Coronavirus, Hurricanes, and Politics on the Gulf Coast: Winning Strategies and Unequal Vulnerability

by Zef Egan, Claudia Tomateo, Karim Ahmed, Veronica Olivotto

Zef Egan
Zef Egan
Dec 22, 2020 · 20 min read

This hurricane season twelve hurricanes and tropical storms have made landfall in the United States. Eight of these battered the gulf coast. A record breaking five storms barreled over Louisiana. Climate change has made hyperactive hurricane seasons the new normal. Recent years cluster near the top of that list. 2020 shattered all records with weeks left in the season.

Still for many Americans the storms and wildfires — 4.2 million acres in California burned, the most on record, more than the last three years combined — were dwarfed by another disaster, more disruptive, and deadly. The novel coronavirus has infected over 13 million Americans. In the United States more than 320,000 people with Covid-19 have died. Schools closed, repeatedly, and Americans suffered from multiple waves of job loss. Because in the United States healthcare is tied to employment, up to 14 million Americans may have lost health coverage as a result of the pandemic. Patients received treatment separated from loved ones. Often employers deprived essential workers of protective equipment, hazard pay, and in many cases a living wage.

All this transpired during a highly contentious election season. Once ballots were finally tabulated, Joe Biden received more votes than any presidential candidate in history. Donald Trump also generated massive turnout. How did climate change, and particularly the severity of recent hurricane and wildfire seasons, influence this election cycle? The early indications are contradictory.

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This pandemic caused suffering around the world. But only in countries like the United States and Brazil — where far-right figures like Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump held the highest office — has the pandemic been ignored to stoke partisan animosity. Bolsonaro and Trump campaigned on climate change denial, so it comes as no surprise that throughout the pandemic both presidents denied medical science and promoted conspiracies to consolidate power among supporters. In the Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt explains why conspiracy — fundamental to totalitarianism — operates via circular reasoning [1]. Totalitarian movements are conspiracies with a “claim to world domination” (pg 436); totalitarians justify this claim by citing a fabricated world conspiracy against them, used as an “organizational device” (pg 387). Thereafter any resistance to the original conspiracy is presented to sympathizers as proof of the fabricated world conspiracy against them.

It is popular among pundits to depict the Republican Party as held captive by Trump, despite the fact that Republicans have often forced Trump to the right, and even to commit acts of war, his presidency disturbs the professional tone the party typically deploys to deny science. With consensus mounting, climate denial more and more depends on the belief that the international scientific community consists largely of a conspiracy. Joseph E. Uscinski and Santiago Olivella (2017) found that the more Americans exhibit conspiracy thinking, independent of party, the more likely they are to deny climate change.

Recent studies have found that politics influences how individuals prepare for and respond to natural disasters. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles found that “Likely Trump-voting Florida residents were 10 to 11 percentage points less likely to evacuate Hurricane Irma than Clinton voters (34% versus 45%), a gap not present in prior hurricanes.” This study was linked by researchers at the University of Chicago to another case of misinformation compromising public health, in this case epidemiological data revealed that communities with more exposure to Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight, cable shows that routinely downplayed the pandemic, experienced more COVID-19 cases and deaths. Clearly spreading inaccurate information may endanger personal and public health.

Other studies indicate that disasters do influence how politicians vote longterm. Researchers at the National Borough of Economic Research correlated disaster declarations between 1989 and 2014 to the voting patterns of congress members and determined that representatives from “districts hit by a hurricane are more likely to support bills promoting more environmental regulation and control in the year after the disaster.” Not all environmental regulations and conservation measures are equal, and there are many ways that politicians depict themselves as bonafide conservationists, without curtailing destructive industry. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, for example, frequently cites environmental benefits when endorsing legislation that benefits fossil fuel multinationals.

Despite the mounting toll of hurricanes on Americans, particularly those who live around the Gulf Coast, these states consistently elect and reelect climate deniers or downplayers. In this piece we discuss how the politicization of emergency preparedness, response, and the debates around the drivers of natural disasters and social vulnerability, relates to electoral politics in Texas and Louisiana, two of the states most hit by hurricanes in 2020.

The 2020 Congressional and Senatorial races have demonstrated that campaigning on climate change or a pandemic without tying those issues to expanding employment opportunities is a losing strategy in the gulf. Without explicitly tying them to job creation, their default presentation has been politicized as an economic depressant to high-paying-low-barrier-to-entry jobs.

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Fossil Politics in Louisiana and Texas

In order to understand politics in Louisiana and Texas, we have to understand the central role the oil and gas industry plays in their economy, and how this role has changed in the last decade.

The oil and gas industry accounts for 26% of Louisiana’s GDP, and 9% of Texas’ GDP. The share of the GDP does not reflect employment; the industry only provides 1.5% of employment in Texas. And in Louisiana, oil and gas extraction employs less people each year; from 2014 to 2018, industry employment plummeted 39%.

Industry wages, however, remain high; in Louisiana, average annual wages amounted to $96,500 annually, double the 2018 stage average. Petroleum politics in Louisiana and Texas, and the debate surrounding fossil fuels, involves these vanishing, high paying, blue-collar jobs. According to the Information, Technology & Innovation Foundation, besides the software industry, “four industries pay workers without degrees more than $70,000 on average, and all of them are engaged in energy production: electric and gas utilities, electric power generation and distribution, oil and gas extraction, and petroleum refining.”

In February just after the first case of coronavirus was recorded in the United States, and a spreading undetected through the country, American oil executives had cause for celebration. The combined effort of the Trump administration and Senate Republicans to bolster their industry had reached a crowning achievement. The United States was extracting and exporting more oil and gas than ever before. A flotilla of tankers flocked to the Gulf. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasted record oil and gas production in 2020 and 2021.

Meanwhile stockpiles rose to record levels; Covid-19 undercut demand. In a few months — months that irreparably altered the country and substantially decreased global demand for fossil fuels — tankers filled with petroleum would be idling offshore, the flotilla would be transformed into floating storage containers.

On April 20, 2020, traders of West Texas Intermediate oil futures effectively had to pay companies in Cushing Oklahoma to buy and store oil. The price of this oil future plummeted well below zero, to -$40.32/b. For a fleeting moment traders evaluated petroleum as will future generations: as a liability.

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This summer in Texas employment from drilling and oilfield services diminished to almost half of its peak in December 2014, during the Obama administration. Oilfield services employed 118,000 less people than they did July of last year, providing the lowest number of jobs since March 2017. Oilfield services in Louisiana this year employed 10,200 less people. Oil and gas company debt grew by a third during the Trump presidency. Now the record breaking hurricane season coupled with the pandemic has shut down rigs and refineries throughout the Gulf. On November 5th, Shell announced the closure of its oil refinery in Convent, Louisiana, laying off 1,100 workers in St. James Parish, where the refinery is the largest employer. Exxonmobil recently laid off 1,900 workers in Houston, and the multinational announced on October 29th a projected 15% reduction in its global workforce. The 6,300 workers at Exxonmobil’s Baton Rouge Refinery and the approximately 7,000 workers at Baytown Refinery in Harris County Texas among thousands of others await potential layoffs.

The frontrunners in the crowded Louisiana Senate race, Bill Cassidy (R) and Adrian Perkins (D) both campaigned on the need for jobs. Both were attuned to the economic anxieties of people persevering through a global pandemic. Throughout his campaign Perkins spoke to the need for energy jobs, and to the real fear of these jobs vanishing. The mayor of Shreveport often mentioned that his older brother had just been laid off along with dozens of other workers at the steel plant. Mayor Perkins made Shreveport a test city for universal basic income.

Still Bill Cassidy was able to campaign on fears of oil and gas decline. In late October, Cassidy ran an advertisement with a blunt message: “No oil? That means no jobs. That means a state depression.” Even in his victory speech, the Senator reinforced this supposed dichotomy, declaring “There’s one part that says whether you like it or not, we’re going to transition from oil and gas. Those 200,000 jobs in Louisiana, those 11M jobs nationwide. Poof, they’re gone. Not because we don’t need oil and gas, just because we don’t think you should have them.” It is in part because these jobs have already begun to disappear, despite incessant subsidies, that this politics of anxiety resonates.

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When Hurricanes Hit Refineries During a Pandemic

The pandemic had already disrupted the daily life of Texans and Louisianans. Then came the most active hurricane season on record. We argue that aspects of the coronavirus response put frontline communities in Louisiana and Texas in greater jeopardy.

Lake Charles is the seat of Calcasieu Parish in Southwestern Louisiana about halfway between New Orleans and Houston. Hurricanes Laura (August 20th) and Delta (October 5th) battered Calcasieu Parish just weeks apart.

Hurricane Laura caused a BioLab chlorine plant to erupt in flames. It took three days to extinguish the chemical fire. BioLab is just one of a dozen other facilities releasing pollutants in the air and water used by nearby communities, such as Mossville, an unincorporate African American community, which was gradually displaced by industrial facilities moving in.

Mossville is a textbook case of environmental racism. Early research on the spatial distribution of chemical facilities across U.S. territories, at times led by church organizations, others by scholars, confirmed the underlying discrimination in siting of toxic facilities nearby black and brown communities. The Environmental Justice Movement grew out of the need to fight back by representing communities affected by this systematic lack of respect for the places black and brown people live, work and play. A study conducted by the EPA in 2011 found Mossville had a median level of dioxin that exceeded the country’s 95th percentile. Linking dioxin blood levels to the level of dioxins found in the environment, however, requires more study, according to the results of a review of the same EPA study.

Cancer and respiratory health risks are often higher in poorer communities than in wealthier areas not exposed to industrial facilities. Comparative research in industrial communities in Houston found that two lower-income predominantly black communities closer to industrial facilities had twelve and three times higher concentrations of toxic pollutants respectively, in comparison to wealthier, whiter communities located further away from the industrial zone. Recently a study found that between 2016 and 2017, half of Texas industrial facilities exceeded maximum levels of released pollution set in the federal clean water permits (six facilities by more than 500 percent at least once).

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When facilities are built in flood-prone areas, a double jeopardy occurs: daily pollution hazards increase as the result of cascading failures, of which chemical fires are but one example. Flood waters and surges can dislodge oil tanks, storage drums from their holdings, and water can mingle with pollutants and carry its carcinogenic loads to school yards, residential homes and local businesses. High winds, lighting, and the release of toxic gases can be released in the air in higher concentrations, leading to higher health vulnerability. After Hurricane Laura, Julie Dermansky photographed oil sheens on wetlands and bayous from Cameron Parish to New Orleans. As of August 31st, the EPA reported 31 complaints of oil and chemical spills due to Laura. Tristan Baurick reported that Hurricane Laura barrelled over more than 1,400 oil wells. Frontline communities are at the receiving end of the convergence of climate-induced hurricanes and historic patterns of environmental burdens.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced this double jeopardy in two ways. Firstly it placed a severe burden on people with the largest share of pre-existing conditions resulting from the exposure to environmental burdens presented above. Data from April 2020 released by the Louisiana Department of Health showed that of the 512 covid deaths, 66% had hypertension, 43% diabetes, 25% chronic kidney disease and 24% were obese. Pulmonary disease, cancer and asthma also featured in the list of underlying conditions, all exacerbated by industrial pollution. Of all deaths 70% were African American. As of November 25th, of the 6,350 Covid deaths, the Health Department reported that 43,60% were Black or African American alone (total Census population 32%) while 55% were White alone (total Census population 62%), prompting the COVID Tracking Project, to flag racial disparity. Covid deaths data by ethnicity seem to be poorly recorded in Louisiana, matching the shocking nationwide data gap trend. In Texas, data from July 2020, shows that Hispanics made up 49% of death due to Covid, while they represent 40% of the population. About 66% of these were people of color. Chronic illness like hypertension and heart disease contributed to the disparity.

Secondly the pandemic hit five months before hurricane season in the Gulf, where some communities in both Texas and Louisiana are still struggling to recover from past storms, like Harvey (2016), Irma (2017) and Barry (2019). Much of the Covid-related deaths in Texas, happened in densely populated cities like Houston, El Paso, San Antonio and Dallas. All of these cities, except El Paso, are in the path of the hurricanes that historically affected this area of the Gulf. Anticipating the hurricane season, FEMA released guidelines for states and local agencies on how to deal with “an emergency within an emergency”. Since June 7th eight hurricanes have landed in the Gulf. Two were category 4 (Laura, Delta), one category 3 (Beta), two category 2 (Sally, Zeta) and three category 1 (Cristobal, Hanna and Marco). When Hurricane Cristobal made landfall on June 7th, the first of the season, cases were higher in Texas than in Louisiana and both states had to adapt their emergency response measures to COVID safety procedures. For instance, in Texas, Gov. Abbot announced a series of measures: all rescue personnel were expected to wear protective equipment — like masks and gloves — and deploy temperature checks and plexiglas shields for shelters. In cases of evacuation, the State would provide more vehicles to facilitate social distancing. Similarly, on Sept 4th, some days after Hurricane Laura, the Governor of Louisiana announced that the Megashelter in Alexandria, used during previous hurricanes, was made available for those with special medical needs including a sub-unit where known symptomatic COVID-19 cases could be isolated in pods with dedicated and equipped staff. Also, the State provided relief for licensed home and community-based service providers (HCBSP) and allowed them to operate outside of their parish for 35 days following Hurricane Laura, in order to care for patients who evacuated outside their region. Both Hurricane Laura, Delta and the latest Zeta left thousands of people without power in Louisiana three times, with some hospital facilities seeing power restored within a few days. While Texas was largely spared by Zeta’s winds, Laura and Delta created extensive power outages in its Southeast Counties.

The Covid-19 pandemic and industrial pollution are also further entwined by the disproportionate amount of tax benefits received by refineries at the beginning of the pandemic, as well as an ad-hoc system of exceptions that allows refineries to operate with fewer restrictions for storage and safety. Citgo and Phillips operate oil refineries located in Lake Charles. The CARES Act granted Citgo a $48 million tax benefit and Phillips 66 reported substantial tax savings contributing to a $1.3 billion income tax receivable. Another refinery in Lake Charles, operated by the Calcasieu Refining Company has received a pandemic waiver. These permit refineries to override regulations that ensure safe storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals. In June, Calcasieu Refining Co. was granted such a waiver for mercury disposal, despite the fact that the refinery has a history of negligence. Just last November, Calcasieu Refinery Co. allowed 159 barrels of oil to leak into the Calcasieu River. Hurricane Laura damaged the Calcasieu Refinery which remained shuttered afterwards. The CEO cited “economic reasons,” particularly dwindling demand due to COVID-19. As a result, Calcasieu Refining Co. will lay off 69 employees. Calcasieu Refining Co. is a subsidiary of the Bermuda-based Transworld Oil USA Inc., whose structure the Paradise Papers elucidated. It’s unclear whether Transworld Oil USA Inc. benefited from the CARES Act. Another Bermuda-based petroleum multinational, TransAtlantic Petroleum was awarded over $2 million through the CARES Act, despite paying taxes in Bermuda and owning no US assets.

Hurricanes and the coronavirus also complicated voting in the Gulf. In response to coronavirus and Hurricanes Laura, Louisiana reduced and consolidated early voting polling sites, moving 95% of precincts, the majority in Calcasieu Parish. While rural voters were redirected to local fire stations and markets, most voters in Lake Charles casted ballots at the “mega-polling locations” of the Burton Coliseum and Civic Center. Calcasieu also decreased the number of poll workers. The Parish recorded a record number of early voters. This was not a unique occurence. Zeta disrupted early voting in Georgia. And Fox News reported that power outages, property damage, evacuations from multiple hurricanes complicated voting on Election Day in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. The AP reported that in Alabama and Mississippi multiple counties were still without power from Hurricane Zeta, the Monday before Election Day and polling stations would be powered by backup generators.

Despite an array of vulnerabilities to climate change, environmental contamination, and the coronavirus pandemic, Senator Cassidy and President Trump increased their share of the votes in Southwestern Louisiana. In Calcasieu Parish, 66.6% of people voted for Trump. His share of the vote increased 1.9%. Senator Bill Cassidy won 65.9% of the vote. Perkins underperformed his democratic rivals here, too. Edwards (13.8%) beat Perkins (7.4%) Calcasieu Parish. In Parishes along the Gulf, Cassidy performed especially well: Laforche (78.6%), Terrabone (73.6%) and Vermilion Parish (78.9%), more than 70% of voters voted for Cassidy. In Cameron, the Parish between Calcasieu and the Gulf, Cassidy received a staggering 86.7% of the vote. His nearest competitor, Republican challenger Murphy, received 3.6%. Cassidy’s messaging which acknowledged climate change, but stressed the need to expand offshore oil extraction and exports, evidently resonated with voters. In Cameron Parish, Trump — who calls climate change a Chinese hoax, and calls Covid-19 a China virus “that like a miracle will disappear” — outperformed Cassidy, winning a staggering 90.9% of the vote.

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We have to ask the question: What did Cassidy and other Republicans incumbents do right? How did they get reelected despite chronic disasters befalling their constituents.

The 2020 Congressional and Senatorial races demonstrate that campaigning on climate change or a pandemic without tying those issues to expanding employment opportunities is a losing strategy in the Gulf. Without explicitly tying them to job creation, their default presentation has been politicized as an economic depressant to high-paying, low-barrier-to-entry jobs.

Before we present ways in which climate science and governance can build winning coalitions, let us turn once again to Senator Bill Cassidy, and explore how he effectively bridges Trump-style climate denialism with a scientifically literate, incrementalist industry-friendly approach. This analysis signals where the Republican party may go post Trump, appeasing both conspiratorial deniers and incrementalists.

When Bill Cassidy was elected to the Senate in 2014, he became the first Republican to hold this Louisiana seat since 1883. Louisiana Democrats adapted to changes in party platform and popular opinion and, unlike other Southern Democrats, consistently defeated Republicans even after the Civil Rights Act and the racialized, rightward shift of the GOP. By contemporary standards, Senator Cassidy is considered a moderate Republican. During a debate in 2014 Senator Cassidy announced that he was not sure climate change was “the issue,” and that “getting sediment out of the Mississippi River and putting it into the marshes where they can rebuild is “‘what is important.’” In 2020, he ran a different campaign. Senator Cassidy now acknowledges the threats posed by climate change, because “Everyone in Louisiana is very awakened to this crisis.” The evidence is palpable. Senator Cassidy recalled flying over the “shredded coast” of his home state. His positions adhere to those of his constituents. In Louisiana climate denial does not hold water, and will not hold back the flood. But there are various forms of denial.

As a physician, Senator Cassidy made admirable contributions to public health. In the aftermath of Katrina he organized volunteers to create a medical center in an abandoned Baton Rouge Kmart. The Senator is not adverse to science, unless the data and his ideology contradict. When he downplays the fact that systemic racism made African American Louisianans more vulnerable to Covid-19, Senator Cassidy relies on arguments that conflate class and race and center symptoms like diabetes and asthma, over causes like food deserts, which expanded during the pandemic, and entrenched environmental racism.

By contrast, Mayor Perkins was among the first politicians in the country to point to the troubling links between race and Covid-19. In Facebook posts and Editorials, before the mayor announced his senate candidacy, and throughout his campaign, Perkins provided data and advanced policies designed to address how systemic racism made black Louisianans more vulnerable to coronavirus.

Over the summer, the Onion declared “Democratic Leaders Announce That They’ve Learned The Words ‘Systemic Racism.’” Cassidy ranks among the Republican senators who have also learned this term. In the Senate, Cassidy presented conservative alternatives to progressive police reform. Cassidy acknowledges the deadly toll of racial bias in policing, but his policies perpetuate the status quo. His JUSTICE Act would undertake “a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system” and “study on developing best practices for policing tactics.” But Cassidy calls defunding the police “One of the stupidest proposals to come out of this.” Similarly Senator Cassidy calls for further energy research and for studying “the underlying causes of natural disasters,” while ensuring fossil fuel multinationals maximize profits.

According to Senator Cassidy, that inadequate federal response to Hurricane Katrina made him enter national politics. According to Adrian Perkins, the woeful federal response to COVID-19 led him to join the crowded Louisiana Senate race.

And according to the polls, Democrats lost every Congressional race that polling indicated was a competitive race. The closest Congressional race we looked at was TX-24, the only race where the Republican Candidate (Beth Van Duyne) spoke to the need to address climate change in the energy sector, advocating strongly for nuclear energy. She ran as the most outspoken as a conservationist of all the Republican Candidates, many of whom ran as conservationists as well.

Incredibly, candidates who didn’t even address Covid-19 or Climate Change on their campaign websites — such as Chip Roy, Tony Gonzalez and Bill Cassidy — won during a vicious hurricane season during a deadly pandemic. They beat candidates whose focus was recovery from these very current events. The notable exceptions to the rule were Beth Van Duyne and Troy Nehls. Van Duyne did not address Covid-19 but mentioned climate change on her website, and won by the smallest margin of the aforementioned candidates (only 1.3%, or 4,489 votes out of 340,933 votes cast). Nehls didn’t address Climate Change, but addressed Covid-19 in the context of financial relief for Americans, the disruptions it has caused to public education and the need for sensible healthcare policy.

Generally, Republicans beat Democrats by running campaigns that focused on individual economic & financial empowerment and social values, which were tied to existing industries and traditions in the area. In the case of Chip Roy, his commitment to fossil fuel may even have extended to moral values; on the “Energy” section of his campaign website’s “Issues” page he shows an interview with Alex Epstein, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. In it, he addresses American fossil fuel production, particularly fracking, providing lower prices of fuel, which he ties to Americans having more “Freedom” and security. When Epstein asked him about Democrat candidates running on the Green New Deal and expanded jobs programs, Roy deferred with a series of points about how long the United States has relied on fossil fuels — over 20 years of fracking natural gas and decades of drilling for oil before that. His points aphoristically boiled down to, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

Candidates running on Democratic Party tickets (and the Green and other third parties) have worked with increasing urgency over the last decade to present that the climate is breaking, if it’s not already broken. But they have not effectively reinforced that message with how their method for fixing what is broken will benefit constituents. Above all, they have been unable to convey their message on two key dissociations that their Republican opponents make: first, the disassociation between environmental conservation and climate change, and second, the disassociation between a Green New Deal and renewable energy job creation.

There is an extraordinarily elusive line that Republicans running in Texas and Louisiana walk, which is on the edge of both continuing to extract fossil fuels from the earth and not damaging the environment; that line is imaginary. Time and time again, oil and slickwater spills suddenly and directly contaminate natural environments. At the same time, the combustion of fossil fuels to create energy adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and contributes to global warming and climate change over time. But somehow, Republicans like Senator Cassidy and Congressman Roy continue to run as both conservationists and fossil fuel industry advocates, seemingly without challenge on their paradoxical position from their constituents or election opponents.

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The second great disassociation, between addressing climate change through reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and increasing production of energy through renewables is a more complicated hurdle for Democratic candidates to cross because the content of the disassociation is more familiar to constituents. The fossil fuel industry and its artifice, car culture and the economy of tools and appliances that operate using fossil fuels, make the transition away from them that much more incredulous. By presenting the debate over renewable energy and fossil fuel energy in terms that are binary (that the transition from fossil fuels to renewables would be instant and seamless), Republicans have effectively ended the conversation in utero. Beyond the question of whether to transition from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy is how to achieve that transition from a policy perspective. Such policy will need to directly affect job growth in the renewable energy sector as part of a Just Transition to move the existing job markets to the new ones. Hidden between the lines are three essential — but perhaps overlooked — details that jobs created as part of such a policy will need to be: a net increase from the number of fossil fuel based jobs, compensated comparably to the existing fossil fuel jobs, and available to the people with education and training comparable to the people who hold the existing fossil fuel jobs.

Lastly, if these programs are successfully enacted, Democratic candidates will need to maintain further messaging for constituents to correctly associate the legislation with the content and effects of the legislation. As we will discuss further in our next article — which will focus on health in the Gulf region during the 2020 election — messaging was the key shortcoming of healthcare policy during the previous Democratic administration and messaging in general remains a challenge in the most sensitive policy areas today.


[1] Arendt, Hannah. The origins of totalitarianism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1973.

Zef Egan is an educator and writer. He is pursuing a masters focused on environmental and social justice at the Graduate Center. Zef is the managing editor of Resilience Quarterly. @EganZef

Claudia Tomateo is a Research Fellow in the Urban Systems Lab. She is an architect, urban designer and researcher with a focus in the intersection between cartography, urban narratives and strategic design.

Karim Ahmed is a founding principal of Reform Architecture, an architecture practice based in the South Bronx focused on creating an ethical design practice. Prior to starting his own practice he worked as a construction detailer in New York City and also at the transportation planning think-tank ReThink Studio on design, lobbying and outreach. He graduated from The Cooper Union with a Bachelor of Architecture in 2013. He is a registered architect in the State of New York and a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee. Karim has taught at New York University’s Gallatin and Tisch Schools, and is currently an adjunct professor at The New School’s Parson’s School of Design, where he was also a Research Fellow at the Urban Systems Lab.

Veronica Olivotto is a researcher, teacher and consultant with a keen interest in social justice and its relation to urban climate change adaptation, resilience and flood risk reduction. She is a PhD Fellow at the Urban Systems Lab and a PhD candidate in Public and Urban Policy at the New School. @V_Olivotto

Rush Jagoe is a New Orleans based photographer. Rush is known for his ability to tell stories and conceptualize stories across personal, editorial and commercial work.


A forum for research, design, writing, and engagement for more equitable and resilient cities

Zef Egan

Written by

Zef Egan


Resilience is a quarterly publication co-produced by the Urban Systems Lab at the New School, providing a unique forum to share strategies in design, data visualization, and interdisciplinary scholarship on urban ecology, environmental justice, and sustainable cities.

Zef Egan

Written by

Zef Egan


Resilience is a quarterly publication co-produced by the Urban Systems Lab at the New School, providing a unique forum to share strategies in design, data visualization, and interdisciplinary scholarship on urban ecology, environmental justice, and sustainable cities.

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