The Louisiana Climate Debacle

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2015 has been a year of striking news on Earth’s climate. The year is the warmest on record, taking that honor from 2014. Among many related bits of disturbing news, glaciers are showing increased retreat, including a major destabilization in Greenland that scientists say will add to higher sea-level rise for decades to come.

These trends have gone largely unremarked in Louisiana, especially by state policymakers. To an outside observer, this might seem strange. Our state is already experiencing one of the highest rates of sea-level rise in the world, due to the combination of global ocean levels and local subsidence (sinking) of deltaic soils. We also have one of the world’s most endangered coasts, and estimates for the cost of repairing it range on the low end from $50 to $70 billion dollars, which the state cannot fund alone.

If Louisiana were merely ignoring the climate issue, that would be bad enough, but the reality is worse. Our state is standing squarely in the way of national and global action on this problem. GOP members of the state’s Congressional delegation have not only opposed any regulatory action on carbon emissions, but have voted against funding for climate science and allowing the U.S. military to reduce its carbon footprint. Louisiana has joined other states in suing the federal government over any new rules for carbon and other pollutants, spending taxpayer dollars for political purposes. Governor Jindal demanded that President Obama not mention climate when he visited our state recently.

Since the sea-level rise impacting Louisiana is driven by higher temperatures fueled by greenhouse gas emissions, it doesn’t take an outside observer to find the state’s position on this issue to be irrational. A rational approach to the climate problem would look at what level of greenhouse gas emission reductions is feasible, and how they can be achieved economically, as a number of other states and many private companies are doing. Instead, Louisiana has taken the position that any reductions in emissions will destroy the economy, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

These are positions crafted by lobbyists, not scientists, and the impacts of this state policy and rhetoric aren’t just political. Louisiana’s officials are damaging our credibility, including national support for coastal restoration here. Former allies in this cause are showing more reluctance to invest in a place that is blocking action on a problem that affects all coast lines. The loss of time and opportunity to mitigate global warming also means that the impacts to Louisiana will be more serious. Sea-level rise is only one of these – other economic sectors such as agriculture and insurance are also highly vulnerable.

Louisiana’s citizens should bear all of this in mind when we hear the predictable attacks made on the Paris Climate Summit and the efforts by world leaders to find solutions to this pressing global problem. Most of our Louisiana officials have been short on solutions and long on knee-jerk opposition to any government action that protects the environment. We can’t expect to be taken seriously – or to garner billions in assistance – if this continues.

Haywood Martin is Chair for Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club

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