By Leah Richard
As many residents of the colorful state of Louisiana will tell you, politics here is a crawfish to crack. The state voted firmly for Trump in the last election but elected the only Democrat Governor in the deep south. Like most state in the U.S., the cities tended to vote blue while folks in the marshes, prairies, and bayous voted red. While politics may be taboo for the friendly inhabitants of Louisiana, there is one thing that is discussed openly and without a hint of irony from its rigorously Republican voters– the state is washing away.
Places that have never flooded now flood, bayous that used to be wide enough for a single barge can now fit three or four side-by-side; every day the Louisiana coast loses an area the size of a football field to the Gulf of Mexico. Residents know it, they openly talk about it being an issue, they form committees and support research on fighting erosion and saving the treasured wildlife—yet they still actively vote against the party that accepts climate change as the causal factor.
Going green will ultimately save the way of life in Louisiana– if it can be saved at all, but red is all the rural voters see at the polls. They vote Republican up and down the ticket even though their lives and work are being directly impacted by climate change almost every day. The big exception is their governor, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who won the last election against Republican David Vitter in a landslide. Vitter was deeply embattled after several scandals and the rural residents of Louisiana reluctantly voted for Bel Edwards. This nose-holding vote at the polls might be the one thing that helps the state go green—not blue or red. The Governor is a fan of green jobs and is trying to get his constituents on board.
In a state as blessed with wildlife as Louisiana, green should be an easy sell. The abundance of nature here has let human life thrive for thousands of years. Entire industries exist around the now threatened resources. Fishing, hunting, farming, shipping, and tourism make up a huge part of Louisiana’s economy. If even one of these broad industries were to go underwater the state would too. Yet, many cling to the hope that the oil and gas industry will still save the state and its residents.
In many other parts of the country, young men who are not college or military-bound go to work in mines, factories, or fields. In Louisiana, it’s an oil rig. But it’s much more than just jobs that keep people voting against green agendas. If oil takes a dip all industries here in the state suffer. If the oil companies aren’t spending money and hiring, the entire state feels the impact immediately. It’s not as abstract as talking about how the demise of the wetlands may “one day” hurt the state.
Still, John Bel Edwards is using his time in office to straddle both fences. He’s supporting oil and gas jobs while promoting more sustainable sources of energy. It’s a bit of a hypocritical stance, but it’s the only one that would work in this deeply red state right now. He and his policy advisors seem to realize that going green in Louisiana will take baby steps—let’s just hope the marshy ground is still solid enough to support the slow pace.