After Sandy, there’s no denying global warming
November 9, 2012
Originally posted on November 8, 2012. View the original post here.
They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. If that boast holds, then Hurricane Sandy may have done more for the future of southeast Louisiana than any of Louisiana’s current political leadership.
I say that because as the nation’s attention was focused on the misery Sandy brought to the northeast, the responses to the disaster from that region’s leadership consistently included two phrases critical to our survival here, yet ruled politically incorrect by most of Louisiana’s highest office holders: global warming and climate change.
As storm surge invaded storied beach towns and brought the world’s economic center to its knees, there were no global warming deniers in the Northeast, regardless of political affiliation.
Instead, they faced facts, and wondered publicly: If Category 1 Sandy could do this kind of damage, what would happen as global warming creates larger storms and pushes the sea 2 feet higher, as is predicted for that area by the end of the century. (I refuse to call a Category 1 Sandy a “superstorm”; see Katrina, Rita, Camille, et al.).
Scientists and city planners had been predicting this kind of disaster when a storm reached the Big Apple. And when the reality of the impacts hit, the political leadership immediately began talking about ways to prevent a repeat of the disaster — by adapting to global warming-induced climate change.
The governor of New York was discussing floodwalls and levees — because global warming meant this probably would not be an isolated event.
The mayor — a billionaire businessman who had raged against President Obama’s regulations for Wall Street — announced his support for the Democrat on the eve of the election because of the president’s attention to global warming.
Meanwhile the changing attitude of the business community, which witnessed first-hand what a rising sea level can do to profits, was shouted from the cover of the next edition of Businessweek by this headline next to a full-page photo of New York’s flooded streets: “It’s global warming, stupid.”
Because those events and responses happened in the Big Apple, they made headlines around the nation and the world. Global warming’s contribution to this and future disasters wasn’t a sidebar to the story, but a main topic of discussion.
The contrast to Louisiana’s political response after Katrina, Rita and Isaac could not have been more stark, or troubling. Louisiana’s current governor and congressional delegation (save for the two Democrats) consider global warming the science that shall not be named, except to ridicule. These wise men tell us they know more about the planet’s climate than the world’s foremost climate scientists — and that the short-term cost to industry of addressing a primary road block to securing our future here is just too high.
There is both danger and irony in their positions.
Actual observations and measurements have already confirmed southeast Louisiana to be one of global warming’s most threatened landscapes. We’re seeing four times the rate of sea level rise as the rest of the nation because we’re sinking at the same time the sea is rising.
The Army Corps of Engineers considers global warming science solid enough that it added as much as 2 feet of extra height to the recently completed $14 billion levee and floodwall system around New Orleans to account for rising seas. And it now speculates that if the rate of sea-level rise continues to increase, plans to restore our coast may be cancelled as useless.
So you would expect Louisiana to be a leader in climate change and global warming planning.
And, in fact, the state’s recently passed $50 billion master plan for the coast is arguably the most aggressive sea level rise adaptation initiative in the world. The plan, sanctioned by the Legislature and signed by the governor, plainly states the threats from sea level rise, as well as the need to adapt projects and goals as sea level rise estimates are adjusted upward. Yet the reason for those rising seas is never given. The words “climate change” and “global warming” are not mentioned.
Well, here’s hoping Sandy can change that. If global warming and climate change can make it in New York, maybe it can make it down here on the bayou — before it’s too late.
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About Bob Marshall
Bob Marshall is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has covered the people, stories, and environmental issues of Louisiana’s wetlands for more than 35 years for The Times-Picayune as well as for national publications. He now writes for The Lens. An avid outdoorsman, he has spent much of his adult life in the marshes and swamps of South Louisiana, charting the demise of wetlands he calls “my office and playground.”