The Ravaging Tide : Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America's Coastal Cities
If, like many Americans, you believe the ongoing tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke, you need to read this book. In the coming years and decades, the safety of your region, your town, your home may depend on the warnings you'll encounter on these pages. That's because the exact same conditions that created the Katrina catastrophe and destroyed New Orleans are being replicated right now along virtually every inch of U.S. coastline.
In The Ravaging Tide, Mike Tidwell, a renowned advocate for the environment and an award-winning journalist, issues a call to arms and confronts us with some unsettling facts. Consider:
- In the next seventy-five years, much of the Florida peninsula could lie under ocean water.
- So could much of Lower Manhattan, including all of the hallowed ground zero area.
- Major hurricanes like Katrina, scientists say, are becoming much more frequent and more powerful.
- Glacier National Park in Montana will have to change its name, as it is rapidly losing all of its thirty-five remaining glaciers.
- The snows atop Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, so memorably evoked in the Hemingway story, have already disappeared.
The fault, Tidwell argues, lies mostly with the U.S. government and the energy choices it has encouraged Americans to make over the decades. Those policies are now actively bringing rising seas and gigantic hurricanes -- the lethal forces that killed the Big Easy -- crashing into every coastal city in the country and indeed the world. The Bush administration's own reports and studies (some of which it has tried to suppress) explicitly predict more intense storms and up to three feet of sea-level rise by 2100 due to planetary warming. The danger is clear: Whether the land sinks three feet per century (as in New Orleans over the past 100 years) or sea levels rise three feet per century (as in the rest of the world over the next 100 years), the resulting calamity is the same.
Although Mike Tidwell sounds the clarion in The Ravaging Tide, this is ultimately an optimistic book, one that offers a clear path to a healthier and safer world for us and our descendants. He writes of trend-setting U.S. states like New York and California that are actively cutting greenhouse gases. And he heeds his own words: In one delightful personal chapter, he takes us on a tour of his suburban Washington, D.C., home and demonstrates how he and many of his neighbors have weaned themselves from the fossil-fuel lifestyle. Even when the government is slow to change, there are steps we as families can take to, yes, change the world.
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October 08, 2006
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Excerpt from The Ravaging Tide by Mike Tidwell
The Real Reason
THERE IS PERHAPS no better way to understand global warming and all its implications than to carefully study the history of New Orleans. This may sound odd, but I make the claim with complete sincerity. To appreciate the alarming physical impacts fast approaching all of our coastal cities, and to appreciate the patterns of human decision-making and denial that are steering us toward an overheated planet, you have to understand what happened in and around New Orleans prior to August 29, 2005. You have to understand, first and foremost, the history of flooding in that city. Most of the key lessons concerning both Katrina and global warming flow in rather unexpected ways from the fact that the Big Easy has always been under the threat of too much water.
From the very start, there was flooding in New Orleans. In 1718, the year French colonists first settled along that crescent-shaped bend of the Mississippi River, heavy rains sent river water pouring into the settlement, flooding crude homes made of cypress, moss, and clay.
So began nearly three centuries of human struggle against the third-longest river on earth. Using simple shovels and pack animals, French engineers constructed rudimentary dikes, no more than two or three feet high, along the river's edge and around the fledgling colonial encampment. And people punched holes in coffins to keep them from floating to the surface when the next deluge came.
And that deluge came soon enough, in 1719, overwhelming the original levees and covering everything with muddy Mississippi River water. The dikes were immediately made taller. More dirt was moved into place. And the ring of protection was expanded as the city grew and prospered on the commerce of rumrunners and slave traders and fur merchants and pirates.
Of course, those early French settlers, beset by mosquitoes and fever and Indian attacks, had no way of knowing their shovels would help set the table, 287 years later, for the worst "natural" disaster in the history of North America. They never intended, with their rudimentary dikes, to start a domino effect that would obliterate entire barrier islands hundreds of miles away and lay waste to a million acres of buffering marshes that made human life along the Louisiana coast possible to begin with.
But in time, those cypress huts, ringed by waist-high dikes, would give way to skyscrapers kept dry by towering levees and flood walls and pumps and spillways and locks and jetties, all designed to corset the lower Mississippi River. The result, by 2005, was a weirdly walled city, situated mostly below sea level, with the northward-moving Gulf of Mexico pounding at the door.
Again, no one intended for this to happen. Not the royal engineers of the king of France, nor the hard-hatted technicians for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the connection is direct and emphatic, traveling in straight-line fashion from the sound of those first French spades entering the soil to the thump-thump-thump of helicopters rescuing parched survivors from Lower Ninth Ward rooftops in New Orleans; a direct line from the slaves with wheelbarrows bolstering nineteenth-century levees to their descendants on the I-10 overpass in 2005; from the diesel-powered mechanical shovels of the twentieth century to the drowned bodies floating down Napoleon Avenue in the early twenty-first century.