Catastrophe in the Making

The engineering of Katrina and the disasters of tomorrow.

Catastrophe in the Making

New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Four years ago last month, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans on its way to becoming the costliest disaster in U.S. history. The conventional wisdom is that calamities like Katrina are unfortunate yet inescapable, and when Mother Nature wields her awesome power, there’s not much to be done beyond repairing the damage and moving on with life as we know it.

But in the new book “Catastrophe in the Making” (Island Press), authors William R. Freudenburg, Robert Gramling, Shirley Laska and Kai Erikson argue that disasters sometimes result from “humans striking nature”—that is, humans manipulating the natural environment in the name of economic development.

Using New Orleans as a case study, the authors demonstrate how politicians, real estate developers, engineers and speculators transformed the landscape of the city—making it especially vulnerable to a hurricane like Katrina—with predictable results.

The message of Catastrophe in the Making is that New Orleans isn’t unique, and that the experience of Katrina should convince us to change our ways … or be prepared to suffer the consequences. In the following excerpt from the book, Freudenburg & Co. examine the lessons of Katrina, and warn that if we fail to heed these lessons, other American cities will inevitably experience comparable destruction, via earthquake, wildfire, hurricane or perhaps even simple rainfall. 
Jason Zasky

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