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  • Lauren Duhon

What We Stand to Lose

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

The brass bands blaring.

The smell of gumbo lingering in the air.

People, friends, family and strangers alike, dancing in the streets.

A colorful assortment of purple, gold and green lining homes.

Source: Lauren Duhon

These are the scenes of what would be happening right now in my home state of Louisiana if it weren’t for the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this year, Mardi Gras and the entire Carnival season, a tradition that is deeply rooted in Gulf Coast culture, will be celebrated in the comfort of our homes.

The weight of losing something that has always been a part of me, as someone who grew up in Louisiana and Texas her whole life and as someone whose birthday falls around Mardi Gras every year, isn’t lost on me.

It seems like a foreshadowing of things we’re set to lose.

With increasing global surface temperatures, the possibility of more droughts and increased intensity of storms are highly likely.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, as more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere, it becomes a catalyst for more severe storms to develop. Additionally, more heat in the atmosphere and warmer ocean surface temperatures can lead to increased wind speeds in tropical storms. Furthermore, rising sea levels expose locations not typically subjected to the power of our bodies of water and its erosive forces of waves and currents.

Having spent my entire life in the South, I’ve witnessed highs and lows at the hands of storms.

Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Laura and many more are just a few that have ravaged communities at unprecedented levels.

Houston, where I live currently, has been put on pause more times than I count in recent years as flood events have ravaged the city.

Just this week, the State of Texas has been effectively shut down by an unprecedented winter storm. With temperatures well below freezing in an area not accustomed to severe cold weather, millions of Texans are left without power to heat their homes.

An aerial view of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 31, 2017.
Source: U.S. Air Force, photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.

The list goes on.

Having seen communities wrecked by natural disasters and severe weather events, the multicultural melting pot that is the Gulf Coast rests along a vulnerable stretch of coastline, teeming with vibrant communities that are threatened with each and every blow.

As the threats of climate change loom over us, it’s personal to me, as it should be for all of us.

It’s the communities that bore me that are stake. It’s the history and cultures along the bayou being threatened, both in Louisiana and Texas and beyond. It’s the physical land being washed away bit by bit.

Coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico are at-risk to coastal storms, and in turn land loss. More than 7,000 square miles of the coastline is below 5 feet in elevation, with Louisiana losing more than 2,000 square miles of coastline in the last century.

Aerial view of Grand Isle, a barrier island located in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of Barataria Bay in Louisiana.
Source: Erika Nortemann, The Nature Conservancy

And this isn’t a singular issue for the South. As I type this, California and neighboring states continue to grapple with the threats of wildfires, which continue to rage on with more heat and intensity each and every year.

In fact, a record number of hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost the U.S. nearly $95 billion in 2020, which is nearly double the losses from 2019. Climate change, with all of its might, is causing more frequent and more intense storms, heat waves, wildfires, and more.

Hurricane Laura alone caused $13 billion in damage when it struck Southwestern Louisiana in late August. The economic losses are growing, but the toll on our communities is also exhausting.

The loss is forcing a mounting emotional and mental toll on individuals. Studies have shown an increase in symptoms of anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress following other hurricanes, floods and wildfires, as climate change accelerates and intensifies these storms.

Among those impacted, approximately 50 percent of Houston-area residents have wrestled with powerful or severe emotional distress since Hurricane Harvey, according to a Rice University survey

With nearly 40 disaster events in the U.S. costing at least a billion dollars each in the past decade, mental health experts worry about the psychological toll from these increasingly common disasters.

The role we can take in climate action, however small it can be, is a worthwhile endeavor when so much is stood to be lost going forward.

Change in some ways is inevitable, but drastically curbing greenhouse gas emissions and thinking about our role in climate action needs to be a part of the conversation.

In the spirit of Carnival season, which in many ways can be a celebration of resiliency and definitely renewal in the resulting Lenten season, may we all respond to the call.

So the bands can play on.

The people can keep on dancing.

And the communities we hold dear can continue to thrive for generations to come.

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