The day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, it had a Category 5 rating, feeding off the unusually warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounded by calm, nondisruptive air. Credit: NASA/GSFC/GOES

Editor’s note: Our episode “Mighty Ike” investigates what would happen if a hurricane hit the city of Houston. As we reported with our partner The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, the city and state may not be ready for what lies ahead. Every so often, Reveal host Al Letson adds his reflections. In this week’s episode, he looks at the value of looking back in order to move forward.

The future isn’t necessarily hard to see, but what you see might be hard to look at. What I mean by that is this: We can see the prospect of trouble on the horizon. Take, for example, Flint, Michigan – the disaster there could have been thwarted if someone had just taken action … but they didn’t, and here we are. It’s so easy to dismiss warnings and red flags because, right now, we’re OK, and fixing the problem, well, that might be too expensive or politically hard, or it might just inconvenience us today.

But maybe the way forward is to take a glance back.

Early September 2005, I remember sitting in my living room watching the aftermath of Katrina unfold; a city I loved underwater, its people stranded, some dying, some dead, the utter hopelessness of the Astrodome. Watching from a safe distance, I was filled with helplessness. Given the response of the nation in the days that followed the hurricane, I’d say most people felt the same way. We wanted to do something; to be a part of the solution. But what could actually be done was limited and too late. And no matter the action taken, it wouldn’t bring back the lives that were lost.

Today, we stand at a precipice. A place where we have to ask questions of ourselves, and of our leaders; where decisions must be made, to either insure our future, or to ignore the lessons learned from the past.

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