Hurricane Ida Shows Why We Urgently Need Bold, Just and Equitable Climate Action

September 2, 2021 | 10:29 am
Louisiana National Guard
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

Last Sunday Hurricane Ida slammed ashore in Port Fourchon, Louisiana as a category 4 storm on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and a year after Hurricane Laura (one of three storms that hit Louisiana in 2020). Information about the extent of the loss of life and damage from Ida is still emerging, especially from more remote areas. For those on the frontlines of the impacts, this is a dire humanitarian disaster requiring an immediate and massive relief effort.

Watching from afar, we at UCS feel grief—and also anger—at this disaster, which was worsened by climate change, compounded by structural inequities and racism, and collided with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a nation, we simply must do more, do better, to limit these disasters and raise up solutions that work for the people most affected by them.

If you’re looking for ways to help frontline communities right now, please go here.

Five sobering facts in the wake of Hurricane Ida

Ida triggered extensive flooding from storm surge and rainfall in Louisiana. More than a million people are without power. Wind damage is widespread and severe. Alabama and Mississippi were also impacted. The situation is staggeringly catastrophic. As the remnants of Ida move up through the East coast, it has brought extreme rainfall and flooding to multiple states in the last few days. A state of emergency was declared in West Virginia, New York is experiencing a flash flood emergency, and flooding is spreading all the way up to New England.

In the face of such disaster—on top of the many other climate-related disasters this year has brought including record-breaking drought, intense wildfires, severe flooding and unprecedented heatwaves—it can feel impossible to find the right words. Here is a small attempt to get started.   

  1. This rapidly intensifying, powerful storm bears the clear fingerprints of climate change. Warmer oceans provide the energy to intensify these types of storms and warmer air allows them to carry more—much more—water. Storm surges are higher and extend further inland because of sea level rise. Rapid intensification, in particular, has become a defining feature of recent hurricane seasons, leaving people less time to prepare and evacuate safely. The fossil fuel industry and their enablers, who have long stood in the way of climate action and continue to perpetuate environmental injustices on surrounding communities, bear responsibility for the worsening climate crisis. Yes, we do have to get off fossil fuels and cut heat-trapping and other polluting emissions rapidly, even as we pick up the pieces from Ida’s devastation and try to get ready before the next one (and there will be a next one, sadly).
  2. There were a lot of people and infrastructure in the path of Hurricane Ida and the extent of the damage and harm is still emerging, but what’s already clear is that it is enormous. Right now, and in the months ahead, it will be important to pay attention to voices on the ground, particularly in smaller, less well-resourced places like the Houma Nation which was hit particularly hard. Who and what gets prioritized in the recovery efforts will reflect what we value as a society—and whether enough has changed in the structural racism that was reflected in the post-Katrina recovery. Federal and state efforts must direct robust funding and resources to frontline communities, now and in the long term. How we build back matters—and it must align with the priorities of those who bear the brunt of these repeated disasters.
  3. Fostering more resilient communities and more resilient infrastructure will require a more holistic approach. That must include investments and plans made well ahead of acute disasters and with meaningful engagement with people on the frontlines of climate impacts. Even then, we won’t be able to avoid all harms and losses, but we can and must seek to minimize them and make our responses to climate-fueled disasters more equitable. The power grid in Louisiana failed spectacularly, and the consequences for people and for critical services will be felt for a while to come—especially as Louisiana also struggles with extreme heat in the days ahead. This is just the latest instance of grid failures triggered by extreme weather events (such as in Texas and California), and a reminder of the urgent need to invest in low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure.
  4. A few things did go right, or at least as well as they could have under the circumstances. The initial federal to state to local emergency response coordination seemed to be one of them. The levees in New Orleans held up, although some in smaller areas were overtopped. And frontline communities have been organizing and preparing too, drawing on hard lessons learned from Katrina and so many storms since. Forecasters at NOAA did a great job with projecting and communicating the path and impacts of this hurricane, as did other local weather people—many of whom were openly heartbroken and terrified to see their worst projections come true. (However, evacuation efforts were definitely lacking and, in some cases, came too late. In part, this was complicated by the rapid intensification of the storm but long-standing equity challenges for those with financial, health, mobility and other constraints also played a role, no doubt—this is an aspect that must be examined further as part of the post-storm evaluation.)  
  5. An equitable recovery will take months, if not years—long after this storm has dropped out of the headlines. And, as with the storm, that recovery will intersect with broader socioeconomic injustices and challenges as well as the ongoing pandemic. What does that mean? Well, we need to care about affordable, safe, and livable housing, especially for those who lost their homes (some of whom were already facing challenges with the eviction moratorium ending). We have to think about all those who evacuated and now don’t know when they can return safely. We need to care about jobs, childcare, and other support and resources for those who are displaced indefinitely. If the COVID-19 surge in Louisiana gets worse, we will need to think through how hospitals will cope. And this hurricane season is far from over—it’s unthinkably scary to imagine these same areas at risk of being hit again, but that is exactly what we saw happen just last year. Most of all, we simply cannot afford to just build back as-is without changing the underlying systems that are contributing to these repeated disasters.

How to help

Here are two things you can do right now (and thank you):

  • If you are able, please donate to frontline communities devastated by Hurricane Ida. Here are some links:

Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy Ida resource page (includes donation links)

The GCCLP Disaster Relief Fund

Donate directly to the United Houma Nation

Gulf South for a Green New Deal Community-Controlled Fund