Environment

Cliff Notes to the Katrina Anniversary Literature

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyAug 28, 2007 4:49 PM

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Lots of people are putting out reports and such. A brief rundown of some things that have come across my desk:

Center for American Progress (PDF). I really like the Center, but I must say I find their recently released hurricanes-and-global warming report a tad disappointing. Oddly, in my view the report is both too incautious with the science and yet also far too cautious when it comes to the policy. The complexities and uncertainties aren't really limned on the science front. And then while there's lots of talk about community-based preparedness measures, nothing CAP suggests (in my reading) would adequately prepare us for the mega-disasters that will result when--not if, but when--intense hurricanes directly hit Houston/Galveston, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Miami, New York--or New Orleans again. Measures at the community level are not going to suffice to protect cities like these. We need big thinking to prevent cities from going under water.Campaign for America's Future (PDF). The report frames the many New Orleans reconstruction failures as the consequence of conservative ideology. No real policy content, but the Bush administration really does deserve this harsh an assessment. Mother Jones. By far the best read so far is John McQuaid's three-part investigative series, "Storm Warning." Not only does MoJo give us well-written reporting, but McQuaid paints the big picture in the way others seem not to. As he writes:

McQuaid also discusses how the Dutch have protected their country and what we can learn from them.

The rest of the nation already has plenty in common with New Orleans. For decades, government agencies at all levels have subsidized development in risky areas. Along coastlines and in river plains, this arrived in the form of flood defenses, federal flood insurance, and aid for businesses (in Louisiana, for example, oil and gas drilling and refining). Near fire-prone forestlands, road building and the marketability of nature itself drove construction of subdivisions. Katrina exposed this ad hoc approach as both lethal and unsustainable. The current wrangling over New Orleans is a preview of what will happen over the coming decades. As melting polar ice is projected to encroach on more and more coastal communities, larger hurricanes and powerful rainstorms will send floods rolling over outmoded flood defenses, and heat waves and ecological disruptions may make some now-comfortable locales unlivable. We don't yet have any idea how, or where, we'll draw the last lines of defense. As post-Katrina New Orleans is proving, it's not simply a matter of building levees; far more important is constructing the basic political architecture to decide who will be protected, and how.

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