Another Katrina? Not Funny

The destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina was a man-made disaster and as of today, the eve of the six-year anniversary, we haven't done anything to stop it from happening again.  This is the premise behind Harry Shearer's new movie, The Big Uneasy.

Harry Shearer is best known and loved as the voice behind Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy and Scratchy in The Simpsons or the cucumber scene in This is Spinal Tap, but his latest movie is all serious, though it might make you love him more.  "Most funny people are dark serious guys and gals underneath," he told Planet Forward's Frank Sesno in an interview last week.

Within the first 10 minutes the movie he presents a strong argument for why the hurricane was NOT a natural disaster, but instead a man-made disaster created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Using some nifty graphics, he shows a map of New Orleans, showing where the famous levees broke, and as the eerie blue water washes across the city, it becomes pretty clear that bad engineering -- not nature  -- caused the flooding that devastated this great city.

We've fixed the problem, right? Not according to whistleblower Maria Garzino. "In the event of a Katrina-level storm, the City of New Orleans is just as vulnerable to catastrophic flooding as it was in 2005," she said in a letter to the Obama Administration.  The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) agrees. From their own report: "The government and the public cannot reasonably trust that the flood control system in place in New Orleans possesses reliability and integrity."

What's even more frustrating is that there are good solutions to prevent flooding in coastal cities and you don't have to look far to find it: natural marshlands.  "Human engineering," says Mr. Shearer, "that doesn't mimic what nature already does... is doomed."  Some engineers in New Orleans have gone so far as to ask Dutch engineers how they confront the same issues in the hopes of using those ideas to develop a more sensible long-term plan.

Restoring "nature's buffer" -- marshlands -- would also help New Orleans stop sinking, according to Mr. Shearer.  The natural process that brings silt down the Mississippi would resupply the marsh and help it "grow" about the rising sea level.

We had a fascinating conversation with Mr. Shearer. I would encourage all of you to watch:

What do you think? Can we be inspired by nature to adapt to climate change?  What solutions have you seen in your city?  Tell us at Planet Forward.