Is New Orleans worth saving?

by: Alina on 09/12/2014

Is New Orleans worth saving? Ronald Lewis, lifelong resident of the Lower 9th Ward and survivor of the two worst hurricanes in US history, thinks so.  So do all the people who are helping to rebuild the city and the lost houses, and everyone else who calls New Orleans home.

“It’s our home,” said Lewis when asked about the reason for rebuilding. “And there ain’t no place like home.”

The Society of Environmental Journalists Conference offered an enlightening week built around risk and resilience in New Orleans, Louisiana, a place that has dealt with these issues on a daily basis for the last ten years. New Orleans is a city that has been constantly ravaged by climate change, by land loss, by oil spills, by hurricanes, by sinkholes, and by whatever is coming next.

New Society Publishers Marketing team EJ Hurst and Alina Cerminara travelled to this wall of heat and humidity on Tuesday, September 2nd 2014 to connect with people who make it their living to tell everyone what exactly is happening to our environment. And there is sure an endless amount that needs covering on this front.

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The opening reception featured words from Geoff Morrell, senior vice president of U.S. Communications and External Affairs for BP, who offered a progress report on the recovery of the Gulf four years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Geoff made  sure to say that it isn’t all BP’s fault and that "opportunist advocacy groups" have a tendency of cherry-picking information. Tim McDonnell from Climate Desk did some good reporting on that for Mother Jones' Blue Marble Blog. We then heard from Michael Blum, a bioenvironmental scientist who has been tracking the effects of the spill. He reported that there have been many improvements and successes, but that there is still a long way to go.

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On day-long tours, we were able to see what goes on behind the scenes at BP spill-response units, hear from offshore regulators and hear from one man who “sacrificed his livelihood to expose offshore criminal activity”.

On another tour, we rode through the Atchafalaya Basin to hear about the decline of the largest river-swamp in the US due to invasive species and the actions of those who want to exploit the basin. The newest threat? The wood pellet industry, which plans to sell Louisiana’s native forest to make wood pellets to be burned for power in Europe.

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On the same trip, we visited the 26-acre marsh turned sinkhole, which has grown to be over 750 feet deep, causing mandatory evacuations from those in the Bayou Corne area. We heard from the residents who have tragically had to leave their home and a Texas Brine Co. official who explained how the salt mine may (or may not) have been the reason for this sinkhole.

We were then able to meet scientists, journalists, academics, authors, environmental groups, and activists who are working in the field to promote or reveal facets of our beleaguered world. Free drinks were also offered. Enough said?

The Friday and Saturday offered us the opportunity to promote our own mission of environmentally responsible, solutions-oriented book publishing in the exhibit room. We also did three five-pack book draws where excited winners got to take home books on various topics that the conference was exploring. Networking with those in similar fields really strengthened our resolve, and it also created ties and bonds, which will continue to unite us in our efforts.

During these two days, presentations on various topics were presented by comprehensive panels on topics such as The Craft, Oceans and Coasts, The Land, Pollution, Energy, and The Globe.

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We were also able to get out of the hotel to learn more about various aspects of New Orleans. EJ pedaled through the 9th Ward to see  hurricane-ravaged homes and newly-built neighborhoods, bordered by a freshwater cypress swamp destroyed by salt water intrusion due to historical canal development. Alina boarded a bus that rolled through the 9th ward to showcase  new green homes, as well as new communities such as the Musician’s Village and the cultural museum, The Land of Dance and Feathers. This tour also focused on the lack of grocery stores, which has resulted in grossly unhealthy communities. Ten years after the storm, a school, a fire hall and a community center are finally getting built.

Sunday morning was a time of breakfast and books at the zoo, where we heard from a panel of authors who had written about the Mississippi River, explored the zoo, and listened to authors and publishers talk about publishing. We were looking forward to hearing book pitches, but alas, there was no time, as noon (and the end) came quickly.

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But boy can New Orleans do a number on you. From the sweat-inducing humidity, to the freezing air conditioned buildings, from the locals who weep for their lost communities to seeing those who are trying to rebuild them, from the loud jazzy nights to the eerily-quiet days, New Orleans is the essence of risk and the essence of resilience. The locals aren’t kidding when they say that New Orleans is a culturally-rich paradise that deserves protecting, held together by the amazing music, delicious food, families, and friendly people.

New Society Publishers are so glad that they could be a part of this amazing, inspiring, and eye-opening conference, which has built relationships that will last, and further all of our causes in the world.

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