Here's How Paradise Ignored Warnings and Became a Deathtrap

More outstanding work by the Los Angeles Times, who has had some of the best Camp Fire reporting by any news organization. The LA Times Paige St. John, Joseph Serna, and Rong-Gong Lin II conclude

In truth, the destruction was utterly predictable, and the community's struggles to deal with the fire were the result of lessons forgotten and warnings ignored. The miracle of the tragedy, local officials now concede, is how many people escaped.

This is a brutally frank assessment of the socianatural origins of the Camp Fire, and how policy and human decisions factored into creating the highly vulnerable conditions. File this story in the “there is no such things as a natural disaster” bin.

Don't Blame Climate Change for the Hurricane Harvey Disaster, Blame Society

There is an old adage in disaster studies: "there is no such thing as a natural disaster." This article explains that idea clearly by arguing that nature and climate change are not driving causes of crises like Harvey, but instead the causes originate from social and political structures and human decisions. Kelman writes:

A disaster involving a hurricane cannot happen unless people, infrastructure and communities are vulnerable to it. People become vulnerable if they end up lacking knowledge, wisdom, capabilities, social connections, support or finances to deal with a standard environmental event such as a hurricane.

The socionatural disaster in Houston, as well as in New Orleans during Katrina, were largely caused by uncontrolled sub/urbanization, unregulated development of industry and housing, and as Michael Grunwald, writing in Poltico outlines, by Federal flood insurance policy. However, in Katrina we witnessed the failure of the structural, technological mitigation system and the failed political evacuation, rescue, and rebuilding, which all took its heavies toll on African Americans and the poorest residents of New Orleans and surrounding Parishes. We have yet to see the uneven toll that our social order has taken on the people of Southeast Texas. This will become more clear in the days, weeks, and months, and honestly years. 

Immaculate Conception Theory of Your Neighborhood's Origins

I've long maintained that just about all (sub)urban development is at one point pejorative from someone's view point. The work of time, history, and change makes older neighborhoods appear more authentic, just, valued, and/or sustainable. Yet, all (sub)urban development under capitalism was produced for its exchange value and profit, not just its pretty use values and authentic qualities (in the eye of the beholder of course). Moreover, population shifts and exchange value shift can make a neighborhood once deemed "bad" (i.e., black, immigrant, working class, etc) into the prized authentic sustainable neighborhood of a gentrifying population. The reverse works too (white flight from some suburbs has left areas of poverty and spatial inequality). 

Many people in the central or older areas of towns and cities often feel secure in their idea that their neighborhood wasn't created within the conditions of class and racial inequality. Yet, most were. The old looking houses and the mature trees hide the fact that when the neighborhood was build, say 100 years ago, it looked just as brand new as the shiniest new suburb today. Daniel Hertz pokes a hole in these representations of space and calls these ideas the "immaculate conception theory" of neighborhood creation. He writes:

These assumptions mostly revolve around the idea that older housing was built the right way: ethically, modestly, with an eye to community rather than profit. These older values, in turn, highlight the faults of modern buildings: gaudy and wasteful, disruptive to existing communities, and motivated only by money.

What Could Disappear

Interesting NY Times maps showing large US coastal cities and the portions of them that could be submerged underwater if different climate change scenarios play out (5-ft, 12-ft, and 25-ft sea rise scenarios). 

Near where I live, it surprised me to see Sacramento, which is at least 90 miles from the ocean, so vulnerable because of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta.

Boston, MA Image NY Times

Boston, MA Image NY Times

Bay Area, CA and Sacramento, CA Image NY Times

Bay Area, CA and Sacramento, CA Image NY Times

Climate Change, a Killer of an Ancient Civilization

Albeit, this was not human induced climate change, but nonetheless, evidence points to the collapse of the urbanized Indus civilization (Harappans) due to changes in the climate. Charles Choi reports, 

Eventually, over the course of centuries, Harappans apparently fled along an escape route to the east toward the Ganges basin, where monsoon rains remained reliable.

This change would have spelled disaster for the cities of the Indus, which were built on the large surpluses seen during the earlier, wetter era. The dispersal of the population to the east would have meant there was no longer a concentrated workforce to support urbanism.

Jarred Diamond uses these as cautionary tales for our own civilization(s), but I'm not convinced of the similarities and the fruitfulness of the comparison between global society now and the relatively isolated civilizations of millennia ago. However, one thing humans never seem to remember is that nothing is stable, and that the current condition, whether political, economic, or socio-natural, is ever changing. We tend to think the way it is for us, is the way it will be forever. Not so.

The Pathways of Human Civilization

Cool video that depicts the interconnected cities around the world, connected by roads, highways, railways, and shipping lanes. We are approaching a planetary civilization, however, look for the dark areas and the parts of the earth that are NOT connected.

'Welcome to the Anthropocene' Earth Animation from Globaïa on Vimeo.

Jungle Land

Interesting read about the state of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans seven years after Katrina. Good quotes from geographer Richard Campanella

Reminds me of "Men go and come, but earth abides" quoted at the beginning of George R. Stewart's classic eco-fiction novel Earth Abides

However, the everybody for themselves, laissez faire, rebuilding has led to a new uneven development in NOLA. Enviros might like that parts of the city are "returning to nature," what ever that means, but let's remember these were neighborhoods, these were space where people lived their lives, and owned homes. Unplanned shrinkage benefits the wealthy, white residents of the city. 


Obama and the Urban Agenda

Greg Hanscom on Grist:

The thumbnail version is this: Under President Obama, key federal agencies have begun to shift away from subsidizing suburban sprawl and toward reviving cities and creating dense, walkable, transit-friendly communities. Obama has put smart-growthers and new urbanists in key positions, begun to realign government agencies to prioritize sustainability, and launched partnerships and initiatives that one Bush administration veteran calls “mind blowing” — in a good way. Even Obama’s allies agree, however, that serious reform may have to wait for a second term. If there is one.

There is more than meets the eye to Smart Growth. Ending subsidies for suburban sprawl is good but we need to think comprehensively: both the so-called central city and the so-call suburbs need to be revived. We can't allow the central city to become the green playground for the affluent and young professionals, while the suburbs slip into social and environmental neglect. If this happens, it will end up just the reverse of what happened after World War II when affluent whites moved out of the central city, into the suburbs, and left a wake of crisis behind in city after city. The sustainable modern metropolis will have a re-imagined and revitalized center and suburb.