By Kelvey Vander Hart
When it comes to measuring the economic impacts of climate change there are no easy solutions for the Big Easy.
New Orleans is no stranger to hurricanes, humidity, and hot temperatures. But along with intensifying weather patterns, they’re facing a slew of other problems: tornados, marsh fires, extreme heat days, air quality alert days, flooding, and sea-level rise. As the symptoms of climate change became more apparent, researchers, organizations, and agencies began tracking data.
Here are some of their key findings:
Additional Burdens on Low-Income Residents
Increasing reliance on public assistance is not a metric most of us connect to climate change, but New Orleans residents certainly see the connection. A 2018 report from the New Orleans Health Department on climate change and health found that 1.25 percent of area residents live in housing without air conditioning; 27.7 percent of residents are in poverty; more than 1,700 residents were homeless; and 33 percent of New Orleans’ seniors live in isolation. These populations are much more vulnerable to weather disasters, including intense heat or flooding – therefore, when there are incidents like this, public assistance costs spike for a period of time. Draconian and heavy-handed top-down government solutions could cause energy bills for these residents to increase, which is something progressives who care about “environmental justice” need to keep in mind.
Sea Level Rise
Measurements show that the sea level near New Orleans has risen 24 inches since 1950. And, for a city that is already partially below sea level, this is not good news. As sea levels continue to rise, the state loses roughly 25 square miles of land per decade, and recent studies show that upwards of 500,000 people may leave the area due to rising sea levels by 2100.
The state of Louisiana has $50 billion in projects planned over the next 50 years to combat sea level rise. These projects include building levees, restoring shorelines, and barrier island reconstruction. But even that whopper of a price tag may not be enough to keep up with the quickening sea level rise – some experts think it may take more than $1 trillion to complete all the needed projects.
New Orleans has gotten hotter and hotter over the years, making life miserable for many and putting vulnerable populations, like the homeless, at higher risk. Heatwaves kill people and drain community resources, points that were recognized in the previously mentioned study done by the New Orleans Health Department. In the study, the department outlined the different community risk factors of a 2006 heatwave in California and the price tags attached to them. The cost-per-person in California was roughly $148,792 per 1,000 people; if a similar heatwave were to hit New Orleans, it would cost the city nearly $60 million.
Rising sea levels and higher temperatures provide the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying diseases. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical future situation for New Orleans – Louisiana has already experienced this. In 2002, an outbreak of the West Nile virus killed 24 people and prompted 204 hospitalizations, costing a total of $207 million in health-related costs. One outbreak cost the area so much in both life and money – increasing the likelihood of future outbreaks could lead to exponentially multiplied costs.
These are just a few ways to measure the economic impact of climate change. However, we frame it, climate has already and will continue to cost the Big Easy and, in turn, the rest of the nation. Making an economic case for fighting climate change is essential. Solutions that slow innovation and increase hardships for lower-income residents could make a challenging situation worse.
Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan and a senior staff writer for the American Conservation Coalition