The Ravaging Tide
Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities

by Mike Tidwell (Zaire 1985–87)
Simon & Schuster
September 2006
196 pages

Reviewed by Wayne Handlos (Ethiopia 1962–64)

    MIKE TIDWELL’S LATEST BOOK of dire predictions, The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities follows a previous book, Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast published in 2003, which predicted the disaster associated with Hurricane Katrina.
         This book is about global warming and some of the consequences that follow from that phenomenon. In 11 short chapters he reviews information about the events that followed Hurricane Katrina, looks at societal suicide a la Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed; provides us with statistics about global warming, sea level rise, hurricane strength, and the use of fossil fuels; tells of current technology, and lack of leadership; and advises about what can be done on an individual level to arrest and possibly reverse global warming.
         When I first started teaching at the college level, way back in 1970, one of my terminal lectures in introductory biology was about ecology and our future as fellow travelers on this precious Earth of ours. These were some of my more successful classes — halls of 200 students fell silent as I laid out our future in stark ecological terms. Even then some of us were concerned about rising sea levels — and living on the East Coast (New Jersey) our concern was mostly focused on Florida. I devoted three years to trying to help students understand their impact on the environment — trying to get them to understand their responsibility for the future we would all share.
         Having spent many years teaching in Africa (Ethiopia, Zambia, Botswana, and Malawi), I have seen first-hand the use and misuse of the environment. The degradation of the land and vegetation in Ethiopia and Malawi as exploding populations struggled to feed themselves is burned upon my memory. There too, many of my teaching duties centered on ecology. What is our role in the system of nature? What are our impacts on the environment? What is our responsibility to the planet?
         Mike Tidwell has written THE book, which I would have used as a resource for my teaching in New Jersey as well as in those classrooms in Africa. He wasn’t a student of mine but he has gone in the direction that I wanted my students to go. He’d get an A+. He provides a wealth of examples. Every one of his chapters grabs us and says: “Stop what you’re doing! Pay attention to what I’m saying! This is not theoretical — this is real!” Because the chapters are short, the vast number of statistics and actual examples of ecological tragedies are somewhat tempered in their delivery. He does beat us over the head with the message. But he needs to! We are on the road to disaster; we need to stop and change course; we can make a difference to the future.
         Mike writes in what I would call journalistic style. A simple message bolstered by many additional words, examples, events, statistics. While all of this is good ecological stuff he does not burden us with the scientific jargon we academics are so fond of. Ever the academic, I would have couched the language in that of ecology, trophic levels, carrying capacity, energy flow, etc. He spares us all of that. His Bibliography is mostly of writings since 2000. Timely and important for the message, but I guess I would have paid homage to some of the classical ecologists who set the stage for us long ago (well, at least as long ago as 1950!).
         No admirer of the Bush Administration, Tidwell calls again and again for leadership and ecological priorities. He points out the many ways in which our direction to a viable future has been thwarted by the misguided, short-term and selfish vision of so many of our politicians, business leaders and petty bureaucrats. Unfortunately for President Bush, his legacy in ecological terms (and in the long run these are the ones that matter — as these are the basic, immutable laws which we are all subject to and which no president, king, dictator, legislature or judicial body on the planet can change or nullify) will be of massive failure.
         Have I made the point that this is a must-read book? It is well written and well documented. There are faults to be found but they are sins of omission in my view. The author gives us examples of changes we can make in our own lives (he cut his fossil fuel energy usage by 90%) to ensure a better future for our planet. We have the technology now. We don’t have to wait for hydrogen fuel cells. The energy merchants would like us to remain addicted to oil. That path will only lead to disaster.
         Read this book. Get everyone you know to read this book. Then act.

    Wayne Handlos now lives close to the Pacific Ocean in retirement in California. He grows geraniums and other plants adapted to the Mediterranean climate in which he lives. He composts and eats mostly pesticide-free, organic foods from lower tropic levels sold at his local farmers’ market.