In Advocate Op-Ed, Verchick Explores 'Nonstructural' Adaptation to Climate Change in the Gulf Coast

by Matthew Freeman

Center for Progressive Reform President Robert Verchick has an op-ed in The New Orleans Advocate this morning about Gulf Coast efforts to prepare for the effects of climate change that we’re too late to prevent. A New Orleans resident himself, Verchick and his family suffered through Katrina, so he knows what he’s talking about when he says that the Gulf Coast is “staring down the barrel of climate change.”

He writes that in addition to large-scale infrastructure projects like fortifying levees, replenishing sand dunes, and reviving coastal wetlands, the region will need to turn to a number of “nonstructural” adaptation approaches. “Such measures,” he writes, “include elevating homes and other flood-proofing measures, as well as voluntary buy-out programs for specific properties at particular risk. In addition, planners need to examine building codes to make sure new construction is safe from flooding.”

He continues,

Another key is comprehensive disaster planning, a lesson hard-learned during Katrina. By planning for the next inevitable crisis, communities can identify important risks and develop methods to respond when the time comes. Similarly, disaster planning also should include communications strategies so vulnerable communities won’t be left in the dark as disaster response unfolds.

At the heart of these “nonstructural” adaptation efforts must be a commitment to genuine community involvement in the development and implementation of plans. Federal agencies have a role in disaster response, to be sure, but the people who live in a community have insights into the particular risks that are lost on federal planners. Plus, residents know better than anyone else the cultural importance of the Gulf to their way of life. All of that has to be baked into the plan.

This morning, Verchick will participate in a forum on the topic in New Orleans, cosponsored by CPR, the Loyola University College of Law Environmental Law Center and Oxfam America. There he will discuss CPR’s latest paper, Climate Change, Resilience, and Fairness: How Nonstructural Adaptation Can Protect and Empower Socially Vulnerable Communities on the Gulf Coast, released in advance of the conference and co-authored by Verchick, Carmen Gonzalez, Alice Kaswan, Yee Huang, Shawn Bowen, and Nowal Jamhour.

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