Holding Back the Sea

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Holding Back the Sea: The Struggle for America’s Natural Legacy on the Gulf Coast, Christopher Hallowell makes a complex and important argument about the consequences of the dangerous disconnect between society’s “love” for nature on the one hand and the terrible ignorance of how nature works on the other. He argues that the ruin of a wilderness has value to society beyond the narrowly economic, and that conservation and ecology must become functioning social and political principles. The marshes and wetlands of southern Louisiana must be restored for the health and preservation not only of southern Louisiana and New Orleans but ultimately for the region and the country as a whole.

Hallowell interviewed a wide spectrum of individual men and women who represent their interests on all sides of the environmental debate. Farmers, fishermen, politicians, and businessmen—he skillfully presents their stories, their parts, their interests in this enormous and immensely complicated issue. Of all the contributions to the on-going crisis, no single action perhaps bears so much of the responsibility as the construction of “MR.GO”—the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet—a barge channel that gives freight barges, and hurricanes, a straight shot at New Orleans.

Hallowell’s book adds usefully to the debate between so-called “wise use” and conservation.