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Reasons for Hope on Louisiana's Coast

September 30, 2019
Even as oceans warm and sea level rises, we can take practical steps to protect vulnerable communities.

It’s becoming a familiar cycle. When terrible climate change news comes out, we are momentarily shocked and scared. Then, after a moment, we return to business as usual because we feel powerless to do anything else. Today is different.

The recent United Nations report on the ocean and ice masses delivered the next round of news that none of us wanted to hear. The oceans are rapidly warming, and sea level is rising at an ever-faster rate. But there is something both practical and in reach that we can do right now to make a significant difference in coastal Louisiana.

Rising seas are a huge problem, but the new report estimates that sea-level is likely to rise at the low end of the range assumed in Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan during the next 50 years. When the plan was drafted, experts planned with an abundance of caution. That's paying off for the people of south Louisiana in the form of a very distinct window of opportunity to take meaningful action.

If we work with nature to sustain and grow coastal wetlands with the sediment that they need, they can keep up with sea level rise. Those coastal wetlands create a significant speed-bump to slow hurricane storm surge, providing a critical buffer between the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana’s coastal communities.

Take that in for a moment. For a change — instead of hearing terrible news about climate change and feeling powerless about it — there is something specific, tangible, and meaningful that we can do in Louisiana to help save the coast.

By diverting the Mississippi River to deposit sediment in the coastal wetlands, we can literally harness the power of the river to sustain and grow wetlands in the face of rising seas. The main barriers we face now are of our own making. It’s time to cut through the red tape and get projects constructed. Our leaders on both the state and federal levels have to come together to speed up these projects and put shovels in the ground.

To be clear, time is of the essence here because the window to take meaningful action will not stay open long. Every day that we aren’t working with the river to deliver sediment to our wetlands is another day where we are losing wetlands at a shocking rate. It’s simple math.

Louisiana is restoring coastal marshes and beach in vulnerable locations like Bayou Bonfouca.

We are not saying sediment from Louisiana’s great rivers is a cure-all for climate change. The coast’s future will depend on the world’s efforts to limit warming, which could, according to the experts, still avoid catastrophic melting of Antarctica and Greenland in the next century.

But this is something that we can start doing right now to buy time, and build new ground while businesses, communities and governments around the world take other thoughtful action on reducing the emissions that are warming waters and making the seas rise.

There will continue to be more difficult climate news ahead. But there are solutions out there that can work for both the environment and the economy — if we choose to prioritize them and take action. We have it in our reach to do big things that both limit warming and adapt to the changing climate.

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