NEW ORLEANS — Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on parts of the Texas coast in 2017. Then in 2020, ferocious winds from Hurricane Laura destroyed homes across coastal Louisiana. Hurricane Ida hit in 2021, leaving the entire city of New Orleans without power for days.
Such extreme weather is becoming more common, and that’s 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 seas, collapsing 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 that we get, there’s a higher probability that they can bloom up into major hurricanes,” Louisiana’s state climatologist Barry Keim said, agreeing with the report’s details on more dangerous weather.
The report, an “atlas of human suffering,” details numerous ways in which climate change will affect the gulf. From Texas to Florida, which has the longest coastline of any state, the entire U.S. Gulf coast is under serious threat from rising seas as the planet’s polar ice caps melt, the U.N. report says.
The region, home to major oil and gas production in Texas and Louisiana and tourist destinations in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, tends to be conservative politically, and its mostly Republican leaders have stressed adaption to climate change — higher roads, sea walls, preventing saltwater intrusion — more than broad efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or promote cleaner energy.
For example, the Republican-led Florida House of Representatives refused on Tuesday to add clean-energy measures to a plan to bolster the state against sea level rise and flooding. The bill’s sponsor, GOP Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera of the Miami area, said her aim is to do “what we can fix today.”
Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond, who is running for a St. Petersburg-area congressional seat, was disappointed lawmakers didn’t do more.
Improved climate change resiliency is good, he said, but “then there’s also stopping the causes of those problems in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, in terms of reducing our carbon emissions.” The Florida House bill does not get into that.
People considering 30-year mortgages are already looking for homes and commercial buildings that pose lower flood risks. One study cited by the U.N. says the trend is evident in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where some buyers are shying away from expensive waterfront homes.