Manifesto

Illustration: Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield in Rain, 1889. Learn about this artwork.

A Flood Survivors’ Manifesto

As the impacts of global warming accumulate, the need for progressive, environmental policy grows. Nobody knows this better than the grassroots leaders who comprise Anthropocene Alliance. We have worked with them to develop a manifesto aimed at stopping or reducing flooding.

The manifesto speaks for itself, but three points can be highlighted in advance: 1) Help the people who need it most; 2) Don’t build where it floods; and 3) Stop the harmful practices that cause flooding, including destruction of forests and wetlands, and continuing to release into the atmosphere global greenhouse gases.

We welcome partnerships with any organizations that share these goals!

Summary:

PEOPLE OVER PROFIT

1. It’s People, Not Expensive Properties that Need Support after a Flood

2. Flooding is Bad Enough. No More Racism

3. Communities Know about Floods – Governments Should Listen

BEAT THE ODDS

4. Don’t Build Where it Floods — End Corruption

5. Stop Recycling Flooded Properties

6. Disclose Flood Risk

7. Make Flood Insurance Fair

LET NATURE TAKE THE LEAD (NOT THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS) 

8. Protect or Restore Ecologies that Reduce Flooding

9. Develop Nature-Based Solutions to Lessen Flood Risk

THE CLIMATE WILL CHANGE NO MATTER WHAT WE DO, BUT WE CAN PREVENT CATASTROPHE 

10. Shift to All Renewable Energy and Move Communities out of Harm’s Way.

A Flood Survivors’ Manifesto

1. It’s People, Not Expensive Properties that Need Support after a Flood

One obstacle to the fair distribution of post-disaster funds is the use of benefit-cost analyses (BCA); they determine which communities receive government support and how much. But benefits and costs that are hard to quantify, such as historical and natural assets (lakes, streams, woods, and wetlands) are often excluded from the calculation. In addition, owners of low-value homes generally receive settlements too low to allow them to relocate to better, safer neighborhood thus perpetuating past housing discrimination.

  • Revise BCA protocols to factor in the value of saving lives, preserving historical and natural assets, and protecting vital and diverse communities.

2. Flooding is Bad. Racism Makes it Worse

Communities across the U.S. rely on old and inadequate storm water systems to protect them from flooding. This is a safety issue. But it’s also a racial justice issue. The formerly common practice of “redlining” — denying mortgages to people of color when they tried to buy in majority white areas — led to a separate but unequal system of infrastructure investment. (Though now illegal, discrimination in mortgage lending is still common.)  As a result, communities of color suffer a disproportionate amount of flooding. In addition, heavy industry — including mines, oil refineries, and chemical plants — are more likely to be found in low-income and minority communities, posing a health and safety threat to residents.

  • Commit to environmental reparations in the form of state and federal infrastructure investment and housing programs such as expanded Community Development Block Grants.

  • Prioritize the hiring of local residents in infrastructure work, and provide apprenticeships and job training when needed.

  • Require polluting industry to invest in infrastructure improvements and pay for remediation or moving residents out of harms way.  If industries producing toxic products can’t be made safe, they must be shut down. 

3. Communities Know about Floods – Governments Should Listen

Communities that experience frequent floods understand them pretty well. They see the signs, observe the impacts and document the aftermath. And yet because they are not scientists or employees of municipal government, their insights are generally overlooked. This neglect of local knowledge is even worse when the impacted communities are low income or people of color.  In addition, long-term recovery programs, like the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief, allow only limited citizen input. Instead, wealthy developers and real estate interests often determine where rebuilding takes place.

  • Require federal, state and local disaster mitigation and recovery programs to engage with flood survivors (front-line communities) at every stage.

  • Stop the revolving door: Ban developers, engineering firms, and realtors from serving on government boards that write or implement planning and zoning regulations.

4. Don’t Build Where it Floods. 

Irresponsible development in flood-prone areas has put people in harm’s way. One reason it’s gotten so bad is corruption or catering to special interest groups such as engineers and developers. As a result, the private drive for profit is set above the public need for health and safety.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has made matters worse by sanctioning the building of levees and permitting the use of fill to elevate properties. These practices enable building in flood zones while increasing flood risk nearby or downstream. Poor enforcement of existing laws by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also promotes bad development. And flood risk keeps growing as climate change causes heavier rainstorms and rising seas.

  • Reform the NFIP to ban new building in the floodplain 

  • Stop issuing flood insurance for construction in the (so-called) 100-year floodplain. 

  • Enforce NFIP floodplain management requirements. 

  • Pass strong, municipal anti-corruption laws (by citizen initiative), to ban campaign gifts from lobbyists and mandate full disclosure of all campaign donations.

5. Stop Recycling Flooded Properties

The NFIP will pay for rebuilding homes even when they have been flooded over and over. These “repetitive loss” properties are responsible for a huge share of damages paid out by the NFIP. That’s ridiculous. What NFIP should support is mitigation measures such as elevation, community relocation, and buyout. Buyouts however, are needlessly complex and bureaucratic —the average time it takes is 5.7 years — making it useless except for the few with the money and patience to wait.

As sea level rises, there will be a need to relocate whole towns, even cities. A massive planning effort needs to begin now.

  • Government buyout programs should reflect the cost of moving to desirable areas, far from flooding, pollution or other hazards and remove the cost-share requirement for low-income communities.

  • Prohibit rebuilding on government acquired (flooded) properties. 

  • Prepare for the mass, climate migration by working with impacted residents to create and support new models for relocation, creating new communities, not just houses. 

6. Disclose Flood Risk 

Before moving into a new home or community, people should know about present and future flood risks. Unfortunately, that information is often hard to find. Currently, 20 states do not require sellers to disclose a property’s flood risks or past flood damages to a potential buyer. The other 30 have differing disclosure laws. Until there is a federal standard, this haphazard approach leaves many people in the dark about their flood risks. Additionally, FEMA flood maps are often inaccurate and out of date, and don’t factor in future climate change. We need better, more accurate and future oriented data and mapping if we are to mitigate future flood events.

  • Publish and make accessible all federal flood data. 

  • The NFIP should require flood disclosure during real estate transactions. 

  • Update flood maps and factor in climate change. 

7. Make Flood Insurance Fair  

NFIP premiums do not currently reflect flood risk. Many properties in high-risk areas receive subsidized rates, despite the risk of catastrophic losses. This creates fiscal exposure to the federal government, and by extension, taxpayers. Additionally, when FEMA provides below-cost flood insurance, it fails to adequately communicate risk or incentivize mitigation. At the same time, it is essential that flood insurance be affordable and accessible to lower-income households until such time that communities can be moved out of harm’s way.

  • Base NFIP insurance rates on actual risk combined with means-tested affordability assistance. 

8. Protect or Restore Ecologies that Reduce Flooding 

There is growing recognition that our ecological infrastructure is highly effective in protecting communities against floods when it is intact. Therefore, protection of existing streams, floodplains, wetlands, forests, and watersheds is essential. In coastal areas, salt marshes, mangrove forests, beaches and sand dunes, and coral and oyster reefs reduce wave and storm surge height, shoreline erosion, and inland inundation. The economic benefits of protecting natural areas greatly outweigh the costs. These areas provide communities with beauty, recreation and rest as well as protection.

  • Nationalize the seashore by establishing a 90,000-mile-long park that wraps the country’s coastline

  • Expand conservation easements and associated funding programs 

  • Expand federal, state and local public lands for conservation. 

  • Recognize indigenous sovereignty. Indigenous communities have centuries (even millennia) of experience in protecting the ecological infrastructure.

9. Develop Nature-Based Solutions to Lessen Flood Risk  

“Nature-based” approaches to hazard mitigation mimic nature but are made by people. Historically, the U.S. has relied primarily on industrial defenses (“gray infrastructure”) often built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (established in 1802) for protection against natural hazards.

However, these structural defenses, for example levees, seawalls and floodways, are expensive to build and maintain and often fail to perform as promised. Nature-based solutions have multiple social, environmental, recreational, and economic benefits beyond flood risk reduction. While some communities will require a combination of natural and gray infrastructure, we need to shift our emphasis to nature-based solutions to reduce vulnerability to natural hazards and increase community resilience.

  • Require all federal and state funded resilience projects to prioritize natural or nature-based solutions. 

  • Retrain the Army Corps to focus on nature-based solutions to flooding

10. Quickly Transition to Renewable Energy. Re-orient the Economy to Put People over Profit

The continued extraction and use of fossil fuels will within twenty years, according to reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, lead to even worse climate catastrophes — floods, fires, excessive heat and droughts — than we have now. A generation or two after that, global temperatures and sea level will rise to such a degree that the earth will become almost uninhabitable.

We need to end fossil fuel use and transition to an economy focussed on the satisfaction of real, human needs, not the quest for profit. Our energy, transportation, and food sectors must therefore be quickly and equitably transformed to become carbon neutral, deploying renewable energy such as wind and solar (especially rooftop) while also diminishing or eliminating fuel intensive and environmentally destructive animal agriculture. Most of cost of this transformation should be paid from the assets of the fossil fuel industry.

  • Redistribute fossil fuel assets. Energy companies have benefitted from public largess for more than a century. It is time to pay back the money.

  • Value people not profits in the energy, transportation, consumer goods and food sectors

  • Ensure good, rewarding jobs for everyone displaced by the transition

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