It was 20 years ago that French-speaking fishermen first told me that Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ida were coming to Louisiana. These Cajun oystermen and shrimpers didn’t know the actual names, of course. They just knew that historically massive storms would soon wipe out the state as sure as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico.
Even then, two decades ago, the rising seas and eroding wetlands were inflicting pain. An area of coastal land the size of Manhattan was turning to water every 10 months in Louisiana (and still does). The storms were also getting bigger, and precipitation patterns were changing across the state, fishermen said.
As a triggering force, climate change was just beginning to be understood by the broader public in the early 2000s, when I was a journalist chronicling the fading folkways of Cajun fishermen. Now the scientific knowledge is encyclopedic. Each summer, record global heat turns the gulf into a “hot bathtub” that is the jet fuel for hurricanes like Ida. And a warming climate stores more moisture and raw atmospheric power, which helped to crumple massive electrical towers around New Orleans and destroy hundreds of square miles of bayou country with ocean waves and interior downpours.
We know what’s causing these extreme events. In fact, it’s a wonder we still name hurricanes after people (and Greek letters when we increasingly deplete the English alphabet during storm season). Noted author Bill McKibben and others have argued we should name hurricanes after the major oil companies that have done the most to trigger our nightmarish heat.
Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction