The Public Trust Doctrine and Sea Level Rise

Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, The Public Trust Doctrine: A Guiding Principle for Governing California’s Coast Under Climate Change (2017)

This report looks at the legal implications as the mean high tide line – the demarcation between public and private land in California – moves inland with sea level rise.

Law Professor’s Brief on Louisiana Public Trust Doctrine

Disaster Tourism: Honest Altruism or Vulgar Voyerism?

Dark tourism is tourism involving travel to sites associated with death and suffering. Thanatourism, derived from the Ancient Greek word thanatos for the personification of death, is associated with dark tourism but refers more specifically to violent death. Dark tourism and the dark tourists are motivated by death and disaster and apocalypse rather than by sun and sea and sand and pastoral living, with even ecotourism and adventure travel no longer stimulating enough.

There are different motivating factors for dark tourism. It can be motivated by grief (i.e, the Paris tunnel where Diana died, Auschwitz, Pompeii, and Ground Zero). It can be motivated by poverty or ‘poorism’ (i.e, Soweto South Africa, flavelas of Brazil, slums of Mumbai and Delhi). It can be motivated by disaster (i.e, post-tsunami Thailand, post-Katrina New Orleans).

An onslaught of visitors following some kind of natural disaster, such as those visiting south-east Asia following the 2004 tsunami crisis, or people traveling to New Orleans to see the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, are both current examples of disaster tourism. It’s a shade more controversial than grief tourism. You could argue that those who visit disaster zones – especially when little time has elapsed since the disaster – may hinder the efforts being made to restore communities to a normal way of life. On the other hand, promoting this kind of travel might bring in much-needed income at a difficult time.

A year after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the city was gripped by disaster tourism. Rather than visit for Mardi Gras, people were asking for directions to the Lower Ninth Ward, scene of so much suffering during the storm. Soon after the disaster there were guided bus tours to neighborhoods that were severely damaged by storm-related flooding. Some local residents have criticized these tours as unethical, because the tour companies were profiting from the misery of their communities and families. The Army Corps of Engineers has noted that traffic from tour buses and other tourist vehicles indeed interfered with the movement of trucks and other clean up equipment on single-lane residential roads. Furthermore, during the first six months after the storm, most of these neighborhoods lacked electricity, phone access, street signs, or access to emergency medical or police assistance. Simply traveling to these neighborhoods was hazardous. For these reasons, organized disaster tours are now banned from two of the most severely damaged areas in the city, the Lower 9th and St. Bernard Parish near the Industrial Canal.

On the other hand, such communities as Gentilly and Lakeview, along the 17th Street Canal, have welcomed organized tour groups as a means to publicize the scale of the destruction and attract more aid to the city. Much of the recovery effort in New Orleans relies on out-of-state volunteers and donations. Numerous non profit organizations including Habitat for Humanity and the Catholic Church, have converged on the city to gut and rebuild. There is also a movement by local residents to bring congressmen and other national leaders to the city and view the damage in person, since recovery efforts have been hampered by the failure of many homeowners and businesses to receive claims from their insurance providers.

It is a well known fact that the livlihood of many local business rely on tourism. According to current travel guides, New Orleans is one of the top ten most visited cities in the United States; 10.1 million visitors came to New Orleans in 2004, and the city was on pace to break that level of visitation in 2005. A 2009 Travel and Leisure poll of “America’s Favorite Cities” ranked New Orleans first in ten categories, the most first-place rankings of the 30 cities included. According to the poll, New Orleans is the best U.S. city as a spring break destination and for “wild weekends,” stylish boutique hotels, cocktail hours, singles/bar scenes, live music/conerts and bands, antique and vintage shops, cafés/coffee bars, neighborhood restaurants, and people-watching. Post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans is now a top American city for disaster tourism as well.

In fact, the official New Orleans Tourism website is promoting disaster tourism at the Louisiana State Museum. The newest  exhibit “ Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond” highlights Katrina’s devestation and the destruction that it caused the inhabitants of New Orleans and the local environment. The exhibit is a $7.5 million, 6,700 square-foot exhibit on the ground floor of the historic Presbytere in the French Quarter’s Jackson’s Square that tells the  raw and uncut stories of real people caught in the hurricane’s wrath. But the museum is not simply a memorial for the lives lost in the storm, it attempts to entertain visitors in a bizarre mixture of screaming voices, historical jazz and rescue artifacts and rising water to resemble actual flooding. It’s like an amusement park gone wrong.

Throughout the galleries are various rescued artifacts, including music legend Fats Domino’s baby grand piano found in his flooded Ninth Ward house, a Coast Guard rescue basket and seats from the heavily damaged Louisiana Superdome where thousands of people sought refuge and rescue. There is a leaking floodwall station and an exhibit that looks look like an attic and a roof of a house surrounded by rising floodwaters where visators can view the inundated city surrounding them. There is an evacuation corridor that allows visitors to overhear residents’ voices weighing their options as Katrina approaches. A state of the art “Storm Theater” shows Katrina’s full fury with moving and dramatic footage of the hurricane’s onslaught.

Although some may find this museum as paying homage to the people that died in the storm and those who were lucky enough to survive, I find it as an exploitation device that capitalizes on the misery and misfortune of a coastal city that is at the mercy of mother nature. This exhibit seems to minimize the seriousness of the storm and the coastal politics that are so closely connected to Hurricane Katrina. In my opinion it is tasteless and fails to respect the trauma that many residents sustained in loosing their homes, and in some cases their lives.  This exhibit seems to go too far beyond disaster tourism and enter into the realm of thoughtlessness and coldness. Many may argue that this exhibit teeters on the line of devastation exploitation. And all for the competitive price of $6.00. Whether or not one finds this exhibit offensive, one thing is for sure: “Living With Hurricanes Katrina and Beyond” is a huge tourist attraction and tourism in New Orleans, generally,  is on the rise. Especially since Landrieu said the city has asked BP for $75 million for a national tourism campaign.http:

So why are people so drawn to disaster tourism? could it be a taste of authenticity? People are increasingly keen to experience things first-hand, without any intermediaries. Rubbernecking is also a natural reaction: people gravitate towards the unusual and the dangerous. Just look at how traffic slows down when there’s an accident on the side of the road – not because there’s no room to pass, but because everyone wants to get a tiny glimpse of what happened. Or perhaps people are becoming less sensitive, accustomed to the violence and tragedy seen daily on television. Whatever the reasoning behind this phenomenal,  dark tourism has captivated many academics and world travelers alike and is is now drawing a new breed of people to the Big Easy.

Louisiana Attorney General Sues the Corps over Intracoastal Canal

Louisiana v. United States – Complaint in Intracoastal Canal Litigation

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry discussion lawsuit and explaining that climate change is a hoax and that sea level is rising. – Facebook video on the AG Facebook page.

The AG said that the sea level is not rising, but is declining – see the recording starting about 9:00 (-8.00 remaining). (He also said that he was an environmental sciences major at ULL, so we should believe him.) This is true if you look at the tide gauge in Juno, Alaska, where the land is still rapidly uplifting from the ice age. if you look at actual sea level rise, it is about 3.4mm a year, and the tide gauge at Grand Isle shows (relative) sea level rise of more than 9mm a year from the subsidence and sea level rise.

Louisiana Canals and Their Influence on Wetland Development – 1973

Davis, Donald Wayne, “Louisiana Canals and Their Influence on Wetland Development.” (1973). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 2386.

Coastal Louisiana, according to recent measurements,
has 4,572 miles of canals. This network can be divided into
five types; drainage and reclamation, trapping, logging,
petroleum and transportation. All of these were constructed
in response to a particular economic interest and provided
access to the resources in the marsh-swamp complex. These
channels, consequently, would not be a landscape feature
had it not been for the wetland resources.

Reports of the Louisiana Oyster Commission – 1902 to 1910

These reports are of contemporary interest because they remind us that oysters are not traditionally a major part of the Mississippi Delta Ecosystem. From p.77 of the First Biennial Report 1902-1904:

There are vast areas of soft mud bottoms, in your State, which may be made just as productive in oysters as is the ground of Messrs. McLaughlin & Lobrano and others, but not until vast quantities of sand and shells are deposited upon them, and they are effectively protected by locks and dams from fresh water floods, and this fresh water is regulated and utilized either in fattening the oyster or in protecting the beds from an excess of salt water after a severe “norther.” This can never be success fully done with a 20-acre limit.


First Biennial Report 1902-1904

Second Biennial Report 1904-1906

Third Biennial Report 1906-1908

Fourth Biennial Report 1908-1910


National Hurricane Center – Hurricane Harvey Report

National Hurricane Center – Hurricane Harvey Report (2018)

Harvey started as a typical weak August tropical storm that affected the Lesser Antilles and dissipated over the central Caribbean Sea. However, after re-forming over the Bay of Campeche, Harvey rapidly intensified into a category 4 hurricane (on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale) before making landfall along the middle Texas coast. The storm then stalled, with its center over or near the Texas coast for four days, dropping historic amounts of rainfall of more than 60 inches over southeastern Texas. These rains caused catastrophic flooding, and Harvey is the second-most costly hurricane in U.S. history, after accounting for inflation, behind only Katrina (2005). At least 68 people died from the direct effects of the storm in Texas, the largest number of direct deaths from a tropical cyclone in that state since 1919.

Assessment of the Potential Health Impacts of Climate Change in Alaska

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Assessment of the Potential Health Impacts of Climate Change in Alaska (2018)

(This is an excellent, detailed report of the present and potential impacts of climate change on health in Alaska.)

Over the past century, the air and water temperatures in Alaska have warmed considerably faster than in the rest of the United States. Because Alaska is the only Arctic state in the Nation, Alaskans are likely to face some climate change challenges that will be different than those encountered in other states. For example, permafrost currently underlies 80% of Alaska and provides a stable foundation for the physical infrastructure of many Alaska communities. As has already been seen in numerous villages, the groundcover that overlies permafrost is vulnerable to sinking or caving if the permafrost thaws, resulting in costly damage to physical infrastructure. The reliance on subsistence resources is another contrast to many other states. Many Alaskans depend upon subsistence harvests of fish and wildlife resources for food and to support their way of life. Some Alaskans report that the changing environment has already impacted their traditional practices.

California Communities Confronting Rising Sea Levels Sue Fossil Fuel Companies

Breaking News! Oakland and San Francisco climate cases removed to federal court and held there.

People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C. et al., San Francisco Superior Court Case No. CGC 17-561370

People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C. et al., Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17875889

Breaking News! Exxon sues activists and local officials for for pre-litigation discovery.

Marin and San Mateo Cos., City of Imperial Beach Go to Court to Hold Largest Fossil Fuel Polluters Accountable

San Mateo County Full ComplaintMarin County Full ComplaintCity of Imperial Beach Full Complaint

(For a detailed presentation of the legal theories, see: SMOKE AND FUMES The Legal and Evidentiary Basis for Holding Big Oil Accountable for the Climate Crisis (2017)

(Redwood City, CA, San Rafael, CA, and Martinez, CA) – Faced with mounting costs to respond
to threats to their communities from rising sea levels, Marin and San Mateo Counties, along
with the City of Imperial Beach, today filed complaints in California Superior Court to hold
accountable 37 oil, gas, and coal companies for the ongoing harm they knew their fossil fuel
products would cause by significantly increasing carbon dioxide pollution and contributing
to global warming and sea level rise. The complaint states:

ARkStorm – The weather equivalent of the Big One for California

The Great California Flood of 1861-1862 was a series of four floods from December 9, 1861, Dec. 23-28, January 9-12, 1862 and January 15-17. The winter rains started early in November and continued nearly interrupted for four months. Marysville and Sacramento suffered the worst damage in the Northern California valley. This scene shows the floodwaters along K Street looking west from 4th Street in Sacramento, Calif. Photo taken January 1862.
Courtesy photo California State Library

California – The Flood that Could Change Everything