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Collapse and the City: The Breakdown of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, 2005
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Urban Planning and Environment, Urban and Regional Studies.
2012 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 80 credits / 120 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The environment has become the center of attention in recent years. The world is at the brink of several interrelated ‘green’ crises: environmental degradation, climate change, peak oil, food crisis, and various natural disasters. Hence, there is a viable threat to society. This essay aims to explore the significance of the environment for societal collapse—with a Western world city focus. The method of choice is a literature-based critical instance case study. In this thesis, the environmentally focused collapse theories of Jared Diamond and Clive Ponting are tested on the empirical example of the city of New Orleans, USA. In 2005, New Orleans was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina. As a result, 80% of New Orleans was flooded, almost 1,800 people lost their lives, and the infrastructural systems suffered lengthy breakdowns. Consequently, the supply of basic services such as water, food, sewage, electricity, heating, communications, transportation and shelter was severely compromised.

 

The study shows that in the specific case of New Orleans, the underlying reasons for collapse cannot be explained by ‘green’ collapse theories alone. In fact, poor wetlands management was the only environmental issue of importance. Contributing causes were various managerial flaws (including lack of financing) on all levels in terms of emergency prevention, preparedness and response, as well as long-term structural implications for social justice. Thus, the environmentally related theories of Diamond and Ponting do not prove a perfect match. Instead, the collapse of New Orleans had better been explained by a ‘root cause mix’ theory, which takes political, economic, social and environmental aspects into consideration.

Abstract [sv]

Miljöfrågor har hamnat allt mer i fokus de senaste åren. Världen står på tröskeln till ett flertal miljörelaterade kriser: miljöförstöring, klimatförändring, peak oil (oljeproduktionstoppen), global matkris samt diverse naturkatastrofer. Detta medför sammantaget ett allvarligt hot mot samhället. Examensarbetet syftar till att belysa miljöns betydelse för samhällskollaps – med fokus på den västerländska staden. Den metod som tillämpas är en litteraturbaserad fallstudie. I uppsatsen testas Jared Diamonds och Clive Pontings miljöinriktade teorier om samhällskollaps på det empiriska exemplet New Orleans, USA. År 2005 ödelades New Orleans av orkanen Katrina. Så mycket som 80 % av staden drabbades av översvämning, 1 800 invånare omkom och hela infrastrukturen bröt samman. Katastrofen fick därmed allvarliga konsekvenser för grundläggande samhällsfunktioner som försörjningen av vatten, livsmedel, avlopp, elektricitet, värme, kommunikationer, transporter samt boende.

 

Studien visar att miljöorienterade teorier om samhällskollaps inte fullt ut kan förklara grundorsakerna till det sammanbrott som skedde i New Orleans. Den enda miljörelaterade orsaken av betydelse var inadekvat skötsel av våtmarkerna. Bidragande faktorer var istället bristande politisk styrning (inklusive otillräcklig finansiering) på alla nivåer vad gäller förebyggande, beredskap och hantering av kriser, samt långvariga strukturella hinder för social rättvisa. Slutsatsen blir därför att varken Diamonds eller Pontings miljöinriktade teorier träffar helt rätt. För större träffsäkerhet, borde New Orleans’ sammanbrott förklaras med en teori som förutom miljöfaktorer även innefattar politiska, ekonomiska och sociala aspekter.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. , 89 p.
Series
SoM EX, 2012-23
Keyword [en]
Societal collapse, city collapse, environment, natural disaster, crisis, catastrophe, flooding, Jared Diamond, Clive Ponting
Keyword [sv]
Samhällskollaps, stadskollaps, miljö, naturkatastrof, kris, sammanbrott, orkan, översvämning, Jared Diamond, Clive Ponting
National Category
Social Sciences Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-98691OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-98691DiVA: diva2:538648
Subject / course
Regional Planning
Educational program
Degree of Master - Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Infrastructure
Presentation
2012-06-07, KTH, Stockholm, 14:29 (English)
Uppsok
Social and Behavioural Science, Law
Supervisors
Examiners
Available from: 2012-10-24 Created: 2012-06-30 Last updated: 2012-10-25Bibliographically approved

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