Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) declared a state of emergency for the state’s coast on August 18th. It mentions climate change as one of the factors causing the loss of land. There are a lot of moving parts to the order, and to the plans that exist to protect and restore the coast. This article from Futurism is an excellent read on the subject. I was pleased to see that climate change was even mentioned in the order.
Coastal erosion is an existential threat to southern Louisiana even without the specter of climate change. The original causes were created by our taming the Mississippi River and also from damage done by oil and gas exploration. As our understanding of climate change has gotten better over the past decade or so, it became apparent that the rising sea level would be a serious aggravating factor in contributing to coastal erosion.
These circumstances make it seem like climate change would be a major issue in Louisiana politics. Logically, demanding action to prevent and mitigate climate change would be an almost universal sentiment among voters. One might think that Cajun, Creole, and Native American peoples that settled in these areas threatened by the rising sea levels would act as one and constantly agitate to save their homelands.
On all counts, you’d be wrong. Climate change is barely discussed here in any political context, and rarely mentioned by mainstream media covering the area. Louisiana is a virtual petrostate, and almost all dialogue concerning our ecology is filtered through the interests of the oil and gas industry. Louisianians are not allowed to have large, candid public conversations about climate change. In order to succeed in politics here, oil and gas generally has to come first. People here are in an abusive relationship with the energy industry. They rely on it for jobs, and are protective of their interests even as the state itself disappears under the Gulf of Mexico.
There have been exceptions, of course. Environmental activism has been on the upswing to the point where the oil and gas industry here actually have felt the need to defend themselves with TV ads. The “I am Louisiana Oil and Gas” campaign started in 2015, and it’s by an outfit called the “Grow Louisiana Coalition.” It’s a creation of The Ehrhardt Group, a PR and marketing firm based in New Orleans. Ironically, New Orleans stands to lose quite a bit from further hurricanes with less and less wetland as a buffer against storm surge.
While coverage of climate change is scant in regional media, that’s even begun to change. Lafayette activist and former political candidate Mike Stagg hosts Where The Alligators Roam, a weekly radio series and podcast that regularly tackles climate change.
Slowly, climate change is becoming a slightly less taboo topic here in southern Louisiana. But for now, the easiest way to discuss it is to call it something else, or to make it a secondary issue. As sea levels continue to rise, the taboo will probably break entirely. Hopefully it won’t be too late by then.
UPDATE: This was posted by my Congressman the morning this post went up. He represents Lafayette and southwestern Louisiana.