Keep New Orleans Above Water
Let’s face it, America would be incomplete without the city of New Orleans. From jazz music to Creole cuisine, one could argue that there’s never been a more rich, diverse confluence of cultures in the world. Even the famed humorist and literary icon Mark Twain once said, “An American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.” Sadly, however, the Big Easy — indisputably one of the world’s greatest cities — is also one of the most at risk in terms of climate change.
Why Climate Change Puts New Orleans at High Risk
According to the most recent “States at Risk” data, New Orleans is already the U.S.’s 15th hottest city, and it’s expected to get hotter. By 2050, New Orleans could see 120 or more days over 105-degrees Fahrenheit. About 150,000 people, mainly senior citizens, are already vulnerable to extreme heat in Louisiana.
Bordered on one side by the Mississippi River with the Gulf not far off, flooding in New Orleans is likely to become a more common and harrowing occurrence. An article specifically profiling the Mississippi published in Scientific American writes that:
“New floods come faster and more furiously than their 20th-century counterparts. They last longer and are less predictable. And they cause more property damage”.
Meanwhile, data from climatesignals.org shows that in the past 70 years, the state of Louisiana has seen a 62% increase in extreme rain events. That’s particularly concerning when you consider that the city of New Orleans already sits 150 feet below sea level.
And lest we not forget that the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which transpired 15 years ago at the time of writing, are still felt today. Climate change has been a known catalyst for severe hurricanes, which experts like Gerry Galloway, a civil engineering professor at the University of Maryland, are saying will occur more frequently. Per his interview with Vice News, “...with climate change will come sea level rise, and that in turn has the potential to make Katrina-like events, with their once-every-500-years storm surge, into a horrifyingly common phenomenon.”
What’s Being Done to Prepare New Orleans for the Future
Since 2005, the city has spent nearly $20 billion on improving levees, floodwalls, water gates, and pumps. Yet, many experts say that’s not enough and that prevention is cheaper than restoration. Considering that Katrina caused approximately $161 billion, they have a point.
As a result, The Climate Action Equity Report was released in 2019, detailing suggestions to curb the impact of climate change in New Orleans. In the report’s forward, Mayor LaToya Cantrell writes, “Climate change hits us at the core where we live… This Climate Action Equity Report represents a playbook for how to create win-win's for all of us on the issue of climate equity.”
Not only does the report detail how the city will reduce its overall carbon emissions to participate in global efforts to combat climate change, but it also highlights more localized opportunities, such as improving New Orleans’ infrastructure by modernizing and improving services intended for low-income residents. This combination of a global and local focus empowers locals to take action, which is a hopeful sign that these crucial changes are possible for the Big Easy.
What Climate Change Means for Real Estate
Contrary to what you might think, housing prices increase after hurricanes and other natural disasters; the storm reduces the amount of livable housing while the number of homes going onto the market drops, and yet demand persists. After Katrina, the number of livable homes in the Orleans Parish dropped by a harrowing 50%. This impact also forces many to move away, and a declining population has its own economic consequences. As always, opportunity remains, but the real estate game definitely becomes more competitive after a natural disaster.
Still, despite all of that, the city of New Orleans will be around well into the 2050s - it might just be very different from what we know today. If you or your client want to fight the good fight against climate change and its negative repercussions, consider joining a group like Healthy Community Services. We’ll let Angela Chalk describe how her organization is using landscaping strategies in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward to push back against the impacts of climate change: