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Dr. William Freudenburg
Dehlsen Professor of Environment and Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara
Dr. Freudenburg will give the keynote address for the symposium at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, May 2, 2007 in Olin 1.
Hell and High Water: Learning the Lessons of Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina was not just a natural disaster, but an interrelated set of four disasters, three of which were unnatural. First and most evidently, the storm was strong enough to qualify as a significant natural disaster under any circumstances. Second, there were disastrous failures in the systems that were expected to protect New Orleans – including the human "emergency response" systems as well as the physical levees and floodwalls. Third, in a pattern that received less attention in the media, the death and destruction were greatly increased by the ways in which organizations had modified the surrounding environment over the previous half-century. Fourth and finally, the organizational disaster is not yet “over.” Instead, decisions and investments being made today may well contribute to serious additional costs, both human and financial, in the future
Dr. Freudenburg has published over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, books and book chapters on society-environment relationships, with much of the work focusing on resource-dependent rural communities and the sociology of risk. Less well-known is the fact that he has been in Louisiana within a week or two of five named tropical storms, although he has only needed to evacuate once. Aside from being obsessed with Hurricane Katrina, he has recently been doing work that emphasizes relationships between resources and discourses. In particular, he has been focusing on “disproportionality” – the tendency for environmental damage to be associated with a surprisingly small fraction of the overall economy – and on the political and rhetorical tactics that often help the disproportionately harmful activities to go unchallenged.