Louisiana Loses Its Boot
September 8, 2014 4:52 PM   Subscribe

"The boot-shaped state isn’t shaped like a boot anymore. That’s why we revised its iconic outline to reflect the truth about a sinking, disappearing place." Previously.
posted by brundlefly (39 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's a very good treatment. I've driven just about every road he mentions, and it's a little odd to see such a broad treatment of the local landscape.
posted by localroger at 5:36 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


This makes me feel so sad and angry and hopeless.
posted by Token Meme at 5:39 PM on September 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Gosh, you'd almost think there was some sort of global climate change, raising the ocean level or something.
posted by theora55 at 5:47 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


So, can we get our money back from Napoleon?

/gallows humor
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:57 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


In the summer of 2010, Nick Collins, a third-generation oysterman, asked me sarcastically over oyster spaghetti in his father’s Golden Meadow kitchen, “Do those people in California ride horses to work?”

No asshole, we use less fuel to begin with despite being #3 state in land area and having #1 and #6 worst traffic jams in the god damned country.

And very little of our gasoline comes from Louisiana. It's mostly refined locally and blended with some high quality imports but very little of it comes from the gulf coast since you can't have MTBE in CA fuel.

But yeah. It's those god damn libruls that are the problem here.
posted by Talez at 6:16 PM on September 8, 2014 [43 favorites]


So, can we get our money back from Napoleon?

If you had named that Drive after him instead of Charles de Gaulle, you might've had a chance.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:25 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Fascinating... I just spent the last hour investigating the Louisiana coastline on google earth and you can see quite clearly what he is talking about.
posted by maggiemaggie at 6:28 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Damn. That revised image of the "boot" is powerful. I grew up in New Orleans; I probably saw that boot shape several times a day, every day, for the entire first twenty five years of my life. Seeing it like that is a shock. It's still recognizably Louisiana, but there's so much less of it.

I kinda wonder what an image that did the same trick of showing all the Actually Walkable Land from around the 70s would look like. I'm pretty sure there'd still be less than the traditional shape, but I bed there'd also be a lot more than there is now...
posted by egypturnash at 6:31 PM on September 8, 2014 [15 favorites]


Why don't Louisiana's handsomest politicians just pass a law banning alterations to the state map? That'd be like the cheap, last minute way North Carolina solved their own global warming problem once and for all.
posted by Poldo at 6:32 PM on September 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


Those Mississippi River Meander Belt maps are so pretty and exciting. Like bowls of hallucinogenic pasta.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:33 PM on September 8, 2014 [24 favorites]


Losing Ground
"In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy."
posted by andoatnp at 6:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I live in New Orleans, it's my adopted home and I love it here. As you might imagine the subject of this article is of great interest to me. This particular article is a very good analysis.
posted by vapidave at 6:41 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I kinda wonder what an image that did the same trick of showing all the Actually Walkable Land from around the 70s would look like.

One problem I have with the article is that that map wouldn't look much different, just as the state highway sign boot silhouette has always been a bit fat in the toe so that it can accommodate highway numbers.

Very little of the land that has disappeared ever was walkable, so that's kind of a red herring. The article is on better footing when it talks about the ambiguity of the coastline, and the sometimes very extensive borders that aren't quite either land or sea. A lot of borders have lost their ambiguity; they are open water now. That is the real problem, because ambiguous borders where trees can grow slow down storm surges, and open water doesn't.

Those tendrils that trace the river down to Venice and the bayous (which are mostly ancient Mississippi riverbed) down to Fourchon and Grand Isle would have been fatter in 1970, but they would still have been tendrils. It has never been possible to walk from Fourchon to Venice despite the presence of connecting "land" on the boot.
posted by localroger at 6:46 PM on September 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Not to belittle the effects of global warming, but in this case I think the various engineered "restraints" of the Mississippi river and delta are also significant parts of the problem (as mentioned in the article). The river delta is sediment starved- there's not enough coming out to maintain the shoreline. Which also means when a huge erosive force comes along, like a hurricane, the shoreline is extra vulnerable.
posted by Secretariat at 6:52 PM on September 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


The river delta is sediment starved

This, absolutely; the loss of land in Lousiana was very noticeable even by the 1960's, long before climate change was on anybody's radar.

The current problem is that if you pile climate change and rising sea levels on top of the already problematic sediment starvation we are really screwed.
posted by localroger at 6:57 PM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm from Terrebonne parish, Houma specifically. I've been all over south Louisiana my whole life, family from many of the towns he mentions. From so far down the bayou they gotta pipe the sunshine in and it still takes a week to get there. I left the state for various reasons, and I'm worried that every time I go to visit my parents, their home will be just a little bit closer to being gone.

I don't think he gives enough space to the concept that the marsh has been sinking forever, it always sinks into the sea. The river just shifts its banks and refills it with sediment. It's happened within recorded history several times and if not for the economy of New Orleans and the Army Corps of Engineers, it would be flowing through the Atchafalaya basin right now, filling in most of the middle of the boot with new sediment.

Let the river go. It will eventually, whether we like it or not. Also, sell your land in Morgan City because when it goes, it's gone!
posted by misery loves company at 7:04 PM on September 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the idea I got from the article was that this had less to do with sea level rise than with a naturally sinking land which was once replenished by sediment being carried down by the Mississippi, but now is not because we pinned the river down and don't allow it to do its (admittedly very destructive to anything along its constantly changing banks) work.
posted by Naberius at 7:07 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


My family moved here from France five generations ago, and started propagating like mad with all sorts of people. The majority of my dozens of distant relatives (made up of a real melting pot by now) have stayed in southeastern Louisiana.

I have heard so many stories about disappearing islands and abandoned fishing camps, it would make your ears bleed. Yes, it sucks. Yes, my grandchildren (if I am so lucky) will be living in a very different area. And yes, not too far in the future, my favorite city will be gone. And yes, it's clearly our fault for thinking there wouldn't be any consequences to trying to tame the Mississippi river.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 7:20 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Previously: Goodbye Miami

As a far-inlander in Texas, I'll be affected by whatever economic fallout comes from the loss of coastal properties/refugees, but not by loss of the actual ground under my feet. The amount of denial on display when you hear from many folks actually living on the coast, though, is kind of staggering. People just don't want to believe the change is happening, but it very much is. We'll have a coast, it just won't be where we left it, and it's going to take a long time to readjust and deal with the consequences.
posted by emjaybee at 7:20 PM on September 8, 2014


sell your land in Morgan City

This, absolutely. The thing about New Orleans is that the original settlement is pretty high; when Bienville founded this place he called it the "impossible but necessary" city. But Morgan City is just a plantation town that turned into a work town that's going to be in the middle of the river one day. It's "necessary" today because it's a convenient gateway to some of the Gulf oilfields, but the smart money is moving that action to Fourchon, which may end up hanging off in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico but at least won't be hit with a wall of freshwater when the Old River Control Structure inevitably fails.
posted by localroger at 7:20 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you want the scoop on the single biggest cause for this effect the best document is Rising Tide by John Barry.

It is about much more than the flood of 1927. The Army Corps of Engineers is terraforming the lower Mississippi delta and has been doing so for a hundred years. The original motive was to clear the river for shipping which involved heroic amounts of channel dredging and levee building. The Old River Control Structure is another massive project. A bunch of the "lost" sediment has been stolen and is being dumped onto the Mississippi Fan in the Gulf. Without the Army Corps construction, the Atchafalaya River would have taken over the main river flow and sediment load by now and massive quantities of sediment would be dumping over the levees during floods in the new delta configuration.
posted by bukvich at 7:40 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Man. Earlier today, I was just explaining to coworkers who grew up out-of-state the concept of the baker—in St. Louis, we live in the baker's belly; Minnesota is the baker's hat; Iowa, the face; Arkansas, the pants; and Louisiana, the boot. Except the boot is just totally fracked up now.

This is a great piece, and clicking links there led me to three other great pieces:

1. BP carries the most blame for Gulf of Mexico oil spill, judge rules
2. True Jersey
3. Teachers in NYPD Shirts: Racists or Heroes?

I guess what I'm saying is, Medium is great.
posted by limeonaire at 7:43 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


That article is SO GOOD. Thanks for posting.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:47 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


There was tremendous reporting out of Louisiana about hurricanes before Katrina too. The reporters down there must feel like Cassandra.
posted by fshgrl at 8:26 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Now, if you'll all join me, please open up your MeFi Hymnals to page 24 and join me in the first verse and a rousing chorus of "Thank God I'll Be Dead."
posted by ob1quixote at 8:31 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


sell your land in Morgan City

To whom?
posted by carping demon at 8:56 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is a great piece, and clicking links there led me to three other great pieces:

1. BP carries the most blame for Gulf of Mexico oil spill, judge rules
2. True Jersey
3. Teachers in NYPD Shirts: Racists or Heroes?


Whatever you do, don't click this: Unless you have 45 minutes to spend reading about a completely fascinating subject, that is . . .
posted by flug at 10:54 PM on September 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Man. Earlier today, I was just explaining to coworkers who grew up out-of-state the concept of the baker—in St. Louis, we live in the baker's belly; Minnesota is the baker's hat; Iowa, the face; Arkansas, the pants; and Louisiana, the boot. Except the boot is just totally fracked up now.

Man I grew up in Iowa and this is the first time I've heard of this baker.
posted by thedaniel at 12:14 AM on September 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


We were taught about him under the name MIMAL, for the states he comprises.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:10 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the idea I got from the article was that this had less to do with sea level rise than with a naturally sinking land which was once replenished by sediment being carried down by the Mississippi, but now is not because we pinned the river down and don't allow it to do its (admittedly very destructive to anything along its constantly changing banks) work.

And the oil companies dredging 10,000 miles of canals.
posted by kersplunk at 3:57 AM on September 9, 2014


It's not nice to fool Mother Nature.
posted by mikelieman at 4:04 AM on September 9, 2014


Hey, that baker mnemonic thing is pretty cool... never heard of that before.

Denial has become a way of life in these United States. North Carolina's approach blows my mind. I've seen rows of houses hip-deep in the surf in South Nags Head and Rodanthe; in fact the location of the building where I spent many vacations just a couple of decades ago is now on the wrong side of the breakers. Gotta keep those tourist dollars flowing--never mind those naked septic tanks all over the beach, they're a figment of your imagination. Want to rent a cottage? It's right on the beach!
posted by kinnakeet at 5:59 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Damn. The Mississippi River is incredibly powerful. Remember a few years ago when the Old River Control Structure was almost completely overwhelmed and the Mississippi River almost charted a completely new route to the Gulf?
posted by entropone at 6:23 AM on September 9, 2014


There was tremendous reporting out of Louisiana about hurricanes before Katrina too. The reporters down there must feel like Cassandra.

FEMA and others actually did a week-long simulation of a category 3 storm - the Hurricane Pam exercises - in 2004, in order to develop better disaster response plans. The simulation turned out to be a pretty accurate prediction of what actually happened with Katrina (though they failed to predict some things). The exercises were supposed to lead to new disaster plans and procedures, but a final plan was never created, probably b/c of lack of funding.
posted by aka burlap at 6:48 AM on September 9, 2014


Not to belittle the effects of global warming, but in this case I think the various engineered "restraints" of the Mississippi river and delta are also significant parts of the problem (as mentioned in the article).
We can try to quantify this: sea level rise was a little under 2mm per year over the past century, and is projected to be between 2mm to 20mm per year over the next century. Louisiana coast subsidence rates are currently around 7mm per year on average, above 20mm per year in large valuable areas, and "researchers point out that the rate observed between 2002 and 2005 is probably at or near the slowest subsidence rate the area has experienced since the levees were first built in the 1960s".

Blocking off the sediment flows that replace subsidence appears to be a significant part of the problem for the next century, and the significant part of the problem for the last century.
Remember a few years ago when the Old River Control Structure was almost completely overwhelmed and the Mississippi River almost charted a completely new route to the Gulf?
This isn't going to get any easier either. The longer you hold the river in place, the less sediment makes it to alternative routes, the more those routes subside, and the harder it becomes to hold the river in place.

My go-to metaphor for the risks of bottling up "creative destruction" used to be the one I learned as a kid from national park history: a century of trying to suppress small fires ended up backfiring by allowing the accumulation of enough undergrowth to feed catastrophic fires. Let such a process go on for too long and it becomes incredibly difficult to reduce the underlying risks without just triggering the catastrophe. I wonder if someday my kids or my grandkids will have a better example of this effect at hand when the Atchafalaya finally captures the Mississippi.
posted by roystgnr at 7:22 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Poldo:
"That'd be like the cheap, last minute way North Carolina solved their own global warming problem once and for all"
Wow.
That is truly impressive.
Almost like some sort of brilliant surrealist performance art.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:36 AM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]




NYTmag article from 10/2/2014: The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever
posted by aydeejones at 12:56 AM on October 5, 2014


Wow, that 10/2 article is an interesting read. That's some good thinking of how to get the money to fund the coastal restoration.
posted by Secretariat at 2:25 PM on October 5, 2014


« Older Development of the Trajan Typeface   |   "Make Me Beautiful" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments