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Environmental Sciences - Environmental Management | Catastrophe in the Making - The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow

Catastrophe in the Making

The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow

Freudenburg, W.R., Gramling, R., Laska, S., Erikson, K.T.

2012, X, 214p. 33 illus..


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  • Draws on the most infamous natural disaster in recent American history to explore larger questions about development and environmental change
  • Several of the authors are from the area and contribute firsthand accounts
  • Different from other books on Katrina in its emphasis on the development that worsened the effects of the storm
  • Explores political and social, in addition to environmental aspects, of natural disasters
  • Tells a compelling story of hubris and injustice

When houses are flattened, towns submerged, and people stranded without electricity or even food, we attribute the suffering to “natural disasters” or “acts of God.” But what if they’re neither? What if we, as a society, are bringing these catastrophes on ourselves?

That’s the provocative theory of Catastrophe in the Making, the first book to recognize Hurricane Katrina not as a “perfect storm,” but a tragedy of our own making—and one that could become commonplace.

The authors, one a longtime New Orleans resident, argue that breached levees and sloppy emergency response are just the most obvious examples of government failure. The true problem is more deeply rooted and insidious, and stretches far beyond the Gulf Coast.

Based on the false promise of widespread prosperity, communities across the U.S. have embraced all brands of “economic development” at all costs. In Louisiana, that meant development interests turning wetlands into shipping lanes. By replacing a natural buffer against storm surges with a 75-mile long, obsolete canal that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, they guided the hurricane into the heart of New Orleans and adjacent communities. The authors reveal why, despite their geographic differences, California and Missouri are building—quite literally—toward similar destruction.

Too often, the U.S. “growth machine” generates wealth for a few and misery for many. Drawing lessons from the most expensive “natural” disaster in American history, Catastrophe in the Making shows why thoughtless development comes at a price we can ill afford.

Content Level » Popular/general

Keywords » Flood control - Hurricane Katrina, 2005 - Hurricane protection - Levees - New Orleans

Related subjects » Environmental / Development / Agricultural Economics - Environmental Management - Natural Hazards - Political Science

Table of contents 

Prologue. The First Days of Katrina

Chapter 1. A Mighty Storm Hits the Shore

Chapter 2. The Setting

Chapter 3. Slicing Through the Swamps

Chapter 4. The Growth Machine Comes to New Orleans

Chapter 5. A “Helpful Explosion”

Chapter 6. The Collapse of Engineered Systems

Chapter 7. The Loss of Natural Defenses

Chapter 8. Critical for Economic Survival?

Chapter 9. The Axe in the Attic

Chapter 10. The End of an Error?





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