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New Orleans: Everything Has Changed
Alex Steffen, 5 Sep 05

Now that the tragic chaos in New Orleans is finally being brought under control, the time has come for us to step back and take a good hard look at the situation in which we find ourselves.

This tragedy was no "Act of God" -- some utterly unforeseen tragedy about which nothing could be done. This was a completely predictable (indeed, predicted) unnatural disaster. For years, scientists and engineers have been warning of the danger New Orleans was in. For years, nothing was done.

We also know that Katrina was just a foretaste of what we should expect in the coming years. We are changing the weather with the pollution we spew from tailpipes and smokestacks, and the bill for that irresponsibility is starting to come due.

Katrina was a watershed moment. From here on out, the debate is over. Everything has changed, at least as dramatically as in wake of 9-11. From this moment forward, there is simply no ethical way to debate the need for a new, holistic, worldchanging approach to tackling the planet's biggest problems. As we begin thinking about how to rebuild New Orleans, we need also to recommit ourselves to a new vision for the future of the planet as whole.

We now live in a post-Katrina world. It's time for our thinking to catch up.

Katrina's Lessons

The tragedy in New Orleans has brought home some blunt realities about our world. We'd do well to recognize them, and begin to act accordingly.

Climate matters

The climate tab is being rung up: how much are we prepared to pay? Climate change cost $60 billion and perhaps as many as 150,000 lives in 2003. In 2004, according to a recent report, "weather-related disasters caused nearly $105 billion in economic losses." Katrina has shown us that the reckoning in coming years may be orders of magnitude more extreme.

Whether or not climate change fueled Katrina, we know that in a greenhouse world, we can expect more and bigger Katrinas to come. As Fortune magazine puts it, in an article titled Katrina's Aftermath: The High Cost Of Climate Change:

To New Orleans residents, Hurricane Katrina must seem like an incredibly bad piece of meteorological luck that could only happen once in a lifetime. But to many climate researchers, it looks like a harbinger of things to come—with catastrophic regularity—as the world's atmosphere heats up.

While the great majority of climate researchers believe that global warming is real (and also that it is partly caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels), no one says Katrina sprang directly from the warming—that would be like arguing that a particular stock's plunge last Tuesday was caused by the onset of a bear market a year ago. But... experts have warned for over a decade that global warming may be creating an environment prone to more violent storms, droughts and other weather extremes, just as a bear market can pave the way for an outsized drop in a particular company's stock price.

Or, as Worldwatch says:

Alteration of the Mississippi River and the destruction of wetlands at its mouth have left the area around New Orleans abnormally vulnerable to the forces of nature. According to many scientists, the early results of global warming—90 degree Fahrenheit water temperatures in the Gulf and rising sea levels—may have exacerbated the destructive power of Katrina.

“The catastrophe now unfolding along the U.S. Gulf Coast is a wake-up call for decision makers around the globe,” says Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin. “If the world continues on its current course—massively altering the natural world and further increasing fossil fuel consumption—future generations may face a chain of disasters that make Katrina-scale catastrophes a common feature of life in the 21st century.”

That's our first lesson here: whether or not climate change just destroyed New Orleans, we now know what we're in for.

Poverty and Pollution Are Linked

The second lesson is about poverty, and the ways in which poverty and the environment are bound together.

There's been some loose talk in certain quarters, demanding to know why the tens of thousands of people trapped in New Orleans didn't leave when they were told to. This kind of "blame the victim" mentality is ethically shabby, but as writer Anne Rice points out, it's also divorced from reality:

Thousands didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. They didn't have the money. They didn't have the vehicles. They didn't have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do - they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.

The poor were not only the worst victims in this week's disaster: they will also be those hit hardest in the long-term. Those who can least afford it have lost their homes, their jobs, their savings and all sense of security. All along the Gulf Coast -- in some of the poorest parts of America -- hundreds of thousands of people have had their lives utterly destroyed.

When we make the link between environment and poverty, part of the reason is that protecting the environment is one of the best ways to help raise people out of poverty, and protect the gains they've made. This is as true in the Global South as the Global North.

World Resources Institute president Jonathan Lash, interviewed about WRI's latest report showing that environmental protection is critical to the success of the Millennium Development Goals, made the point quite explicit:

"[T]here's never been a time when poverty has been higher on the agenda, but if we don't make the key linkages between poverty, the environment and good governance, it will be impossible to achieve the poverty target.

"Seventy-five percent of the world's poor are rural poor, who depend directly on natural systems for their livelihood.."

For 75% of the world's poor, the "environment" is where they get food, water, medicine and fuel. Destroy that and you destroy their ability to bootstrap out of desperation, much less leapfrog out of poverty.

For the urban poor, the players are different, but the story's the same: poor neighborhoods, both North and South, are the dumping ground for our waste, the sites of some of our worst polluters, the last places to get new infrastructure and better practices. Think of the toxic soup swirling over the Ninth Ward; think of the phrase "Cancer Alley." Environmental justice isn't just a nice idea, it's a key tool for fighting poverty.

Climate, Poverty and the Environment Are All Linked

Katrina was a predictable failure of several systems at once: a climate disaster, worsened by both the destruction of coastal wetlands and the poor state of repair of the the systems of levees and dikes which protected New Orleans, crashing down upon some of the poorest people in North America.

One of the lessons this tragedy makes clear is that there is not an environmental problem out there that can't be made worse by heavy weather, and that, when that heavy weather arrives, it's going to be those among us who can least afford it who pay the biggest price first.

Again, this is as true in Niger as New Orleans. As I wrote last year:

Evidence is mounting that it the world's poor who will suffer the worst if the climate continues to change (or changes even more quickly than we expect). A recent report from the International Institute for Environment and Development, Up In Smoke (big PDF) says that weather extremes may be making the Millennium Development Goals impossible to achieve.

Sustainable development, without a massive effort to check climate change and deal with its consequences, is a hollow phrase.

Security, Climate, Poverty and the Environment Are All Linked

We are all appalled at the chaos which unfolded among the desperate people trapped in New Orleans after the hurricane. But we shouldn't be surprised. New Orleans was one of the poorest cities in North America, with a heavily strained social fabric and gutted services even before Katrina hit. Desperate people do desperate things. Evil people exist. But when the system as a whole is working well, extreme events (whether a hurricane in the Gulf or a famine in Rwanda) are less likely to lead to catastrophic security failures. Indeed, the links between sustainability, good governance and security are increasingly well-understood:

We're in the midst of a sea-change in understanding of global security issues, especially in the U.S., with figures as diverse as military strategist Thomas Barnett, former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, economist Jeffrey Sachs and out-going Secretary of State Colin Powell all embracing the idea that security, development, human rights and sustainability are all inextricably bound together.

Or, as Mikhail Gorbachev says:

"I believe that today the world faces three interrelated challenges: the challenge of security, including the risks associated with weapons of mass destruction and terrorism; the challenge of poverty and underdevelopment; and the challenge of environmental sustainability."

Climate change and environmental destruction, insecurity and violence, poverty and crisis all feed on one another. But a clean environment, poverty alleviation and sustainable development, climate stabilization, democracy, human rights and international security agreements all fuel each other.

These aren't separate issues. These are different facets of a single global challenge, for which the consequences of failure have just been illustrated in the most depressing of ways. As I wrote in Winning the Great Wager:

Designing a system which would lead to ... sustainable prosperity would already present an epic challenge. But we're not done yet. For that system also needs to work in the real world. It must be rugged and shock-proof. If the answer to our ecological crisis does not also lead to greater security for everyone, and help spread democracy and open government and business practices, it is in fact no answer at all.

We need a future which is bright, green and tough.

We Do Have Better Answers

There is a way forward. We have the know-how, the money and the power to remake our energy systems, redesign our cities, re-conceptualize our industries, re-imagine our agriculture, and end poverty in the process. We can do this. It won't be easy. Indeed, it's work that will take much of the rest of our lives, but we can do it.

That's what WorldChanging is all about. We have 3,500 pieces on this site detailing a variety of approaches to getting these jobs done, and we've only scratched the surface. There are millions of us out there working to solve these problems.

We can change the world. But the time to act is now.

The Debate Is Over

That's Katrina's most important lesson: the time to debate whether or not to act is over. That debate's history, like the Berlin Wall. Katrina flattened it. In the aftermath of Katrina, we can no longer scruple self-interest masked as caution, short-sightedness masked as responsibility, and lies masked as patriotism. To see the pictures and hear the stories coming out of New Orleans is to know one thing: whatever moral credibility professional environmental "skeptics" once claimed is as shredded as the Superdome roof.

We aren't trying to build a bright green future because we have nothing else to do. We aren't scrambling to reinvent our industrial civilization because we're bored. We aren't working for a more just global economy for kicks. We aren't fighting for democracy and human rights and good global governance in order to have something to talk about at parties. We aren't ringing the alarm sirens over global warming because we like the way they sound.

We're doing all these things because the future of our planet is at stake. People's lives are at stake, millions of them.

We're doing them because we knew Katrina, or something like it, was coming, just as we know now that more Katrinas are on their way. The world is unsustainable. That which is not sustainable does not continue. Katrina just showed us precisely what that means.

This is not about partisan politics. It's not even about Left or Right (for instance, a conservative German politician has been the one to most loudly draw the connection between the U.S.'s disastrous climate policies and the tragedy in New Orleans). If a Republican comes us with the best plan to move us forward, I'll happily vote for him or her. The keyword here, though, remains "forward." For too long, progress has been blocked by a small, powerful cabal of greedy men with outdated ideas, the apologists for (and beneficiaries of) business as usual.

We're done with that chapter of the global debate. We're not taking it anymore. Those who persist will be publicly confronted, thrown from office, fired by their shareholders, ruined by boycott and lawsuit, indicted and tried. We're not playing.

This is the fight we're in now. We mean to win it.

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Good idea to cross-post to I have a comment there, too.

Katrina is indeed a wake up call. What the destruction in New Orleans shows quite clearly is that the Bush administration ain't gonna help. If you want to survive, you have to make plans yourself.

Rather than look to a politician, I am taking this all personally. I am looking around at my family and friends and my own life. How can I prepare for the emergencies and disasters which are likely to show up in my neck of the woods? How can I keep myself and my circle safe or at least ready? Because it surely does look like this fall and winter is going to be expensive and cold.

In the last few weeks, I've been trying to get the local bike community to start building some pedal power prototypes, suggested to the solar association that their September or October public lecture be about the energy situation this winter, and distributed "Can as much as you can" WWII posters to the neighborhood farmers market.

It's good to vote and great to lobby but get the people moving in the right direction on their own and the leaders will have to follow.

Save yourself first, then save those closest to you, then organize and save as many as you can. You can drown easily on the this side of the watershed.

Posted by: gmoke on 5 Sep 05

There are still people who deny global warming is happening. I guess the good thing, if we can find any good in this, is that each time something like this happens the voices who still deny global warming is happening will seem more and more foolish.

The sad part is that global warming is happening and now we're going to have to deal with it for the decades to come.

I read the "Great Wager" and I agree. The prospect is grim but, we have to think our way out this. We have no other viable choice. We can't just give up. We thought our way into this mess, we can think our way out.

I just hope we can change fast enough before resource desperate people start using nuclear weapons.

The problem is social inertia. On a global scale this is massive. To put it bluntly, how can we quickly and cheaply swap out complex and deeply entrench technological infrastructure without disrupting society too much?

Think about how long the United States has been dragging its feet to convert to metric. I think we're dealing with similar social inertial issues when trying to leave the fossil fuel economy.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 5 Sep 05

Excellent post, fantastic. Thank you for being so cogent.

Have you cross-posted this at Dailykos? If not, I strongly recommend you do. Also for that matter, I'd love to see the earlier post on rebuilding a new New Orleans over there too. It's an engine room for American progressives, and it needs some positive forward-thinking responses to Katrina right now to grist the mill.

Posted by: imogen on 5 Sep 05

There are a few initiatives about collecting "tools for survival". It's best if those "tools" are "publicly available" - as in "free to copy and improve on". Perhaps if WC writes a Question To Readers we might collect more of those initiatives.

I believe we may need "two-speed information" (i.e., information for two kinds of work):

- acute information so we can have the practical seeds for survival if crisis strikes today: + bikes for electricity + what-not ...

- chronic information so we can build a better world starting today. + + you-name-it ...

Also, I recently re-read a nice concept: technologies are most acceptable if they work both in crisis and in non-crisis situations. "A walkie-talkie can be used for fun with kids and may also save your life one day", sort of thing.

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 6 Sep 05

Alex, thanks for an outstanding essay. I hope my comments won't sound critical; they're not meant that way. But the underlying, fundamental points in your piece were true before Katrina. The debate was over long ago, but we still can't concede it. We've had better answers for decades, but we fail to implement them. All of this was true in 1991, when floods killed over 130,000 people in Bangladesh. It was true last May, when over 2000 died in floods in the Caribbean, earlier this month when floods killed over 220 in Maharashtra State in India, and yesterday when floods from Typhoon Talim killed at least 84 people in China.

It's also true that climate disruption can't be shown to "cause" any one storm. There's a difference between "climate" and "weather". We can't ask what event "causes" the water cycle, and we can't assert that greenhouse gasses "caused" Katrina. We need to think differently, to learn to see past linear "cause-and-effect", billiard-ball filters. As my brother, a climate scientist, says, "The weather is still a crap shoot - but we're loading the dice."

We also "load the dice" when we strip land of forests, wreck mangroves and reefs, pave over land in relentless sprawl, and fill wetlands for quick profit. We load the dice when we ignore abject poverty and its ensuing desperation. We load the dice when we pretend that "growth" will solve our problems, when all it's doing is making them worse.

I don't mean to make light of the suffering and destruction caused by this one hurricane. If it serves as a wake-up call, an epiphany, that will be one consolation for all the misery. But if we open our eyes and hearts, the epiphany is there, everywhere and every day.

Posted by: David Foley on 6 Sep 05

One of the most glaring realities Katrina reveals to me is our nation's appalling lack of attention to the qualities of leadership needed in public office. We have deluded ourselves into thinking that spin equals leadership, that a strong ideology is a character trait that will see us through tough times. So how do we, in a democracy, become more attuned to the traits and strengths of leadership we want in our executive offices, in our senates, on our benches? It seem to that the great legacy of Katrina could be an effort to refocus on the qualifications we want most in the people we —ultimately — hire to run things. Of course we are hamstrung by a cultural aversion to admitting mistakes or even changing one's position. We have a long way to go wiith basic human processes before we can hope for the kind of transformation hoped for in this post.

Posted by: Will Duggan on 6 Sep 05

Thanks for this great piece.

America has a lot of work to do, on all fronts.

I hope Katrina opens a wider public debate about issues of class, poverty, racism and the environment.

America's current social and cultural fabric is unsustainable to the core, and leads to global disasters.

It must radically change, or perish.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 6 Sep 05

I think I fully understand the subtle neuronal connections that are at work when someone (intelligent, enlightened, with the best of intentions) writes "our country" in a global forum.

So warm cheers from yet another "our country"! :)


Seriously now - how do US of A people see themselves in relation to the rest of the inhabitants of this one world? Humbled, enraged, passionate, all that and more? Is that self-perception changing after being physically and psychologically hit by such things as terrorism and hurricanes? Are the changes for the better? I sincerely wish them good luck.

From the point of view of all: How can we learn to work together?

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 6 Sep 05

"There are still people who deny global warming is happening"...

My suggestion is to introduce a bill that will make the denial of global warming the hate crime, same way as denial of Holocaust!
What do you think about that?

Although...last winter and winter before were especially chilly in Midwest and Canada, and it feels rather a global cooling here...

Posted by: sukeroki on 6 Sep 05

Positive and constructive views on how to deal with ourselves after this natural catastrophe caused by global warming, thus the overall human activity, thus ourselves! To me, we should focus on prevention & intervention, as well as ways to reduce the negative externalities of commerce and industry through new laws and political practices. It has to be tackled along with a re-definition of human activity through the lenses of emerging domains like health and security at work. It deals with the model of "good management" (raising both profits and social welfare at the same time), eco-development and corporate social responsability, heading towards real sustainable economics. There's been a nice and lively discussion about such matter since September the 1st on Dave Pollard 'How To Save The World's blog:

Posted by: Yves Grassioulet on 6 Sep 05

"Everything has changed ... "

Why didn't everything change after the disaster that was the tsunami?

Are tragedies that occur in developed nations, especially the United States, more tragic than the most tragic tragedies that may occur in the developing world?

Does it take a Katrina in the US to open the eyes of everyone to perils that are already very prevalent around the world - maybe not just yet in the US, or Europe?

Can we all, or at least worldchanging, stop seeing the world, global warming and everything else through "Developed" eyes?

Posted by: Carthik on 6 Sep 05

"Every accident has its own first, second and last name" (Joseph Stalin).

I don't know, where this misleading custom to name hurricanes came from. Last year,
when Ivan hit Florida, it sounded like evil Russinas attacked American soil and caused widespread anti-russian sentiments. Imagine, how many poor Katrinas all over the world suffer because of this senseless association? We have once and for all to clear the names of innocents Katrinas, Ivans, Mitches, Dennises and I propose to give the hurricane the full name of the person who is directly responsible for this disaster - "George W Bush". Therefore, the second hurricane will be named "Dick B. Cheney", third one - "Donald H. Rumsfiled", etc, etc...and please nominate your favourite rogue for the next hurricane season!

Posted by: sukeroki on 6 Sep 05

I am reminded of Prigogene's statement: "In assembling complexity the bounty of increasing returns is won by multiple tries over time.
As various parts reorganize to a new whole, the system escapes into a higher order."

I have learned how long it takes for the parts to reorganize! It seems to take so long. But, here again is a new opportunity for us to perturb the system and be a part of the escaping! It's really fun and also frustrating that we can't control the escape. We've got more tools at our disposal now -- more ways to think and design together. Perhaps this is the try that will make it!

Posted by: gail taylor on 6 Sep 05

"What Rescuers Learned" after the 1990 San Francisco earthquake from Whole Earth Review, Fall 1990, page 14:

Right after an earthquake, nobody's in charge. You self-start, or nothing happens

Collect tools!

If you cna smell gas, turn it off.

After an earthquake, further building collapse is not the main danger. Fire is.

When you see a fire starting, do ANYTHING to stop it, right now.

In and collapsed building, assume there are people trapped alive. locate them, let them know everything will be done to get them out.

Searchying a building, call out, "Anybody in here? Anybody need help? Shout or bang on something if you can hear me."

Give people wyho are trapped all the information you've got, and enlist their help. treat them not as helpless victims but as an exceptionally motivated part of the rescue team.

Join a team or start a team. Divide up the tasks. Encourage leadership to emerge.

Most action in a disaster is imitative. Most effective leadership is by example.

Bystanders make the convenient assumption that everythign is being taken care of by the people already helping. That's seldom accurate.

If you want to help, ask! If you want to be helped , ask!

Volunteers are always uncertain whether they're doing the right thing. They need encouragement - from professionals, from other volunteers, from passers-by.

I spent over $50 on copying WWII posters to distribute to peace vigilers, farmers markets, and street entertainers I know. Our parents and grandparents knew how to survive. We need to learn from their experience, quickly and all by ourselves.

Prepare yourself for emergency and disaster now. Nobody else is going to do it for you. This fall and winter will be expensive and cold. Get ready and lead by example.

Posted by: gmoke on 6 Sep 05

to Carthik, above: unfortunately, to be truly 'worldchanging,' disasters like the tsunami and Katrina may have to be viewed primarily from the "developed" side, because that's where the majority of change needs to take place. The tsunami was horrific, but in terms of the world economy, or perhaps more importantly, leadership in the world's "idea space," the fate of New Orleans has more potential for deep effect, whether positive or negative. Sad, but true. There should never be a competition for "more tragic," but yes, I think it does take something on the magnitude of Katrina in our back door to wake the Average Joe in America.

This may sound horrible, but in some ways, the tsunami & world response enabled many new NGO's and idealistic worldchanger initiative types to really see at least some of what worked- and didn't, away from the cutdowns of hard right naysayers in US politics. Now, we have a chance to demonstrate worthwhile, different but proven means of handling crisis and rebuilding. I think the Craigslist response, MoveOn's housing board, etc etc are all great examples of what can happen when people know the power of their decentralized tools, something we learned the hard way from the tsunami.

The BushCo nation-state has not only lost legitimacy, it has thoroughly demonstrated the problems of a late-stage bureaucracy. The decentralized networks did far better. There's a lot in there to unpack...

Posted by: katuah on 6 Sep 05

You *are* aware that Katrina and other recent hurricans are not in any way connected to global warming, and this is what even rabid global warming climatologists will tell you.

I'm all for finally addressing global warming but it's not excuse for ignoring facts and promoting bad science. Global warming has not caused the recent rise in hurricane activity. Ask any climatologist.


Posted by: nmg on 6 Sep 05

Actually, what most climate scientists are saying is that there's just no way to know. Could be a "natural" cycle, in part or in whole; could be related to warming Gulf water temps, which could or could not be related to rising global temps; could be the beginning of the sort of larger more violent storm systems which most of the global climate models predict as the greenhouse effect takes hold more strongly.

That's quite different than saying climate change did *not* cause Katrina.

But the larger point is unequivocal: the vast majority of climate scientists expect us to deal with more, and more violent, storms like Katrina in the next decades. Katrina is a foretaste of what climate change *means*.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 6 Sep 05


I was just thinking of that Stewart Brand piece.

Thanks for posting the essentials here.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 6 Sep 05

The best analogy I've seen for the relationship between global warming and hurricane intensity is "loaded dice." To wit: if you have a loaded die that make it twice as likely that a six will be rolled, you can never be sure whether a six came up because the die was weighted or because that was the natural result -- but you can be sure that, over time, you'll be seeing a lot more sixes.

Every megaton of carbon into the air loads the dice a little bit more.

The professional climatologists at RealClimate discuss the relationship between global warming and hurricanes in more detail here.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 6 Sep 05

Now is the time for a new inventory of global climate change gasses and new projections of global capabilities for reducing global climate change under different scenarios. Secondly, it is also time to think beyond merely preventing climate change to include considerations of how to minimize its consequences in a fall-back scenario that could be called Plan B.

Six years ago a colleague at a Seattle-based environmental engineering firm added up the numbers available then and concluded that even extreme emissions reductions would not be sufficient to prevent major (read ‘catastrophic’) climate change impacts. This would be the case even with dramatically more reductions than those anticipated under Kyoto. Since then new sources of climate change gasses have been identified and catalogued. Methane releases from Siberian bogs being just one source, releases that on were attributed to the combustion of fossil fuels prior to 1960.

A new global climate inventory should not be used to justify a go-slow approach to preventing climate change, but rather to point us in new directions, in the direction of Plan B strategies that will most likely be needed within the next few decades. Conserving carbon fuels and shifting to low or no-emission sources of energy can and should be justified on multiple environmental grounds, not just climate change prevention.

If energy conservation and emissions reductions are encouraged solely because of the need to stem climate change, then if the climate undergoes sudden changes soon we might see widespread political support for jettisoning Kyoto-style conservation measures as ineffective.

Plan B strategies could take into account many of the concepts already elucidated on these pages, such as planning for the rapid migration of populations, the effective loss of sovereignty by governments whose territory is slipping beneath the waves, and the roles of new technologies in a low-carbon fuel world.

For example, can or should Bangladesh, which has 70% of its territory in flood hazard zones now, continue to be viewed as a viable state once projected flood impacts over the next 30-40 years are taken into account? What do governing institutions and NGOs need to do to address the addition of vast new areas of the world into what we would consider flood hazard areas or waterways?

We need to look again at how flood hazards, wetlands, and waterways are defined. Computerized mapping allows us to experiment with how coastal flood hazard areas would appear if we input post-climate-change scenarios, e.g., if everything below one meter in current elevation became a waterway, everything below five meters was seen as within a 10-year flood hazard area, and if everything below ten meters in current elevation were to be defined as being in a 100-year flood hazard area—particularly if near coastal areas now.

Plan B strategies could extend the scope of environmental ethics and responsibility beyond current head-in-the-sand methods. It could allow us to ask what the role of local and regional governments should be in monitoring and minimizing adverse impacts from floods and climate change—even though those impacts may be experienced in other jurisdictions?

Plan B strategies could see land use controls as pollution prevention tools, not just for obvious sources of pollution such as noise from freeways and airports, but also for to protect groundwater recharge areas from sprawl and over development, as New Jersey is doing under the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

Land use management for pollution prevention could include strengthened inventories of petro-chemical storage and waste disposal facilities within the 500 year flood hazard zone. Plan B could include strategies for strengthening closure and post-closure-care requirements, bonding requirements, and the use of clean closure over catbox and other onsite approaches that have been popular up until now.

Posted by: Anthony Mitchell on 6 Sep 05

Can we try to consistently say "Climate change" rather than "Global Warming"? Some places are getting colder during the winter, and people keep bringing that up.

I'm still trying to process this post... it's been on my mind since I read it.

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 7 Sep 05

yeah I was gunna make the same remark as Daniel. Esp. for worldchanging: global warming is a big no no, smack on the hand for using it. Use 'climate change' cos its not just about warming or cooling or warming in some areas & cooling in others, but also about changes in precipitation, affects on ozone layer, atmospheric gas changes, changes to climatic zones, unpredictable turbulence, teleconnectedness (atmospheric - oceanic links), long-term weather patterns that we don't understand (eg there may be cycles of 100's & 1000's years duration which we're magnifying or otherwise disrupting) affects on vegetation, affects on disease vectors etc.

Posted by: Flannel Flower on 7 Sep 05

nmg & flanel flower: it's true that we cannot link the global warming and Katarina's catastrophe with 100% certainty, mainly because this area of the world is already known as being exposed to hurricanes. plus, new orleans has been built under the sea level. and i also agree on the idea that describing the overall meteorologic phenomenon requires more scientific explanations, for example including the effects of seastream or volcanos on it, etc. we know that we're just about to enter a new "climatic change", because of the natural glaciation cycles. But what's at stake here is more whether the human activity impact nature, its homeostasy and ultimately our health (all living creatures are concerned). We should acknowledge the risks and dangers we create basically while living/working/producing in order to reduce them, through prevention and intervention. There will always be negative externalities in some way, but when we know that those externalities cannot seriously impact the defensive system of Gaia through new human-centered systems and sustainable technologies, we might have won the battle against ourselves! I dislike the environmentalist lobby, that obviously focuses more on environmental issues while ignoring the reality and compexity of humans' behavior and activity. Here lies the absolute need for bridging the gap between life sciences and human sciences, between objective facts and subjective data, between engineering and human factors, between management sciences and health at work.

Posted by: Yves Grassioulet on 7 Sep 05

Daniel, Flannel Flower -- global warming remains the correct term, despite local freezes and the like, because, as a whole, the planet is warming in both atmosphere and ocean. "Climate change," while more expansive, is more neutral in tone, and for that reason opponents of climate science were trying to push the use of that term over "global warming" (see The Luntz Memo for details).

That said, the term I've tried to use here most often is the ungainly (but more accurate) "global warming-induced climate disruption," shortened occasionally to "climate disruption."

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 7 Sep 05

Side note: folks can also discuss these topic over on Omidyar.Net

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 7 Sep 05

Frank Luntz, the Republican spinmeister, prefers climate change to global warming, too.

Posted by: gmoke on 7 Sep 05

That's interesting about Republican spinmeisters... Yikes. Here in Atlantic Canada most models predict the winters will cool, and we have had extreme winter events, and many cold snaps. It's hard to explain to people that this climate disruption means likely colder winters, warmer summers and more extremes for this region.

It's not easy to have accurate soundbites :(

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 7 Sep 05

Oh yeah, silly me, I completely forgot about the framing issue, reason being that 'warming' is comforting (evokes maternal cuddles, winter snuggles) which is worse than a neutral term. And I'd also avoid global warming cos those folks in the regions of nasty weather say 'yay for some warm weather'. Look at all the Brits flocking to the beaches - coastal areas are booming & no-one needs to buy holiday homes on the Med anymore!

"global warming-induced climate disruption" is a mouthfull & it indicates a direct cause & effect that you can't prove, you only suggest support for association.

From now on I'll use 'climate disruption', 'climate havoc' or 'climate devastation' or 'climate c*ck-up' instead. Erratic climate disruptions. I will remember this time, I will remember this time!!

Posted by: Flannel Flower on 8 Sep 05

In the same vein, the Harpers article, The Uses of Disaster:

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 10 Sep 05

This is one of the more thoughtful blogs I've seen, but when I see a comment about rebuilding New Orleans, I'm afraid the writer is missing the point. The architecture and history that WAS New Orleans was, and is increasingly unsustainably located. If there is no place in Louisiana that is defensible from hurricane, storm surge and river flooding, why not pull up stakes and move it all to Arkansas? Climate change is real and the vulnerability of the historic site of New Orleans to catastrophe makes clear rebuilding it there is unwise. So use the insight we have, and remove to a safer site. And while rebuilding, I hope we can design a workable, liveable community that doesn't put the poorest, blackest citizens in wretchedly depressing projects sited in the deepest flood basins and most polluted parts of town.

Posted by: Earlewc on 13 Sep 05

It is inconceivable that the port will not be rebuilt. The Mississippi is our continental river and the delta is the opening to the sea. Whatever else, the port will be rebuilt.

Posted by: gmoke on 13 Sep 05

"I hope we can design a workable, liveable community that doesn't put the poorest, blackest citizens in wretchedly depressing projects sited in the deepest flood basins and most polluted parts of town."
But, since the people with money will live in the safest, cleanest parts of town, what areas are left for the poorest people? Historically, in the US, these have been largely black populations. Now, if there WERE no flood-prone, polluted parts of town, and there were good jobs for everybody...isn't that what WC is pointing toward? First point: leave the flood-plains and below-sealevel areas to the risk takers and those who might be able to get insurance. Second: build housing that has low ecological stress using a LOT of insulation so cooling ( in New Orleans ) and heating ( further north ) is minimized. Putting the 2 points together: Don't rebuild NOLA in the same spot and DO use methods and materials that won't stress the environment or drain the occupant's pockets for heating and cooling.

Posted by: Barry on 15 Sep 05

There's a 14 billion dollar proposal called, I believe, the 2025 Project which has a way to secure the future of New Orleans. It requires the restoration of the wetlands and barrier islands and pipelines and floodgates that will allow the Mississippi silt to build up the ground that has been lost to the Gulk waters. Don't know if the project is the ultimate answer but it probably is a good start.

Posted by: gmoke on 16 Sep 05



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