Communities around the United States face the threat of being underwater. This is not only a matter of rising waters reaching the doorstep. It is also the threat of being financially underwater, owning assets worth less than the money borrowed to obtain them. Many areas around the country may become economically uninhabitable before they become physically unlivable.
Rebecca Elliott is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and author of Underwater: Loss, Flood Insurance, and the Moral Economy of Climate Change in the United States. In the book, she explores how families, communities, and governments confront problems of loss as the climate changes. She offers the first in-depth account of the politics and social effects of the US National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides flood insurance protection for virtually all homes and small businesses that require it. In doing so, the NFIP turns the risk of flooding into an immediate economic reality, shaping who lives on the waterfront, on what terms, and at what cost.
New Orleans-based photographer Virginia Hanusik explores how invisible policies such as flood insurance have exacerbated the impacts of climate change. Her current work encourages thinking of coastal communities around the US as an interconnected system rather than as separate and expendable landscapes.
Houston-based Alice Liu will discuss the work of West Street Recovery, a horizontally structured grassroots organization which aims to use the disaster recovery process to build community power. Their work is rooted in an understanding that disasters amplify previously existing inequalities. There are no natural disasters: the destruction of climate disasters is produced by social, racial, and political factors.
During this event Elliot, Hanusik, and Liu discussed their current work and how invisible policies such as flood insurance have exacerbated the impacts of climate change.
This event is related to the exhibition Periphery on display at the Reading Room at MAS Context between March 23 and June 3, 2023.
You can purchase the book from its publisher or your local bookstore:
→ Underwater: Loss, Flood Insurance, and the Moral Economy of Climate Change in the United States (Columbia University Press, 2021).