Staff editorial: Tulane must take action to combat coastal erosion

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New Orleans is a sinking city.

The phrase is echoed so often it almost begins to lose meaning. Its meaning, however, should not be forgotten.

New Orleans is currently estimated to be subsiding underwater at a rate of nine to 12 mm per year, far higher than previous estimates of one to six mm. While coastal land loss has slowed, it is still continuing at a rate of 28 square kilometers, roughly one football field, every 100 minutes.

Over the past 80 years, Louisiana has lost more than 5,000 square kilometers of coastal land. This land loss has caused New Orleans and other coastal cities in the region to become much more susceptible to damage from hurricanes, as Louisiana’s wetlands act as a buffer protecting communities from storm surge.

There are many contributors to coastal degradation. Among them is the rising sea level caused, in part, by climate change. Universities, like any other economic institution, play a role in contributing to man-made climate change. Recognizing this trend, many universities have taken action to reduce their environmental impacts.

One method for reducing a university’s environmental impact is divesting from industries that contribute to environmental degradation, namely the fossil fuel industry, which, by its own estimates, causes 36 percent of Southeastern Louisiana’s total land loss.

As a leading research university in Louisiana, Tulane must ask itself what role it is currently playing in the disappearance of coastal Louisiana. Furthermore, Tulane must take steps to mitigate its contribution to Louisiana’s land loss.

From 2011-14, 32 colleges and universities chose to divest from fossil fuels. Despite student demands, Tulane continues to invest a portion of its endowment in the fossil fuel industry — an industry that fuels coastal erosion in Louisiana and threatens New Orleans’ future.

In the 2017 spring semester, a bill was proposed by Tulane’s Undergraduate Student Government supporting the university’s divestment from oil. The university never responded to this bill, which was not the first of its kind. DIVEST Tulane, a student organization that has existed for more than a decade, has consistently demanded action from the university to no avail.

What are the consequences of Tulane’s actions in a city that will feel the effects of climate change sooner than almost any other city on the globe? That remains to be seen. They can, however, be predicted.

Because of both the susceptibility of New Orleans to hurricanes caused by the loss of coastal land and the increased global susceptibility to hurricanes due to rising ocean temperatures, the possibility of New Orleans experiencing another major hurricane at some point is incredibly high.

Considering how long it has taken this city to begin to resemble its vibrant self following the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, the damage that would be caused by another major hurricane cannot be overstated.

Tulane often preaches about its role in the city, using New Orleans as an attraction, a tourist trap to draw students in. Should New Orleans experience another storm like Katrina – or a storm worse than Katrina – what will the impact be for Tulane? What will the administration do when there is nothing left of the city?

Satellite projections show that the entirety of New Orleans could be underwater by the year 2100. The university cannot just wait it out until then. Divesting from fossil fuels and moving toward a carbon-neutral campus is the only solution for a campus so near to the issue.

Staff Editorials are written weekly by members of the Tulane Hullabaloo Board and approved by the full Board by a 2/3 majority vote.