One of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in U.S. history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion. Louisiana is sinking, fast.
This week The Lens, an investigative news publication that focuses on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, features a beautifully-illustrated report on the human-made destruction of southeastern Louisiana. Here’s an excerpt ….
by Bob Marshall, Brian Jacobs and Al Shaw
In 50 years, most of southeastern Louisiana not protected by levees will be part of the Gulf of Mexico. The state is losing a football field of land every 48 minutes — 16 square miles a year — due to climate change, drilling and dredging for oil and gas, and levees on the Mississippi River. At risk: nearly all of of the nation’s domestic energy supply, much of its seafood production, and millions of homes.
In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.
And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.
Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.
At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater.
This land being swallowed by the Gulf is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people who would need to find other places to live.
The landscape on which all that is built is washing away at a rate of a football field every hour, 16 square miles per year.