Climate change will hurt us. Period.
Climate change poses an existential threat to south Louisiana during the next half-century, promising to deliver human suffering, force a northward migration, and disrupt both the state’s economy and its infrastructure, according to a number of scientists familiar with the latest UN climate science report. These dire outcomes are expected even if the world is able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released on Feb. 28. The threats facing Louisiana seem like a list of plot lines from a dystopian disaster movie: More intense hurricanes moving more slowly at landfall, delivering the sort of damage wrought by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Laura, Delta and Ida, Ocean heat waves and a northward move of fish species, combined with increased saltwater intrusion, that will threaten the state’s existing commercial fisheries,Faster sea level rise that will become the main factor for Louisiana wetlands loss, potentially overwhelming communities outside modern hurricane levees and threatening levees’ abilities to protect communities from the most dangerous surge, Storm surge, increased rainfall rates, and winds repeatedly wreaking havoc on homes, businesses, roads, and electric power plants and their transmission systems, Increased temperatures and humidity that will pose a health threat to those working outdoors, children, the elderly and the poor, An increase in other health threats for residents, including outbreaks of diseases that are presently limited to more tropical settings, An increase in mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorders and suicides and A disruption of the ability of state and local governments – and their residents – to afford the dramatically increasing costs of climate change.nola.com
What can we do if it is certain? Move? Change? What?
To deal with those threats, states and cities need long-term, comprehensive plans, said Sarah Cooley, director of climate science for the Ocean Conservancy and one of the report’s lead authors. “Humans are resourceful, but instead of adapting in the moment, making quick decisions, our decision-making needs to be much broader-based and better-coordinated than ever before, so that more people can benefit,” Cooley said. “If we put our fingers in our ears and ignore the warnings that science is giving us, there will be much poorer outcomes for many more people, and I think nobody wants that.” Chip Kline, chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, agreed that the new report presents stark choices for the state, but said Louisiana has been preparing for those challenges for several decades. “Unfortunately, many of the dire warnings in this report do not come as news to the people of Louisiana,” Kline said. “The silver lining, however, is that we are better prepared than ever to take on these compounding challenges.” Kline pointed to the state’s $50 billion/50-year coastal master plan, the governor’s new Climate Action Plan, and billions of dollars in levee and storm surge protection projects slated for the coming years. Edwards has also adopted an Adaptive Governance Initiative, he said, that requires state agencies to understand their role in addressing coastal issues, to develop strategies and tools to aid in integrating the master plan in their own planning process, and to figure out how to partner with other state agencies, federal and local agencies and private and non-profit organizations to maximize the state’s efforts, Kline said.
The effects are here and affecting us now. They will only get worse. Yet we still need to work to mitigate4 some of the effects.
The report makes clear that climate change’s effects are already occurring, and will only get worse, said Virginia Burkett, chief scientist for climate and land use change with the U.S. Geological Survey. Burkett, based in Many, also is a non-voting member of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Climate Initiatives Task Force. Some clear examples, she said, are the impacts from the loss of coastal habitat and ecosystems on indigenous groups in Louisiana, including the Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitamacha-Choctaw tribe in Terrebonne Parish. That group has moved north from their traditional tribal lands because nearby wetlands have been eroded by subsidence and sea level rise. The community was also left outside a major levee system being built to protect much of the Houma area from hurricane surges. “Sea level rise and the increasing intensity of hurricanes, both a result of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions, have caused this tribe to lose most of its homeland over a single generation,” Burkett said. Meanwhile, Hurricane Ida in 2021 destroyed all remaining homes in the Isle de Jean Charles community and 68 of the 80 homes of the Pointe-Au-Chien Indian tribe, also in Terrebonne Parish. And about 15,000 members of the United Houma Nation also lost their homes, according to state officials. The report said more relocations will be needed if temperature increases aren’t kept within the targets already set by past UN reports of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. It estimates the average cost of such relocations in coastal Louisiana at $100,000 per person. “Organized relocations are politically and emotionally charged, will not necessarily be undertaken autonomously by exposed populations, and are most successful when approached proactive(ly) and strategically to avoid increasing the socio-economic vulnerability of those who are relocated,” the report said.
These physical impacts are worrying but it also there will be financial impacts.
In addition to physical risks, Louisiana must also grapple with financial risks posed by its expected transition from an oil-and-gas-based economy to the low-carbon economy envisioned by the governor’s climate action plan, said Tulane University professor Jesse Keenan, an author of the UN’s next climate change report, focused on mitigation, due out in April. State leaders are “really going to need to manage the transition plan for decarbonization in a way that creates and sustains a new economy that is going to produce the revenue necessary to adapt,” Keenan said. Without such a transition, the state will no longer have the tax revenue needed to survive, he said. Meanwhile, localities will be grappling with those same cost issues while also dealing with risk reduction decisions that might include moving people out of harm’s way. “You’re looking at some really tough decisions, particularly in southeast Louisiana, that will have to be made about what to protect and what to let go, because there’s no amount of public resources available nor will there be from the federal government, that will allow them to protect the totality of what they currently have,” Keenan said.
New Orleans is especially impacted as we are at ground zero.
New Orleans, the state’s most populous city, is faced with both physical and fiscal threats through the end of the 21st century, as continued wetlands loss turns it into a virtual island despite the potential successes of the state’s billion-dollar coastal restoration plans, Keenan said. City leaders “are going to have to pick areas, zones, which are defensible from an engineering point of view and a political point of view, and concentrate intensity of commercial and housing activities in these zones,” Keenan said. “They’re going to have to, essentially, have selective disinvestment and retreat from other areas.”
Physical, financial and now health. That may well be the worse.
The climate report also delivers a troubling message about adverse health outcomes driven by climate change, said Dr. Kristie Ebi, a professor of global health at the University of Wisconsin and another of the report’s authors. For one, there is a clear relationship between rising temperatures and adverse pregnancy outcomes, the report states. Increases in Lyme disease, spread by ticks, and West Nile, spread by mosquitoes, are also more likely to affect people as warming occurs. Ebi said more investments in federal, state and local health systems will be needed to combat those problems. Reductions in carbon emissions, a stated goal of Edwards’ climate action plan, will also help, she said. The report also points to increased mental health issues as a major cause for alarm, especially in coastal areas like Louisiana that are expecting repeated rounds of catastrophic storms, heat issues, and other problems, said Edward Peters, who became chairman of the department of epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha in September, after leaving the same position with the School of Public Health at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. The combination of mental health and other health problems will likely reduce the major gains made in healthcare during the 20th century, he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people look back hundreds of years from now and see that during the 20th century, we saw the greatest increases in life expectancy, but during the 21st and 22nd centuries, we’ll be seeing decreases in life expectancy.”
Not a pretty [icture but we have been warned for many years and we sat on our hands. Now we pay,