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Climate Justice, Energy Transition Take Root in Hurricane-Ravaged Louisiana

In Louisiana—where the impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Ida are still rippling through communities—a non-profit and a seaport are demonstrating two distinct responses to climate change.

“New Orleans is on the front lines of climate change’s wrath, vulnerable in a number of ways, including hotter temperatures and an eroding coastline,” writes the Washington Post. Here, in the Lower Ninth Ward—the largest of the city’s 17 wards—the non-profit Sustain the Nine was born in 2006 to restore the area after Hurricane Katrina tore it apart.

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Though Katrina is not directly linked to climate change, its devastation is a potent example of how extreme weather events will affect communities as global temperatures rise. 

“More than 90% Black, the Lower Ninth Ward is a microcosm of a larger truth: Communities of colour across the globe often suffer the most from climate change while contributing the least to its causation,” writes the Post.

Katrina hit the Lower Ninth hard in 2005, and residents were forced to evacuate after the area was flooded for weeks. The ward’s population has since fallen: from 14,000 people in 2000 down to only 4,000 in 2019, and average household incomes dropped from US$40,000 to $34,000 per year. 

“This group of community activists is changing the way most vulnerable inhabitants of New Orleans can recover and become resilient to natural disasters,” the Post says of Sustain the Nine, also known as the Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development (CSED). 

“The group embraces community as a climate solution, working to teach residents about their environment and how to use science, conservation, and sustainable practices to enrich and protect it.”

To this end, CSED built a platform atop the ward’s levee where photographers, anglers, and university students can take in a view of the bayou.

“This wasn’t built because it was nice to do; it was built for education and experiments,” said CSED CEO Arthur Johnson, like testing the temperature of the water and the soil.

“We’ve always been about education,” he added. “That’s one of our pillars as a community-based non-profit, the whole idea of being able to share knowledge and expand knowledge to make sure the community is able to converse and understand.”

CSED also collaborates with other non-profits in the city, working as a trusted partner to help overcome barriers when other initiatives fail to connect with residents. The group has helped bring projects like glass recycling to the neighbourhood for the first time—converting glass into sand for disaster relief and coastal restoration. CSED also worked with another group to bring discarded Christmas trees to the bayou, where they are bundled and arranged to capture sediment, eventually becoming fish hatcheries as they decompose into organic matter.

Meanwhile, at the southernmost tip of Louisiana, one of the country’s leading oil and gas seaports is looking for ways to stop contributing to climate change, reports New Orleans Public Radio.

Positioned along the Gulf of Mexico, Port Fourchon plays an integral role in the supply chain for one-sixth of the nation’s oil supply, and its clients service 95% of the Gulf’s fossil fuel production. But the port is also threatened by rising sea levels and extreme weather linked to climate change. In the year following Hurricane Ida, the community is still catching up on repairs to damaged warehouses and wharves.

Port Fourchon is now reimagining its future in a world shifting away from fossil fuels, and taking a hard look at how the shipping industry has contributed to climate change. The company has adopted measures to be more transparent and accountable for the emissions produced by ships, which largely neglect to measure their carbon pollution accurately despite being responsible for 3% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Executive Director Chett Chiasson said the port has installed sensors for real-time air monitoring, hoping to track emissions at different locations and determine their origins. This approach improves on standard industry practices that often underestimate emissions by projecting totals based on the amount of fuel a vessel uses.

Port Fourchon is still gathering data to set firm decarbonizations goals, but Chiasson said a plan will be designed in due time. The company is also preparing to accommodate low-emission fuels—like hydrogen or ammonia—and to capitalize on the offshore renewable energy in the Gulf. As fossil fuels are phased out of the global energy mix, he said being ready for offshore wind can help ensure Port Fourchon’s future viability.

“We’re changing that narrative to be: we are an energy service port,” Chiasson said. “Whatever energy that is, that’s what we’re gonna be involved in.”