Southeastern Louisiana Is Being Swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico, Quickly
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.
The effects would be felt far beyond bayou country. The region best known for its self-proclaimed motto “laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll — is one of the nation’s economic linchpins.
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.
For years, most residents didn’t notice because they live inside the levees and seldom travel into the wetlands. But even those who work or play in the marshes were misled for decades by the gradual changes in the landscape. A point of land eroding here, a bayou widening there, a spoil levee sinking a foot over 10 years. In an ecosystem covering thousands of square miles, those losses seemed insignificant. There always seemed to be so much left.
Now locals are trying to deal with the shock of losing places they had known all their lives — fishing camps, cypress swamps, beachfronts, even cattle pastures and backyards — with more disappearing every day.
Fishing guide Ryan Lambert is one of them. When he started fishing the wetlands out of Buras 34 years ago, he had to travel through six miles of healthy marshes, swamps and small bays to reach the Gulf of Mexico.
The only high ground remaining in the once healthy wetlands that provided vital storm protection for communities along Bayou Lafourche are the "spoil banks" or edges of canals dredged by the oil and gas industry. Photo taken close to Golden Meadow on March 18, 2014. (Jonathan Henderson, Gulf Restoration Network. Flight provided by Southwings.org)
“Now it’s all open water,” Lambert said. “You can stand on the dock and see the Gulf.”
Two years ago, NOAA removed 31 bays and other features from the Buras charts. Some had been named by French explorers in the 1700s.
The people who knew this land when it was rich with wildlife and dotted with Spanish- and French-speaking villages are getting old. They say their grandchildren don’t understand what has been lost.
“I see what was,” said Lloyd “Wimpy” Serigne, who grew up in the fishing and trapping village of Delacroix, 20 miles southeast of New Orleans. It was once home to 700 people; now there are fewer than 15 permanent residents. “People today — like my nephew, he's pretty young — he sees what is.”
If this trend is not reversed, a wetlands ecosystem that took nature 7,000 years to build will be destroyed in a human lifetime.
The story of how that happened is a tale of levees, oil wells and canals leading to destruction on a scale almost too big to comprehend — and perhaps too late to rebuild. It includes chapters on ignorance, unintended consequences and disregard for scientific warnings. It’s a story that is still unfolding.
Speck by speck, land built over centuriesThe coastal landscape Europeans found when they arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River 500 years ago was the Amazon of North America, a wetlands ecosystem of more than 6,000 square miles built by one of the largest rivers in the world.
For thousands of years, runoff from the vast stretch of the continent between the Rockies and the Appalachians had flowed into the Mississippi valley. Meltwater from retreating glaciers, seasonal snowfall and rain carried topsoil and sand from as far away as the Canadian prairies. The river swelled as it rushed southward on the continent’s downward slope, toward the depression in the planet that would become known as the Gulf of Mexico.
Down on the flat coastal plain, the giant river slowed. It lost the power to carry those countless tons of sediment, which drifted to the bottom. Over thousands of years, this rain of fine particles gradually built land that would rise above the Gulf.
It wasn’t just the main stem of the Mississippi doing this work. When the river reached the coastal plain, side channels — smaller rivers and bayous — peeled off. They were called “distributaries,” for the job they did spreading that land-building sediment ever farther afield.
The delta had two other means of staying above the Gulf. The plants and trees growing in its marshes and swamps shed tons of dead parts each year, adding to the soil base. Meanwhile, storms and high tides carried sediment that had been deposited offshore back into the wetlands.
As long as all this could continue unobstructed, the delta continued to expand. But with any interruption, such as a prolonged drought, the new land began to sink.
That’s because the sheer weight of hundreds of feet of moist soil is always pushing downward against the bedrock below. Like a sponge pressed against a countertop, the soil compresses as the moisture is squeezed out. Without new layers of sediment, the delta eventually sinks below sea level.
The best evidence of this dependable rhythm of land building and sinking over seven millennia is underground. Geologists estimate that the deposits were at least 400 feet deep at the mouth of the Mississippi when those first Europeans arrived.
By the time New Orleans was founded in 1718, the main channel of the river was the beating heart of a system pumping sediment and nutrients through a vast circulatory network that stretched from present-day Baton Rouge south to Grand Isle, west to Texas and east to Mississippi. As late as 1900, new land was pushing out into the Gulf of Mexico.
A scant 70 years later, that huge, vibrant wetlands ecosystem would be at death’s door. The exquisite natural plumbing that made it all possible had been dismantled, piece by piece, to protect coastal communities and extract oil and gas.
Engineering the riverFor communities along its banks, the Mississippi River has always been an indispensable asset and their gravest threat. The river connected their economies to the rest of the world, but its spring floods periodically breached locally built levees, quickly washing away years of profits and scores of lives. Some towns were so dependent on the river, they simply got used to rebuilding.
That all changed with the Great Flood of 1927.
Swollen by months of record rainfall across the watershed, the Mississippi broke through levees in 145 places, flooding the midsection of the country from Illinois to New Orleans. Some 27,000 square miles went under as much as 30 feet of water, destroying 130,000 homes, leaving 600,000 people homeless and killing 500.
Stunned by what was then the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, which ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent such a flood from ever happening again. By the mid-1930s, the corps had done its job, putting the river in a straitjacket of levees.
But the project that made the river safe for the communities along the river would eventually squeeze the life out of the delta. The mud walls along the river sealed it off from the landscape sustained by its sediment. Without it, the sinking of land that only occurred during dry cycles would start, and never stop.
If that were all we had done to the delta, scientists have said, the wetlands that existed in the 1930s could largely be intact today. The natural pace of sinking — scientists call it subsidence — would have been mere millimeters per year.
But we didn’t stop there. Just as those levees were built, a nascent oil and gas industry discovered plentiful reserves below the delta’s marshes, swamps and ridges.
At the time, wetlands were widely considered worthless — places that produced only mosquitoes, snakes and alligators. The marsh was a wilderness where few people could live, or even wanted to.
There were no laws protecting wetlands. Besides, more than 80 percent of this land was in the hands of private landowners who were happy to earn a fortune from worthless property.
Free to choose the cheapest, most direct way to reach drilling sites, oil companies dredged canals off natural waterways to transport rigs and work crews. The canals averaged 13 to 16 feet deep and 140 to 150 feet wide  — far larger than natural, twisting waterways.
Effects of canals ripple across the wetlandsEventually, some 50,000 wells were permitted in the coastal zone. The state estimates that roughly 10,000 miles of canals were dredged to service them, although that only accounts for those covered by permitting systems. The state began to require some permits in the 1950s, but rigorous accounting didn’t begin until the Clean Water Act brought federal agencies into play in 1972.
Researchers say the total number of miles dredged will never be known because many of those areas are now underwater. Gene Turner, a Louisiana State University professor who has spent years researching the impacts of the canals, said 10,000 miles “would be a conservative estimate.”
Companies drilled and dredged all over the coast, perhaps nowhere more quickly than the area near Lafitte, which became known as the Texaco Canals.
This fishing village 15 miles south of New Orleans had been named for the pirate who used these bayous to ferry contraband to the city. For years, the seafood, waterfowl and furbearers in the surrounding wetlands sustained the community. As New Orleans grew, Lafitte also became a favorite destination for weekend hunters and anglers.
Today those scenes are only a memory.
“Once the oil companies come in and started dredging all the canals, everything just started falling apart,” said Joseph Bourgeois, 84, who grew up and still lives in the area.
From 1930 to 1990, as much as 16 percent of the wetlands was turned to open water as those canals were dredged. But as the U.S. Department of the Interior and many others have reported , the indirect damages far exceeded that:
In the 1970s, up to 50 square miles of wetlands were disappearing each year in the areas with heaviest oil and gas drilling and dredging, bringing the Gulf within sight of many communities.
As the water expanded, people lived and worked on narrower and narrower slivers of land.
“There’s places where I had cattle pens, and built those pens … with a tractor that weighed 5,000 or 6,000 pounds,” said Earl Armstrong, a cattle rancher who grew on the river nine miles south of the nearest road. “Right now we run through there with airboats.”
There are other forces at work, including a series of geologic faults in the delta and the rock layers beneath, but a U.S. Department of Interior report says oil and gas canals are ultimately responsible for 30 to 59 percent of coastal land loss. In some areas of Barataria Bay, said Turner at LSU, it’s close to 90 percent.
Even more damage was to come as the oil and gas industry shifted offshore in the late 1930s, eventually planting about 7,000 wells in the Gulf. To carry that harvest to onshore refineries, companies needed more underwater pipelines. So they dug wider, deeper waterways to accommodate the large ships that served offshore platforms.
Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to dredge about 550 miles of navigation channels through the wetlands. The Department of Interior has estimated that those canals, averaging 12 to 15 feet deep and 150 to 500 feet wide, resulted in the loss of an additional 369,000 acres of coastal land.
Researchers eventually would show that the damage wasn’t due to surface activities alone. When all that oil and gas was removed from below some areas, the layers of earth far below compacted and sank. Studies have shown that coastal subsidence has been highest in some areas with the highest rates of extraction.
Push to hold industry accountableThe oil and gas industry, one of the state’s most powerful political forces, has acknowledged some role in the damages, but so far has defeated efforts to force companies to pay for it.
The most aggressive effort to hold the industry accountable is now underway. In July 2013, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, which maintains levees around New Orleans, filed suit against more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies.
The lawsuit claims that the industry, by transforming so much of the wetlands to open water, has increased the size of storm surges. It argues this is making it harder to protect the New Orleans area against flooding and will force the levee authority to build bigger levees and floodwalls.
The lawsuit also claims that the companies did not return the work areas to their original condition, as required by state permits.
"The oil and gas industry has complied with each permit required by the State of Louisiana and the Corps of Engineers since the permits became law,” said Ragan Dickens, spokesman for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.
State leaders immediately rose to the industry’s defense. Much of the public debate has not been about the merits of the suit; instead, opponents contested the authority’s legal right to file the suit and its contingency fee arrangement with a private law firm.
“We’re not going to allow a single levee board that has been hijacked by a group of trial lawyers to determine flood protection, coastal restoration and economic repercussions for the entire State of Louisiana,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal in a news release demanding that the levee authority withdraw its suit.
“A better approach,” he said in the statement, “to helping restore Louisiana’s coast includes holding the Army Corps of Engineers accountable, pushing for more offshore revenue sharing and holding BP accountable for the damage their spill is doing to our coast.”
The industry’s political clout reflects its outsized role in the economy of one of the nation's poorest states. The industry directly employs 63,000 people in the state, according to the federal Department of Labor.
Many of those employees live in the coastal parishes that have suffered most from oil and gas activities and face the most severe consequences from the resulting land loss.
Legislators in those areas helped Jindal pass a law that retroactively sought to remove the levee authority’s standing to file the suit. The constitutionality of that law is now before a federal judge.
Consequences now clearEven as politicians fought the lawsuit, it was hard to deny what was happening on the ground.
By 2000, coastal roads that had flooded only during major hurricanes were going underwater when high tides coincided with strong southerly winds. Islands and beaches that had been landmarks for lifetimes were gone, lakes had turned into bays, and bays had eaten through their borders to join the Gulf.
“It happened so fast, I could actually see the difference day to day, month to month,” said Lambert, the fishing guide in Buras.
Today, in some basins around New Orleans, land is sinking an inch every 30 months. At this pace, by the end of the century this land will sink almost 3 feet in an area that’s barely above sea level today.
Meanwhile, global warming is causing seas to rise worldwide. Coastal landscapes everywhere are now facing a serious threat, but none more so than Southeast Louisiana.
The federal government projects that seas along the U.S. coastline will rise 1.5 to 4.5 feet by 2100. Southeast Louisiana would see “at least” 4 to 5 feet, said NOAA scientist Tim Osborn.
The difference: This sediment-starved delta is sinking at one of the fastest rates of any large coastal landscape on the planet at the same time the oceans are rising.
Maps used by researchers to illustrate what the state will look like in 2100 under current projections show the bottom of Louisiana’s “boot” outline largely gone, replaced by a coast running practically straight east to west, starting just south of Baton Rouge. The southeast corner of the state is represented only by two fingers of land – the areas along the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche that currently are protected by levees.
Finally, a plan to rebuild — but not enough moneySimilar predictions had been made for years. But Hurricane Katrina finally galvanized the state Legislature, which pushed through a far-reaching coastal restoration plan in 2007.
The 50-year, $50 billion Master Plan for the Coast (in 2012 dollars) includes projects to build levees, pump sediment into sinking areas, and build massive diversions on the river to reconnect it with the dying delta.
The state’s computer projections show that by 2060 — if projects are completed on schedule — more land could be built annually than is lost to the Gulf.
But there are three large caveats.
In fact, leaders of the regional levee authority have said the purpose of the lawsuit was to make the industry pay for the rebuilding plan, suggesting that state could trade immunity from future suits for bankrolling it.
That idea is gaining momentum in official circles, despite the industry’s latest win in the state Legislature.
Kyle Graham, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said recently that the industry understands its liability for the crumbling coast and is discussing some kind of settlement. “It's very difficult to see a future in which that [such an agreement] isn't there,” he said.
Graham has said current funding sources could keep the restoration plan on schedule only through 2019. He was blunt when talking about what would happen if more money doesn’t come through: There will be a smaller coast.
“There are various sizes of a sustainable coastal Louisiana,” he said. “And that could depend on how much our people are willing to put up for that.”
A vanishing cultureTrying to keep pace with the vanishing pieces of southeast Louisiana today is like chasing the sunset; it’s a race that never ends.
Lambert said when he’s leading fishing trips, he finds himself explaining to visitors what he means when he says, “This used to be Bay Pomme d’Or” and the growing list of other spots now only on maps.
Signs of the impending death of this delta are there to see for any visitor.
Falling tides carry patches of marsh grass that have fallen from the ever-crumbling shorelines.
Pelicans circle in confusion over nesting islands that have washed away since last spring.
Pilings that held weekend camps surrounded by thick marshes a decade ago stand in open water, hundreds of yards from the nearest land — mute testimony to a vanishing culture.
Shrimpers push their wing nets in lagoons that were land five years ago.
The bare trunks of long-dead oaks rise from the marsh, tombstones marking the drowning of high ridges that were built back when the river pumped life-giving sediment through its delta.
“If you’re a young person you think this is what it’s supposed to look like,” Lambert said. “Then when you’re old enough to know, it’s too late.”
Climate change is already here.
How bad it gets is still up to us
A lead author of the new IPCC report explains what we know and how we know it
by LINDSAY ABRAMS
If you want to understand where mainstream science stands on climate change, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the best place to start. Its latest report reflects a thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed science and a harsh, but admittedly conservative, overview of predictions for the future. It includes input from a total of 309 lead authors, representing 70 nations — and helped along by 436 contributing authors and 1,729 expert and government reviewers.
Salon spoke with Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and one of the lead authors of the new report, which was released Monday morning. The challenge in putting it together, Diffenbaugh told Salon, wasn’t in trying to determine whether climate change is happening: Its impacts, as climate scientists have made clear, are already being felt. On the contrary, he said, there’s so much known about climate change that the real task was distilling the scientific knowledge into a clear and concise message. That message: Climate change is here, and if we don’t take drastic action to limit warming, its effects are going to get worse.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly:
How Business Media Covered "Risky Business"
Climate Report Blog ››› July 1, 2014 3:04 PM EDT ›››
by DENISE ROBBINS
'Worse Than Anything Seen in 2,000 Years' as Megadrought Threatens Western States
New study indicates chances are increasingly high that California and other states could be facing a water crisis without compare
by Jon Queally
California drought cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif., on March 13, 2014. (Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
A new study warns that the chances of western states in the U.S. experiencing a multi-decade 'megadrought'—not seen in historical climate records in over 2,000 years—has a much higher chance of occurring in the decades ahead than previously realized. In fact, scientists are warning, the drought now being experienced in California and elsewhere could be just the beginning of an unprecedented water crisis across the west and southwest regions of the country.
“As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought... This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years.” —Toby Ault, Cornell University
The research—a project between scientists at Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Geological Survey—shows that chances for a decade-long drought this century is now at fifty-fifty, and that a drought lasting as long as 35 years—defined as a "megadrought"—has a twenty- to fifty-percent chance of occurring.
“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper, told the Cornell Chronicle. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”
And if such a megadrought does occur, warned Ault, "This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years.”
And as USA Today notes, "The difference now, of course, is the Western USA is home to more than 70 million people who weren't here for previous megadroughts. The implications are far more daunting."
The study—entitled Assessing the Risk of Persistent Drought Using Climate Model Simulations and Paleoclimate Data—used both "climate model projections as well as observational (paleoclimate) information" as it looked back over the historic records of drought in the region while also looking forward by using advanced predictive techniques used to measure the possible impacts of current and future global warming.
According to the study's abstract, its findings "are important to consider as adaptation and mitigation strategies are developed to cope with regional impacts of climate change, where population growth is high and multidecadal megadrought—worse than anything seen during the last 2000 years—would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region."
"The picture is not pretty," said Julia Cole, a professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study. "We hope this opens up new discussions about how to best use and conserve the precious water that we have."
Changing the way western states manage their water resources and policies that respond aggressively to the issue of climate change, Cole indicated, could mitigate the worst impacts.
"I think we'd really have to change the way we think about water and the way that we use water because right now we're on a path that would be unsustainable if we had a drought of 35 years," Cole said.
The Modern Farmer spoke to Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University and other author of many studies of historic droughts, about the report and were told the prospect of a looming megadrought is "not so crazy."
“By some measures the west has been in drought since 1998 so we might be approaching a megadrought classification.” Seager said.
“We know that megadroughts — droughts as severe as the ones in past century, but lasting much longer, up to a few decades – occurred over the past millennium in the southwest and the Great Plains,” he continued Seager, who also noted that megadroughts are more notably for their duration than their severity. Seager also told the The Modern Farmer that the U.S. hasn’t had a megadrought in several centuries and that even the great Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s—famously depicted in the The Grapes of Wrath—"though incredibly severe, was not long enough to qualify."
According to the Cornell Chronicle:
As of Aug. 12, most of California sits in a D4 “exceptional drought,” which is in the most severe category. Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas loiter in a substantially less severe D1 moderate drought. Ault says climatologists don’t know whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but “with ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future,” he said.
While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.
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Climate change report: Things are bad, and they're going to get worse
Ice caps are melting, water is getting scarce in some places, fish are going extinct, and heat waves are becoming the norm. That's all bad enough, but scientists warn that the effects of climate change are only going to get worse unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group, released a report on Monday that offers a sobering look at global warming and different scenarios that might play out on the changing planet, including violent conflicts over resources and mass migrations due to widespread pubic-health calamities.
"Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger," the report said.
On the more positive side, the U.N. panel found that more businesses and governments around the globe are drawing up plans to adapt to rising water levels, extreme weather, and other climate disruptions. "I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do," says Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the paper. Read the report here.
- - Catherine Garcia
Energy East vs.
By building a movement capable of shutting down the tar sands, we’re standing up for the future of the planet
by Bill McKibben
The biggest tar sands pipeline proposal that industry has thrown out yet, Energy East, is larger than Keystone XL and would stretch over 4,000 kilometers from Alberta to New Brunswick and could move over a million barrels of tar sands crude each day, most of it destined for export.
Since the 2011 arrest of hundreds of people in Washington while protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, the fight against the tar sands has grown into one of the most important global fights against extreme energy.
Hundreds of thousands of people have come together to fight pipeline projects across the US and Canada, to stop mega-load shipments and above all to stand with First Nations in Northern Alberta and draw a clear line in the sand for politicians: being serious on climate change means rejecting the tar sands.
As it has grown in size, this movement has also grown in scale, beauty and ambition. And as it has done so, it has made life increasingly hard for the tar sands barons. Just this year, a lack of pipelines to transport tar sands to the coast played a key role in forcing Total to suspend its plans to build an $11-billion tar sands mine — something Big Oil doesn’t do very often, at least not willingly. As the movement has grown though, so too has the desperation of the fossil fuel industry, which will do anything to get tar sands to port. The most audacious “anything” so far is TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline project.
The biggest tar sands pipeline proposal that industry has thrown out yet, Energy East would stretch over 4,000 kilometers from Alberta to New Brunswick and could move over a million barrels of tar sands crude each day, most of it destined for export. That’s more than double the capacity of Northern Gateway, and hundreds of thousands of barrels per day more than Keystone XL.
When people along the route are fighting to protect their land and water, they’re also standing up for the future of the planet.
It would cross half the provinces in Canada, threatening communities all along the route, including over 150 First Nations communities. With a carbon footprint equal to 7 million cars, this pipeline is the latest desperate bid to do something every climate scientist in the world has warned against: pump the massive concentrations of carbon in Alberta’s tar sands out into the atmosphere. There are plenty of reasons to resist this project, but it’s worth noting that when people along the route are fighting to protect their land and water, they’re also standing up for the future of the planet.
The sheer size and scale of the Energy East project is an indication of an industry desperate to lock us into a dig, burn and dump economy for decades to come. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called this pipeline a “nation builder” for Canada, but from what I’ve seen of tar sands resistance, this could instead be the lightning rod that galvanizes the climate movement in this country — a movement capable of making a tar sands moratorium happen.
The deck is already stacked against the tar sands. They’ve been called one of the riskiest investments on the planet, for good reason. Between the carbon bubble and the impact of tar sands and pipelines on the legal rights of First Nations communities, investing in the tar sands is a dangerous gambit. As my friend Naomi Klein recently said, “Any resource investment in Canada right now should be treated as an uncertain investment.” With more and more investors dropping coal investments because of the risk, tar sands could be next on the chopping block, especially with the support of the ever-growing fossil fuel divestment movement.
Now it feels like we’re approaching a new kind of tipping point, one that will see the climate movement build the kind of people power we need to bend the course of history.
This fight to slow climate change has always been defined by tipping points. In the past they have been those lines we fought so hard to keep from crossing, the thresholds of runaway warming to which we may never adapt. Now it feels like we’re approaching a new kind of tipping point, one that will see the climate movement build the kind of people power we need to bend the course of history.
This fight against Energy East, along with interconnected fights against tar sands pipelines from Line 9 in Southern Ontario to Keystone XL in Nebraska and Northern Gateway in BC, are pushing the tar sands movement to a tipping point. While stopping tar sands expansion at the source may not be right around the corner, it is certainly on the horizon — and that’s just one piece of this new climate momentum.
Later this September something that we’ve never seen in North America is going to happen in New York. Hundreds of thousands of people will take to the street for the People’s Climate March, which we’re hoping will be largest climate march in human history.
Of course we’ve seen mass mobilization before, from the Occupy movement to Idle No More and the Quebec student movement, but this will be a first for the climate movement, not just because of the size of this march, but because of who is coming. This march will not just be made up of environmentalists, but also labour unions, students, Indigenous peoples, communities still rebuilding from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy and so many more.
In many ways, this march will be a street-level view of the emergence of the kind of movement we need to confront climate change. Because to change everything, we need everyone.
© 2014 Ricochet Media
Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of 350.org. His most recent book is Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
In 2013, there were 9 weather/climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included a drought event, 2 flooding events, and 6 severe storm events. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 113 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.
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