As Hurricane Katrina vividly revealed, disaster policy in the United States is broken and needs reform. What can we learn from past disasters – storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and wildfires – about preparing for and responding to future catastrophes? How can these lessons be applied in a future threatened by climate change?
In this bold contribution to environmental law, Robert Verchick argues for a new perspective on disaster law that is based on the principles of environmental protection. His prescription boils down to three simple commands: Go Green, Be Fair, and Keep Safe. "Going green" means minimizing exposure to hazards by preserving natural buffers and integrating those buffers into artificial systems like levees or seawalls. "Being fair" means looking after public health, safety, and the environment without increasing personal and social vulnerabilities. "Keeping safe" means a more cautionary approach when confronting disaster risks.
Verchick argues that government must assume a stronger regulatory role in managing natural infrastructure, distributional fairness, and public risk. He proposes changes to the federal statutes governing environmental impact assessments, wetlands development, air emissions, and flood control, among others. Making a strong case for more transparent governmental decision-making, Verchick offers a new vision of disaster law for the next generation.
Part I: Go Green
1. Natural Infrastructure
2. Our Incredible Shrinking Infrastructure
3. System Failures and Fairness Deficits
4. Tending Our Gardens
Part II: Be Fair
5. Backwater Blues
6. Disaster Justice
7. Winds of Change
Part III: Keep Safe
8. Precaution and Social Welfare
9. Mapping Katrina
10. Planning Our Futures
Robert R. M. Verchick is Gauthier-St. Martin Professor of Environmental Law at Loyola University New Orleans.
"In unraveling the engineering, social, and political debacles that created the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Verchick proposes fundamental reforms in disaster policy and environmental law for coping effectively and ethically with future natural disasters. His analysis of this complex tragedy is masterful and lucid, and his prudent prescriptions are compelling [...] Anyone concerned with human and environmental well-being should read this important synthesis about proactive disaster preparation, particularly in light of the ongoing warming of the atmosphere and rising sea levels."
– P.R. Pinet, Choice
"The book is an important attempt to, among other things, take the 'lessons of Katrina' and make from them a new kind of national policy: one that can calculate the economic value of 'natural infrastructure' – like Louisiana's coastal wetlands, which help to diminish the ferocity of incoming hurricanes – and can use that calculation to make saner cost-benefit decisions about our environment."
– Harry Shearer, The Huffington Post
"Makes a compelling case for reforming disaster policy, making government decision-making more transparent."
– The Times-Picayune
"Hurricane Katrina was not just a storm; it was also the occasion for a complete governmental debacle. As Rob Verchick trenchantly demonstrates, we can learn much from this tragedy about how to face other major societal risks such as climate change. Let's hope we learn from this experience, and from Verchick's thoughtful analysis, without waiting for the lessons to be reinforced by still more disastrous policy failures."
– Daniel A. Farber, University of California, Berkeley
"Beautifully written, powerfully argued, and sweeping in its scope, Facing Catastrophe answers the wake-up call for environmental policymakers that was Hurricane Katrina. This is a book that deserves to be read, re-read, and read yet again."
– Douglas A. Kysar, Yale University