Risk, Fairness, and the Geography of Disaster
34 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2007
In this essay, Professor Verchick examines two narratives which took shape after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans - one about risk, the other about fairness - and relates them to another, greater, impending catastrophe: global climate change. The disasters are different. Katrina was regional, not global, and was fast-acting. The other is global, slow-moving and will come in multiple stages in a series of sudden and incremental changes throughout the world. Yet both present difficult issues for governments concerned with managing risk and protecting the most vulnerable members of society.
An overly narrow focus on cost-benefit studies kept the United States from adequately appreciating the destructive force of Gulf hurricanes and the vulnerability of its levees and land-use policies. This same attention to cost-benefit analysis is similarly distorting the threats that global warming now poses. A lack of attention to America's social safety net also insured that the destruction of Hurricane Katrina would place an enormously disproportionate burden on minorities, women, the poor, and other vulnerable groups. Today's predictions of climate disruption envision a similarly disproportionate burden on the world's poor, women, and people of color. Yet without aggressive efforts to strengthen the physical and economic infrastructures of developing countries, particularly those in Africa and southern Asia, the world's weakest (and least culpable) peoples will bear the brunt of global catastrophe.
This essay suggests that the same ideas now recommended for New Orleans - a precautionary risk management approach and a strengthening of the social safety nets - are the same prescriptions for the international community as it faces the prospects of global warming.
Keywords: natural disasters, global warming, cost-benefit analysis, risk management, Hurricane Katrina
JEL Classification: K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation