Mississippi River Delta

Satellite view of the lower Mississippi River Delta. (NASA)

A recent statewide survey underscores how much Louisiana’s political leaders — particularly state lawmakers — are out of step with their constituents on a variety of coastal issues, including climate change. According to the survey, Louisiana’s most engaged voters overwhelmingly believe climate change is real, that it’s affecting them now, and that the state must make coastal restoration a top funding priority. Unfortunately, far too many decisions by state lawmakers do not reflect voters’ sentiments on that subject.

The survey was conducted by pollsters Greg Rigamer and Bernie Pinsonat for Restore the Mississippi River Delta, a coalition of state and national environmental groups that supports key sediment diversion projects in south Louisiana. The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3%, was purposely timed ahead of the Oct. 12 statewide primary. We hope it serves as a wake-up call to candidates for governor and legislature — and a clarion call to voters who want more action by state lawmakers on the issues of coastal erosion and climate change.

Here’s a closer look at the survey’s key findings:

• 71% believe in climate change, 50% say it is affecting them now, and 72% say it will impact future generations.

• 74% say weather events are becoming more extreme, 57% believe it impacts them now, and 80% believe it will affect future generations.

• 96% of respondents identified coastal land loss as a priority, and 98% say that as much coastal land should be restored as possible — even if less than the original footprint. “This may well be the most impressive result in this survey as it demonstrates that voters across Louisiana strongly support coastal restoration and protection,” the pollsters said in their report.

On related topics, the survey found that most voters believe they will be impacted by coastal land loss this year — and even more expect to feel it in 10 years — with 82% supporting sediment diversions as a long-term solution. Perhaps most telling of all in the wake of partisan budget battles in recent years, 86% of those surveyed said they would be less likely to support officials who raid the state’s Coastal Trust Fund as a short-term budget solution.

While Louisiana lawmakers generally support efforts to combat coastal erosion, localized resistance to some sediment diversion projects has delayed implementation of major parts of the state’s master plan for coastal restoration. Moreover, lawmakers have refused to consider meaningful legislation to fight climate change, even though 97% of the world’s leading climate scientists agree that it is the result of human activities — and despite the fact that south Louisiana is particularly vulnerable to climate change’s most significant and harmful effects.

“I think it’s safe to say that voters are in widespread agreement that addressing coastal land loss must be a top priority for any candidate who seeks elected office," said Steve Cochran, campaign director for Restore the Mississippi River Delta. Noting Louisiana’s widespread floods in recent years, Cochran added, “The thing that’s very clear is that people directly see the impacts associated with it.”

As the campaign season heats up, voters should demand specific action plans from legislative and gubernatorial candidates — and hold the victors accountable.

This is a commentary from Gambit, produced independently from reporters at the paper.