouldn't exist - but to be
great as a people, we need to grapple with the "impossible
and unreasonable." "As Americans, we needed
(and need) to struggle with nature, with the great Mississippi,
with injustice, with our own darker impulses, with our
need for beauty and peril. We were forged in those tensions,"
Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson
notes in his interview with Worldwatch researcher Erik
Assadourian that society as a whole needs to decide whether
or not rebuilding will take place in New Orleans, as such
social investments are not something the free market system
will initiate. "The whole society would have to decide
to direct the public part of economic activity into these
kinds of projects. But that requires a public that believes
in government doing that kind of thing."
According to Eric Mann, civil rights
activist and author, Katrina created an opportunity to
rebuild New Orleans to redress the inequalities in the
city's patterns of housing, education and employment.
Prior to Katrina, more than 142,000 people in New Orleans
were living in poverty, of whom 84 percent were black.
"In New Orleans, 'poor' and 'black' were virtually
synonymous," he writes.
Author Mike Tidwell writes that the
changing climate that contributed to a meter of relative
sea-level rise along the Louisiana Gulf coast during the
20th century is now projected to have the very same impact
on every coastline in the world during the 21st century.
"If you want to know what all the world's great coastal
cities will be fighting against 25 and 50 and 75 years
from now, just look at New Orleans today.... Our days
of running from the problem are simply running out. It's
time to stay and finally rescue New Orleans--and ourselves."