written/non-written things by me (from 2005-2008)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What I learned at the Katrina Panel.

Tonight I attended a panel presentation entitled "Katrina in Context: Understanding the Ongoing Impacts of Hurricane Katrina in Light of Southern Louisiana's Social and Environmental Landscape." The intention of the presentation was to dispel the misconception being fed to the media (by mostly Federal reps. (FEMA, Bush, etc.) and other local government spokespersons) that the disaster’s damage was “impossible to foresee”; furthermore, that the devastation was impart due to neglect by both federal and local governments to head the warnings of countless scientific studies and campaigns to protect Southern Louisianna’s natural defenses, such as the wetlands and estuaries that had guarded communities for hundreds of years against such rampant devastation. The panelists were comprised of a few anthropologists and geographers who were living and doing research in the lower Bayou area for over 10 years and a tribal member from the Hamou native Indian community also in the lower bayou area. I jotted down some take-away points:

1.) The 2 key and fatal environmental effects of development: Subsidence from off shore oil drilling and erosion due to the tremendous criss-crossing network of canals and levees carved into area.

2.) There were major studies that predicted disaster in the area: “Coast 2050” was an extensive report published in 1998 (?) that documented the extent of wetland loss since the 1970s (the peak of subsidence due to major drilling). It also modeled the possible destruction in the event of a level 4 hurricane (Katrina = 4), and drafted measures to mitigate the effects of such a hurricane. The measures would require 14 billion dollars toward mitigation projects to simply bring wetland loss to a rate of zero by 2050. That’s not to redevelop wetlands and revive natural defenses, but that’s 50 years just to stop the bleeding. The state of the wetlands loss is just that bad.

3.) Active neglect: The funding, of course, was not granted and the few mitigation measures that did take place were too small to lend effects. 14 billion dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to the 80 billion dollars spent on so-called Homeland Security protecting us against figments of terror. Instead, what resulted from the report was almost a more concerted effort to not just avoid the critics, but to actively remove the mitigation measures already in place. Before Katrina, all Hurricane shelters were closed. There was no preparation (lack of food and water in the Superdome, no busses out of the city) because they knew that the area south of the I-10 would be under water anyhow. In fact, one local paper reported that a local red cross put in a grant for 10,000 body bags!

4.) The Coast 2050 report did not go unheard in the popular media: Several popular reports revealed the imminent crisis. One of which was in the New York Times and the other a huge exposé in Oct. 2004 National Geographic called “Louisiana: Gone with the Water,” which nearly prophesied to the exacting detail the devastation that could take place. So guess who is not reading the NG or the NYTimes!

5.) There was also much discussion about the almost “convenient” displacement of the poor out of the area, which will now be available to developers to make a killing in process of automatic “urban renewal.” A new reconstruction economy (if people actually move back) will replace the communities once filled with poor and uneducated, who will now be dispersed across the country to other poor under-developed areas. One mentioned that Engels said, “The way capital deals with its problems is by scattering them.” Now there will be a new generation of New Orleans Diaspora whose relationship to their meaning might become vague and hopeless, much like those in refugee camps in devastated lands like Sudan. The poor must simply recreate poverty in new spaces.

So, these were only a few the ideas being bandied about. Seems to me Katrina is excellent case study in red herring rhetoric: this is a case in environmental racism and active neglect, but all of it is being masked in the rhetoric of the “unforeseen natural disaster.”

My name is Hannah Pierce-Carlson