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Facing Catastrophe

Facing Catastrophe

Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World

Robert R. M. Verchick

ISBN 9780674056947

Publication date: 06/01/2010

As Hurricane Katrina vividly revealed, disaster policy in the United States is broken and needs reform. What can we learn from past disasters—storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and wildfires—about preparing for and responding to future catastrophes? How can these lessons be applied in a future threatened by climate change?

In this bold contribution to environmental law, Robert Verchick argues for a new perspective on disaster law that is based on the principles of environmental protection. His prescription boils down to three simple commands: Go Green, Be Fair, and Keep Safe. “Going green” means minimizing exposure to hazards by preserving natural buffers and integrating those buffers into artificial systems like levees or seawalls. “Being fair” means looking after public health, safety, and the environment without increasing personal and social vulnerabilities. “Keeping safe” means a more cautionary approach when confronting disaster risks.

Verchick argues that government must assume a stronger regulatory role in managing natural infrastructure, distributional fairness, and public risk. He proposes changes to the federal statutes governing environmental impact assessments, wetlands development, air emissions, and flood control, among others. Making a strong case for more transparent governmental decision-making, Verchick offers a new vision of disaster law for the next generation.


  • Beautifully written, powerfully argued, and sweeping in its scope, Facing Catastrophe answers the wake-up call for environmental policymakers that was Hurricane Katrina. This is a book that deserves to be read, re-read, and read yet again.

    —Douglas A. Kysar, Yale University


  • Robert R. M. Verchick is Gauthier–St. Martin Professor of Environmental Law at Loyola University New Orleans.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press