New Orleans Leaders Commemorate 8th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Call for Bold Action on Climate Change

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans religious, community and elected officials gathered today for an interfaith prayer breakfast to commemorate the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and to call for bold action on climate change to help reduce its effects, including extreme weather events like Katrina.

“People from all walks of life have come together today, not only to remember Hurricane Katrina, but also to discuss being good stewards of the land and acting on climate change,” said Rep. Walt Leger, Speaker Pro Tempore of the Louisiana House of Representatives. “We have a moral obligation to act, and we need to agree on some big things that we can do to protect our environment for our children and grandchildren.”

Today’s event at the Treme Community Center, which reopened its doors earlier this year after it was severely damaged in Hurricane Katrina in 2005, followed President Obama’s historic action on climate change, which includes the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, as well as other strategies to prepare America for the effects of climate change.

Panelists highlighted the resilience of the New Orleans community and the progress that has been achieved in the eight years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people, displaced 800,000 residents from their homes, and forced 220,000 workers out of their jobs. Speakers noted that while Hurricane Katrina was a once-in-a-lifetime event for many, an increasing number of extreme weather events – including last year’s deadly Superstorm Sandy – continue to wreak havoc on Americans, claiming more lives, displacing more families and sending recovery costs skyrocketing.

“Eight years ago we experienced the devastation of Katrina. As a community, we pulled together and we are rebuilding,” said Anne Milling, Founder of Women of the Storm. “Part of that rebuilding must include bold action on climate change, so that we don’t see an increase in dramatic weather events like Katrina here in Louisiana and in the other areas of the Gulf of Mexico.”

In addition to Leger and Milling, speakers at today’s prayer breakfast included: New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Palmer; Charles Allen, Mayor’s Advisor and Director of Coastal and Environmental Affairs;Telley Madina, Oxfam America’s Coastal Communities Program Officer; Mark Romig, President of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., and LaTanja Silvester, SEIU Political and Organizing Director.

During the prayer breakfast, faith leaders – including Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Imam Rafeeq Numan, and Rev. Norwood Thompson, Jr. – offered blessings of resilience, strength and community to attendees, who also enjoyed musical performances by the all-female Pinettes Brass Band and the St. Peter Claver Youth Choir.

Impact of Climate Change and Gulf Coast Hurricanes

 The Gulf of Mexico has been described as “Ground Zero for the impact of Climate Change.”  The low lying geography of the Gulf, as well as an increased intensity of storms and an increase in population make the area vulnerable in the future. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) listed the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts as “areas most at risk” for damages from intense hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that warmer oceans would create more powerful hurricanes. While NOAA scientists do not necessarily believe that warmer water due to climate change would result in more frequent hurricanes, there is some agreement that future storms will be more powerful. NOAA predicted that global climate change would likely result in hurricane intensity increasing 2 percent-11 percent, with twice as many category 4 or 5 storms by 2100.


Hurricanes in the Gulf Coast Region

Gulf Resources Network: “The Gulf Of Mexico Is Ground Zero For The Impacts Of Climate Change.” According to the Gulf Resources Network: “The Gulf of Mexico is ground zero for the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels, more powerful hurricanes, and invasive species are all serious threats to the natural resources of the Gulf, our homes, and our communities. Coastal erosion and the myriad of problems the Gulf of Mexico is faced with are inextricably connected to climate change.” [Gulf Resources Network, accessed 3/27/13]

NRDC: Gulf Coast At Most Risk For Increased Damages From Increasingly Intense Hurricanes. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council: “In the business-as-usual scenario, hurricane intensity will increase, with more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes occurring as sea-surface temperatures rise. Greater damages from more intense storms would come on top of the more severe storm surges that will result from higher sea levels. Annual damages caused by increased intensity of U.S. hurricanes will reach $422 billion in 2100, or 0.41 percent of GDP, over and above the annual damages that would be expected if current climate conditions remained unchanged.” The NRDC listed the Atlantic and Gulf coasts at the “areas most at risk.” [Natural Resources Defense Council, Cost of Climate Change, May 2008]

National Academy Of Sciences Report Said The Number Of Hurricane Katrina Magnitude Storms Could Double Due To Global Temperature Increases In The 20th Century. According to an article in Reuters: “Scientists have long studied the relationship between warmer sea surface temperatures and cyclonic, slowly spinning storms in the Atlantic Ocean, but the new study attempts to project how many of the most damaging hurricanes could result from warming air temperatures as well. The extreme storms are highly sensitive to temperature changes, and the number of Katrina-magnitude events could double due to the increase in global temperatures that occurred in the 20th century, the researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” [Reuters, 3/18/13]


Impact of Sea Level Rise

Sea levels in the gulf are predicted to rise in the next century, with some estimates as high as 47 inches. Increased temperatures coupled with higher sea levels would make the Gulf Region more susceptible to damages from Katrina-level storms. Hurricane Katrina produced storm surges of 28 feet, and the national Academy of Sciences predicted that climate change could produce more frequent Katrina-sized surges.

Ocean Levels Near Louisiana Could Be 24-47 Inches Higher In The Next Century; Would Increase Damage From Tropical Storms. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists: “More frequent intense rainfall events are expected, with longer dry periods in between. Hurricane intensity (characterized by maximum wind speeds and rainfall totals) could increase slightly with global warming, although changes in future hurricane frequency are uncertain. Even if storm frequencies and intensities remain constant, the damages from coastal flooding and erosion will increase as sea level rises.” [Union of Concerned Scientists, Climate Projections, Louisiana, accessed 3/27/13]

Increased Sea Level And More Intense Hurricanes Would Likely Be Most Costly Consequence Of Climate Change In The Southeastern United States. According to the United States Global Climate Change Research Program, “An increase in average sea level of up to 2 feet or more and the likelihood of increased hurricane intensity and associated storm surge are likely to be among the most costly consequences of climate change for this region.” [United States Global Change Research Program, Regional Impacts, Southeast, 2009]

# # #