Gulf of Mexico
ResearchGate Current and projected land loss in Louisiana, 1932–2050 Source: Louisiana Coastal Wetlands

Attention Louisiana climate deniers: Insurers say climate change now biggest risk

History is full of moments when communities facing an existential challenge have two fates.

They are saved by courageous leaders who ignore personal risks to show the way. Or they become examples of disastrous, life-ending choices.

Climate change has clearly placed Louisiana at one of those crisis points. But, so far, we have chosen that second course and are barreling toward disaster just a few decades away.

The evidence of this failure was captured in two headlines from last week’s news:

Louisiana’s GOP congressmen approve pulling U.S. out of Paris Climate Accords.

Climate change jumps to biggest risk for insurers.

By now anyone living from Baton Rouge to the coast who’s read the state’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan – the game plan for keeping our bottom third livable — knows what climate change has in store for us in the next 40 years. (If you haven’t read it yet, I assume you’re just here on a visit – a short one.)

To recap: Even if we get the estimated $92 billion and build all the projects on time, we’ll lose at least another 1,200 square miles of our coastal zone, and maybe as much as 2,800 square miles – by 2067.

If it’s the latter, worst-case scenario, then almost every community south of Interstate10 – including areas around Lake Charles, Morgan City, Houma, Mandeville and Madisonville – could be under water or surrounded by it before children born today reach their 40s.

And the plan says the difference between terrible and unlivable relies on the world dramatically reducing emissions over the next 12 to 20 years.

That happens to be what the Paris Climate Accord is all about. In 2015 the world’s nations – including big polluters like China, India, Russia and the United States – agreed to cut their emissions to help achieve this goal.

But President Donald Trump has decided to pull us out because that self-proclaimed “very stable genius” thinks he knows more about climate than 97 percent of the world’s climatologists.

Which brings us to that first headline.

Last week the U.S. House voted on the “Climate Action Now” bill, a resolution to keep this nation in those Paris accords so we can address the major cause of accelerating sea level rise. That’s the problem Louisiana’s own scientists say could flood much of the state below I-10 in the next four decades. By the way, our largely GOP state Legislature approved that coastal master plan unanimously.

Well, House Resolution 9 passed Congress, but only three GOP reps showed the courage to break with Trump: Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.).

Meanwhile, none of Louisiana’s five GOP House members voted to keep us in the accord.

Steve Scalise, whose district includes parishes that have already suffered the most land loss and could be basically be submerged by 2067 without emissions controls according to the state’s projections, voted “No.”

He was joined in that opinion by Garret Graves, of Baton Rouge, who certainly knows the risks, since he led the state’s coastal plan for several years.

Tagging along with “No” were Clay Higgins and Mike Johnson.

Ralph Abraham didn’t vote “No” because he didn’t vote at all.

The only support Louisiana got for joining the fight to prevent coastal parishes from being flooded came from Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans. You could argue Richmond is the most unselfish of our House members from the coast because his district is the only one in the state’s projections not flooded in 2067 by future sea level rise – thanks to those new levees.

The often-cited reason by those “No” voters has been the expected cost to the oil and gas industry of reducing emissions. Cutting back on the use of fossil fuels – the major component of greenhouse gases — would reduce the number of people needed to work for BP, Shell, Chevron and the others. In fact, politicians opposing emission regulations have told me they are simply following the wishes of their constituents in this petro state.

f course, this is where courage and leadership come in. Do you tell your constituents what they want to hear – denying the science, fantasizing about future cures, pointing to straw men – just to save your job, even though you know it will lead to certain disaster?

Or do you tell them the truth, that delaying action could make it impossible for their children to live here – and could well ruin them financially in the near future.

Which brings us to that second headline:

Climate change jumps to biggest risk for insurers.

That chilling headline is the one community leaders and policy makers have been dreading for some time. And these quotes from that story won’t make them feel any better:

"Climate change took the biggest jump this year of I believe any risk that I can remember, seeing it jump from 7 percent up to 22 percent," said, Max Rudolph, fellow of the Society of Actuaries and author of the report.

Rudolph added that it's becoming harder for risk managers to avoid thinking about climate change. He pointed to major hurricanes in 2017 and the longer, more intense wildfire seasons we're seeing in the west.

"My personal opinion is that this is a case of the risk managers catching up to the actual risk that is out there," he explained.

Risk, of course, is the major factor that determines insurance rates.

And insurance rates can go a long way to determining how affordable an area is to live and work in. And that, in turn, can determine why businesses decide to move into an area — or leave it for a safer, more affordable location.

This isn’t a future problem, it’s already happening.

Last week the Houston Chronicle featured this report:

Study: Sea level rise causes Texas coastal homeowners to lose millions in potential property value.

And it’s not just Texas:

Climate change is ruining home values in these 20 East Coast cities.

Finally, the journal Science researched what the current and projected impacts of climate change would cost each state’s GDP – and Louisiana was 6th worst, at $21.7 billion before the end of the century.

So, what do you think this means to future business opportunities, mortgage rates and all other costs of living in south Louisiana — an area this state already admits is one of the riskiest places to climate change impacts in North America?

You don’t have to be a stable genius to figure this one out.

We know the only easy way to reduce the enormous risk this area faces to its very livability is for the nation to quickly begin looking for ways to reduce emissions.

And since that requires political action, the GOP politicians you send to Washington need to show just a little leadership and courage on climate change legislation.

If they don’t, Louisiana will become an example of one of those examples we read about in history books about disastrous, life-ending choices communities made.

Bob Marshall, former Outdoors editor for The Times-Picayune and former environmental reporter for The Lens, writes a regular column. He can be reached at bmarshallenviro@gmail.com.


See NOLA.com article . . .