NEW ARLEAN (AP)
Hurricane Harvey poured more than 50 inches of rain on some parts of the Texas coast in 2017. Then in 2020, a fierce wind from Hurricane Laura destroyed homes across coastal Louisiana. Hurricane Ida collapsed in 2021, leaving the entire city of New Orleans without electricity for several days.
Such extreme weather is becoming more frequent, and this is just one of the warnings for the Gulf of Mexico region in a United Nations report released this week. The devastating effects of climate change in the region also include rising sea levels, falling fisheries and toxic tides, even if humanity somehow manages to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era.
“The hurricanes we get are more likely to turn into major hurricanes,” said Louisiana climatologist Barry Keim, agreeing with details of the more dangerous weather report.
The report, the “Atlas of Human Suffering,” details the many ways in which climate change will affect the Gulf. From Texas to Florida, which has the longest coastline of all states, the entire Gulf Coast is under serious threat due to rising seas as the planet’s polar ice caps melt, a UN report said.
The region, which has large oil and gas production in Texas and Louisiana, as well as tourist destinations in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, tends to be politically conservative, and its main Republican leaders emphasize adaptation to climate change – higher roads, sea walls, preventing salt water intrusion – more than extensive efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or promote cleaner energy.
For example, the Florida House of Representatives led by Republicans on Tuesday refused to add clean energy measures to a plan to support the state against rising sea levels and floods. The bill’s sponsor, Republican representative Demi Busato Cabrera of the Miami district, said her goal is to do “what we can fix today”.
Democrat Ben Diamond, who is vying for a seat in Congress from St. Petersburg, was disappointed that lawmakers did no more.
Improved resilience to climate change is good, he said, but “then also stops the causes of these problems in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, in terms of reducing our carbon emissions.” The Florida House bill is not included in this.
People considering a 30-year mortgage are already looking for homes and commercial buildings that pose less risk of flooding. One study cited by the UN says the trend is evident in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where some shoppers are shying away from expensive homes on the waterfront.
In Miami Beach, streets are already flooded on sunny days, especially during so-called tides, and the report says the Tampa Bay area, surrounded by shallow sea, is considered one of the most vulnerable places in the country for storm surges.
Rising sea levels pose an existential threat to much of Louisiana because much of the Mississippi Delta has sunk due to human intervention. Two major culprits are the loss of sediments from river flooding and saltwater intrusion as a result of offshore oil and gas development, Keim noted.
“Southern Louisiana is probably the most vulnerable place for climate change in the United States,” Keim said.
Other parts of the Persian Gulf face other challenges, the report warns. Tourism and the fishing industry depend on thriving habitats off the coasts of Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula, but coral reefs are bleached due to “ocean water warming that interacts with non-climatic stresses”. In Florida alone, declining reefs could lead to $ 24-55 billion in economic losses by 2100, the report said.
The report details efforts in the region to adapt to climate change. Miami-Dade has released a strategic response plan to rising sea levels in 2021, which includes adapting infrastructure, raising roads, building on hills and expanding waterfront parks and canals.
The city of Miami Beach has already spent more than $ 500 million to install pumps to flush water off the island, with no guarantee that it will keep tourists ’feet dry. The city of Miami is spending potentially billions of dollars to keep the ocean in fear and limit the infiltration of salt water into freshwater supplies.
“The most common question I am asked is whether Miami will be here in 50 years or whether it will be here in 100 years,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told a recent news conference. “This is the beginning of creating a comprehensive plan to answer this question in the affirmative.”
In Louisiana, the State Coast Protection and Reconstruction Agency has a plan with “very specific projects,” the UN report said, such as dredging to replenish wetlands and rebuild barrier islands damaged by storms.
Alex Kolker, an associate professor of coastal geology at the Maritime Consortium of Louisiana Universities in Cocodre, noted that on February 1, Louisiana also announced a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
Experts say red tide outbreaks, which are natural toxic organisms originally spotted by Spanish researchers, have become more frequent and deadly due to the heat of air and water.
Rising outbreaks are killing more fish and marine life and harming the tourism industry due to smelly fish on beaches, poor fishing and the possibility of harm to human health, especially among people with asthma or other lung diseases.
From 2017 to 2019, according to a University of Florida study, the tourism sector lost $ 184 million in revenue due to the red tide. Warmer water also contributes to algae blooms caused by pollution from agricultural, urban and other sources that are deteriorating along the Florida coast, contributing to a shortage of seaweed that has led to record manatee deaths over the past year. The state has moved on to feed one group of hungry manatees a romaine lettuce.
“You can’t just go out and plant a bunch of seaweed,” said Tom Reinert, regional director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
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