Working to cope with climate change: A guest column by J. Wayne Leonard and Raymond C. OffenheiserMay 29th, 2012 | by Irit Tamir
Last week the Louisiana legislature passed the Louisiana Master Plan for Coastal Protection. The Master Plan is the most comprehensive effort by a state to address the effects of climate change. While there has been resistance across the US South to address the effects climate change, Louisiana has experienced severe climate related hazards including hurricanes and sea level rise which have contributed to the erosion of its coastline at an alarming rate. Below is a guest column that was published on May 26 in the Times-Picayune by Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, and J. Wayne Leonard, CEO of Entergy, which discusses the significance of this event.
When extreme weather hits, communities suffer in myriad ways: homes are destroyed, businesses lost, ecosystems ravaged. As the heads of a national energy company and a global humanitarian organization, we’ve seen the damages first hand, and engaged in the painstaking and often dangerous work of recovery and restoration. We believe it’s time to rally together to recognize the dangers of a changing climate, and to invest in reducing risk and building resilience.
At Entergy, we have a unique perspective on climate change. Our product—power—is vital to the public good. Extreme weather puts the reliability of our product at risk, and we must work with our communities to prepare for and respond to these hazards.
At Oxfam, we work to find lasting solutions to global poverty—and the weather is literally working against us. Of the 820 disasters recorded last year, 90 percent were related to severe weather. Climate change is playing a role in this, and it’s the poorest—at home and around the world—who are affected most acutely, and find their struggle against poverty increasingly difficult.
Our worlds intersect especially along America’s Gulf Coast, where already socially vulnerable communities have recently been hit hard by the forces of Mother Nature. Hurricane Katrina brought historic devastation, then Hurricanes Rita, Ike and Gustav added to the toll. These events also provide a glimpse of what our future could look like continuously, if we don’t invest in building more resilient, sustainable communities. With the loss of natural protections from coastal wetlands, and sea level rise, the Gulf Coast could see more than $350 billion in weather-related losses by 2030.
This is why we applaud the leadership of the state of Louisiana, which developed and approved the Master Plan for Coastal Protection and Restoration. This plan itemizes $50 billion in investments over 50 years: restoring wetland habitat and building flood protection by restoring natural buffers to hurricanes and storm surges (marshes and barrier islands).
These actions—combined with cost-effective measures like adopting building codes to harden structures, elevating housing, and facilitating better planning—will reduce future losses. While the master plan is designed first and foremost to address land loss that has occurred due to human interventions stretching back almost a century, including river control structures and oil and gas development, threats to the region will be greatly multiplied by the predicted effects of climate change, including sea level rise and increased storm intensity.
Importantly, the actions included in the master plan represent a far-sighted and proactive solution that will help safeguard the citizens and industries of the Gulf Coast from the consequences of human actions, both historic and ongoing.
This plan provides economic opportunity for thousands—as businesses hire dredge operators, engineers, welders, biologists and boat captains—all while strengthening communities. The growing innovation and expertise can then be exported around the world. These measures will enable the Gulf Coast to continue to be the backbone of our nation’s economy and a safe home to the people who make it a national treasure.
Our country has been slow to accept the reality and risks of climate change. But it is absolutely essential at this point. With Oxfam, Entergy has joined companies representing a range of sectors—insurance to finance, apparel to food—to promote the importance of taking action. We believe that responsible business practices and strong policies will help us prepare for and respond to climate change. Failing to act will mean much greater costs later—in dollars and cents, and in human suffering.
No matter our different perspectives, we end up at the same place: determined to act together to improve our ability to cope with the profound effects of climate change. The choice is ours to make; the time to make it is now.
J. Wayne Leonard is CEO of Entergy Corp. and Raymond C. Offenheiser is president of Oxfam America.