- A Louisiana Coastal Atlas: Resources, Economies and Demographics by Scott A. Hemmerling
Scott A. Hemmerling. Louisiana State Press, Baton Rouge, LA 2017. 192 pp.;
maps, atlas, bibliography, and index. $75.00 hardcopy (ISBN 978-0-8071-6588-1)
If you ever find yourself explaining to someone why geography matters, then consider sharing Scott Hemmerling’s A Louisiana Coastal Atlas: Resources, Economies, and Demographics. The struggles of Louisiana’s coastline are well known and often interconnected including industrial spills, hurricanes, failing infrastructure, and rising sea levels that devastate coastal communities’ ecosystems and economies. Despite these documented trends, few texts have assembled a significant historical spatial context in which communities can begin to address and mitigate the systemic issues that have shaped this region. To fill this void, Hemmerling presents a comprehensive geospatial assessment of how environmental hazards, natural resources, and external and internal economic, political and cultural forces have shaped the human-environmental landscape of Louisiana. A Louisiana Coastal Atlas: Resources, Economies, and Demographics provides an excellent marriage of informative narrative coupled with geographical information system (GIS) techniques and related multidisciplinary datasets. At first glance, the book appears to be an endless mosaic of maps, however the narrative that accompanies the illustrations speaks to the depth of research and passion Hemmerling applied when crafting this captivating atlas.
The author’s central purpose is to illustrate the importance of applying an expansive spatiotemporal lens into the past in order to establish a resilient framework for coastal Louisiana. Hemmerling affirms that the lack of restorative practices (e.g. social policies, wetland restoration, and sustainable resource management) that attempt to mitigate repetitive mistakes makes coastal communities vulnerable to unpredictable human behavior and environmental conditions. By applying an engaging and comprehensive cross-disciplinary spatial approach, Hemmerling illustrates a story that serves as both reflection and a cautionary tale of the looming fate of coastal communities. It is explained that this must be considered when trying to balance human needs with environmental factors that often surpass human control. To accomplish this [End Page 321] objective, the book contains four distinctive chapters and over 250 maps that address present-day social vulnerabilities, the cascading effects of historical social and environmental change, human adaptations to internal and external shocks, and explores how the region could adapt to the changing coastal landscape to avoid repetition of past misfortunes. Collectively, this sequential approach helps readers better understand the difficulties associated with balancing social, economic, political and environmental needs across the highly diverse communities, landscapes and resources that characterize Louisiana. Although the focus here is on coastal Louisiana, many of the issues and inquiry raised by this text could be extended to other coastal regions.
In an attempt to give the reader context to his purpose, Hemmerling first establishes the geomorphological scope of Louisiana’s formation. This includes an informative narrative that demonstrates how the changing landscape has created the vast terrestrial and aquatic resources of Louisiana (e.g. timber, shrimp, oyster, sugar, and oil) and dictated human migratory patterns. Unlike proceeding chapters, the introduction is light on cartography and instead is focused on educating the reader about the importance of approaching ecological restoration and community resiliency by examining history. An assessment of the profound cultural and political influences of African, French, German, English and Spanish settlements is presented to stress how resource diversification and extraction was vital for survival as well as becoming a participant in local, regional and global trade. Although unforeseen at the time, many of these activities (e.g. development of levee systems to protect agricultural production, clear-cutting of cypress groves in wetlands) have created compounding effects that established unstable social, environmental and economic trajectories across the state. The author also links the economic dependency of on-shore and offshore resources to a cultural landscape shaped by labor and technological advances. Spatially, these collective processes have supported the clustering of populations, and over time, the near extinction of communities as the depletion of resources, primarily driven by global demands and poor management, has shifted job markets across the state; a trend that is relatable to nearly every reader.
Enlightening examples of these dynamic...