Storm front and center: The environmental take on Hurricane Katrina
When Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, it stirred up not just gale-force winds and untold misery, but a host of difficult environmental questions. How did heedless coastal development exacerbate the hurricane’s toll? What’s behind the socio-economic disparity in environmental planning — and emergency response to environmental disasters? Did global warming make the storm more intense? What new ecological problems does the Gulf Coast face in the wake of Katrina? Is there a smart way to build a city below sea level in hurricane country?
In the upcoming weeks and months, Grist will tackle these topics and more. Check this page for updates on our Katrina-related coverage.
- Any Report in a Storm, 01 Sep 2005
Prominent environmental journalists tell us how they’ve covered the connection between climate change and Katrina.
- The Cyclone Ranger, 07 Sep 2005
A bona fide climate expert explains the scientific consensus on the connection between hurricanes and global warming.
- Meet the New Loss, 07 Sep 2005
Bill McKibben says that Katrina’s aftermath may not “look like America” to us now, but in an age of climate chaos, we’d better get used to it.
- Race to the Bottom, 08 Sep 2005
The inequitable treatment of poor African-Americans in the aftermath of Katrina was no surprise to environmental-justice advocates.
- Recipe for Disaster, 09 Sep 2005
A cartoon by Mark Wilson suggests Bush’s post-Katrina plans may be half-baked.
- Big Dreams for the Big Easy, 15 Sep 2005
Timothy Lange outlines a plan for building a new Eco New Orleans.
- If You Don’t Like the Climate, Wait a Minute, 15 Sep 2005
The Weather Channel’s climate reporter chats about Katrina, sexing up global warming, and more.
- Drill Bill: Vol. 2, 17 Sep 2005
Muckraker examines the raft of energy proposals being floated post-Katrina — some green, most not.
- Chevy to the Levees, 04 Oct 2005
David Helvarg takes a drive into hurricane-ravaged New Orleans and sends a dispatch.
- A New Hope, 05 Oct 2005
A young activist worries about a future full of Katrinas, and remembers her responsibility to have hope.
- You’ve Got Nail, 10 Oct 2005
Umbra Fisk tells you how best to help the Gulf Coast rebuild greenly.
- Hung Out to Dry, 11 Oct 2005
Osha Gray Davidson finds that while Post-Katrina floodwaters are dirty, the state of other U.S. waterways is nothing to brag about.
- Atlantic Records, 20 Oct 2005
We round up a whirlwind of stats about this year’s record-setting hurricane season.
- We Rebuilt This City, 24 Oct 2005
Eco-experts, community activists, and bigwigs weigh in on how best to rebuild New Orleans.
- Storm Riders, 11 Nov 2005
A rundown of green plans and brown bills proposed post-Katrina.
- Unnatural Disasters, 18 Nov 2005
Where might the next Katrina hit? A map of potential disaster spots in the U.S.
For additional opinion, reader reactions, and links to external stories, don’t miss the ongoing Katrina coverage on our blog, Gristmill. We’ve got comprehensive roundups of external links (here and here) as well as a range of news and views updated every day.
Stories in this series:
A hurricane expert explains the climate-change connection
As the world watched New Orleans’ devastating descent into squalor last week, questions about connections between global warming and hurricanes reemerged. A few politicians and activists leapt to offer their views, most of which were unmeritorious. So what does the science say? Swifter, higher, stronger? Investigations of the climatology of tropical cyclones (the generic name for the storms we call tropical storms or hurricanes in the Western Hemisphere) must be broken into at least two separate categories. The first involves storm formation: Is the number of storms changing with time? On a related note, do the regions of tropical cyclone …
Hurricane Katrina brings a foretaste of environmental disasters to come
If the images of skyscrapers collapsed in heaps of ash were the end of one story — the U.S. safe on its isolated continent from the turmoil of the world — then the picture of the sodden Superdome with its peeling roof marks the beginning of the next story, the one that will dominate our politics in the coming decades: America befuddled about how to cope with a planet suddenly turned unstable and unpredictable. Over and over last week, people said that the scenes from the convention center, the highway overpasses, and the other suddenly infamous Crescent City venues didn’t …
Slow Katrina evacuation fits pattern of injustice during crises
Much of the world — including white America — has been shocked by the devastation in New Orleans, and by the ongoing failures it has exposed at every possible level of government. Even normally unflappable TV news anchors and politicians have been moved to outrage, asking why those left behind were mostly black, poor, disabled, elderly. Veterans of the environmental-justice movement, especially those working in New Orleans, are just as appalled — but they are less surprised. Indeed, they’re finding their most chilling fears confirmed. Evacuees make their way from helicopter to bus. Photo: FEMA/Win Henderson For years, these advocates …
What New Orleans could look like the second time around
I heard that George Bush told New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin the city could be remade into “a shining example for the whole world.” If Bush did say that, it surely wasn’t an environmentally sound renaissance he had in mind. But that is precisely what is needed. Call it Eco New Orleans. It should encompass not just the city, but the other places blasted by Katrina and by FEMA’s impressively incompetent response. The Eco New Orleans I’m talking about should extend scores of miles in every direction. It should be a place attuned to the definition of sustainable development put …
Katrina prompts new energy proposals — some green, most not
Hurricane Katrina has triggered a whirlwind of new energy proposals in Congress — some gratifying to environmental activists, most galling. The long-awaited energy bill that President Bush gleefully signed into law a mere month ago started looking sadly outdated when viewed against a backdrop of slackened oil production along the Gulf Coast, crippled refineries, gasoline shortages, and soaring prices at the pump. On Sept. 6, the day Congress reconvened after its summer recess, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee penned an uncharacteristically conservation-minded letter to the White House: “We would encourage you to make the federal government the leader …
David Helvarg sends a dispatch from the hurricane-ravaged South
David Helvarg is president of the Blue Frontier Campaign, which originally published this article. He is also author of the forthcoming, revised Blue Frontier: Dispatches from America’s Ocean Wilderness (Sierra Club, 2006) and 50 Simple Ways to Save the Ocean (Inner Ocean, 2006). Thursday, 29 Sep 2005 NEW ORLEANS, La. The smell of New Orleans is mostly not of dead bodies, but of a dead city. It’s lost both its color — it looks sepia toned, all mud-brown, russet, and gray — and its people, a million environmental refugees from the city and the coast. The smell you often encounter …
When inheriting the earth isn’t such a good deal
I’ve seen my future, and it’s scary. It involves hurricanes, floods, destruction, mass evacuations, disease, and death. Hurricane Katrina and the week after it were a serious wakeup call for me. Youth the force, Luke. Climate change promises me that in my lifetime, I will experience many more events like this. As a young person, I can’t help but gnash my teeth at the people and events that have led us to this crucial point in the world’s history, and wonder why we still refuse to acknowledge and take meaningful action against our own self-destruction. As a young person, I …
Umbra on rebuilding the Gulf Coast
Dear Umbra, There seem to be plenty of good organizations accepting dollars to help the people of the Gulf Coast. But as The Nature Conservancy has said, “While current attention is rightfully focused on the immediate human toll and suffering of this tragedy, the ecological damage has yet to be assessed.” The rebuilding effort, it seems, ought to occur in an environmentally sustainable way. Where can we direct our dollars to best advantage when the focus shifts? M.Z.Cleveland, Ohio Dearest M., Katrina and the toxic soup left in her wake is yet more unneeded confirmation that what we do to …
Post-Katrina floodwaters are dirty, but so are other U.S. waterways
Last month, “toxic gumbo” entered the American lexicon with the speed and force of the floodwaters it describes. A LexisNexis search of major U.S. publications doesn’t return a single hit for the phrase in the year before Hurricane Katrina. But in the 30 days after the storm’s landfall, 66 articles contained the phrase. Measure twice, cup once. “I want to be very clear,” cautioned EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, describing the situation in the devastated city to the press. “Emergency response personnel and the public should avoid direct contact with any floodwater.” It was a dire warning. And to some water-quality …
An eye on this year’s record-setting hurricane season
1 — rank of Hurricane Wilma in Atlantic storm intensity on record1 12 — Atlantic hurricanes so far this season, tying a record set in 19692 21 — named storms so far this season, tying a record set in 19332 145 — wind speed of Wilma at press time, in miles per hour3 140 — wind speed of Hurricane Katrina as it hit Louisiana, in miles per hour4 18 — states included in federal disaster declarations after Katrina5 90,000 — area covered by federal disaster declarations after Katrina, in square miles5 94,525 — area of United Kingdom, in square miles6 …
In which we ask a mess of smart people what should happen in New Orleans
Unless you’ve been living under a rock — and these days, we can’t say we’d blame you — you’ve probably put at least a smidgen of thought toward the fate of New Orleans. It’s a rare thing to reconstruct an American city from scratch (though we can think of a few more cities we’d put on the list). There are some who advocate letting bygones be bygones, allowing the name and character of The Big Easy to fade into days of yore, but most people support the eventual rebuilding of the city. The question is, how should it be done, …
A roundup of green plans and brown bills proposed post-Katrina
Resourceful environmental leaders have unearthed opportunity amidst the wreckage left behind by this year’s record hurricane season and the battering of the Gulf Coast. They’ve crafted plans for everything from the building of new, green, affordable housing to the tightening of auto fuel-economy standards. Of course, powerful people with less eco-friendly agendas have seen opportunity too. In their eyes, the devastating storms were not-so-green lights to fast-track brown legislation. Such efforts to exploit the hurricanes for different political ends will no doubt continue as the process of rebuilding New Orleans and other devastated communities stretches over years or decades. Here …