Recently, six CPR Member Scholars sat down for an hour-long conversation about the lessons that policymakers have—and have not—learned in the years since Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast and stretched our flawed flood-protection infrastructure past its limits. As explained in our groundbreaking report, Unnatural Disaster: The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, published just weeks after the New Orleans levees broke, the catastrophic consequences of the storm were the product of decades-long failures to protect our most vulnerable neighbors.
In the video below, CPR Member Scholars Alyson Flournoy, Robin Craig, Sheila Foster, Tom McGarity, Sid Shapiro, and Rob Verchick discuss some of the issues raised in our 2005 report, but add new insights building on a decade of research, advocacy, and efforts to promote stronger disaster preparedness and response. They touch on issues of social vulnerability, public health, and political gridlock, but also note important successes and opportunities.
To help you navigate the conversation, here are some highlights:
0:00 – Introduction by Alyson Flournoy
5:57 – Sheila Foster shares her thoughts on the best ways to protect vulnerable populations, based on her experiences in New York after Hurricane Sandy and as a member of the Mayor’s Third New York City Panel on Climate Change.
13:27 – Rob Verchick continues the conversation about barriers that vulnerable groups—including immigrants and the LGBT community—faced in the aftermath of Katrina. He talks about some successes in the greater New Orleans area over the last 10 years.
20:03 – Robin Craig ties in her research on the public health implications of climate change and related disasters. She explains how building codes and infrastructure changes could prevent the toxic soup that results from major flooding incidents. And she talks about how medical records and transportation policies could help avert public health disasters within the disaster.
27:45 – Tom McGarity discusses conservatives’ faulty notion that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was to blame for Katrina’s damage to New Orleans. He ties it to Professor Herschman’s “perversity hypothesis,” which posits that government action to protect people from harm often ends up perversely harming the very people it was meant to protect—a favorite talking point for conservatives who are ideologically opposed to government action.
34:48 – Sid Shapiro puts the big lessons learned from Katrina (that we need smart government action, based on strong science and analysis, to prevent harm) in context. He notes that political ideologues in the conservative movement stand in the way of valuable, fact-based conversations that we need to have to move forward.
40:33 – Rob Verchick discusses the value of ecosystem services, like wetlands that protect some coastal communities against storm surges. He notes failures in enforcement that allowed private actors to destroy these public goods, and he discusses where liabilities for damage to the Gulf Coast ought to lie.
44:30 – Sid Shapiro asks: What lessons can we learn from leading-edge actors at the state/local level? What might carry over to other areas? His colleagues reply with some interesting responses.
56:12 – Our Scholars provide some closing remarks, highlighting rays of hope.
This recording is one part of CPR’s week-long retrospective on Hurricane Katrina. Keep an eye on this blog for related posts by CPR Member Scholars Tom McGarity and Sid Shapiro (expanding on points raised in the recording) and Joe Tomain (tying Katrina, Sandy, and other disasters to the concept of democratized energy production).