Environmental disasters—including hurricanes, floods, oil spills, disease, and disappearing wetlands—trouble the Gulf South, an area of the United States that includes Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The contributors to Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South explore the threat, frequency, and management of this region’s disasters from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Scholars from the fields of history, sociology, and anthropology examine the underlying causes of vulnerability to natural hazards in the coastal states while also suggesting ways to increase resilience.
Greg O’Brien considers the New Orleans Flood of 1849; Andy Horowitz, the Galveston Storm of 1900; and Christopher M. Church, the 1928 hurricane in Florida and the Caribbean. Urmi Engineer Willoughby delves into the turn-of-the-century yellow fever outbreaks in New Orleans and local attempts to eradicate them, while Abraham H. Gibson and Cindy Ermus discuss the human introduction and long-term impact of invasive species on the region’s ecosystem. Roberto E. Barrios looks at political-ecological susceptibility in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, and Kevin Fox Gotham treats storm-and-flood-defense infrastructures. In his afterword, Ted Steinberg ponders what the future holds when the capitalist state supports an unwinnable battle between land developers and nature.
These case studies offer new ways of understanding humans’ interactions with the unique, and at times unforgiving, environment of the Gulf South. These lessons are particularly important as we cope with the effects of climate change and seek to build resilience and reduce vulnerability through enhanced awareness, adequate preparation, and efficient planning.
Cindy Ermus, assistant professor of European history at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, specializes in the history of disaster, crisis (including revolution), and the environment in the eighteenth century. A native of South Florida, she has also published on the history, culture, and environment of the Gulf South.