Stephanie Grace: President Obama right on climate change threat, because it is real and potentially devastating _lowres

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at Andrew P. Sanchez Community Center in New Orleans, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015, for the 10th anniversary since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


It was the official buzzword of the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and I’m guessing plenty of people don’t want to hear about it again for a good long while. Before we stick it on the shelf, though, it’s worth considering the concept, not just in terms of our regional character, but in the context of our approach to the surrounding environment.

That’s what President Barack Obama did last week, with a quick reference to climate change during his speech at the beautiful new Sanchez Center in New Orleans’ hard-hit Lower 9th Ward.

“Making our communities more resilient is going to be increasingly important, because we’re going to see more extreme weather events as the result of climate change — deeper droughts, deadlier wildfires, stronger storms,” Obama said. He’s exactly right.

Gov. Bobby Jindal had another word to describe Obama’s decision to mention climate change: politics. He’s exactly wrong.

Jindal returned home from the presidential campaign trail last week to join in the commemoration of the storm’s 10th anniversary, and for the most part he put aside his complaints about the Democratic president. But he made an exception when he fired off a letter ahead of Obama’s trip warning him to avoid the topic of climate change — even though most scientists believe it makes the New Orleans area vulnerable not just to more frequent extreme weather events but to rising sea levels. Just last week, NASA released a new report estimating that sea level has risen an average of three inches, and in some places as much as nine, since 1992.

“Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least three feet of sea level rise, and probably more,” said Steve Nerem, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who leads NASA’s Sea Level Change Team. “But we don’t know whether it will happen within a century or somewhat longer.”

Those are sobering words, particularly here. You don’t have to be an expert to intuitively understand that rising seas threaten to undermine the flood protection barriers that the federal government has spent billions erecting, not to mention the ambitious coastal restoration program that the state is trying to put in place. The scientists who answer to Jindal get this. Projected sea level rise is included in the state’s master coastal plan.

Yet when Jindal heard that Obama planned to raise the issue in New Orleans, in advance of a climate change-themed trip to Alaska this week, the GOP presidential hopeful cried foul.

“While you and others may be of the opinion that we can legislate away hurricanes with higher taxes, business regulations and EPA power grabs, that is not a view shared by many Louisianians. I would ask you to respect this important time of remembrance by not inserting the divisive political agenda of liberal environmental activism,” he wrote.

Ironically, Jindal’s differences with Obama on the dangers of climate change might not run that deep. In his 2010 book “Leadership and Crisis,” Jindal devoted a good amount of space to his thoughts on the subject.

“I acknowledge that global warming may in fact be a significant problem for mankind,” he wrote. “I certainly believe our economic activities should be balanced by environmental concerns, and that we should harness science and technology to raise efficiency, increase conservation and reduce our emissions.”

That, pretty much, sounds like what Obama has and proposes to use his regulatory authority to do.

Rather than offer a plan of action, though, Jindal’s account quickly devolves into a diatribe against “global warming alarmism,” which he links to opposition to capitalism and “anti-technology Luddism.” It all culminates with a joke about Al Gore.

Contrast that with Obama’s speech, which wound up being not very political at all, at least on this subject — although the president did take a swipe at congressional Republicans for threatening to shut down the government over the budget. That wasn’t necessary, but Obama still came off as less cravenly opportunistic than Jindal.

Even if “many Louisianans” — not to mention many GOP primary voters — don’t want to hear it, the threat is real and potentially devastating to this region more than most. You can’t talk about resilience without being honest about why people need to be resilient in the first place.

And you can’t lead if you refuse to acknowledge risk, and instead bet everything on the unlikely hope that the experts are simply wrong.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @stephgracenola.