Letters: Danger ­(and hope) for coast

It was easy, and scary, for us all in Louisiana to see the havoc that resulted from the weather extremes last year. We expect it, of course; hurricanes hit our state regularly, we suffer extremes of heat and humidity, and we’re acutely aware of the condition of the giant river that runs through our land.

Still, I think most of us agree that things are changing, and not for the better. And we need to acknowledge the new reality and do something to protect our lands, and our people.

First, we need to face how we’ve become more vulnerable to these events. We’ve been losing our natural protections for years, as Louisiana sinks into the ocean — at an estimated rate of 100 square yards every half-hour.

As I drove from Baton Rouge to New Orleans after Hurricane Isaac hit, I was shocked to see how much water had washed into places where it had never been before. As far inland as St. John the Baptist Parish, people were canoeing down the street and houses were full of water. This was a Category 1 storm. Think what would happen if a storm as powerful as Katrina were to hit us again. It feels like a matter of time before Baton Rouge becomes the next coastal city.

Second, we need to recognize how fragile our state is, and how much danger we face from global climate change. Our long and complicated coastline leaves us particularly at risk to sea-level rise and flooding. Rising temperatures of water and air make winds stronger, storm surges higher and precipitation heavier.

Finally, we need to realize that our people are among the most vulnerable in the country. We still have brutal statistics for poverty and unemployment. A weak population will be less able to cope with the effects: the poor, the elderly, those with special needs or young children or substandard housing.

Unfortunately, the conditions that created the extreme weather events of 2012 are only going to get worse and the events more extreme.

There is hope, though. We do have a Coastal Master Plan already drawn up, which offers a blueprint for a better future. And we will soon see an influx of resources — after the recent settlement between Transocean and the Department of Justice, and hopefully, a future generous settlement with BP. As the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority begins to implement the plan, we must find ways to build the resiliency of the most-vulnerable populations to future disasters, including connecting residents to new jobs, training and economic opportunities.

Now’s the time to invest in measures that protect our environment, and our people.

Telley Madina,

coastal communities program officer

OXFAM America

New Orleans