Remembering Katrina and the Need for Climate Justice

“The lie was that we were ready and that everything was working as a team."

— Michael Brown, ex-Director of FEMA

Silver Springs, MD – On Saturday afternoon, August 26, 2006, a rally was held at the site of the main headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), a federal agency, at 1305 East-West Highway with its intersection with Colesville Ave, just north of the District of Columbia line. The event was cosponsored by the U.S. Climate Emergency Council (USCEC) [1] and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). [2] The activist groups are demanding "climate justice and truth telling" before another Hurricane Katrina-like disaster strikes the U.S. The CCAN, in its press release, wrote: "We join together to remember and mourn those who died last year…and to call for jobs, housing, health care and justice for Katrina survivors…We demand that our government get serious about cutting down the global warming pollution that is generating strong and more frequent Category 4 and 5 hurricanes like Katrina." [3]

Mike Tidwell, author of "The Ravaging Tide" and head of USCEC, opened up the spirited program of remembrance. He said: "Eighteen hundred of our fellow Americans are dead. Scores are still missing; a half million Americans displaced and $200 billion in losses. The greatest natural disaster in U.S. history and still a year later our national government has not yet learned the biggest lesson of all from Hurricane Katrina and that is this: Because we are warming our global atmosphere, Katrina is rapidly coming to all our coastal cities and it is coming very soon…We will see three feet of sea level rise in the coming decade…Miami, a city below sea level, will be behind levees…lower Manhattan…the National Mall…Baltimore…Charleston…Savannah behind levees, unless we address the issue of global warming…Our only defense is clean energy."

A sprawling urban area, Silver Spring, is located in Montgomery County, Maryland. It has the second largest population in the state, around 80,000, next to Baltimore City’s and the highest per capita income. Its history is intertwined with the fortunes of the distinguished Blair and Lee families, whose ancestral roots precede the American Revolution.

Getting back to the rally. A native of Louisiana, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, ripped into the Bush-Cheney Gang for its gross indifference to human life with respect to Katrina. He said: "When I was in New Orleans on Nov. 7, 2005, I crossed that ‘bridge,’ where the people were stopped. Can you imagine when the World Trade Center came down and people were trying to evacuate that building, and getting to the Brooklyn Bridge, and being stopped and turned around and told to go back to the World Trade Center? This is what this government did with dogs and policemen on the ‘bridge’ to the people who hadn’t eaten for a week…They called them refugees, looters. They were survivors and all they wanted to do was to get to the high ground."

Another speaker at the affair was Kevin Zeese, an Independent candidate for the U.S. Senate in Maryland. He told the crowd of about 200 protesters: "We need a new generation of leaders to make this the ‘environmental century.’ We need to do it for numerous reasons: first, the in-our-face war for oil. It’s called the ‘war on terrorism,’ but instead of taking on terrorists, we’re taking on the oil-producing nations. These are really oil wars. We have to break our addiction to fossil fuels…Our system has been corrupted. What are you going to do about it? It is time for us to challenge that corrupt system and take America back."

With respect to Katrina, a shocking report, dated, Aug. 24, 2006, was issued by House of Representatives Democrats. It indicated that about 70 percent of Katrina’s relief contracts were given out by FEMA without any competitive bidding. It found that of the $10.6 billion in contracts awarded, about $7.4 billion, were dispensed without any or very limited competitive bidding. Billions of dollars in waste of taxpayers’ money were also documented by the report. FEMA is part of the Homeland Security Department, which is headed by Michael Chertoff. The report also revealed that contractors, some with close ties to the Bush-Cheney Gang, like Bechtel, were dealt in on the lucrative contracts. [4]

The audience also heard from three survivors of Katrina. Forest Bradley-Wright was the first, he said: For our country not to now have a national global warming and action plan is "insanely dangerous…Let me tell you how surreal it is to pack up two bags…step out of your kitchen into a canoe." Karen Wimpleberg of "Alliance for Affordable Energy" said that people in her city have been "warning about global warming since 1995. I evacuated and had to live away for four months. I have been back since January, 2006…We lost our barrier islands that were there to protect us. [Also] the oil companies dig canals to get their ships out and that has cause subsidence." She labeled the responses to New Orleans’ perilous situation from the national government as "wrong-headed policies. Solutions do exist." Melissa Amos, now a student at Howard U. in D.C., shared her Katrina ordeal, too, with the crowd. She related how she could have very easily been "one of the victims." Amos said she was traumatized by the storm, but is "getting over it." She emphasized how she wanted "to thank everyone who did anything for the Katrina survivors." Each speaker at the protest action to honor the victims of Katrina, read off a list of a few of the names of those who died as a result of the horrific storm. Four huge posters containing the names of most of the known dead from the hurricane disaster were displayed near the podium used by the presenters.

Melody Drnach, Action V.P. of N.O.W., also spoke at the event. She said, "The environment is a women’s issue." Drnach underscored how, "our government under this administration has chosen ideology over scientific knowledge. And, we are paying an ever-increasing price for it." I talked with one of the speakers, Ms. George Friday, a co-chair of the United for Peace & Justice, an antiwar organization, before the rally began. She’s from Baltimore, Maryland. Friday told me: "The war in Iraq has been a huge mistake. We have to take that disillusionment, that rage, that anxiety into action; action for change, clean environment, Green jobs and justice." I also had a chance to chat with one of the organizers of the very lively affair, Ted Click. He charged that the Bush administration had inadequately funded the projects that were needed to defend the Gulf Coast from Katrina. Other speakers at the remembrance ceremony were: Jared Duval, Jenice View and Allison Fisher.

First rate musical entertainment was provided at the demonstration by Luci Murphy, an enchanting singer; a talented guitarist/balladeer/song writer from Boston, David Rovics; the dynamic hip hop duo of W.E.S. and Straightforward; and by Chris Chandler. He read his powerful imagery-filled poetry, while accompanied on the keyboard by a passionate David Roe. The latter’s singing voice had a lot of soulful character in it. One of the popular activist groups, which was present at the rally to lend its moral support for the cause, was "The World Can’t Wait. Drive Out the Bush Regime." [5]

I leave the final thoughts to this consciousness-raising protest action, near the one year anniversary of the Katrina disaster, which struck the Gulf coast a lethal blow, on Aug. 29, 2005, to a recent authoritative scientific report found at the "EcoBridge" web site. It states: "Global warming is melting ice to the tune of 50 billion tons of water a year from the Greenland ice sheet. A NASA high-tech aerial survey shows that more than 11 cubic miles of ice is disappearing from the ice sheet annually. ‘We see a significant trend (in loss of ice mass),’ said William B. Krabill, NASA scientist and lead author of a study on Greenland ice melting. ‘When we can go back after five years and see 10 meters of glacier gone, there is something happening.’ This is increasing the likelihood of coastal flooding around the world, if this meltdown trend continues. The rising sea level has led to salt water encroachment producing the ‘Ghost forests’ of South Florida and Louisiana. Since about 1970, the invading salt water has killed hundreds of acres of southern bald cypress trees in Louisiana coastal parishes and sabal palm in Florida." [6]




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Also see, "Storm Warnings," by J. Madeleine Nash, "Smithsonian," 09/ 2006.

[4]. AP Report, "Democrats Fault FEMA for Waste," 08/25/06.