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Through the Eye of a Hurricane: Rebuilding Just Communities


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Through the Eye of a Hurricane: Rebuilding Just Communities

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Through the Eye of a Hurricane: Rebuilding Just Communities

  1. 1. Through the Eye of a Hurricane: Rebuilding Just Communities National Council of Churches USA Eco-Justice ProgramINTRODUCTION Levees, trade, and commerceHurricane Katrina, the first Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Levees have traditionally been built not just for flood pro-Atlantic hurricane season, combined with Hurricane Rita, tection, but to aid in the transport of commerce. As the cityforever changed the Gulf Coast region and how the nation poised near the entrance of the Mississippi River, the portviews itself. The major damage to the coastal regions of of New Orleans has been an epicenter of river trade andLouisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama made Hurricane Katrina commerce for centuries. The port, which handles 11.4 millionthe costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. tons of general cargo each year, facilitates the shipment ofMore than 1,000 people died in the wake of the storm and materials including manufactured and consumer goods, steel,several thousands are still reported missing. As the storm surge coffee, wood products and natural rubber.breached the levee system that protected New Orleans and The Mississippi River levees, comprised of levees, flood-flooded 80 percent of that city, illusions about poverty, race, walls, and various control structures, are 2,203 miles long andand environmental issues were shattered. In its place, are designed to protect the alluvial valley against flooding andconnections about how we treat God’s creation and God’s allow for commercial shipping and boat navigation. The leveespeople came into sharp focus. are constructed by the federal government and are maintained by local interests, except for government assistance as neces-VULNERABLE LAND AND PEOPLE: CONNECTIONS sary during major floods. The levee system in New OrleansThe death, destruction, and environmental degradation in New was built for the purpose of protecting the city from floodsOrleans and throughout the Gulf of Mexico region brought to and includes the recently breeched levees along the Industriallight the need for a renewed covenant of community. The wind Canal and London Street Canal, which were constructed toand waters that battered the Gulf States stripped away our allow for navigation and drainage into Lake Pontchartrain.collective blindness to the plight of the poor and marginalized While levees can help protect human populations from flood-among us and awakened us anew to the challenges faced waters and aid in the transport of goods, they also restrict theenvironmental racism. We were reminded of our dependence flow of rivers. This restriction limits sediment deposits alongon God’s creation and recognized that too often our lifestyle the Mississippi River’s floodplain. Floodplains help maintainchoices despoil the Earth and expose communities to greater healthy river eco-systems by improving water quality andnatural harm and environmental threats. (Source: adapted from providing habitat and breeding sites for plants and animals.United Methodist General Board of Church and Society statement) (Source: Two-thirds of Asians and African Americans, a majority of Hispanics and a plurality of Whites express concern in the survey about the potential negative impact of climate change by agreeing that “global warming and weak environmental protection policies have resulted in an increase in the number and power of hurricanes.” (source: New California Media Poll)
  2. 2. Solid Waste According to some accounts, over 100 million tons of debris were generated by the hurricanes, ranging from trees and brush to thousands of destroyed homes and an estimated 350,000 ruined vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others have already collected thousands of containers of household hazardous waste and other hazardous materials. The cost of debris removal and disposal contracts reportedly already exceeds $2 billion. Unsafe disposal of hazardous materials or burning waste will impact human and environ- mental health. Water Quality Drinking water and sewage systems were hit hard by the two storms, leaving more than 2.4 million people without safe drinking water. As of October 10, the EPA reported that 270 public water systems in storm-affected states were still on boil water advisories, and at least 289 systems were still inopera- ble. The American Water Works Association has estimated that the cost of repairing the drinking water systems alone will be about $2.25 billion dollars. In addition, more than a dozen CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS sewage systems were damaged and could impact water quality Global warming and climate change have dire human in the region. health and environmental consequences, especially in marginalized communities that are sited in low-lying Environmental Racism areas. While the scientific evidence linking hurricane Environmental degradation has traditionally disproportionately intensity and global warming is still being studied, impacted communities of color and low income communities. Hurricane Katrina and Rita offered striking evidence Nationwide, 3 out of every 5 African Americans and Latinos as to which communities could be hardest hit during live in communities with toxic waste sites.1 Also, 71 percent of climate change events. African-Americans and Latinos live in communities where air pollution violates federal clean air standards (compared with 58% of whites)3 In New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, EPA’s post- hurricane studies show arsenic levels 75 times higher than resi-Wetlands and Coastal Barriers dential standards allow.2 While Hurricane Katrina and RitaWetlands and natural shoreline ecosystems provide both habi- impacted all classes and races, communities of color and lowtat for wildlife and protect human populations from storms income populations bore a larger brunt of the storms’ impacts.such as hurricanes and tsunamis. Coastal marshes, which trapfloodwaters, filter out pollutants and serve as “nurseries” for “The situation in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast haswildlife are disappearing nationwide at a rate of 20,000 acres pushed three critical issues into the national spotlight.per year. Louisiana alone has lost half a million acres of wet- First, Hurricane Katrina dramatically demonstrates ourlands since the 1950s. These natural coastal barriers on the vulnerability to environmental disasters. Second, AmericaGulf have nearly been destroyed by decades of erosion and still suffers from gross economic inequalities, and theseindustrial use. Although no amount of natural protection can inequalities largely coincide with race. Third, these twoprevent all destruction, environmental degradation almost issues are linked, and the results can be deadly. Herecertainly makes the impact worse. lies the root cause of the problems that we’ve seen in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast—the environmentalToxic Contamination and economic vulnerability of people of color and poorAccording to U.S. Coast Guard data, at least 575 spills of toxic communities. There are two terms that aptly describechemicals or oil were reported due to Hurricane Katrina and these intersections of race, class, and the environment:Rita, spilling over 8 million gallons of oil alone. Numerous ‘environmental injustice’ and ‘environmental racism.’”industrial facilities, Superfund sites, and other toxic hotspots Beverly Wright (Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Xavierwere located in New Orleans and the Gulf Region and impact- University in New Orleans.)ed the amount of toxic chemicals and oil that were released asa result of the hurricanes. The widespread presence of poten- Sources:tially toxic sediment poses an immediate health risk to return- 1“Toxic Wastes and Race,” UCCing residents and cleanup workers. 2The Baton Rouge Advocate 3Air of Injustice 2
  3. 3. Sermon Notes: Stories from the Crescent City by Rev. Cory Sparks, Carrollton United Methodist Church, New Orleans, LouisianaS ing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and As our neighborhoods rebuild, we embrace the promise of exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! “The transformation found in Zephaniah. This vision guides our LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has Operation New Creation. Operation New Creation seeks shortturned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in and long term solutions for relief and recovery. Through thisyour midst; you shall fear disaster no more.” “On that day it ministry we provide food and supplies to members, neighbors,shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion. … I will and visitors. We also sponsor mission teams that clean mold-remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach filled homes throughout the city. In many cases orange, green,for it…” and black mold covers everything from floor to ceiling. Our These words of Zephaniah never meant much to my congre- volunteers provide information on potential health conse-gation. But that was before Hurricane Katrina. Before they quences to residents. We’ve arranged for a toxicologist toescaped their homes in makeshift rafts; before they saved assess other threats in flooded areas so we can protect our-neighbors from rising water; before they learned that a body selves and our neighbors.floated for days on their block. After so much death; after so We’re also seeking a vision for the rebuilding of the com-much devastation; after so much horror, Zephaniah brings munity. Many citizens are concerned that contractors, bureau-good news of great joy: Do not fear, O New Orleans. … I will crats, and a small elite will make decisions for the entire com-remove disaster from you. Local, state, and federal officials munity. Faith-based community organizations and environ-may have abandoned us in the aftermath of the hurricane, but mental groups hope to remake New Orleans as a more sustain-God has not. The King of Israel, the Lord, was in our midst as able and just place. If we want disaster removed from us, wewe struggled against rising flood waters and escalating vio- need to live in right relationship with the land and one another.lence. And God promises us a way through these times. A new We should protect our environment and promote the prosperityday is coming when flooded homes and burned out streets will of the entire a memory. Through God’s spirit, the city will rebuild in a We’re deeply thankful that the Spirit has strengthened us forjust way—more in harmony with nature and neighbor. It will this work. In these weeks we’ve already seen one victory. Thebe sustainable and protected against hurricane storm surges. church has partnered with a neighborhood group and a majorAnd it will be a place where prosperity touches every neigh- nonprofit to renovate an abandoned school. For more than aborhood. All God’s people will share in Zephaniah’s hope for a decade the building has sat rotting in the heart of the neighbor-future of flourishing. A hope that seemed unreachable in the hood. It’s just a block from a corner that has been the site ofdays following Katrina. multiple murders over recent months. The new school will be We live in the promise of Zephaniah, and we trust that the a construction careers academy. By January, the college tracksufferings of these days are the birth pangs of new life. As we high school will be preparing students for jobs rebuilding ourrepair our homes, we give thanks for the salvation we’ve expe- city. With this school the neighborhood will find a more pros-rienced and we look forward to disaster and death being no perous and peaceful future. It will be built according to greenmore. We see Zephaniah’s promises of joy and restoration ful- principles, using materials that are less toxic and more energyfilled in Jesus Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection, efficient. Students will be trained with this same vision of sus-Jesus offers a path beyond the darkness that sometimes seems tainability, learning techniques that will protect God’s Earthto control the world. By his ministry, and the ongoing work of and preserve New Orleans’ historic architecture. By workingthe Holy Spirit, the old creation is giving way to a new cre- toward a more sustainable future we hope to awaken to a timeation: a creation where hope takes hold; where prosperity and of flourishing; when we shall fear disaster no more.wholeness replace poverty and brokenness; and, where despairgives way to joy. More than 900 houses of worship on the Gulf Coast have been destroyed, seriously damaged or forced to suspend services by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. (source: Religion News Service) 3
  4. 4. Lifestyle Choices Connection Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,Although Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were natural disasters, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God andthe lifestyle choices that we have made as a United States of the Lamb through the middle of the street of thepopulation confounded the storms’ devastation. An industrial city. On either side of the river is the tree of life witharea along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month;New Orleans, nicknamed “Cancer Alley” contains chemical and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of theplants that sustained damage from the storms. The plants were nations. Revelation 22:1-2 (New Revised Standard Version)located along the Mississippi to facilitate shipping, but havenow resulted in Louisiana, one of the most impoverished areasof the country, becoming the most polluted. The area, which • Use consumer products that don’t produce harmful toxinscontains hundreds of hazardous waste sites from mines, in the manufacturing process.factories, and chemical plants, houses the very industrial sites • Help reduce the need for oil refineries and oil drilling bythat produce many of our consumer goods such as vinyl driving less, carpooling, using public transportation andsiding, plastics, and oil. using a vehicle that gets high fuel economy. • Conduct a worship service in your congregation that high-Hurricane Katrina, in particular, helped to expose the lights the environmental justice impacts of the Gulf Coasttragedy of urban poverty. Nearly 50,000 New Orleans’ Hurricanes.residents lived in neighborhoods where the poverty rate • Speak out to policy makers for the need for right relation-exceeded 40 percent, compounding the impacts of the ships with God’s creation and God’s people. Use the Eco-hurricane. Justice principles listed on the back page when contacting policy makers.THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE: FOR MORE INFORMATION AND FURTHER STUDYOUR CALL TO ACTION Hurricane Katrina Relief Resource (PresbyterianThe Gulf Coast Hurricanes are not catastrophes isolated Church USA): a subsection of God’s world. They are tragedies that have Hurricane Emergency Relief Portal (Episcopal Church):touched and will continue to touch all of God’s creation, God’s people. In particular, Hurricanes Katrina andRita revealed how our consumer lifestyles and the resulting Peace Signs (Mennonite Church USA):toxic byproducts have compounded the devastation in the Gulf region. Indeed, across the country and around the world, When the Wind Blows (United Methodist Church,our consumer lifestyles continue to produce silent destruction General Board of Discipleship):and undermine the health of marginalized communities. As, we are called to act on our beliefs and to work forjustice and peace for all of God’s creation.These actions National Hurricane Center: personal actions, congregational action, and public FEMA: with policy makers. Worship Resource for After the Hurricane (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America): download/05-09-02-katrinaworship.pdf Church World Service Gulf Hurricanes Response: The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society resource: www.umc-bgcs/afterthestorm ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE DEFINITION—“A condition of environmental justice exists when environmental risks and hazards and investments and benefits are equally distributed without direct or indirect discrimination at all jurisdictional levels and when access to environmental investments, benefits, and natural resources are equally distributed; and when access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice in environment-related matters are enjoyed by all.” Source: Participants of Central and Eastern European Workshop on Environmental Justice (Budapest, December 2003) 4
  5. 5. Please tear out and fold this page for use as a bulletin insertLeader: God of wind and water, we see something of your grace and power and recognize our own weakness and limitations. Through thePeople: Lord, we come to you with broken hearts. Eye of aLeader: Creator God, we witness the devastation Hurricane: compounded by our failure to live in right Rebuilding Just relation with your creation. CommunitiesPeople: Lord, we come to you with broken hearts.ALL: Lord, we come to you with broken hearts. Hear us calling as we share the brokenness of those who are suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.Assurance of God’s LoveAs children of God we receive the grace and love of our Lord God, like shelterfrom the storm. We carry with us the promise of hope for justice and mercy.We are blessed with the knowledge that our Creator God calls us to right urricane Katrina, the first Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlanticrelationships bound in love. hurricane season, combined with Hurricane Rita, forever changed the H Gulf Coast region and how the nation views itself. The major damageSending Forth: Acts of Commitment to the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama made HurricaneLeader: Holy One, who creates the heavens and earth, may we bring forth Katrina the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. More purpose and hope as we join together in a just rebuilding. than 1,000 people died in the wake of the storm and several thousands are stillPeople: Guide us in love, Spirit of God. reported missing. As the storm surge breached the levee system that protected New Orleans and flooded 80 percent of that city, illusions about poverty, race,Leader: O God, who has called us to be the church, may we serve justice and environmental issues were disbanded. In its place, connections about how and protect the whole creation with a loving and open heart. we treat God’s creation and God’s people came into sharp focus.People: Guide us in love, Spirit of God. The Gulf Coast Hurricanes are not catastrophes isolated to a subsection of God’s world. They are tragedies that have touched and will continue to touch(portions adapted from a litany by Reverend Dr. Randal Gardner, Rector, all of God’s creation, including God’s people. In particular, Hurricanes KatrinaEmmanuel Church, Mercer Island, Washington) and Rita revealed how our consumer lifestyles and the resulting toxic byprod- ucts have compounded the devastation in the Gulf Coast region. As Christians,For more information about the Eco-Justice programs of the we are called to act on our beliefs and to workNational Council of Churches or its member communions, for justice and peace for all of God’s creation.visit or call 202-544-2350 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it. I Corinthians 12:26 (New Revised Standard Version) Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. Matthew 25:45 (New Revised Standard Version)
  6. 6. Response Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est. Where charity and love are found, God is there. Prayers of the People For the victims, human and non-human, of disaster,Eco-Justice Principles for Rebuilding the Gulf Region Lord, hear our prayer.• In clean up and rebuilding, protect public health and God’s creation• Restore environmental protections and address patterns of environmental For those who labor in the work of recovery and just rebuilding, racism. Lord, hear our prayer.• Encourage new environmentally sustainable models of economic growth and community in the Gulf Region. For the communities and congregations impacted by the hurricanes,• Expediency in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita cannot be an Lord, hear our prayer. excuse to weaken or waive environmental protections in the Gulf Coast region. For those whose lives and health are in peril from toxic hazards resulting• Environmental cleanups must be conducted fairly and equitably in every from flooding and storms, that they may be saved from this time of peril, affected community we add our voices to the cry,• Government agencies need to comply with Executive Order 12898 on Lord, hear our prayer. Environmental Justice, which addresses environmental justice in minority and low-income populations. For those who have gifts to share to restore a vibrant and environmentally• Jurisdictions in the Gulf Coast region must focus on creating sustainable sustainable Gulf Region, may your spirit move them. and environmentally friendly low and moderate income housing. Lord, hear our prayer.(source: adapted from the National Black Environmental Justice NetworkResolution on Environmental and Economic Justice in the Gulf Coast Region.) For the devastation to God’s creation, Lord, hear our prayer.Gathering MeditationWhen willows bow and snap For the discipline to use the gifts of the Earth to your glory and for the goodunder the weight of the wind… of all, that we may not add to the harshness of nature’s power, Lord, hear our prayer.When congregations of raindropsbecome inland streams flowing where they will… For justice tempered with mercy, and for peace, Lord, hear our prayer.When the streets are littered with toxic waste,broken dishes, and shattered dreams… That we may learn from your Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to your word and live in right relationship with the Earth.When the wind blows both the Lord, hear our prayer.wheat and the chaff of our lives in giant swirls. Prayer of ConfessionGood Lord, anchor us in your love!
  7. 7. FOR GROUP STUDY AND REFLECTIONQ: ‘Environmental racism’ describes the disproportionatetoxic burden faced by communities of color. Where did yousee evidence of environmental racism in the aftermath ofHurricane Katrina? How do our own lives contribute tothis injustice? What can people of faith do to ensure allcommunities are safe from environmental threats?Q: Do you know of Superfund or toxic release sites in yourneighborhood or wider community? Is there a correlationbetween where those sites are located and the racial-ethnicor socio-economic background of nearby residents?Q: If your community suffered flooding—would the watersbecome a “toxic soup”? How might you reduce the numberof toxic chemicals and/or waste located in your community?(Source: The United Methodist Church General Board ofChurch and Society)IDEAS FOR YOUTH GROUPS OR SUNDAY SCHOOL STATEMENT OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OFToxic Inventory and Community Scorecards CHURCHES ECO-JUSTICE WORKING GROUPHave a youth group conduct a toxic audit of the church Adopted at the Eco-Justice Working Groupbuilding and grounds by inventorying all items containing Oct. 3-4, 2005, meetingtoxic materials (e.g., cleaning products, pesticides). Forinformation on healthy and toxic-free buildings, visit The tragedy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita compels Learn to bring our most cherished values and finest resourcesabout pollution in your own community by using the to the rebuilding. The desire to restore and rebuild mustEnvironmental Scorecard ( be guided by principles that will ensure that a just society will emerge from the receding waters. The Gospel com-Story Time pels the church to advocate on behalf of the voiceless,Read one of the numerous stories in the Bible about justice to be a champion for the rights of the powerless and anand caring for God’s world. ardent guardian of God’s creation. The foundations of• The Greatest Commandment: (Matthew 22:34-40 or Mark these renewed communities must be sound ecology, 12:28-31) Discuss what it means to love your neighbor as social equity, racial justice and pervasive compassion yourself? Who are our neighbors? How are we called to towards the least, the voiceless and the marginalized. care for our neighbors in the Gulf Region and in other The process of clean up is critical. It must be undertak- impacted communities? en using the strictest guidelines and should be designed• The Sheep and the Goats: (Matthew 25:31-45) Discuss who to protect public health and the environment. The tools are “the least of these.” How can we care for “the least of of science, not expediency, must guide this process. The these” in the Gulf Coast Region and in other impacted com- health and safety of all involved in the clean up must be munities? a primary concern and all the pertinent safety regulations must be adhered to. The future habitability of the regionCollage or Mural must be assessed by sound scientific principles and regu-Make an individual collage or class mural that illustrates ways latory compliance not merely economic concerns. Thethat we can care for God’s people and God’s creation. rebuilding expenditures must not be offset at the cost of environmental damage to other regions and not be usedNote: Adults may also enjoy the youth activities listed here. to justify weakening environmental safeguards. The church must therefore be an active presence, not only as a place of comfort and solace, but as a watchfulNational Wildlife Refuges in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, steward of community health: social, economic andGeorgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South ecological justice; and the rights of racial-ethnic minori-Carolina, Tennessee and Texas suffered extraordinary and ties. Out of destruction and death can thus emerge a newcostly damages. Wetland and levee restoration on national society that better reflects the earthly concerns of thewildlife refuges can be crucial for future storm protection Reign of God.on refuges and surrounding communities. 7
  8. 8. THROUGH THE EYE OF A HURRICANE: REBUILDING JUST COMMUNITIES2006 EARTH DAY SUNDAY RESOURCEEach year, the National Council of Churches Eco-JusticeProgram with the Eco-Justice Working Group produces Earth Eco-Justice Principles for Rebuilding the Gulf RegionDay Sunday resource materials for congregations wishing to • In clean up and rebuilding, protect public health andcelebrate God’s creation and explore issues pertaining to caring God’s creation.for God’s creation. The 2006 Earth Day Sunday resource • Restore environmental protections and address patternsmaterials focus on building just communities, using the lens of of environmental racism.Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While the 2006 resource describes • Encourage new environmentally sustainable models ofthe devastation of the Gulf Coast Region in particular, the issues economic growth and community in the Gulf Region.raised of environmental justice and racism, toxics, and consumer • Expediency in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina andlifestyles poses a challenge to people of faith around the world. Rita cannot be an excuse to weaken or waive environ- The Gulf Coast Hurricanes are not catastrophes isolated to a mental protections in the Gulf Coast Region.subsection of God’s world. They are tragedies that have touched • Environmental cleanups must be conducted fairly andand will continue to touch all of God’s creation, including God’s equitably in every affected community.people. In particular, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita revealed how • Government agencies need to comply with Executiveour consumer lifestyles and the resulting toxic byproducts have Order 12898 on Environmental Justice.compounded the devastation in the Gulf Coast Region. The • Jurisdictions in the Gulf Coast Region must focus onHurricanes reminded us that toxic waste sites and industrial creating sustainable and environmentally friendly lowplants are most often situated in and around marginalized and moderate income housing.communities—poor neighborhoods and communities of color. (Source: adapted from the National Black EnvironmentalThe Gulf Coast hurricanes demonstrated how people in poverty Justice Network Resolution on Environmental andare hardest hit by environmental disasters. Economic Justice in the Gulf Coast Region.)For more information about the Eco-Justice programs of the National Council of Churches or its member communions,visit or call 202-544-2350. printed on recycled paper using soy inks with 100% wind power (New Revised Standard Version) least of these, you did not do it to me. Matthew 25:45 Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the Washington, DC 20002 110 Maryland Ave., NE, Suite 108 National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Programs