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Since Katrina, the Environment Is Front-Page News

Ever since the end of August, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the major American city of New Orleans and the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Alabama, the consequences of environmental degradation have been front-page news. Politicians and ordinary citizens are openly discussing what scientists have believed for years: that the widespread destruction of wetlands along the Gulf coast eliminated a natural buffer zone which in the past had served to slow down powerful hurricanes before they hit dense population areas.

The manmade levee systems in New Orleans and along the Mississippi River also came in for some blame. The levees disrupted natural processes which in the past had expanded the fertile farmlands of the Mississippi delta. Instead, the diversion of water caused subsidence which actually lowered major parts of New Orleans below sea level 'making them a prime target for flooding, even without the breach of the levees.

Katrina and other recent natural disasters have become grim lessons in the consequences of failing to protect the earth's natural environment. Floods on the Malibu, California coast periodically wash away million dollar estates 'a result of the soil on hillsides being weakened by clear cutting which eliminated the root systems of trees that had served to hold the soil in place. High priced residential communities encroach into previously virgin old growth forests, and then are destroyed as wildfires, often a natural result of lightning storms, wreak havoc on the forests. Antiquated coal burning plants in the Midwest cause air pollution that travels to the Northeast, resulting in mercury pollution that kills rivers, lakes, and streams and ends up in the human food supply via fresh-water and ocean fish.

If there's a silver lining to the Katrina disaster, it's this: Mother Nature has finally, dramatically, gotten our attention. Proposals in the U.S. Congress to begin a wetlands reclamation project along the Gulf coast are being taken seriously, and even the issue of global warming is center stage again as scientists, politicians, and pundits debate the effect of the phenomenon on increasingly powerful and frequent hurricanes.

So What Now?

The awful destruction of Katrina, with its human and environmental costs, presents a unique opportunity 'to rebuild a major American city from the ground up. Imagine a city re-created in a way that functions with the natural forces of the area, instead of against them. Imagine ruined homes replaced with sustainable housing, a city running completely on alternative sources of energy 'wind and solar power, biodiesel, energy harnessed from the tides. Imagine a city with broad social reforms, universal health care, a superlative educational system, and training for the jobs which will be created in the new sustainable economy.

Katrina has gotten our attention. Now we need environmentalists, experts in alternative energy and sustainable housing, and politicians to come together to be a powerful force for the future. There will be no better time to make the earth's environment the number-one priority.

About the author:
Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She may be reached at

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