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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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Mike Tidwell predicted in vivid detail the Katrina hurricane disaster in his 2003 book, Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast. He has written five books centered on the themes of travel and nature. These include Amazon Stranger (detailing efforts to save the Ecuadorian rain forest) and In the Mountains of Heaven (travels to exotic lands across the globe). Tidwell has won four Lowell Thomas awards, the highest prize in American travel journalism, and is a former grantee of the National Endowment for the Arts. His articles have appeared in many national publications. Tidwell is also founder and director of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council, based in Takoma Park, Maryland. A native of Georgia, he now lives in Maryland with his nine-year-old son, Sasha.

"The ignoble American response to the unprecedented peril of climate change has produced few heroes, but Mike Tidwell is one. Here he shows why -- this book is a perfect mix of reporting, motivation, and specific advice for the huge work ahead of us. A truly crucial book, one that will make a difference!" -- Bill McKibben, author, The End of Nature

"The Ravaging Tide makes brutally clear that Katrina was but a curtain-raiser, that big oil and big coal have taken our government hostage, and that America's historical legacy may well be as the chief exporter of climate chaos to the rest of the world. The time for action, Mike Tidwell insists, is now. And the most critical actor is you." -- Ross Gelbspan, author, The Heat Is On (1998) and Boiling Point (2004)