Quantcast
Climate

Louisiana’s Vanishing Island: America’s First Climate Refugees

Residents of a Louisiana island are among the first American climate refugees. Encroaching water is forcing them off the land they have lived on for generations.


Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, has been inhabited by tribal communities since the Trail of Tears era. The island, which used to be the size of Manhattan, has lost 98 percent of its land over the last 60 years, MSNBC reported.

"We had our gardens, we had our cattle, we had our chickens, so we had all our livestock here, we had all of our vegetation so we were good," Chief Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe said. "We were self sufficient in this little community here."

Now residents can't farm on the land. The two-lane road connecting the island to terra firma often floods during storms, isolating the island for various lengths of time, sometimes years. When the road isn't flooded, the water is lapping at the shoulders of the road.

Many Isle de Jean Charles residents have already relocated, but about 70 still remain. They now have to decide between staying or relocating as their island quickly disappears.

But Isle de Jean Charles don't have to relocate on their own.

In a historic decision, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced in January it would provide grants totaling $1 billion to eight states, four cities and one county, the New York Times reported. Louisiana is receiving $92.6 million in grant money. Isle de Jean Charles is receiving an $48 million to relocate and reconnect its residents on Louisiana mainland.

New York City, New Orleans and Iowa are the only grantees receiving more money than Louisiana with $176 million, $141.26 million and $96.8 million, respectively.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

"We're going to lose all our heritage, all our culture," Naquin told the Times. "It's all going to be history."

The location of the new community has not be chosen yet, but conceptual designs have been drawn up.

Project planners hope to "maintain and strengthen the tribe's safety, collective identity, social stability and contribution to the region," according to the project's website. Their new community will be self-sustaining, practical and affordable. It will have agriculture, agroforestry and aquaculture uses along with its residential purpose.

"There are no experts in resettlement," Kristina Peterson, facilitator at Lowlander Center, told MSNBC. "Having a planned community where we can say that we are projecting that this will be resilient 100 years out is really an important step. It's a step that then could hopefully be applicable to other communities."

Lowlander Center is helping with the resettlement project. The entire community is projected to cost $100 million to build. Planners hope to choose a site for the community later this year, The Guardian reported.

"You know, you can leave for a vacation and you know you're coming back," Chris Brunet, resident of Isle de Jean Charles who has chosen to leave, said. "You can evacuate for a storm and hope that you're coming back home. So to pack up and move somewhere else, that's totally different."

Previous relocation attempts were voted down by the tribe in 2002 and 2009, according to The Guardian. While many residents have voiced interest in moving, its uncertain how many will try to remain on the island. Residents are not required to relocate.

"I've lived my whole life here, and I'm going to die here," Hilton Chaisson, who raised 10 sons on the island and wants his 26 grandchildren to know the same life of living off the land, told the Times.

Even those not willing to leave have admitted the worsening status of their island.

Charlie Hammons of Houma, Louisiana, has been flying in the region for 60 years.

"As soon as you lift off from the airport at Houma, all you see is water," he said. "I can attest that, being a pilot here all my life, I've watched this land disappear."

Hammons said most residents don't understand just how close the water is because they haven't seen it from his point of view.

"To some extent Louisiana is a little bit of a window to the future," Alex Kolker, professor of earth sciences at Tulane University, said. "This is not something limited to Louisiana, it's something that people around the country are likely to feel in the years ahead."

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
African elephant. USFWS

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Over New Elephant and Lion Trophy Policies, Still in Effect Despite Trump's Tweets

The Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Trump administration Monday for allowing U.S. hunters to import elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe. The lawsuit aims to protect animals and resolve confusion created by the administration's contradictory announcements in recent days.

The suit comes days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abruptly reversed an Obama-era ban on elephant trophy imports based on catastrophic elephant population declines. Fish and Wildlife also recently greenlighted lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe, despite the controversial killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015.

Keep reading... Show less
Below the Mackinac bridge runs Enbridge Line 5, transporting 23 Million gallons of oil and liquid gas every day. Conor Mihell

Four Questions About the New Line 5 Pipeline Report

By Beth Wallace

In June, the state of Michigan released a draft report on alternatives to Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline, which pumps up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs) per day along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. The draft report, written by Dynamic Risk, was met with heavy criticism from all sides, and the National Wildlife Federation joined with many others to suggest numerous and substantive changes. On Nov. 20, the final alternatives report was released to the public. As per an agreement with the state to obtain funding for the report, Enbridge has had five days to review this report before it is released publicly.

Keep reading... Show less
USDA

Thanksgiving Dinner Is Cheapest in Years, But Are Family Farms Paying the Price?

By Sarah Reinhardt

Last week, the Farm Bureau released the results of its annual price survey on the cost of a typical Thanksgiving dinner. The grand total for a "feast" for 10 people, according to this year's shoppers? About 50 dollars ($49.87, if you want to be exact). That includes a 16-pound turkey at $1.40 per pound, and a good number of your favorite sides: stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk.

After adjusting for inflation, the Farm Bureau concluded that the cost of Thanksgiving dinner was at its lowest level since 2013. Let's talk about what that means for farmers, and for all of us.

Keep reading... Show less

Would More People Ride the Bus if It Looked and Felt Like a Train?

By Jeff Turrentine

It moves through city thoroughfares, towering above automobile traffic. It makes frequent stops to pick up and drop off passengers. It has places to sit, places to stand, and—yes—rubber-tired wheels that go 'round and 'round, all through the town.

But don't call it a bus. It's a "trackless electric train."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Electric Car Sales Surge 63% Globally

Electric vehicles (EVs) continue to gain momentum on the world market.

Global sales of electric and hybrid cars are 63 percent higher than the same quarter last year, and up 23 percent from the second quarter, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report.

Keep reading... Show less
Harvesting sugarcane in Brazil. Jonathan Wilkins / CC BY-SA

Jet Fuel From Sugarcane? It’s No Flight of Fancy

By Deepak Kumar, Stephen P. Long and Vijay Singh

The aviation industry produces two percent of global human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. This share may seem relatively small—for perspective, electricity generation and home heating account for more than 40 percent—but aviation is one of the world's fastest-growing greenhouse gas sources. Demand for air travel is projected to double in the next 20 years.

Airlines are under pressure to reduce their carbon emissions, and are highly vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations. These challenges have spurred strong interest in biomass-derived jet fuels. Bio-jet fuel can be produced from various plant materials, including oil crops, sugar crops, starchy plants and lignocellulosic biomass, through various chemical and biological routes. However, the technologies to convert oil to jet fuel are at a more advanced stage of development and yield higher energy efficiency than other sources.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
"Eólica" or wind power plant in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. ICE Group / Twitter

Costa Rica Runs Entirely on Renewable Energy for 300 Days

Costa Rica has charted another clean energy accolade. So far this year, the Central American country has run on 300 days of 100 percent power generation from renewable energy sources, according to the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE), which cited figures from the National Center for Energy Control.

With six weeks left of 2017 to go, Costa Rica could easily surpass 300 days.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
iStock

Starbucks Falls Short on Environmental Commitments

By Davis Harper

Since the early 1970s, Starbucks has held a special place in cupholders. Widespread infatuation with the company's caffeinated beverages has earned the coffee giant a storefront on almost every corner. With outposts in 75 countries and a whopping 13.3 million people enrolled in its loyalty rewards program, Starbucks has scorched nearly all of its closest competitors among major U.S. food brands (most of which aren't even coffee chains) in total market value.

With such reach and power comes tremendous responsibility. Starbucks touts its own corporate responsibility—claiming to be climate-change-aware and cognizant of its environmental cup-print—but how many latte-sippers know that their paper cup actually isn't recyclable and that it'll likely end up in a landfill? Might the knowledge that Starbucks's meat supply is pumped with antibiotics alter the market's appetite for the popular chicken and double-smoked bacon sandwich? Although the company prides itself on environmental awareness and progress toward sustainable products, multiple reports point to the mega-corporation's failure to live up to its own purported standards.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!