What really happened? Well we had a storm which we could not predict may be one answer.
But what really happened was that a "Complex Problem" revealed itself. Like a game of Pick Up Sticks, people had made a series of poor decisions that they could not see were related to each other until one day, New Orleans fell over. What could they not see? Years of fooling with levees turned a sluggish river into a hose pipe. Years of developing the shoreline took away the natural damper of the delta. The preconditions for failure were set up over time on trajectories that have a dynamic converging force reaching a point called "Criticality" - this the moment in a system when it can be tipped by a small event.
Worse, even though we had passed the point of no return, non one could plan even a contingency. Years of never thinking that a levee could breach lead to their being no effective contingency plans. Years of reacting to emergencies means that the many agencies do not know how to work with each other. So when the inevitable happens - chaos!
This New Orleans Complex Problem is also a subset of the Complex Oil Problem. As the US became not only ever more dependent on cheap oil that had to be imported it became more dependent on parts of the world that it cannot control. So the US is in Iraq, it has helped fund Islamic terror, it drives a huge defense burden that cannot help solve the terror problem (a subset of the Oil Problem) So the importing infrastructure is located in the Gulf of Mexico as the world weather becomes more unstable. A series of events will unfold, just as it did for New Orleans - New Orleans may be the stick that pulls down the pile? Just as Rome was built on slavery, so our civilization is built on Cheap Oil. Not Oil but Cheap Oil. It will never be cheap again folks and every part of our life that depended on it being cheap will crack.
When Humpty is cracked - there is no putting it back. In the context of the levees and the delta, there is no sound reason to put New Orleans back. It will only go when the next Katrina arrives as she has to.
So what is our larger problem? I think it is that when we inhabit a traditional institutional world, we cannot "see" complexity. But as our world becomes more connected, it drives up complexity. Those who cannot see it, risk being destroyed by it. How do we see it?
More on this tomorrow