Land in Louisiana is giving into the sea faster than anywhere else in the world.
Every hour, the state loses about a football field’s worth of land, and over the last 80 years some 2,000 square miles of the state’s ecologically diverse coastal marshland has succumbed to open water. On Tuesday, all three candidates for Louisiana’s open senate seat acknowledged the reality of the problem — but they were hesitant to attribute the damage to climate change.
U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy (R), who is running against incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), said that while the state is losing coastline, he wasn’t sure “climate change is the issue.” Cassidy said that getting sediment out of the Mississippi River and putting it into the marshes where they can rebuild is “what is important.”
While this is definitely part of the solution, eschewing the reality of a sea level that could rise over four feet in the area by the end of the century isn’t going to solve any of Louisiana’s coastal problems. NOAA has predicted that sea level in the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across these coastal marshes by 2100 — where the current average elevation of land is about three feet.
These coastal lands — at least 30 areas of which have been delisted by the NOAA as they merge into the water — have been devastated by the fossil fuel industry for almost the last century. Now the 21st century will wreak the after effects of the very same industry as greenhouse gas emissions cause the ocean to warm and polar and glacial ice to melt. A recent New York Times’ Magazine feature covering a major Louisiana lawsuit against these oil and gas companies lays out the landscape, saying that “beneath the surface, the oil and gas industry has carved more than 50,000 wells since the 1920s, creating pockets of air in the marsh that accelerate the land’s subsidence:”
The industry has also incised 10,000 linear miles of pipelines, which connect the wells to processing facilities; and canals, which allow ships to enter the marsh from the sea. Over time, as seawater eats away at the roots of the adjacent marsh, the canals expand. By its own estimate, the oil and gas industry concedes that it has caused 36 percent of all wetlands loss in southeastern Louisiana …
The Gulf of Mexico is encroaching northward, while the marshes are deteriorating from within, starved by a lack of river sediment and poisoned by seawater.
Cassidy did not outright deny global warming, or plead ignorance and claim not to be a scientist, rather he hedged his answer, saying “global temperatures have not risen for fifteen years, so there might be climate change but we’re not seeing that reflected in temperatures.”
What Cassidy is referring to is the much touted idea of a global warming “pause,” which has been shown to be a faux pause numerous times. A study last year found that global warming has accelerated in the past 15 years, especially in the ocean. 2014 is on track to be one of the hottest — if not the hottest — years on record, with August and September both setting global temperature records.
Sen. Landrieu, chairperson of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is a believer in both climate change and the fossil fuel industry. Having supported the Keystone XL pipeline and the fracking boom, she is now at risk of losing her seat to an even more industry-friendly candidate who could help give senate Republicans the majority in November.
“I do believe our climate is changing and I do believe humans contribute,” Landrieu said in the debate. “However, we have to be very careful about the policies that we promote. I am a strong supporter of fossil fuels, yes, natural gas particularly because it is a 50 percent cleaner burning fuel and we have 200 years of it.”
If drilling under and carving up Louisiana’s wetland ecosystem continues unabated, the precious Mississippi delta region could be entirely destroyed in about a third of that time, or 70 years.
Somewhat surprisingly, not a single question was asked about energy issues during the entire debate. The coastal wetlands also buffer the port of South Louisiana — the nation’s largest — from storm surges and hurricanes. Almost 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves and a quarter of its natural-gas supply pass through this gateway to the international market. With 19 operating refineries, Louisiana was second only to Texas in 2013 in both total and operating refinery capacity.
The race between Landrieu and Cassidy is close with most polls showing Cassidy with a slight lead. The third candidate, tea-party backed Rob Maness, is trailing. Maness seemed to mimic Cassidy’s responses to climate questions during the debate, also referencing the so-called warming pause and saying “if we don’t really know how the climate changes and we’re not seeing any warming, I think that leaves that in doubt.”
If no candidate surpasses the 50 percent mark in November there will be a December runoff.