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After the devastation New Orleans suffered from Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the Army Corps of Engineers planned a massive hurricane barrier to protect New Orleans from future disasters. The proposed project was comparable to that designed to protect the Netherlands from the fury of the North Sea. Impressed by its scale and design, as well as the need to protect a major U.S. city from disaster, Congress funded the effort and construction was begun. As Professor David Schoenbrod of New York Law School observed in a Sept. 26, 2005, Wall Street Journal opinion piece, we now know that this vast barrier designed to protect New Orleans from just such a disaster as it suffered in 2005 was never built. This was because in 1977 an obscure environmental group known as “Save the Wetlands” brought suit in federal court to enjoin the project on grounds that have since become familiar as a legal tool for shutting down major public works efforts designed to protect the public from disasters-namely that the Army Corps’ “environmental impact statement” was inadequate. While in theory the Army Corps could have stopped the project dead in its tracks, conducted another lengthy environmental impact study and, years later, come back to federal court seeking approval for the new study, this would have meant a substantial delay in building any kind of barrier. In the end, it backed down in the face of relentless pressure from environmental groups and substituted a watered-down project proposal that, as we now know, proved of little use in protecting New Orleans from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But while a case can be made from this history for blaming the environmentalists for the Katrina disaster, such a case almost certainly misses the point. In fact, any barriers and levees built to protect New Orleans inevitably cause environmental damage, mostly in the form of destruction to the wetlands surrounding the city. Save the Wetlands therefore was almost certainly entirely correct in asserting its concerns about the effect on the wetlands that a major barrier such as the one proposed by the Army Corps would have: The greater the barrier, the greater the environmental damage. Be honest about human impact Rather, Katrina should serve to provide a far more important lesson to the environmental movement-namely to be forthright and honest with the American people about the consequences of its proposed environmental policies, rather than try to pretend that the consequences of its policies will be without cost or negligible in terms of human suffering and living standards. Had Save the Wetlands simply made its case that, in the long run, the loss of the wetlands would wreak such enormous environmental damage that it would be worth losing an entire city (but with far less loss of life if planned properly) to avoid those consequences, New Orleans would not be facing the dilemma it faces today and maybe lives might have been saved. Simply to assume that Americans-in the words of the colonel in A Few Good Men-”just can’t handle the truth” is to underestimate the very people on whom the environmental health of the nation, and indeed the planet, will ultimately depend. Every one-third of a second, the planet Earth makes room for one additional human being. To provide living space and resources enabling these additional humans to have a decent standard of living, one entire living species is being sacrificed every day, including one vertebrate species every nine months, and nonrenewable forest resources are being destroyed at the rate of 100 acres per minute. Until the environmental movement forthrightly acknowledges the costs of its current agenda, family planning policies ensuring the reproductive rights of women will never be recognized as the basis for the only humane and self-sustaining environmental policy. Robert Hardaway is professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the author of Population, Law and the Environment (Praeger Press 1994).

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