Vanishing Isle de Jean Charles

 Isle de Jean Charles, located in the southern Louisiana Bayou, is home to the Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. The island is quickly vanishing due to environmental problems from coastal erosion to canals dredged in the nearby marshland by oil and gas companies. These problems are further exasperated by a rising sea level. In 2016, the state used 48 million in grants to resettle 100 members of the island’s Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe. Many residents say that after a heavy storm surge or hurricane, few are able to leave the island for safety. 

 


Excerpt:
Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana

After the ongoing curves we arrived on Island road. It was a thin strip, a two-way road, on the same level as the water. It became pertinent that I stayed glued to the left. If I glided too much to the right I would be driving over the gulf of Mexico, and sinking slowly. The two-way road was still somewhat spacious, though there were often large puddles of water. I drove on the opposite lane for fear of getting into a deep puddle or splashing the people fishing on the sides of the road. In front of me, I saw that half the road was covered in the water, but I figured the jeep could handle it, so I passed along carefully.

The sky was its truest blue with only a few white clouds hanging lazily in the background. On both sides of the road endless water and the land was protected by rocks and gravel. This was no time to drive fast, since it meant heading directly into water. We drove down, wondering where we could park. We passed a submarine and a sign that read “We’re not moving off this Island. If some people want to move, they can go. But leave us alone. The people have the right to live where they want, not where people tell them to go and live…”

Here the roads were wider and there was little flooding. There was a faded light pink house on high stilts with a long staircase on the side. “The water must get that high,” my partner said. I wondered if anyone lived in these houses, if  they just came on weekends or, if they abandoned them to the gulf.

There wasn’t anyone walking in the street. We stopped where it said Dead End, since up ahead the road had been thoroughly covered by water. It did not appear deep, but I did not see any land after that point. It could be the road was only just below the water, but I didn’t want to risk it. Other cars stopped at that point too, thinking they would cross, but then they weren’t sure so they headed back. Later on I saw two bicyclists without backpacks or water bottles, which meant they had come from nearby. “These people came by bike all the way from New Orleans,” I told my partner laughing.

We walked around for a short while over a small hill on the right, which left us by an open body of water. I used my binoculars to spot birds. All I could see were Red-winged Blackbirds flying above us. Two men were revving up their small motorboat. I stared at them through my binoculars then waved and they waved back. We walked to a blue house with a sign in the front that had a fish. I couldn’t see much else from where I was standing. We passed the parking lot, and made out something about fishing hooks on the sign. We decided to check it out. For the most part everyone on the road and around here had been friendly. We went up the stairs, hoping to find food or at least directions.

At the top of the staircase, we saw some long tables and chairs. No one was around except two or three men. One of them came toward us, said hello and shook our hands. He had a calming and honest quality about him, and his eyes told me he meant what he said. He introduced himself as Theo. He was bald and wore a white shirt. “I was wondering if y’all were going to continue driving.” I told him we left our car just past the parking lot. Storm Cindy had passed a couple of days ago so we wondered if they had any major flooding. Theo said that there was two feet of water by Island road and down the road after the Dead End sign. “How long have you been living here?” I asked. He said he had been in the island for 80 years, but lived in Houma now, and only came back to take care of his father’s house. Theo looked younger than 80.

Where are we on climate action?

The topic of climate change didn’t make the cut during the presidential debates, despite the recent news regarding the Great Barrier Reef’s continued demise (50% of it is already dead or dying). But that’s not the only story that affirms our belief that climate change was unjustly ignored this election. Recent developments beg our attention towards climate action even more.

Remember way back when, Sanders was the only candidate to vehemently discuss climate change during initial debates. Now the presidential debate moderators are more concerned with topics such as dumpy’s offensive remarks and Hill’s emails than addressing the topic of global warming or science-related issues that puts the public’s health in jeopardy. Some republican officials continue to avoid using the words climate change, or they simply say it’s a hoax. Seeing how funds from the fossil fuel industry have been funneled into campaign donations on both sides of the aisle is hardly a surprise. It’s estimated that $29.6m in campaign contributions came from fossil fuel companies in the 2016 election cycle, according to ClimateTruth.org.

Several weeks ago I was listening to the radio as Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, spoke about his upcoming plans for Louisiana. One caller addressed climate change, and asked, how the governor plans to alter the course of human impact on climate, but the caller was interrupted by the host and not allowed to finish her question. Edwards avoided answering and instead, said I’m not ready to say climate change is caused by humans, as if saying it’s still up for debate, without even mentioning the possibility of alternative energy.

With numerous protests against offshore drilling, it’s shocking that the Governor doesn’t have a lengthier grasp. For years numerous communities in Louisiana have been devastated by oil drilling and chemical factories. One example among many, is Mossville, a small African-American community near Lake Charles damaged by nearby polyvinyl chloride factories for years to the point of making the area uninhabitable to live. Most recently in August, Plaquemines Parish was hit with an oil spill , adding to a long list of parishes who have filed lawsuits against the oil and gas companies, damaging Louisiana’s coast.

In past years the consensus was to accept climate change as a real issues or at least that science-based facts could improve our daily lives, and surprisingly it included some republicans who recognized that these problems were real. This video shows how far republicans have ventured to deny global warming over the years.

 

Protect our climate, water, & health.

The water protectors 

For several months now, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has tried to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline from being built along their reservation borders. They seek to protect the Missouri River from pipeline eruptions, which is all too common with these pipelines (Alabama’s recent pipeline eruption). It’s a movement that has shown resiliency when confronted with militarized law enforcement, but it’s also a historical moment that has brought together Native American tribes to defend their rights, as the New Yorker explains. Native Americans have always had to defend themselves from the intrusion of industry on their lands. Social media has allowed the movement to spread out more effectively than before, reaching many environmental groups and allies who are traveling and protesting alongside, or donating to the cause from home. Obviously this makes local authorities nervous, since they are siding with the Dakota Access oil pipeline owners. For months peaceful marches were held in Standing Rock’s encampment with prayers and singing to bring attention to their plight. Their peaceful acts have been meant with vicious dogs, military tanks, guns and unjust imprisonment. Nothing warrants these abuses on peaceful marchers or any group asking for what is owed to them after years of being colonized and oppressed.

 

Presidential candidates on science

During the presidential debates these last weeks, you hardly heard a word on topics related to science. If it wasn’t controversial or involved a scandal, it wasn’t covered. Our candidates on the local or national level don’t pay enough attention to the issues that affect daily life; issues that are integral to our health and well-being, instead they are discussing repealing the Affordable Care act, Roe vs. Wade, hill’s email scandal or dumpy’s sexual assaults. Scientific American graded the presidential candidates based on their understanding of science, and how it can influence policy. They answered questions on climate, technology, agriculture, mental heath, education, among others. One central theme: how science would inform their administration to protect Americans who are vulnerable to public health and environmental threats? Not enough is being done to protect the public. For example in Flint, Michigan, officials switched the water source in April 2014 to the Flint River, with little oversight on quality, which led to residents drinking lead-contaminated water. The local government failed to quickly resolve the issue after residents expressed their concerns about the water’s discoloration, and only took the matter seriously a year later. It’s estimated between 6,000 to 12,000 children were exposed to high levels of lead.

Climate Change and migration

It’s no surprise that climate change plays a role in the Mexico–US borderlands. Recently we have witnessed record high temperatures, causing farmers to abandon their farms; many have been displaced by earthquakes, landslides and crop failures. To make matter worse rampant militarization and unregulated enforcement has made conditions for migrants more deadly.  No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization in south Arizona, interviewed Todd Miller, a writer on the topic, to discuss the link between climate change and migration. Hurricanes, floods and drought are impacting Central American Countries and the Caribbean. Some are also being impacted by violence and unjust economic policies.  At the moment the U.S. only has a plan to deter unwanted immigrants from entering the country, but has no plans to give asylum to those displaced by climate change, and the issue only seems to worsen with this year’s political rhetoric about deporting immigrants in masses and decreasing refugees.

Environmentalist try to lease lands

What happens when an environmentalist tries to lease public land? As Mother Jones reported, they get turned down by the Bureau of Land Management, which is in charge of leasing land for the purpose of extracting oil. This action was part of the Keep it in the ground movement that wants to stop fossil fuel leases, which allows companies to extract with little oversight on environmental factors, and no regard for global warming. Though the application included all the legal requirements, it was turned down since the applicants made it clear no extraction plans would take place. Oil and gas companies buy leases on speculation; they don’t drill right away and also wait until the market is in their favor. At the moment there are “20 million acres of public land under lease that isn’t being developed for oil and gas.” But you don’t see BLM taking away this land from its renters. There is a clear bias BLM has for the industry, and it’s scary, knowing these public lands are being leased to the fossil fuel industry, and even if not all are used for extraction, they still remain in their hands.

Update: rain, flood, thoughts

That time there was a giant puddle in the park.

The last two weeks have been consumed by rain with intervals of frustrating heat. It was strange for me, especially knowing that a few miles away a flood had devastated parts of Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes (20 Louisiana parishes were designated as federal disaster areas by FEMA), while my house was sitting untouched in New Orleans. There was ongoing rain and large puddles nearby but nothing serious. My parents were worried about me after seeing reports of homes under water and people rowing boats. I had missed their calls during that weekend, making them more worried, but I eventually called them back to tell them I was safe. They were under the impression that New Orleans had also flooded. I would not know what to do if that was the case. I guess my desk would float or we would be evacuated (this is probably the best scenario).

During the week I did have some troubling dreams, including me wandering around with my dad and sister during a flood, wondering why we didn’t have boats when everyone else seemed prepared. We managed to climb our way out of the flood through a solid ladder that later turned into a cloth ladder and almost ripped when I was climbing. We made our way up to the balcony of a marble building. Days later, my sister texted me: you need to get a boat.

The damage in Louisiana wasn’t a result of heavy winds like Hurricane Katrina, but record rainfall. Also outdated infrastructure couldn’t hold the heavy amounts of rain, and failed to drain water out of the streets. The storm brought 7.1 trillion gallons of rain to Louisiana, three times more than during Katrina. Local rivers like Amite and Comite had record water levels causing the biggest flood since Sandy. Some 20,000 people were rescued and about 110,000 homes were damaged. The Advocate investigated the deaths of 13 people who lost their lives; some swept by the storm while in their cars, others swam for safety, but didn’t make it.

I imagine the disarray.
I imagine the disarray.

Days after the flood, everyone was trying to out figure how to respond; whether to donate to bigger non-profits like the Red Cross or to local businesses and residents who could easily navigate the area and get resources to BR and surrounding areas quicker than national organizations. On Facebook and twitter, people posted photos and videos of how they were helping to evacuate folks with their boats. Some had cookouts or donated food. I saw a video on twitter of trucks hurrying along i10 to get to BR. Even a basketball team showed up to help. People are amazing.

Questions arose about what kind of things to donate. What was appropriate during an emergency? Some local bars and art galleries also held fundraisers where they collected a list of goods and money to donate.

Supply vessels that trasport equipment and personnel to offshore oil and gas platforms passing along the Mississippi River.
Supply vessels that transport equipment and personnel to offshore oil and gas platforms passing along the Mississippi River.

By now most of the water has receded, but up until a day or two there were areas still submerged. At this point affected parishes are in recovery mode, as people try to rebuild their homes, try to get back to normalcy which won’t be for a while. If you’re in the area, and want to lend a hand, there are many local organizations setting up volunteers. This is something I want to be doing in the next couple of weeks. Natural disasters get a lot of attention at first then fade from the news cycle, but the people of Louisiana are still in need: check out these organizations accepting donations.

The conversation surrounding the floods has expanded to infrastructure problems. Scientific American explores how BR and other cities need to modernize their drainage system in order to face future storms that will be exasperated by global warming. As the earth heats up, more moisture is produced which increases average rainfall, making future floods more likely. The occurrence of floods also become more likely when coastlines erode and wetlands that normally mitigate floods and soak rainfall disappear. As Louisiana continues to allow offshore oil drilling, these natural buffers zones will disappear making it hard for residents to continue living near the gulf, as the The Times-Picayune reports.

 

Ariel views of the damage in Louisiana.