The Fight for Climate Justice in the Gulf Continues This Week in New Orleans

by Jason Schwartz

August 18, 2016

Amidst what the Red Cross is calling the worst climate disaster since Hurricane Sandy, climate justice activists are taking on the fossil fuel industry and fighting for #NoNewLeases in the Gulf of Mexico.

No New Leases Louisiana

Photo via / The Times-Picayune.

Right now, much of southern Louisiana is in a state of emergency.

A 1,000-year rainstorm caused rivers across the region to crest and overwhelm flood protections meant to withstand hurricanes. Tens of thousands have been evacuated, at least 11 are dead, and property destruction is sure to be in the many billions of dollars. The Red Cross is calling it the worst natural disaster in the United States since Hurricane Sandy.

A photo from recent flooding in Baton Rouge

A photo from recent flooding in Baton Rouge. Photo by Cherri Foytlin. 

Against the backdrop of the flood and the suffering, communities across the Gulf region are organizing to protest an auction for rights to drill in the Gulf. But what they’re protesting goes a lot further than drilling in public waters.

Climate Change and Environmental Justice in the Gulf South

Already, scientists are connecting these floods to climate change — it’s not the storm itself, but its power. As heat causes evaporation to intensify, increased water vapor in the atmosphere leads to more severe rainfall. In the past year, the United States has seen at least eight 500-year rainfall events, from Texas to Maryland.

Seems like we might have to come up with some new terminology.

Perhaps nowhere in the country has experienced more severe climate impacts than the Gulf South. There the twin nightmares of climate change and the fossil fuel industry are intensified by the legacies of racism and oppression that have placed black people, immigrants, and the poor in the path of the environmental injustice. People in Gulf South have been rising up against that injustice in powerful, creative, transformative ways, calling for a just transition out of oil and gas extraction and into a healthy, fair, renewable economy that works for all.

Black Lives Matter

Protests in Baton Rouge after the death of Alton Sterling. Another Gulf Is Possible is closely aligned with the Movement for Black Lives.

Southern Louisiana is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Some are calling the rain that caused Louisiana’s recent flooding a 1,000-year rainfall event. Flooding is bad enough anywhere, but southern Louisiana — including Baton Rouge and New Orleans — have already seen some of the worst that climate change has so far offered.

A photo showing land loss due to

A photo showing land loss due to sea level rise. The people of Louisiana are rapidly losing the land they have lived on for generations, in large part due to the activity of the fossil fuel industry.

And what’s more, Gulf residents have lived through decades of toxic fossil fuel exploitation. The waters of the Gulf are intensively drilled, and as a result, highly polluted by constant, chronic oil spills. And hundreds of fossil fuel refineries spanning from Texas to Alabama have compromised the health and land of Gulf residents for generations.

Another Gulf Is Possible

This week, people from across the Gulf region are preparing to protest an upcoming auction of huge chunks of the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling. A big march on August 20th, called “Gulf Coast Interdependence Day” and organized by more than 20 local and national groups united under the vision that Another Gulf is Possible, calls for the Obama Administration to halt to the auction, as well as all new drilling projects in the Gulf South.

On the 21st, organizers will hold a “Just Transition Solidarity Summit,” that will aim to “deepen and ground the personal, interpersonal, and systemic dynamics of oppression, solidarity, privilege and power,” and endeavor to imagine a fair and equitable transformation out of a fossil fuel-driven economy. And on the 24th, the day of the auction itself, there will be an action directed at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), holding the agency accountable for trying to lease over 20 million acres of the embattled Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, organizers will make a number of key demands, demonstrating the intersections of equity, fossil fuels, racism, and power, including:

  • “By allowing leases for offshore drilling, the Obama administration continues to offer the Gulf South region up as a sacrifice zone for the fossil fuel industry. It’s time the Gulf Region is no longer treated as a sacrifice zone.”
  • “True climate justice means doing everything possible to prevent climate disasters from happening in the first place by keeping fossil fuels in the ground and coming together to protect everyone from those we can’t prevent.”
  • “A stop to the expansion of the fossil fuel industry: no new tar sands pipelines, no new coal mines, no new offshore drilling, no new fracking, and no new leases of public lands for fossil fuel extraction of any kind. We are better off investing that capital in a clean energy economy and into our communities.”
  • Protections for workers in industries that are not appropriately regulated, including oil and gas workers, domestic workers, farm workers, and tipped workers, and for workers — many of whom are Black women and incarcerated people — who have been exploited and remain unprotected. This includes the immediate passage at the federal and state level of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and extension of worker protections to incarcerated people.”

The irony that the auction is being held at the Superdome, the site of mismanaged temporary shelters put in place after Hurricane Katrina, is not lost on anyone. In fact, it is the second offshore drilling auction to be held at the Superdome. At the first one, last March, groups from across the Gulf region turned out in joyful protest, disrupting the auction with singing, art, and civil disobedience for hours. Although the sale continued, the message was loud and clear:

“Go back to the president and tell him that this is just the beginning,” Cherri Foytlin, a longtime leader in the movement told DeSmog Blog. “Our numbers are swelling.”

This Saturday, the same groups will be demonstrating just that. Be sure to follow along, and find more info at the protest’s Facebook page.

Jason Schwartz

By Jason Schwartz

Jason Schwartz is a media officer for Greenpeace USA based in New York City.

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