When Attorney General Jeff Landry appeared on a TV call-in show last week, he was asked whether his support for President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris accord meant it was okay with him for coastal residents to drown.
Just to make sure that Landry understood the gravity of his question, the caller pointed out that many of those residents are Republicans.
He was speaking from lower Plaquemines Parish, the disappearing tip of what he asserted was the state most affected by climate change.
But if ever a mass drowning does come to pass, Republicans will be much less likely than Democrats to blame greenhouse gases. Whether you believe in man-made climate change seems to depend more on party affiliation than scientific evidence, and Trump famously dismissed it as a Chinese hoax before rejecting Paris, purportedly in order to save American money and jobs.
Landry agreed, tweeting that Paris was “environmental welfare at an international level” and an “America Last Agreement.”
Now the last hold-out, Syria, has signed onto Paris, while scores of American governors and mayors have vowed to continue the fight to save the planet in defiance of Trump. The weight of expert opinion is clearly against him, while Louisiana is generally allowed to be especially vulnerable to climate change. Landry, however, does not think so.
He says he lives on the coast that has been home to his family for 300 years and must therefore be acutely aware that erosion proceeds at a furious pace. Land loss in Louisiana is traditionally measured in football fields – a logical standard given that, during the 60 minutes required to play a game, another one will sink beneath the waves.
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Landry does not dispute the severity of coastal erosion and flooding in Louisiana, but refuses to attach any blame to climate change. All our woes are attributable, he says, to the Corps of Engineers.
The Corps may have preserved us from floods, and maintained the river's navigation channels, but it also became a bete noire in Louisiana. There is no doubt that the Corps played a major role in the destruction of the coastal wetlands that began before anyone had ever heard of climate change.
The levee system hemmed in the sediment that had always replenished the naturally subsiding terrain when the Mississippi overflowed. The engineers managed to ensure that, instead of maintaining the level of the delta, silt and its wealth of nutrients would hurtle uselessly down the river and out over the Continental Shelf.
Meanwhile oil and gas companies dredged vast networks of canals, funneling in salt water and choking off the vegetation that held the marshes together, and provided a storm barrier.
Thus an environmental catastrophe was upon us regardless of what happened to the oceans. The compacting of the deltaic soil, and the shrinkage of the wetlands, meant the waters would rise willy nilly. But if Landry believes, as he announced on the radio, that “Louisiana's coastal problem has nothing to do with climate change,” he must regard all the state's experts as fantasists.
They all tell us the oceans are rising, an especially ominous development where subsidence is part of the natural order.
According to the state's coastal master plan, the sea level rise is indeed at its greatest in Louisiana, where 2,800 square miles of land could be lost in the next 40 years. Climate change is included among the culprits. The National Climate Assessment, which predicts a sea-level rise along American coasts of four feet by 2100, also cites climate change. A University of Georgia study concludes that rising sea level could drive 500,000 people out of the New Orleans area. It is practically impossible to find a rational being, let alone a scientist, who doubts that climate change is a littoral threat in Louisiana.
Climatologists also cited climate change after the deadly, freak storms that flooded the Baton Rouge area last year. The EPA has warned us to expect more frequent and intense disturbances as the globe warms up and the water rise. Landry, meanwhile, evidently sees himself as a future governor in the Trumpian mold. No wonder they're worried in lower Plaquemines.
Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.