Public Release: 

Humans, habitat, hurricanes and horrors

University of California - Santa Barbara

(San Francisco, Calif.) -- William Freudenburg, Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will present a talk on the risks of living near sea level at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco, on Sunday, Feb. 18.

"When Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore, what came surging through the levees of Louisiana was more than just contaminated floodwater," said Freudenburg. "Mixed in was considerable information about the sustainability of the world. Katrina revealed that the risks of living near sea level are not simply limited to far-away nations such as Bangladesh."

The 2006 Hurricane Season was a remarkably fortunate one for the U.S., without a single major hurricane. What many do not realize, however, is that the record-breaking 2005 hurricane season was actually a fortunate one, as well, explained Freudenburg. "Even Hurricane Katrina -- the most expensive and one of the most deadly disasters in American history -- was not 'the big one,'" he said. "It was a warning."

In the hours before landfall, Katrina weakened from a category five to a category three storm. It shifted just far enough to the East that many observers thought initially New Orleans had been "spared," explained Freudenburg. In recent decades, on the other hand, three broader trends have been making the risks far worse, not just in New Orleans, but also around the country.

"First, unprecedented numbers of Americans have been moving to coastal regions; second, we have modified the habitats of those regions, often in ways that make the hazards worse," said Freudenburg. "And third - the modifications are at scales ranging from local habitats to the climate of the entire globe. The human technological capacity to do harm has risen to a level that we are facing not just 'natural' disasters, but 'un-natural' ones."


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