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Coastal Rundown: The 2014 Society Of Environmental Journalists Conference

Francesca Lyman

The 24th Annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference took place in New Orleans last week, bringing to town a few hundred environmental reporters, advocates, scientists, engineers, politicians and more.

Participants got out of the conference rooms to see the levees, bayous, marshes, sinkholes, refineries and rivers that all contribute to the complex region that is Louisiana’s Gulf coast.

The theme of the get together was Risk and Resilience, a nod to the difficult last decade for Louisiana’s coastal areas, which have weathered devastating hurricanes and the worst oil spill in US history. A lot of the conference was about trying to define these words. What does "resilience" mean?

MEET: Roger Mark De Souza:

Credit New Security Beat / Woodrow Wilson Center
Woodrow Wilson Center
Roger-Mark De Souza

Roger Mark De Souza is the Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Woodrow Wilson Center located in Washington, D.C. At a panel during the conference, De Souza described the term "resilience" as squishy. A follow up was required:

“I think it’s squishy to the degree that it is used so often now, and it is sometimes considered to be a catch-all phrase for anything related to climate or the environment or vulnerability or people’s ability to adapt. So folks are a little tired of hearing the term, because they’re not quite sure how it’s defined and what it really means in terms of making a difference to people’s lives.”

De Souza spoke on a panel at the conference called Risky Cities and Resilient Communities. The discussion touched on climate change, population dynamics and migration on a global level.

Hear De Souza’s thoughts on the Louisiana Coast:

TOUR: “The Long Road Home: Community Resilience, Adaptations and Legacies from America’s Biggest Rebuild.”

There were nine issue-oriented coastal tours to spend the day on. The coastal team took the tour called “The Long Road Home: Community Resilience, Adaptations and Legacies from America’s Biggest Rebuild.”

THE CITY: The first stop was in the Lower 9th Ward. David Lessinger was there to meet the group. Lessinger is the Director of Planning and Strategy for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, a city agency that helps with issues related to urban renewal. With the Make It Right Homes as a backdrop, Lessinger talked about the work that’s gone into helping families come back to neighborhoods like the Lower 9th, and what will help make areas that were hardest hit by Katrina more resilient in the future.

Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / WWNO
David Lessinger, the Director of Planning and Strategy for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.

David Lessinger talks about NORA's involvement in the Lower 9th Ward regarding recovery and stormwater management efforts.

THE ORGANIZER: Moving from the 9th Ward into Holy Cross, environmental organizer and Sierra Club member Darryl Malek Wiley jumped up on the levee to share a few facts about the river, Herbert Hoover and the only two steamboat houses in the world:

Credit Francesca Lyman
A sketch of Darryl Malek-Wiley by Francesca Lyman, Seattle journalist, sketch artist and Society of Environmental Journalists Conference attendee.


Darryl Malek-Wiley talks about the 1927 Mississippi River flood, and the historic steamboat houses on the levee in Holy Cross.

THE FARM: The bus then continued on past Chalmette and entered New Orleans East to visit the VEGGI farmers cooperative. VEGGI aims to increase food access and promote sustainable agriculture in the East, an area that left without basic resources like food and health care after Katrina. Project Manager Daniel Nguyen filled the group in on some of these struggles:

Daniel Nguyen reflects on New Orleans East without hospitals or grocery stores after Hurricane Katrina, and a community's mistrust of data and findings after the BP Oil Spill.

Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / WWNO
A farmer at the VEGGI co-op in New Orleans East.
Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / WWNO
David Waggonner standing over Bayou St. John at the border of Gentilly and Lakeview.

THE ARCHITECT: While David Nguyen is focused on getting New Orleans East residents involved in creating resilience for their specific community, David Waggonner is trying to get the entirety of New Orleans to view the city in a new way. As an architect, Waggoner’s been instrumental in pushing a plan that will refashion New Orleans as a city that incorporates water, instead of a city that simply tries to keep water out.

David Waggonner talks about the 'living with water' model, and how pumping it all out isn't always the answer.

THE BIG GUNS: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell came down from DC to visit a few state funded coastal restoration projects. Coastal Reporter Jesse Hardman asked Jewell her thoughts about Louisiana’s coast, and her national goals for the environment.

Interior Secretary looks at Louisiana's Master Plan as a model for how the rest of the country can start preparing for similar environmental challenges.

THE WHOLE SHOW: Listen to our Coastal Desk takeover of All Things New Orleans here:

Coastal Deskers Laine Kaplan-Levenson and Jesse Hardman present highlights from the 2014 Society for Environmental Journalism Conference held in New Orleans September 3-7.


Support for coastal reporting on WWNO comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Kabacoff Family Foundation.

As the new Coastal Reporter, Jesse Hardman will draw on 15 years of worldwide experience in radio, video and print journalism. As a radio reporter he has reported for NPR, BBC, and CBC, and for such familiar programs as Marketplace, This American Life, Latino USA, and Living on Earth. He served as a daily news reporter and news magazine producer for WBEZ in Chicago.