Stay or go? Louisiana residents are being forced to face climate crisis threats

Published: Dec. 20, 2021

By: Joe Rizzo, Joey Bullard and Michael Sanders, LSU Manship School News Service

As Hurricane Ida rapidly grew in strength, crabbers Stacia Johnson and Justin Smith were left with just three days to relocate their $100,000 supply of crab traps. Knowing the traps could be severely damaged or stolen if left on land, the siblings dropped their traps in the Biloxi Marsh, said a prayer and evacuated to Arkansas. Days later, unsure how many traps would be left, they found that not only were all of the traps intact, but they were also filled to the brim with crabs.

Johnson called the event a miracle in a string of unfortunate events due to the worsening effects of climate change. Rising water temperatures, disappearing islands and rapidly changing salinity levels have severely altered their fishing routes and the migration patterns of the crustaceans they catch. These changes have significantly hindered their success as commercial fishers.

Siblings Justin Smith and Stacia Johnson on a boat on Lake Pontchartrain.
Siblings Justin Smith and Stacia Johnson on a boat on Lake Ponchartrain. Courtesy of Stacia Johnson

The Johnson-Smith family is not alone. As ocean temperatures rise, hurricane seasons become longer and more intense, and residents across the state are being forced to face the existential threats of the climate crisis.

Since the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, people across South Louisiana have faced greater anxiety about what could happen next. And the damage from Hurricanes Ida and Laura has turned that anxiety into dread, once again prompting families who have lived here for generations to reconsider calling Louisiana home.

Dr. George Xue, a marine science professor at LSU, said the Gulf of Mexico is a great conductor of energy for “monster storms,” or hurricanes that reach categories four or five.

Xue said that with rising sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures due to climate change, Louisiana will begin to see more hurricanes that will gain power fast and become even more unpredictable than the five major ones that hit the Gulf region over the last five years.

“There will be no safe harbor from major hurricanes in the Northern Gulf,” Xue said.

A new survey, led by LSU geology professors, of 2,780 scientists studying climate change shows that 91% of them believe that the Earth is warming because of human-related greenhouse gas emissions. Although this number has risen by 10 percentage points since 2009, according to the Pew Research Center, fewer than half of Americans believe that humans are causing climate change.

Read more at Shreveport Times

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