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Mike Tidwell

   . . . travel writer. In Bayou Farewell, Mike Twiddle sounds an alarm: Louisiana’s Cajun Coast is -- literally -- dissolving into the Gulf of Mexico, while potential rescue plans languish. His fifth book, Mr. Tidwell’s work appears regularly in “National Geographic Traveler,” “Reader’s Digest,” and “The Washington Post.” He has received four Lowell Thomas Awards for travel journalism as well as an NEA fellowship. Now living in the Washington, D.C. area, he is also founder/director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network .


Louisiana’s southern coast is dissolving into the Gulf of Mexico. Disappearing. It’s no secret to the people who live there -- Cajuns, Vietnamese and Native Americans.  But the rest of the country has been painfully oblivious. Travel writer Mike Tidwell stumbled upon this story, which he calls the greatest untold story in America. He has become a champion for the vast wetland complex that makes up the ragged sole of the Louisiana boot, threatened and voiceless people, species and ecosystems. And then there is New Orleans.

Survival is what’s at stake, Mr. Tidwell reports. The tragic irony is that there already is a good plan, ready and ample evidence that the plan will work, will in fact reverse the ongoing calamity. How? Let the Mississippi River do the work, with a good bit of help, of course. What’s stopping us? The lack of political will and a relatively modest fourteen billion dollars -- the cost of Boston’s Big Dig. Rhetorically, Mr. Tidwell asks, Can Boston survive without the Big Dig? Yes. Can New Orleans and South Louisiana survive without this $14 billion restoration effort? No. And it can be done without flooding homes or disrupting industry, in a controlled, surgical way that gets water into the marshes, bays and coastal islands.

The unintended consequences of human actions are what is wrecking havoc, land disappearing at the rate of 35 square miles a year, 50 acres a day, a football field every 30 minutes. How can this be? The Mississippi River built the ecological and economic treasure we know today as South Louisiana over millennia, building and rebuilding the land with floods -- the bayous and “Cajun country” plus the bowl on and in which sits New Orleans, defined by the crescent of the River that runs through it.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put an end to those lower Mississippi River floods after one of Biblical proportion in 1927. Plus, for more than 70 years, the oil and gas industry have scissored canals and channels through the marshes, canals that trigger erosion which relentlessly expands the canals at an alarming rate, in marshes unable to heal themselves.

But people like Mike Tidwell are beginning to bring some hope to the local fishermen, voiceless no more.  In celebrating the local people, culture and spectacular natural wealth, he is working to counter their resignation.  He points to the important work of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in Baton Rouge, stalwart individuals out planting sea grasses along threatened coastal barrier islands and signs of life in the Louisiana state government.

The result is a gradually growing awareness that doing nothing guarantees the death of South Louisiana, taking with it a multibillion dollar fishing industry, Cajun culture, the habitat for countless species and, oh by the way, New Orleans.

[This Program was recorded June 22, 2003, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Mike Tidwell applies the Law of Unintended Consequences to the Mississippi River for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. He summarized the disastrous consequences of restraining the Mississippi for more than 70 years for South Louisiana’s entire bayou region and for New Orleans.

Conversation 1 RealAudio7:46

Conversation 2

Treating his concern for the national ecological and cultural treasure that is South Louisiana as a cautionary tale, Mr. Tidwell describes the Cajun Bayou. He suggests possible reasons the disappearance of vast tracts of Louisiana’s land may be the greatest untold story in America.  He outlines the origins of the Cajun people and recounts how he became acquainted with them and with their threatened marshes, then adds in the histories of the Native Americans and Vietnamese who share this distinctive coastal region with the Cajuns.

Conversation 2 RealAudio11:32

Conversation 3

It was the fishermen who told Mr. Tidwell that their land is disappearing, he says, and expands on the calamity that is currently and dramatically underway in Louisiana’s bayous.  He vividly describes the looming devastation that awaits New Orleans if nothing is done.


Conversation 3 RealAudio9:09

Conversation 4

It is NOT too late to do something, both to protect what is left of South Louisiana and to restore some of the damage done, Mr. Tidwell reports. He outlines the elaborate plans now poised to reverse the devastation by creating massive rivers in a controlled, surgical way, restoring the marshes and coastal barrier islands and reducing New Orleans’ vulnerability -- all without flooding homes or disrupting industry.  We can do it, he says, and it has been done. He explains how, convinced that if nothing is done, New Orleans and South Louisiana will not survive.

Conversation 4 RealAudio10:58

Conversation 5

Political will is growing to save the Louisiana Coast, Mr. Tidwell says, then describes a much larger threat -- global climate change promising to make this effort useless if the planet continues to warm.  He suggests ways the United States could become a shining example of willpower and vision, overcoming denial by saving South Louisiana and demonstrating that people can shift to clean, affordable energy, worldwide. After offering a hopeful story from South Louisiana, he describes the surrealistic world of thousands of gigantic off-shore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. He updates an earlier report of Ecuadorians struggling to preserve their Amazon forests.

Conversation 5 RealAudio10:49

Conversation 6

Giving voice to poor and voiceless fishermen -- Cajun, Vietnamese and Native American alike -- along the wonderful coast of Louisiana was his goal, Mr. Tidwell says, glad to give a hopeful progress report.  He directs people to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, then urges people to switch to clean energy.

Conversation 6 RealAudio5:08


It is heartening when a single person can make a real difference. Thank you, Mike Tidwell, for making this important story available, giving “voice” to people and species whose individual problems are everyone’s business.

We recorded this program in June, 2003.  Just over two years later much of what Mr. Tidwell predicted occurred when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans.  Mike Tidwell did all that he could to forstall or minimize the disaster. FEMA did not. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's response under Director Michael Brown and President George W. Bush was inept, incompetent and negligent.  As the Prophet Jeremiah put it:

O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.

Related Links:

Bayou Farewell:  The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast is published by Pantheon Books
You can find out a great deal more about what is -- and is not -- happening on the South Louisiana coast and how you can be part of the solution to this urgent challenge at the “Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana” website.

Mr. Tidwell is also founder/director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

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