Twice a year, those of us who don’t live nearby are reminded of New Orleans and its Louisiana Gulf Coast surroundings. It happens now, the carnival time of Mardi Gras, even in the context of this year’s pandemic-induced restrictions. And it happens at the end of August, when on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina we think about devastation.
That part of the country offers a case-study of some of the most confounding issues accompanying climate change – in particular, how global warming acts as a threat multiplier. As journalists and scientists note, what happens there with a distinctly Louisiana flavor also presages much that will happen elsewhere as we continue to heat up Earth’s atmosphere.
The New York Times has done a particularly good job covering this topic, as for instance with this terrific 2020 piece by Nathaniel Rich, “Destroying a Way of Life to Save Louisiana.” An earlier Times article (part of a series of three done in conjunction with the Times-Picayune), “Left to Louisiana’s Tides, a Village Fights for Time” (Kevin Sack and John Schwartz) similarly focuses on communities that likely won’t be saved by the elaborate engineering schemes being planned. Another part of that series, “Fortified but Still in Peril, New Orleans Braces for its Future” (John Schwartz and Mark Schleifstein), zeroes in on how the city has survived despite being largely below sea level.
Another excellent and thorough piece is this one by New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert: “Louisiana’s Disappearing Coast” (2019).
New Orleans resident Michael Patrick Welch offers an engaging and informative angle in “What It’s Like to Live in a City That’s Slowly Drowning” (Vice, 2019). As his subhead says, “Climate change is making New Orleans wetter, hotter, and more dangerous. It’s a preview of what might happen to a state near you.”
Of course, issues of climate and environmental justice abound, as some of the stories above suggest. To focus on this matter, see “Katrina, Climate, and Justice: A Future in Foreshadow” (Zaria Howell, NRDC, 2020). For more on Katrina- recovery injustice, see here.
If you want to explore scenarios of sea level rise along the Louisiana coast yourself, Climate Central’s Surging Seas project offers a number of user-friendly tools. Their maps can only be called sobering.
Sometimes, though, we need to set aside our awareness of looming problems and just enjoy what we have. Here are two pieces that do just that – again, both from the New York Times: “With Mardi Gras Parades Canceled, Floats Find a New Home” and “Beauty, Serenity, Stillness: An Ode to the Final Miles of the Mississippi River.”
This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.