A French colony before being subsumed by the US in 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase was concluded, Louisiana is famous for its Creole and Cajun cultures and food, as well as its rich history as the birthplace of jazz. With a population of 4.6 million people, and an alligator population of about half that, the state spans more than 43 thousand square miles.
Freshwater and saltwater wetlands cover about one-third of Louisiana’s area. The state rises gradually from the marshes, bayous, and estuaries along its extensive Gulf of Mexico coastline to the prairie in the state’s north and west. On average, Louisiana is only 100 feet above sea level and has the highest annual rainfall of any state on the US mainland, putting it on the frontlines in the battle against sea level rise—the state loses a football field’s worth of land every hour and a half. Famously, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 devastated New Orleans, flooding 80% of the city and damaging 70% of the city’s occupied housing. Katrina also shone a light on the differential impacts of environmental degradation across racial lines—a black homeowner in New Orleans was more than three times as likely to have been flooded as a white homeowner. While no single extreme weather event can be tied completely to climate change, warmer temperatures tend to lead to more powerful storms. Additionally, as sea levels continue to rise, flooding from any storm becomes more threatening.
Louisiana’s temperature is increasing even more quickly than the rest of the country, and the state is expected to see 115 dangerously hot days per year by 2050, compared to the 35 it experienced in 2015. New Orleans is the 15th hottest city in the country and had the highest poverty rate of the nation’s 50 largest metro areas.
Situated at the mouth of the Mississippi River, Louisiana has abundant crude and natural gas reserves and plays an integral role in moving natural gas through the country. The Henry Hub in Erath, Louisiana is the most active natural gas market center in North America. It will come as no surprise that about 70% of Louisiana’s electricity is generated by natural gas, nearly twice the national rate. Renewable energy accounts for about 4% of electricity. Louisiana’s total energy consumption ranks it among the top three states in the nation, largely because of the energy-intensive chemical, petroleum, and natural gas industries in the state’s industrial sector.
In spring 2019, the state government released Louisiana’s Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments. The plan identifies key challenges facing coastal communities and suggests a series of policy changes that could mitigate the risks of flooding and enhance resiliency as seas inevitably continue rising. In February 2020, Governor John Bel Edwards assembled a Climate Initiatives Task Force, which Quality Secretary Chuck Carr Brown explained would determine the volume of greenhouse gases emitted by industry and other sources in the state, and then come up with ways to reduce them. Currently, no policies exist that address greenhouse gas emissions.