Monday, August 31, 2015

Social Justice and Climate Justice Movements Merge in New Orleans 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina

Julie Dermansky
Marguerite Doyle Johnston, a resident of New Orleans’ Upper 9th Ward, did not take part in the multitude of events surrounding Hurricane Katrina’s 10th anniversary that celebrated the city’s resilience. “My neighborhood was left out of the recovery, so I don’t feel like celebrating,” she told DeSmog.
Johnston would have preferred that the money spent on celebrating New Orleans’ recovery be spent on restoring Club Desire, a landmark building in the Upper 9th Ward neighborhood that she has been trying to save and convert into a community center.
In its heyday, many of the city’s most famous artists performed in Club Desire, including Fats Domino and Little Freddie King. Despite Johnston’s efforts to rescue the building, it is slated for demolition later this fall. 
VIDEO: Marguerite Doyle Johnston inside Club Desire reflecting on Katrina 10:
According to Johnston, money spent on Katrina 10, the month-long celebration sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and other corporate sponsors, is just another example of how the allocation of funds in post-Katrina New Orleans never made it to African American folks like her.
Corporate sponsorship was ever present. Katrina 10 hosted panel discussions, lectures, musical performances, second line parades, and visits from three presidents (Obama, Clinton, Bush).

T-shirt with a list of corporate sponsors at a Katrina 10 year Anniversary event. ©2015 Julie Dermansky
In her 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), was inspired by what happened in New Orleans. The book “begins in a very specific time and place. The time was exactly ten years ago. The place was New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The road in question was flooded and littered with bodies,” she wrote on her website.
For the anniversary of Katrina, Klein released the chapter of The Shock Doctrine on New Orleans, post-Katrina, writing: 
“Rereading the chapter 10 years after the events transpired, I am struck most by this fact: the same military equipment and contractors used against New Orleans’ Black residents have since been used to militarize police across the United States, contributing to the epidemic of murders of unarmed Black men and women. That is one way in which the Disaster Capitalism Complex perpetuates itself and protects its lucrative market.” 
“We can sit and worry about climate change. Or, we can get up and do something about it,” Klein wrote recently. “Our only hope is the rise of mass movements with the combined goals of saving the environment and achieving social justice.”
Signs of the merging of social and environmental justice groups could be found in New Orleans related to Katrina's 10th anniversary at events held by Gulf South Rising, a coalition of dozens of groups that deal with the impact of climate change on the Gulf Coast region. 
The global climate crisis is rooted in economic theories that promote mass consumption of limited resources, laws that maintain inequity, and social hierarchies and governance processes that limit civic participation,” states Gulf South Rising’s website
VIDEO: Pastor Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow at a Gulf South Rising event in New Orleans: 

You can’t talk about climate change without talking about social justice,” Pastor Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow, a human rights activist and brother of Rev. Al Sharpton, told DeSmog.
Glasgow took part in an event held by Gulf South Rising that was focused on uniting local and regional youth. Discussions about the connection between environmental racism, disenfranchisement, displacement, police violence, and the ”school-to-prison pipeline” were held in Armstrong Park under outdoor tents. Activists shared ideas and held training sessions with the goal of building a sustainable, healthy, and equitable future with justice for all. 
Though he respects his brother Al Sharpton, Glasgow thinks a lot of the old-time civil rights activists like his brother are making a mistake by leaving climate change out of the conversation. 
The time to discuss climate change is now, even if it is uncomfortable,” Glasgow insists. Leaving climate change out of the discussion on social justice is like talking about race, but not talking about ”Black” and “White,” he said. 
Gulf South Rising—their slogan [The Seas are Rising and So Are We] seemed perfect to me,” Bill McKibben, founder, told DeSmog. McKibben and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, whose Gulf Coast chapters are part of Gulf South Rising, were in the Lower 9th Ward for the coalition’s second line parade.
Cheri Fortin, a grassroots activist who has been fighting for social and environmental justice since the BP oil spill disaster, woke up August 30 wondering if all the money spent by Gulf Coast Rising and Katrina 10 will change anything. She and other grassroots activists questioned if the money that poured in from bigger NGOs to Gulf Coast Rising also failed to make it into the hands of people who need it most.
Did we challenge the politicians to step up and protect us? No. Are our life-protecting wetlands being better protected and restored? No. Is there a moratorium on oil and gas infrastructure being built in this climate disaster zone? No. Is housing more affordable and are still-displaced folks on their way home? No. Are we any more safe from or ready for the next one? Absolutely not. So what was it all for? Feel-good moments and chart paper will not save us,” she said.
Her work and that of others in a growing grassroots-based movement is left undone, but she is glad the conversation that connects social justice and environmental justice has, at least, begun.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein echoed Glasgow's sentiments and some of Fortin’s sentiments at the Rising Tide X Conference, an annual gathering established by local bloggers for all who wish to learn more and do more to assist with New Orleans’ recovery. 
You can’t leave social justice out of the climate conversation in New Orleans or anywhere,” Stein told DeSmog. “We must meet human needs at the same time we meet ecological needs. To propose that people are somehow separate from the ecosystem we live in requires a major cognitive disconnect. It’s like saying you can take care of your heart without taking care of your lungs.”
VIDEO: Jill Stein speaks about racial and environmental injustice in New Orleans: 

Beverly Kimble Davis, a New Orleans-based artist, set up her paintings in the lobby of the Andrew P. Sanchez & Copelin-Byrd Multi-Service Center in the Lower 9th Ward, where one of the Katrina 10 events was held. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi joined New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu at the gathering before laying a wreath at a memorial for those lost in the storm.

Beverly Kimble Davis with her paintings at a Katrina 10 event. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu at a ‘K10’ event at the Andrew P. Sanchez & Copelin-Byrd Multi-Service Center. ©2015 Julie Dermansky
That morning, Davis was tempted not to come at all, but she wanted to make sure those hosting and attending the event would see her work. Her paintings deal with atrocities following Katrina, including the murder and cover-up on the Danziger Bridge. 
I woke up feeling distraught and disturbed,” Davis told DeSmog. “They continue to portray New Orleans as if everything is great, saying ‘we are back’ when many are not back.”
It is one thing to say the levees are fixed, but you have to deal with the coastal erosion, you have to deal with weather changes,” Davis said. But she is painfully aware that climate change, for the most part, has been left out of the conversation in New Orleans.
This does not surprise her because “the system is set up so the oil and gas industry can do things that are not good for us,” she said.

People leaving a second line parade walk by a “Katrina Parking” sign near the Superdome. ©2015 Julie Dermansky
A blinking LED sign flashing “Katrina Parking” near the Superdome was a reminder of how far the city has come over the last 10 years. People who took part in a second line parade walked by the sign after the parade ended in front of the Smoothie King Center where Katrina 10’s finale event featuring Bill Clinton took place, seemingly oblivious to the irony.

Soledad O’Brien on stage at the Smoothie King Center during the ‘Power of Community” Katrina 10 event. ©2105 Julie Dermansky 

Bill Clinton speaks during a free Katrina anniversary event at Smoothie King Center, where the room was less than half full. ©2105 Julie Dermansky 
Meanwhile, Louisiana’s coast continues to erode at the rate of approximately one football field-sized piece of land every 39 minutes. And each day Club Desire is one day closer to disappearing. Such facts make Johnston’s fight to restore the club and turn it into a community center — and the voices that gathered in New Orleans to combat social and environmental injustice — more important than ever. 

Marguerite Doyle Johnston in Club Desire. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Obama Barely Touches on Climate Change In New Orleans Speech Marking the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

By Julie Dermansky • Friday, August 28, 2015 - 12:01

President Obama briefly mentioned climate change during his remarks in New Orlean’s Lower 9th Ward during his visit to New Orleans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Standing in the city’s Lower 9th Ward, Obama spoke instead of the inspiration he had drawn from the city’s “come back” and the resilience of its people.
Obama’s on-off relationship with climate change and the impact it is having on New Orleans is mirrored by his administration’s decisions that contradict the president’s concern.
During an interview with WWLTV’s Sally Ann Roberts on the eve of his visit, the president said even with new flood protection and efforts to restore the coast, “We must make sure that we as a country and the entire world focus on this problem of climate change.” 
The president explained his back-to-back visits to the Gulf Coast and Alaska were connected.
The effects of climate change in Alaska, including the melting polar ice, are resulting in higher sea levels that could have an impact on the Gulf
His concerns, however, are a contradiction to his administration’s actions. Louisiana’s oil and gas industry continues to grow, facing little resistance from the state or federal government.

President Obama on Oct 19, 2009 arriving in New Orleans on Air Force One during his first visit to the city since taking office.  ©2009 Julie Dermansky 

The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, also known as “The Great wall of Louisiana”, is a nearly two-mile-long, 26-foot-high barrier built for hurricane protection to prevent the kind of flooding that ravaged New Orleans during Katrina. ©2015 Julie Dermansky 
Despite New Orleans’ new flood protection system and the start of some coastal restoration programs, the lack of further action taken against the threat of climate change only heightens the city’s risk of future environmental devastation.
The city faces an ever-growing risk from storm surges. Efforts to reverse coastal erosion are moving at a slow pace. The natural erosion process has been exacerbated by rising tides associated with climate change, and accelerated by industries’ activities. The impacts of the disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 also contribute to increased coastal erosion.
There’s also the threat of future spills that could come from the state’s growing offshore drilling industry.

Louisiana’s eroding coastline in Southern Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish. ©2015 Julie Dermansky 
Climate change has been the elephant in the room during a month-long celebration in New Orleans, branded Katrina 10,which focused primarily on the city’s renaissance. Noticeably missing in numerous events sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and other corporate sponsors is any discussion of moving away from the use of fossil fuel.   

Boy in front of a blighted church that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters ten years after the storm. ©2015 Julie Dermansky 

In May, the Obama administration opened the Gulf of Mexico to further oil and gas drilling despite the BP oil spill five years ago. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement permitted LLOG Exploration Offshore LLC to drill a new well nearBP’s failed Macondo well.. Obama’s administration has also recently given a green light for Shell to drill in the Arctic.
Meanwhile, a Louisiana court, following Governor Bobby Jindal's lead, crushed a lawsuit waged by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (known as the levee board) against 97 oil and gas companies. Jindal’s administration continues to try to block similar lawsuits filed by coastal parishes.
The levee board claimed the 97 companies named in its suit contributed to damage to the coast that has weakened New Orleans’ flood protection. Similarly, the parishes of Plaquemines and Jefferson have brought multiple lawsuits against oil and gas companies for alleged hastening of coastal erosion. Their suits claim companies broke permit rules that allowed them to work in the wetlands, while others operated without permits at all.
The permits require companies to restore the area they damage to its original condition when work is complete — a condition not met for years by industry. Though Jindal concedes action must be taken to restore the coast, he continues to lambaste those who aim to recover funds needed to repair and restore it. 

Republican Presidential Candidate and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal at the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans on July 9. ©2015 Julie Dermansky 

Jindal wrote to the President prior to his visit to New Orleans, warning him that conversations about climate change were unwelcome in Louisiana. 
While you and others may be of the opinion that we can legislate away hurricanes with higher taxes, business regulations, and EPA power grabs, that is not a view shared by many Louisianans,” Jindal’s letter said. The governor urged the President to reconsider pushing his climate change agenda during remembrance celebrations of Katrina. 
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is hardly a champion of the fight against climate change, either. Despite Landrieu’s inclusion in a recent climate change summit held by the Pope at the Vatican, his comments on an MSNBC morning showdon’t show him to be a leader in that struggle.

“We need fossil fuels, we need to make sure we keep drilling, and we have to make sure we drill safety,” he told the show’s hosts. When it comes to drilling for oil and gas, the debate is whether or not we do it safely, “not to do it or not to do it,” he said. 
His sister, Mary Landrieu, former chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and now on staff at the lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman, acknowledged this during a conversation with DeSmog at a New Orleans Democratic Party Fundraiser in June.
South Louisiana is almost ground zero for climate change,” Landrieu told us. But she still insists that the Keystone XL is a great thing for Louisiana and the rest of America.
It will create thousands of jobs” she told DeSmog, although President Obama has backed away from that claim. 
Investigative journalist Greg Palast was less dimplomatic. “Screw the celebration. New Orleans hasn’t ’come back,’” Palast wrote. He points out that “New Orleans did not drown because of climate change — but the perpetrators of the climate crimes are the same culprits that drowned the city.“ 
Louisiana is still dropping into the Gulf. That hasn't been stopped. Sinking into the sea. It has not been reversed,” Palast said. “Yet they don't want to cut back on the oil industry.”
The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources says that at current land loss rates, “nearly 640,000 more acres, an area nearly the size of Rhode Island, will be under water by 2050,”
The loss of land on the Louisiana coast is as large as approximately one football field every 38 minutes, according to the state agency. The figures are based on numbers released by the United States Geological Survey.
The catastrophe following Hurricane Katrina was not a natural disaster. Louisiana State University professor Ivor van Heerden had warned shortly before Katrina that New Orleans could be under water if the levees were not fixed.
In the Eastern District of Louisiana, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval found the Army Corps of Engineers responsible for the failure of the levee system. Portions of the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parishes were flooded following Hurricane Katrina due to its failure to maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a manmade waterway created to provide industry a shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals initially upheld Duval’s ruling but a year later the court reversed itself, finding that federal law granted the Corps immunity. 
Not only was the public not reimbursed for damage due to the broken levees in 2005, but the government has not provided flood protection originally promised by Congress in 1965.
According to the Lens, a public-interest investigative news website:
The new system is the city’s best engineered and built ever, but it was designed to a lower level of protection than the one that failed. It was built to provide property insurance, not save lives. And experts insist it’s insufficient for an important city sitting on a sinking delta in hurricane alley during the age of climate-induced sea level rise and mega storms.”
The city’s recovery is underway, even though the federal government let itself off the hook for damages caused by the failed levees. The oil and gas industry, whose activities contributed to the weakening of the levees, got away without being held accountable.
If climate changes happens the way a lot of climate scientists are thinking it is going to happen,” Paul Orr, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) told DeSmog, “then coastal restoration is impossible and the city of New Orleans is an island sticking out in the Gulf of Mexico, way lower than sea level, with only levees and pumps keeping it dry.” 
In the coming days, former Presidents Bush and Clinton will come to New Orleans to celebrate the city’s progress. They will join the roster of speakers taking to a podium during the Katrina 10 celebrations.

The absence of remarks about climate change in President Obama’s speech in New Orleans joins the elephant in the room that continues to grow.

Blighted home in New Orleans 9th Ward 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. ©2015 Julie Dermansky