Attempting to explore and explain the cultural and political implications of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, three panelists presented their perspectives and experiences to CSUN students in the Whitsett Room on the fourth floor of Sierra Hall on Nov. 20.
The natural disasters lecture series being held at CSUN by the humanities interdisciplinary program was kicked off by three speakers presenting different perspectives toward the understanding and the consequences of natural disasters, and the panelists also addressed manmade disasters.
Everything from big oil corporations to the cultural socialization of people to believe that they can control nature was discussed.
Environmental activist and microbiologist Wilma A. Subra addressed the political implications of natural disasters while Peter Nwosu, professor and chair of the communication studies department, addressed the cultural implications of natural disasters.
English professor Katharine Haake provided an interesting perspective to natural disasters by looking at earthquakes, fires and hurricanes through the eyes of fiction.
Haake said that fiction offers a way of understanding what it is to be human and still be at the mercy of a more powerful force.
Haake said that natural disasters are only disasters when you put people in them. Otherwise, they are beautiful things. She argued that humans have this idea that they can control or improve nature and that we need to realize that nature is uncontrollable.
Subra spoke about the work that she has been doing to help establish an efficient work force to properly respond to disasters such as Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
Subra addressed many issues – among them, environmental justice and damage assessment in communities across the nation and around the world that have been affected by natural as well as manmade disasters.
Subra said that the problems in New Orleans were a result of three disasters: two natural disasters, Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and one manmade disaster, the levees.
Subra said that there are still 600 miles of damage and destruction left by Katrina that have not been dealt with.
Subra is currently involved in New Orleans and is helping the communities there deal with the aftermath left by Hurricane Katrina. She spoke out about issues that are still not being dealt with.
Health factors are a concern in New Orleans and Subra said that this is something that has also been poorly dealt with. A mental health crisis also needs to be addressed.
Subra said there are no resources in place to track the health of people going in and out of New Orleans and that people are sick but there is no place for them to go for help.
Subra said that New Orleans needs mental health professionals to come to the area and help.
“There is a huge increase in suicide (after Hurricane Katrina) but no one is counting,” Subra said.
Nwosu spoke about the social and environmental problems around the Niger River delta in Nigeria.
Oil in that region of the country has caused political and social problems in the form of oilfield waste levels not being properly regulated, which as a result causes severe damage to the surrounding communities’ way of life.
Both Subra and Nwosu spoke about the government’s shortcomings in dealing with the regulation of oilfield waste, which lead to manmade disasters by destroying natural resources such as marshlands along the gulf coast.
Subra said that in the U.S., the oilfield waste level is not regulated at the federal level. Rather, the states regulate it.
Due to the Bentsen Amendment, 30 percent to 70 percent of hazardous oilfield waste is federally exempt, Subra said.
Nwosu and Subra said that Shell is the poster child for big oil. They said that according to Shell, the company follows U.S. regulations in Nigeria.
However, Nwosu and Subra argue that there is no real political will or force to show just how severe the damage is in the Niger River delta.
CSUN students David Reisman and Marco De La Fuente said that the panelists helped them see the implications of natural disasters from a new perspective.
De La Fuente said that the panelists were really informative and that as an immigrant it helped him see how our government works in relation to big oil corporations.
Reisman said that he now understands that the impact that oil companies have on surrounding communities involves the people’s culture, survival and everyday existence.
The round-table discussion was followed by a more in-depth lecture on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, presented by Subra in the Campus Theatre on Nov. 21.
The humanities interdisciplinary program will present two other lectures as part of the series.
Pulitzer Prize nominee Philip L. Fradkin is scheduled to present “Beyond Disaster” in the Campus Theatre on Nov. 28 at 12:30 p.m.
On Dec. 14, the series will conclude with a staged reading from an early draft of a new play by professor Rick Mitchell. The reading will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Whitsett Room.