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Hurricane Expected to Hit Louisiana This Weekend, and New Orleans Is Already Flooding

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Hurricane Expected to Hit Louisiana This Weekend, and New Orleans Is Already Flooding
Heavy rain from a tropical storm system flooded South Telemachus Street in New Orleans Wednesday morning. SETH HERALD / AFP / Getty Images

The first Atlantic hurricane of the season is expected to hit Louisiana Saturday, and New Orleans is already flooding.


The developing storm system dumped eight inches of rain on the city in around two hours Wednesday morning, National Weather Service New Orleans Meteorologist Phil Grigsby told CNN, inundating roads and homes.

Valerie R. Burton described waking up to the deluge.

"There was about three to four feet of water in the street, pouring onto the sidewalks and at my door," Burton told USA Today. "So, I went to my neighbors to alert them and tell them to move their cars."

But the fear is that things could get much worse over the weekend. The storm is expected to move slowly at 8 miles per hour, giving it more time to dump rain in some places. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said around 10 to 15 inches of rain could fall between Friday and Saturday, as CNN reported.

While New Orleans itself is not in the projected path of the hurricane, meteorologists are still concerned the city could be flooded if the Mississippi crests at 20 feet, as is now predicted. New Orleans is only protected up to 20 feet.

Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground explained how that might happen:

Developing Potential Tropical Cyclone 2 (PTC 2) in the Gulf of Mexico is predicted to bring a storm surge of 3 - 6 feet to Southeast Louisiana, which New Orleans' improved levee system would ordinarily be able to handle with ease. However, these are not ordinary times. The Mississippi River is near flood stage, with the waters of the river lapping just four feet below the lowest point in the levee system protecting the city. If PTC 2 intensifies into Hurricane Barry as forecast, the storm surge from Barry has the potential to move up the Mississippi River and come close to overtopping the lowest points in New Orleans' levee system. If Barry grows stronger than forecast and takes a track closer to New Orleans than currently forecast, the potential for serious storm surge flooding of New Orleans exists.

New Orleans resident Angela Catalano told CNN she already had two feet of water in her basement.

"I'm very concerned about the impending storm, with the Mississippi River near flood stage. I'm very worried about more flooding," she said.

A Nola.com article pinpointed levees along New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, as well as along St. Bernard Parish and Algiers, that were only between 18 and 19.99 feet, according to Army Corps of Engineers levee data. These levees would be overtopped by a 20 foot flood.

However, corps spokesperson Ricky Boyett told Nola.com that the levees for the Lower 9th Ward were really between 20 and 21 feet.

"Our modeling does not show overtopping of the levees in the 9th," he said.

He said there was one levee segment in St. Bernard that might be at risk, and that officials would fight flooding there as needed.

Whether or not the river does overtop the levees, the risk was made more likely by the climate crisis, meteorologist Eric Holthaus explained in The New Republic.

Louisiana has only seen a July hurricane three times, and all of them were in the last 40 years, Holthaus said. Research suggests climate change might make this more likely as the Gulf of Mexico warms earlier; the Gulf waters are currently closer to August temperatures.


Meanwhile, the Mississippi has been at flood stage in southern Louisiana since Jan. 6, the longest period on record. In general, spring floods are happening earlier as the atmosphere heats up.

"Even if Barry steers away from Louisiana, this won't be the last time the region has to deal with the dual threat of extreme late-season flooding and extreme early-season hurricanes," Holthaus wrote. "As the climate continues to warm, the atmosphere will continue to be able to hold more moisture, increasing the likelihood of intense rainfall in already-wet areas."

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

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With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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