Posted by Chris M Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Media's Natural Disaster Coverage

With the recent formation and movement over Florida of the first tropical system in the Atlantic in 2006, Alberto, the media frenzy over tropical systems this year has started. Although, I am happy about the increased coverage natural events are getting, the type of coverage is awful at best, turning such events into man vs nature battles, neglecting the wider causes, and not providing "solutions" to the problems highlighted by these events, rather playing sound-bytes from politicians.

The man vs nature battle view is most prevalent before the event, often taking the guise of people nailing boards over the windows of their homes, lines of people at grocery stores, and cars jamming the freeways going out of town. All of these images help to propel the battle mentality. Rather than a more truthful view that these are natural events, with both positive and negative results, communities in the path often resemble 1940 England waiting for Nazi planes.

As Katrina and New Orleans as an example, the media did drive in the fact that large portions of the city exists below sea level. However, the investigation stopped there. Why would a city build on such land, or why would people live on such land were questions that were not asked. The socioeconomic reasons for poor people living on below sea level land were not examined, other than on a superficial level. Capitalism, new deal socialism, and the flight from the inner city all have their role to play. Similarly, the environment stances of the various local, state, and national governments and businesses helped to create the conditions that allowed such a disaster to take place. Once again, the media gave facts like the dates on when the levées were built, but not in why levées would be built in the first place. Left unexamined was the idea that the environment should be engineered against rather than with. When taken together, these causes form complex relationships. Low wages for the poorest of New Orleans resulted in them being clustered in some of the most at risk areas. However, civil engineering project spent millions of dollars on protecting these high risk areas. These engineering projects help to destroy much of the wetlands of southeastern Louisiana, increasing the risk to everyone.

Lastly, the issues of solutions to stop or mitigate such future events were rarely discussed, except by politicians, that have little to no clue on what actually needs to be done. Those that knew in government were often silenced by bureaucracy and academics had little power to implement solutions. It is here were a proper understanding of the causes are necessary. Should billions be spent to rebuild levées to protect some of the lowest valued land in the country? Many thousands have moved to places like Houston. Will these new homes be any safer than New Orlenes, as much of Houston is built on coastal wetlands? Does a person have a right to build their house on a barrier island, when it will be destroyed in the future, and should the government stop the legally from doing this?

Sadly, from all the coverage of Alberto I have seen, I doesn't appear the media has started to do any of this.