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Is Middendorf’s rescue a sign of Louisiana’s end time?

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Photo from The Advocate

Photo from The Advocate

by Len Bahr, Ph.D.

Perhaps it’s this gloomy December, or perhaps it’s the close of 2016, one of the two most frightening political years in my memory,* which also includes the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. At any rate, some members of my extended family have recently discussed the end times, when they’ll happily fly away from all of life’s problems, leaving us heathens behind. I probably don’t have to point out that these folks obtain modern ‘factual’ information primarily from Facebook and Fox.

Anyhow, the subject of end times for earthly citizens prompted my train of thought to switch down the track to the far more likely end times for South Louisiana, marked by the inundation of virtually all the landscape below I-10. Evidence for this approaching calamity includes reams of quantitative, testable data that show an inexorable and accelerating rise in relative sea level. We no longer need to make plans based on scraps of papyrus manuscripts containing the cryptic thoughts of ancient, unidentified scribes writing in dead languages.

On December 6, the eve of the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day and America’s entry into the largest war in history, The Advocate published an article by Ian McNulty about extensive new renovations to Middendorf’s Restaurant in Manchac, Louisiana. How can that topic possibly be as serious, you may ask, as our entry into WWII in 1941; a narrowly-averted nuclear holocaust in 1962; and now, at the end of 2016, an incoming POTUS who candidly aspires to head up a Yankee oligarchy similar to Putin’s Russian model?

Allow me to explain.

For non-local readers unfamiliar with the drive between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Middendorf’s was built in 1937 on the fragile swampy isthmus between Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain. The most telling renovation described in McNulty’s piece was to elevate the main dining area by five feet. The extensive modifications have been necessitated, as specifically noted by the author, because of the combined impacts of hurricanes, coastal erosion, climate change and, by implication, relative sea level rise.

McNulty included links to relevant articles on the rapid changes in the landscape of America’s Delta, including this May 2016 piece by Bob Marshall in thelensnola.org. He also linked to an August 2015 article by former A/P reported Cain Burdeau. Here’s the quote that got my attention, including the all too rare phrase that I highlighted:

The new dining hall isn’t so much a renovation as an act of self-preservation as erosion and climate change play out along Louisiana’s delicate coastal areas.

McNulty’s article strikes me as particularly  noteworthy in that it represents one of the rare acknowledgments by either state or local reporters of the specific effects of climate change on Louisiana (Bob Marshall and his former colleague and environmental columnist Mark Schliefstein are exceptions). A media reference to climate change has become analogous to the unmentionable crazy aunt in the attic. How ironic that this politically incorrect phrase is buried in the context of an article about food, one of our most commonly discussed subjects.

The list of local and state authorities who eschew mentioning the ominous signs of climate change includes official state climatologist Barry Keim. He was interviewed by Grace Toohey for a December 14 article in The Advocate about the near record 2016 rainfall in Louisiana, approaching 90 inches, rather than ~60. Just as in past interviews on unprecedented weather events, Keim scrupulously avoided broaching the climate change issue. In contrast, Ms.Toohey quoted Alex Krautmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Slidell as follows:

“Even though it has been a really extreme year, any one event or year cannot be attributed to overall climate change,” Krautmann said. “But these trends we’re seeing of warmer Gulf temperatures and heavy rainfall do fit into observed trends from climate change.”

The statewide repertorial blackout of the climate change meme was particularly blatant and obvious during the U.S. Senate runoff, when underdog Foster Campbell’s call for taking action on climate change was virtually ignored by reporters and pundits. John Kennedy easily won, with most voters uninformed about the candidates’ contrasting positions on Louisiana’s most pressing environmental issue.

In my opinion, the most incomprehensible and incongruous avoidance of the issue of climate change in Louisiana is demonstrated by three national environmental groups who claim to lead the effort to save the Mississippi River Delta. These are the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the National Wildlife Federation, and the national Audubon Society. This silence is particularly hypocritical and egregious in light of a current national EDF fund raising campaign – a campaign based on the issue of climate change – that I’m reminded of every time I turn on my laptop.

Local EDF spokesperson Steve Cochran is presumably responsible for his NGO’s silence on the Senate runoff. I say this because it was apparently Cochran who oversaw a very hefty EDF campaign contribution to the successful 2014 congressional campaign of Garret Graves, now a staunch supporter of Donald J.Trump. If the folks who contribute to EDF on the basis of climate change only knew.

Meanwhile, S. Louisiana’s end times loom ever more likely, and all eight of our state ‘faculty members’ of the Electoral College today cast their votes for the demagogic class-less clown of 2016.

Here’s a little piece of doggerel that I composed to honor the clearly obsolete 18th century Electoral College.

Electoral College, class of 2016

by Len Bahr

Faced with a woman of substance and a man with no clue,

the Electoral College did as it was expected to do.

And we got Mr. Trump, who turned to red, states formerly blue.

Worse, his E.C. ‘diploma’ is real, unlike one from Trump U.

He’s an ‘invalid-dictorian,’ class-less clown with an orange hue,

lacking presidential qualities that we’ve been used to,

such as empathy, insight, and knowledge, to name just a few.

None of which is important, from his point of view.

The Donald thrives on an ego, greed, and intolerance stew

that sates his wrath for critics, whom he loves to sue.

My question is when/if his backers will eventually rue

Their foresightless votes for this fountain of poo.

*I was a mere five months old on December 7, 1941.

Editor’s note: After posting this piece I remembered another Louisiana journalist who’s shown the courage to publicly discuss climate change as though it weren’t locker room language. Keith Magill, editor of The Daily Comet in Houma, published this article on December 3.

Coincidence? As if to prove me a liar, on December 20, one day after this post appeared, The Advocate carried an article by Bob Marshall that: (1) projects higher risk to Louisiana residents from climate change-induced intense rainfall events; and (2) quotes Barry Keim in agreement!

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  1. Light v Heat, Round Two

    Two opposite sets of ideas on the best way forward. If anyone cares to respond to them, please allow me to first toss a few logs towards the fireplace.

    1. Both columns (as is this blog most of the time) are geology-free.

    2. Oceans only rise. If there is another ice age in our future, it’s so far away this and the next few generations can ignore it.

    3. Whether the US has the ability by itself to meaningfully alter the future by changing its carbon policy is not assured.

    4. Whether the whole industrial world acting in concert has the ability by to meaningfully alter the future by changing its carbon policy is not assured.

    Guest column: Spend coastal money quickly
    http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/opinion/article_270816d0-c799-11e6-a2b7-6f9dd3171398.html

    APPEL: Conflicted About How Best To Fight Coastal Erosion
    http://thehayride.com/2016/04/appel-conflicted-about-how-best-to-fight-coastal-erosion/

    • Anon.-
      The first article you cite on spending coastal money quickly exemplifies my consternation that EDF spokesman Steve Cochran receives an inordinate amount of media time on coastal issues. As stated in my post, this is the guy who was silent on climate change action advocate Foster Campbell’s senatorial campaign but who supported the campaign for congress of Garret Graves, now loyal Trump supporter and climate change downplayer.
      Conrad Appel’s cynicism about saving our delta is understandable but a coastal barrier like the Dutch solution is hopelessly naive.

  2. Len, this is an excellent expository treatment of the threats to Middendorfs. I will add this to my list of references for the next edition of my book “The Lakes of Pontchartrain”, planned for when the three lakes(Pontchartrain, Borgne, and Maurepas) have merged as one (i.e. The Bay of Pontchartrain).

    • Robert-
      Interesting to hear about your book update. I’ve long contemplated attempting to describe the ontogeny of our river delta, focusing on key events that created its current ecological dysfunction and our (so far) ineffectual efforts to reverse this tragic trajectory. Craig Colten is also considering authoring a coastal book, I think emphasizing the social impacts of the topographic changes.
      In terms of your research, I once discovered a map from the 1800s showing two ISLANDS in Canadian waters (I can’t remember where) named Pontchartrain and Maurepas!
      Len

  3. Mike Robichaux says:

    Dear Lynn:

    It was wonderful to hear from you. I have missed your wit and wisdom in recent years and I hope to continue to hear from you in the future.

    Mike

    • Great to hear from you, Mike. I’ll never forget our memorable plane flight UNDER the Luling bridge with your former senate colleague Lynn Dean!
      Len

  4. Len, I went to a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last night. Boy if you want your eyes opened to reality go to one of those. I never saw a such a rubber stamp. One comment by Frank Duke was that they are not to consider the August flood in making any of their planning decisions.

  5. Edward Bodker says:

    Would just like to add a little practical information about climate science before this discussion breaks down further into political regression.

    Climate Change: Global Temperature
    Author: LuAnn Dahlman
    January 1, 2015

    Temperatures measured on land and at sea for more than a century show that Earth’s globally averaged surface temperature is rising. For the last 45 years, global surface temperature rose at an average rate of about 0.17°C (around 0.3° Fahrenheit) per decade—more than twice as fast as the 0.07°C per decade increase observed for the entire period of recorded observations (1880-2015).

    About surface temperature
    The concept of an average temperature for the entire globe may seem odd. After all, at this very moment, the highest and lowest temperatures on Earth are likely more than 100°F (55°C) apart. Temperatures vary from night to day and between seasonal extremes in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. This means that some parts of Earth are quite cold while other parts are downright hot. To speak of the “average” temperature, then, may seem like nonsense. However, the concept of a global average temperature is convenient for detecting and tracking changes in Earth’s condition over time.

    To calculate a global average temperature, scientists begin with temperature measurements taken at locations around the globe. Because their goal is to track changes in temperature, measurements are converted from direct temperature readings to temperature anomalies—values that represent the difference between the observed temperature and the long-term average temperature for each location and date.

    Across inaccessible areas that have few measurements, scientists use surrounding temperatures and other information to fill in the missing values. Each value is then used to calculate a global temperature average. This process provides a consistent, reliable method for monitoring changes in Earth’s surface temperature over time. Read more about how the global surface temperature record is built in our Climate Data Primer.

    Change over time
    Though warming has not been uniform across the planet, the upward trend in the globally averaged temperature shows that more areas are warming than cooling. Since 1976, every year including 2015 has had an average global temperature warmer than the long-term average. Over this 38-year period, temperature warmed at an average of 0.50 °F (0.28 °C) per decade over land and 0.22 °F (0.12 °C) per decade over the ocean.

    By 2020, models project that global surface temperature will be more than 0.5°C (0.9°F) warmer than the 1986-2005 average, regardless of which carbon dioxide emissions pathway the world follows. By 2030, however, the projected temperature pathways begin to diverge, with unchecked carbon dioxide emissions likely leading to several additional degrees of warming by the end of the century.

    References and Further Reading
    NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for Annual 2015, published online January 2016, retrieved on June 13, 2016 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201513.

    • Too late. Climate has been mainly politics for many years, and it lost big time this election. Even money Congress takes away the authority of the EPA to regulate carbon.

    • Ed-
      Thanks for shedding light, not heat on the global warming issue.
      Len

  6. John Howell says:

    The climate change/rising sea level issues confuses me. For many years now, I have had a standing offer to beachfront property owners in wealthy areas such as Malibu and Martha’s Vineyard to purchase their soon to be submerged property for 5 cents on the dollar. I have yet to have a single taker. Doesn’t it make sense for them to at least get a little something for their doomed land? Why won’t they sell? What are they? Stupid?

    • John Howell, yes I can see you are confused. Malibu is 105 feet above sea level. Land owners in Malibu will be fine long after south Louisiana is inundated. Perhaps you can find someone who graduated from Trump U. to help with the math, but it’s probably best that you don’t try to understand climate change. If you are still looking to buy land at 5 cents on the dollar, I’m sure there are plenty of people along coastal Louisiana who would sell you water where land used to be just a few years ago.

  7. Edward Bodker says:

    Len, you might find this talk to scientists by Jerry Brown interesting.

    http://blogs.agu.org/geoedtrek/2016/12/14/jerry-brown/

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