Growing up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, my family prepared for each hurricane season by clearing debris and stocking our pantry with water and canned food in late May. In October, we stopped watching the Gulf of Mexico. These days, we prepare a whole month earlier and can’t fully relax until December. What used to be a summer to early fall hurricane season is now half the year, and it’s growing in both length and ferocity.
If we’re going to have any chance of saving our land, Louisiana needs real climate action and a serious investment in renewable energy. The petrochemical, oil and gas industries are threatening to hijack the process by spreading a myth about carbon capture — a myth that’s catching the ear of Gov. John Bel Edwards. But it’s not too late to tell a new story.
I’m a lifelong resident of South Louisiana and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. This land is and will always be my home. Today, I live in New Orleans and work as the New Orleans Policy Director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a nonprofit electric utility watchdog that advocates for fair, affordable, and environmentally responsible energy policy for Louisiana. I do this because I want to preserve my home.
In the last year, I’ve watched both my current and childhood homes get ravaged by storms. My power was restored weeks after the storm; trash collection resumed slowly; and my folks in Lake Charles just recently returned to their home – nearly a year after it was destroyed by Hurricane Laura late last summer.
Oil spills, coastal erosion, and worsening hurricanes all threaten Louisiana’s lands, cultures, homes, and people. If we want to preserve our land and way of life, we must act boldly and swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have no time for further hesitation or for false solutions.
To confront this challenge, Edwards created the Climate Initiatives Task Force with the goal of creating a plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions in Louisiana by 2050. This task force includes advocates for climate equity and justice, as well as many representatives of the chemical, oil and gas industries. Since 2020, the task force members have been grappling over questions like whether Louisiana can afford to refuse the permitting and construction of new industrial facilities.
This task force and the governor of Louisiana should be asking the opposite question: can we afford to proceed as we have been? More importantly, can we look to industry to solve a problem that they created?!
In Louisiana, industrial sectors like petrochemical manufacturing and petroleum refining are responsible for approximately two-thirds of the state’s overall carbon pollution — nearly four times the average of other states. As a result, our greenhouse gas emissions have risen between eight and ten percent since 2012, while overall U.S. emissions have declined by approximately ten percent during that same time. These industries have used our land as a dumping ground and in ways that disproportionately affect Black, Brown, and indigenous people. Fossil fuel drilling waste; the effluent and agricultural runoff that creates the annual hypoxic “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico; and the pollution that has dubbed the river parishes ‘Cancer Alley’ all contribute to this often unacknowledged but deeply felt harm.
Leaders in oil and gas want politicians and the public to believe the myth that Louisiana needs the petrochemical, oil, and gas industries and must invest in expensive and unproven technologies, like carbon capture and sequestration. That way these industries can keep expanding while supposedly offsetting their emissions. A recent investigative report even found that the industries are attempting to buy their way into the Climate Initiative Task Force to push their myth – a myth that we cannot afford to believe.
Carbon capture and sequestration do not remove any carbon from the atmosphere, and it has never been proven to work at the scale required. Any plan to address climate change must drastically reduce the presence of greenhouse gas emitting industries in the state of Louisiana. We must invest in policies and industries that will ensure a future for our home.
The Louisiana workforce already possesses many of the skills necessary to transition away from fossil fuels. To begin with, the clean energy sector employs more workers than fossil fuel extraction and generation. Existing infrastructure devoted to servicing offshore oil and gas production can easily be converted to service offshore wind farms. We can continue as leaders in energy production without the fossil fuel industry’s destructive impacts if we invest in proven solutions like energy efficiency, electrification supported by renewable energy, and reliable public transportation.
Gov. Edwards just signed Louisiana up for the Race to Zero, an international climate change initiative that seeks to achieve net zero emissions worldwide by 2050. Louisiana’s shift from a symbol of extraction and denialism to an active participant in the global compact to fight climate change will get a victory lap when the governor attends the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow next week. But we won’t get to zero if we look to industry as the solution instead of the problem and put our faith in tricks like carbon capture.
The Climate Initiative Task Force has released an interim report for the Climate Action Plan and a draft of the final portfolio of strategies and actions. A final strategy report is slated to be produced in February 2022. There is limited time left for the public to submit comments and attend meetings to share their stories for Louisiana’s future. We won’t chart a new course without public engagement, especially with industry trying to co-opt the task force’s process. Real climate action depends on the participation of Louisianans like me and my family that have everything on the line. Is there a story that the task force needs to hear from you?
Jesse George is the New Orleans Policy Director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy. He began his legal career at the organization where he represented the Alliance before the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the New Orleans City Council, and other regulatory bodies.