The Hurricane Katrina Levee Breach Litigation: Getting the First Geoengineering Liability Case Right

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina flattened the Gulf Coast from the Alabama border to 100 miles west of New Orleans. The New Orleans levees failed, and much of the city was flooded. More than 1800 people died, and property damage is estimated at $108 billion. While Katrina was not the most deadly or expensive hurricane in U.S. history, it was the worst storm in more than eighty years and destroyed public complacency about the government's ability to respond to disasters.

This Essay argues that conceptualizing the destruction of New Orleans as a negligent or intentional failure of the Corps is mistaken and will continue the cycle of catastrophic flooding in New Orleans. The implications of this mistake, however, reach far beyond New Orleans. Levees are the original geoengineering projects—large‐scale manipulations of Earth's environment intended to mitigate the consequences of climate. Thus, the Katrina levee breach litigation is the first in an upcoming wave of climate geoengineering litigation. The stakes are high—if the Katrina plaintiffs prevail, then the litigation will drive geoengineering solutions for all coastal cities.

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