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Gorbachev tours Lower 9th Ward

Gorbachev tours Lower 9th Ward

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev toured New Orleans on Friday as an emissary of the global environmental movement, but his first sight of the devastated Lower 9th Ward inspired a momentary return to his socialist past.
"If things haven't changed by our next visit, we may have to announce a revolution," he said through a translator, as he walked the lifeless streets with well-wishers and staff members of Green Cross International, a non-governmental organization which he chairs.
"No matter the flooding and the hurricane, the red tape and bureaucracy survive," he said.
Gorbachev was in New Orleans for Green Cross's first general assembly held in United States, and promised to return in five years to measure the city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina, which has so far been tangled by bureaucratic delays.
During a stop in the Holy Cross neighborhood, a sliver of the Lower 9th with some rebuilding activity, Gorbachev stepped inside the wood frames of an environmentally friendly house that is a model for a 90-resident project funded and promoted by actor Brad Pitt.
Solar panels will power the two-story home, a feature that could slash utility bills by 75 percent for the low- to moderate-income families the project is designed for. It is built of wood grown from forests managed for environmental health, and raised off the ground so it will be less likely to flood.
Gorbachev, credited with leading the Soviet Union to democratization, later joined the U.S. affiliate of Green Cross International, Global Green USA, to urge U.S. action on global warming. The groups say rising tides that result from the phenomena threaten the world's coastal cities, including New Orleans as it strains to rebuild.
"We decided to draw a line in the sand here in New Orleans," said Matt Petersen, the president of Global Green USA. "Global warming is threatening coastal cities worldwide. Here in the U.S., five percent of the population is contributing more than 25 percent of the carbon pollution that causes global warming. We have to act here."
The group has lobbied Congress to extend and double the money for federal solar energy tax credits. Scheduled to expire in 2008, the credits give individuals and businesses a 30 percent energy tax break.
"Utility bills in New Orleans have shot through the roof," said Mary Luevano, policy and legislative affairs director of Global Green USA. "These are badly needed financial incentives."
Though Gorbachev mostly stuck to his environmental agenda throughout his visit, he continued to venture into political talk. While at the foot of the Industrial Canal levee that breached during Katrina, he spoke with New Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow about political attention given to the city two years after Katrina.
"The future of the city is still not decided," Gorbachev observed. Fielkow indicated that Congress could take the Soviet president's visit as a lesson.
"Maybe half of Congress has come, which is not enough," said Fielkow. "We need all of them to see this first-hand."


Updated : 2021-10-26 06:15 GMT+08:00