Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The News-Star on the link between climate change and Hurricane Harvey:
Even as floodwaters raged this week in Texas and Louisiana, so did the debate over the possible link between Hurricane Harvey and man-made climate change.
Climate activists pointed to the historic rainfall and epic flooding as exactly the type of extreme event forecast to occur as the globe warms. Skeptics cited a long list of tropical storms that slammed Texas even before the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
So who’s right?
In some ways, the question is premature, even unseemly, while search and rescue efforts continue. And a definitive answer won’t come until scientists conduct post-storm “attribution” studies. In all likelihood, though, the conclusion will be that climate change didn’t cause Harvey, but it almost surely made the storm worse.
Harvey produced 40- to 50-inch rainfall totals that left parts of Houston looking like Venice and rivaled snowfall accumulations from blizzards in the Northeast. It was, in fact, the most extreme rainfall event on the continental United States in recorded history.
Such events are consistent with the basic science of climate change: Warmer than normal water temperatures, in places such as the Gulf of Mexico, provide heat energy that fuels the formation and rapid strengthening of tropical storms. Warmer air holds more water vapor, which in turn produces more rainfall. And rising sea levels exacerbate storm surge and inland flooding.
According to the National Climate Assessment, “Heavy downpours are increasing nationally (in recent decades), with the largest increases in the Midwest and Northeast. Increases in extreme precipitation are projected for all U.S. regions.”
This isn’t just happening in North America.
Even as Harvey riveted the nation’s attention this week, the death toll topped 1,000 from unusually severe monsoonal rains half a world away in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
In the coming days and weeks, expect to hear politicians describe Harvey as an “act of God” that had little or nothing to do with human-induced climate change. Even if climate change is real, they’ll add, a serious effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, through a carbon tax or other means, would be too expensive.
On Wednesday, the private company AccuWeather estimated that Harvey could end up costing $190 billion, making it the priciest natural disaster in U.S. history, equal to the combined cost of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
With that kind of price tag atop a torrent of human misery, the question isn’t whether the nation can afford to get serious about global warming. We can’t afford not to.
The Advocate on Labor Day as a nod to hard work even in the face of adversity:
For those of us in Louisiana, thoughts of Labor Day can come with mixed feelings. Coinciding with hurricane season, the holiday here has been shadowed at times by storm recovery as well as worries about new weather threats.
In 2005, Labor Day was grim for a state shaken by Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav rolled ashore in Louisiana on Labor Day, with residents foregoing the pleasures of backyard barbecues to brace for destructive winds and rain. Last year’s Labor Day arrived as thousands of flood victims in the Baton Rouge area began the backbreaking work of gutting their homes after an unnamed storm flooded the region.
This year, in our part of the world, another Labor Day is shadowed by grief in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Luckily, Louisiana was spared the worst of the storm. But the destruction in nearby Texas - and the flooding Harvey brought to parts of Louisiana - makes the arrival of today’s holiday seem off-key. Our thoughts are with Louisiana’s newest flood victims, as well as those touched by the Great Flood of 2016 still struggling to recover. The people of Texas will need our support for months - and years - to come.
Poet T.S. Eliot famously observed that April is the cruelest month, but then again, he never lived in Louisiana. If he Eliot had resided here, he might have given the cruel-month distinction to August, which has so often seemed a gauntlet of weather worries that Louisianans must pass through on their way to autumn.
Today’s observance of Labor Day reminds us that another August is history. With its passing comes the prospect of relief, although hurricane season is far from over, and the usual weather anxietes continue to touch the news cycle.
Labor Day also marks the unofficial end of summer, a time of reflection on what the season brought. After last year’s summer, a time of racial strife, violence and epic flooding in Louisiana, we’d hoped for a summer of restoration and calm in 2017. Instead, the season brought continued protests about race and a related death - this time, in Charlottesville, Virginia. This August’s rising waters also eerily echoed last summer’s headlines. Maybe some Americans will greet this turmoil as the new normal, but it doesn’t seem normal to us.
Labor Day originated in 19th century to honor the dignity of manual labor, a sector of the national workforce we often consider an artifact of an earlier age. On this Labor Day as in others, solemn experts will note that in an era of increased automation, the future belongs to machines, not men and women working with their hands.
But we have glimpsed the future, and it’s in Houston, where thousands of carpenters, roofers, plumbers and craftsmen will be needed to make that city whole.
This Labor Day is a day to celebrate hard work. As it heals, a wounded region needs it now more than ever.
Lake Charles American Press on why more homeowners need flood insurance coverage:
Why aren’t more people buying federal flood insurance? Jim Boyd, a finance professor at LSU, said the National Flood Insurance Program needs to change the way people think about the coverage.
“Somebody’s not running this so-called insurance program correctly,” Boyd told The Advocate. He called it a government bail-out, not insurance.
The newspaper said only about 20 percent of Hurricane Harvey victims were covered. During last year’s floods in East Baton Rouge Parish, only 30 percent of the 68,000 affected homeowners had flood insurance.
Boyd said he questions whether the flood insurance program will survive if the federal government continues to subsidize the coverage. NFIP is currently in debt to the tune of $24.6 billion.
A number of solutions have been suggested. They include combining flood and earthquake insurance, updating Federal Emergency Management Agency risk maps, opening up the market to private insurers and focusing on communities’ building standards.
There are unanswered questions. Will the federal government fund updating of those risk maps? Are private insurers willing to take on flood insurance coverage? Could homeowners afford higher premiums? Will communities accept tougher building standards?
The first two questions are yet to be answered. Meanwhile, homeowners have demonstrated they won’t pay unreasonable flood insurance premiums. However, convincing more homeowners to buy the coverage would keep premiums reasonable.
The Advocate said more homeowners bought coverage after Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area in 2005. The widespread and costly damage caused by Hurricane Harvey should encourage even more homeowners to join the program. Keeping the rates affordable is the key to growth in numbers of those covered.
Carol Friedland, an LSU engineering professor, said flood losses have to be reduced. Improving drainage and building higher or accepting that a home will flood and constructing with flood-resistant materials would accomplish that.
The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury and the parish’s municipalities are working together to improve parish-wide drainage in order to reduce flood damages. There has been some resistance to changing building ordinances to help accomplish that, but public officials are confident it can be done.
Whatever it takes, the national focus should be on preserving the federal flood insurance program.