N.O. vital to nation, author tells them
Sunday, August 24, 2008
By Molly Reid, New Orleans Times-Picayune
Local bloggers and online activists can play an important role in quashing false impressions about Hurricane Katrina and spreading accurate information about flood protection, coastal erosion and New Orleans' national importance as an economic hub, author John Barry said Saturday.
Barry, who wrote a best-selling account of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, spoke at the third annual Riding Tide conference, which takes its name from his book.
Among the messages Barry urged the Internet activists to spread is that if New Orleans were "wiped completely off the map," the rest of America would go into shock, with grain exports and foreign imports decimated and oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico reduced enough to hurt everyone.
"It's not just the Port of New Orleans" that benefits from ships that call at New Orleans, Barry said. "It's all the cities (upriver) that New Orleans makes into a port."
He also encouraged bloggers to stress that "practically the entire country" has contributed to the deterioration of Louisiana's coastal wetlands.
The country needs to know that more than 2,000 square miles of coastal land have been destroyed since the introduction of large-scale, man-made control devices on the Mississippi River, Barry said.
Those devices -- jetties to assist shipping navigation, hydroelectric dams that block sediment flow, dredging of canals and waterways for oil and gas production -- have benefited ports and powered homes but have harmed Louisiana's coastline.
"We don't get a damn bit of benefit from electricity produced in the Dakotas," he said, referring to large dams in North and South Dakota that he said are responsible for about one-sixth of the Mississippi River's lost sediment deposits.
Through consistent promotion of the facts -- and aggressive policing of rumors about Katrina and the recovery -- bloggers can help encourage "bold political action," Barry said.
"Bloggers as a network can be a coordinated force when a story goes viral," spreading across cyberspace like a virus, said Mark Moseley, a founder and organizer of the conference.
"If we transmit the important information in our little echo chamber and beyond, that's important," Moseley said. "If the nation hears the facts . . . we think that will help us politically."
Barry compared the current effort to secure federal money for flood protection in Louisiana to the efforts of Mississippi River Valley governors following the 1927 flood, which affected more than 200,000 people.
The recovery bill that passed Congress in 1928 was "more expensive than anything the federal government had ever done . . . except fight World War I," he said.
The tipping point in gathering support, Barry said, came when members of Congress were shown maps of the entire river system, including every waterway that feeds into the Mississippi River and every port affected by it.
"We have not really done that politically" since Katrina, he said. "I do not think we have been as efficient politically in making our case as we could have been."
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Molly Reid can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3448.