Thursday August 29, 2013 marks the eighth anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina’s ripped into Louisiana, devastating the Gulf Coast and killing over 1,800 people. Nearly a decade later, as residents and ecosystems struggle to regain balance, the world turns their attention towards New Orleans. The city not only stands as a symbol of resilience, but as an example of the state of American disaster relief policy and a harbinger of the effects of climate change.
On the anniversary of one of the most damaging storms in US history, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal released a statement commending the residents of his state for their strength and perseverance.
“Eight years ago today, the world watched while Hurricane Katrina battered our shores, taking many of our people’s lives and leaving the future of one of America’s greatest cities and states in jeopardy. Our hearts and prayers are forever with the families of those who lost loved ones during the storm or in its aftermath.”
Community members are marking the anniversary as a chance to address social and environmental issues. According to the Times-Picayune, a group of civil rights leaders gathered in New Orleans on Wednesday to discuss the relationship between social justice and the effects of climate change. The disappearing coast line, storms, and rising sea levels brought by global warming have led to the disappearance of 18,800 square miles of land, exposing communities to stronger and more frequent storms.
“We have a moral obligation to future generations to insure that tragedies like Hurricane Katrina do not happen again,” said Norma Jane Sabiston of the Climate Action Committee Louisiana.
Hurricanes like Katrina have left social, economic, and environmental scars across Louisiana. Residents are taking action to ensure that the heartbreaking scenes witnessed in the Lower Ninth Ward and the Superdome never occur again. On Wednesday, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council submitted its Initial Comprehensive Plan to restore the coast and address the havoc wreaked by both the storm and the 2010 BP oil spill. Organizations such as the The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana have launched pilot programs to recycle oyster shells to rebuild the coastal landscape.
Hosts of local non-profits, such as Common Ground Relief, continue to rebuild homes and wetlands and offer volunteers a chance to heal their communities. On the national level, FEMA still endures criticism over their response to Katrina, with issues ranging from overall funding and benefits to the inadequacy of temporary shelters. In the courts, the Louisiana Flood Board is suing 96 oil and gas giants who have laid waste to the wetlands that protect inland communities. The move represents a serious legal precedent that aims to force the industry to pay for their contributions to habitat loss, climate change, and pollution.
Hurricane Katrina most significantly stands as a frightening example of what could happen to other major US cities as a result of global warming. Research by climatologists published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences back in May, 2013 stated that Katrina-sized storms could be ten times more likely with only a two degree increase in global temperature. In the same month of the report, the world surpassed 400 parts per million of global CO2 levels, marking a first in human history and an alarming trend towards instability.
Keys to the continual survival of major infrastructure for coastal cities lies in a combination of conservation, reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions, and environmentally-conscious design. With innovations such as carbon sequestering bricks, more efficient solar panels, and algae biofuels on the horizon, it is possible to reconstruct the nation’s metropolises as strong and eco-conscious urban centers.