Credit: NASA
Staircase to nowhere: The columnist woke in March 2016 to find her North Shore home an island. Credit: Karen Dalton Beninato

There used to be a popular T-shirt/bumper sticker slogan around town: “New Orleans: Third World and Proud of It.” In abandoning the Paris Climate Accord, President Trump has taken the sentiment nationwide. He has yoked America with Nicaragua and Syria as the lone holdouts against signing the pledge to combat climate change.

As far as his base is concerned, we’re sinking and proud of it.

Trump promised his campaign crowds he would cancel the Paris agreement and stop sending what he called “global warming payments” to the United Nations. The verbal twist lay in implying that the United Nations — not the second-most polluting nation on earth — is actively warming the globe.

What will further warm an already overheated planet is the policy shift
that favors dollars over future generations.

We were briefly held in suspense by the Tweeter-In-Chief’s
suspenseful gameshowification of his decision on Paris. Then in a sweaty Rose Garden ceremony complete with a jazz band, he announced it.

Unfortunately, for those of us in South Louisiana it ain’t just TV. We’re already experiencing the real-world consequences of climate change that Trump for years has dismissed as a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese to hobble the U.S. economy.

Like so many others, I lived through Hurricane Katrina, left a flooded neighborhood and relocated to the Midwest to start over. Years later my husband and I returned to New Orleans because Third World and Proud of It was calling us home.

The pace of climate change is accelerating. A few years ago, you could expect to get clobbered by a massive hurricane every other decade or so. We were just back when the freakishly huge March 2016 flood hit the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, our new home. As the water rose, we put boxes and furniture, much of it not even unpacked, on counters, in the attic, on top of other furniture. The effort felt comically futile as the water rose by the hour and nothing could turn it back.

When a slow-motion climate disaster is coming for you, denial gives way to bargaining: Maybe I didn’t move far enough inland. Maybe we should have stayed up among the cornfields. Maybe the water will stop rising this time.

Two days in, I watched a dot on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s  flood map inch upward as long as I could stay awake. The water was predicted to hit inches over the foundation of our home.

Flooding was inevitable. We had taken every small step we could to hold out hope: lining the doors with plastic bags full of sand and dirt and pushing anything that might hold back water against walls and windows.

In breaking faith with other nations and the hard-won Paris Accord, the Trump administration abandoned American citizens to a not quite slow-mo disaster far bigger than Katrina.

The next morning, my husband woke me up with the words: “Baby, we’re an island!” The front yard was completely immersed. The water had reached our deck, an eighth of an inch below where it would have begun to seep in under the back door. The front patio was flooded. A small patch of land was patrolled by two Muscovy ducks, just waiting — like us — to see what was going to happen.

The weather service said the water had just stopped rising. Whew. I made coffee and we sat outside with the ducks to watch it slowly recede.

Surviving an unprecedented flood by an eighth of an inch made it only harder to watch the 500-year flood hit Baton Rouge six months later. Survivor’s guilt hit home as friends were wiped out. When we helped clean and gut their homes, the smell of mold and bleach from Hurricane Katrina came surging back. It’s deep in the olfactory memory of everyone who went through it 12 years ago.

It’s now in the memory of everyone in Livingston Parish. Their region is still nowhere near recovering.

Climate change is not a political football. It’s a fact of life that’s eventually going to hit coastal cities all around the country as our weather swings between extremes and the oceans keep rising.

Attacking the coasts because they did not help you win the Electoral College, and then abandoning the Paris agreement because you feel Europe was snooty to you does not befit a president, even an accidental one.

I think about the neighbor who had a Trump sign in his yard. The friendly fire of the culture wars will kill his property, too. A president can’t abandon two coasts without affecting all of us, and if he’s truly at the point of retreating from everyone outside his core followers, the South is chock full of them.

It’s entirely possible he has fans in other countries, and they are also at risk of losing everything to rising sea levels and extreme weather. They risk losing everything all over again if they don’t move far enough inland.

Leaving an accord that rallied the entire world — except for Syria, which is otherwise preoccupied, and Nicaragua, which didn’t think the accord went far enough to combat climate change — would be inconceivable under a leader not lost to narcissism and apparent anxiety over his manliness. It’s par for the course with one who is more interested in clicks and boasting about his sexual conquests than in human beings around the globe who are simply trying to stand on solid ground.

Louisiana is losing its wetlands. Our islands are shrinking, and residents are having to head to the mainland. Isle de Jean Charles is down to its last handful of holdouts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some Trump voters among them. They may not have had the ear of the president, but with their land receding as the average global temperature reaches its highest level in recorded history, they should have. So should scientists.

In breaking faith with other nations and the hard-won  Paris Accord, the Trump administration abandoned American citizens to a not quite slow-mo disaster far bigger than Katrina.

My hunch is that even with a president this vain, all the flat earthers in the world won’t drown out the small voice inside Trump’s head, reminding him (as did the beloved daughter he ignored and a host of the corporate leaders to whom he usually panders) that there was only one right thing to do.

He could have supported the global effort that is a first step toward slowing the climate fiasco. It would have been a vital win at a time when it feels like reason is drowning.

Karen Dalton Beninato is a freelance writer based in Louisiana and slowly inching northward.

Views expressed in the Opinion section are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.