Louisiana rewrites climate master plan

Louisiana bayou climate prep

With the latest research on sea level rise in mind, officials in Louisiana have rewritten their climate preparation plans.

Louisiana rewrites climate master plan

By Stephanie Sides

For me, the presidential election put a fine point on the political divide between our country’s liberals and conservatives. But on the subject of adapting to climate change, the divide isn’t as wide as it may seem. Louisiana, for example, is actively responding to the ravages of climate change on their unique environment. They’ve recently rewritten their master plan for coastal restoration and hurricane protection, in the face of sea level rise and other climate-related threats.

Louisiana’s land loss challenges

The New Orleans Times-Picayune describes this revised master plan as “Louisiana’s premier comprehensive blueprint for buttressing the state’s retreating coastline and shielding coastal parishes from hurricane damage.” It shows a clear-eyed look at the “updated predictions of rapid increases in sea level rise resulting from human-caused global warming.”

State officials acknowledged the threat in their 2012 plan, but recent—and more sobering—science prompted an update. “The latest research indicates that the rates of land loss, sea level rise and flood height rise will be exponentially greater during the last 20 years of the plan’s 50-year life than during the next couple of decades,” the Times-Picayune reports. So the rate of climate change is ramping things up, and it’s only going to get more serious as the years go on. It will be even harder for Louisiana to address land loss and rebuilding than initially thought, which makes it incumbent on those in power to take serious action now.

Addressing the problem

State officials are working to identify the best, most effective projects (from a list of 200), when to stage the projects over the 50-year period, and how to empower local communities to take ownership of the process and begin adaptation. These projects will rebuild wetlands, build and raise levee systems, and raise or relocate homes and businesses most likely to be threatened by storm surges and sea-level rise.

The plan includes complex predictive computer modeling, today’s scientific gold standard, to understand the future based on today’s data. This modeling, using low-, medium-, and high-risk scenarios, is helping identify which combination of projects is cheapest, restores the most land, and best protects the coastline from storms.

The estimated cost of all this adaptation is, at a minimum, $50 billion. The projects will be paid through bond initiatives, offshore oil income, and federal dollars (for which there is not only increasing state competition but fear that this support will decline under the Trump administration). They will be sped along by the infusion of $8.7 billion, criminal fines paid by BP and Transocean as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

A draft plan was released for public comment January 3. The final plan, due at the end of this year, requires an affirmative vote by the governing board of the authority managing the plan rewrite and action by the state legislature.

Supporting adaptation with mitigation

Dr. Stephan Howden, Associate Professor of Marine Science at the University of Southern Mississippi and a CCL volunteer who lives in Louisiana, emphasizes that the state can’t solve the sea-level rise problem on its own, but needs the nation, indeed the world, to begin reducing carbon emissions. Howden mentioned that CCL’s proposal for carbon fee and dividend legislation takes into account the societal cost of carbon emissions, favored by most economists, and makes it more affordable to economically vulnerable populations.

“The master plan emphasizes policy solutions that deal with adaptation and mitigation,” says Brett Cease, CCL’s Third Coast Regional Coordinator. In addition to supporting those important adaptation efforts, Louisianans can advocate for more mitigation, as well. Cease says, “Louisiana CCL volunteers have an opportunity to talk with policymakers about the importance of finding ways to preserve current coastland and address the rising waters by encouraging market-based signals to transition the state towards a clean-energy economy and provide thousands of jobs.”

Stephanie Sides
Stephanie Sides is a freelance writer who works primarily with academics in science, medicine, and engineering.