Many students return home from college on any given weekend to spend time with their families and relax in a familiar environment. When I visited home two weeks ago, however, my environment was anything but familiar. In fact, I was forced to confront the terrifying reality that one day, likely in my lifetime, I will lose my home. Again.
August’s Hurricane Ida completely debilitated Louisiana. With sustained 150 mph winds — tied with 2020’s Hurricane Laura, making Louisiana the only state to be hit by two 150 mph hurricanes consecutively — Louisiana’s power infrastructure, roads and homes were all devastated. It took three weeks to restore power to the almost 1 million people who lost it and even longer to restore internet access. My family only managed because we are fortunate enough to own a gas generator — other people in my rural community were not as lucky as Louisiana crept into the late stages of its blistering summer heat.
Storms have shaped the trajectory of my entire life. I have lost my home once before, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. My parents, my three-year-old self and my newborn brother all evacuated to a cabin in the Mississippi Delta before our below-sea-level house succumbed to 12 feet of flood water, an onslaught of liquid filth full of the waste and debris above and below the city streets. Our home was destroyed, with flood waters reaching into our second floor, to the point where even our fridge had made the trek up the stairs. We were fortunate enough to have time to pack up our most essential belongings and gather our elderly relatives before the storm hit, but others weren’t. More than 40% of the 1300 people killed by Katrina were over the age of 71. The elderly, especially those that live alone, are always the most vulnerable in disaster situations, and I’m lucky that my grandparents weren’t among them.
After Katrina, my father vowed to only buy property above sea level, and he kept his promise when he purchased our home in Robert, Louisiana, a small town about 20 minutes away from New Orleans’ closest suburb and an hour out from the city itself. The sea level has started rising and the coasts are disappearing at such a rate that New Orleans will be submerged by 2040. While my house won’t be submerged, some of the communities that I have grown up in my entire life will cease to exist in the decades to come. My descendants won’t be able to attend the same schools I went to growing up — they’d need scuba gear to go to class.
The beautiful forests surrounding my home are now littered with the corpses of half-ton pine and beech trees. Under ordinary circumstances, the pine would be back to full height in 20 years while the beech trees would take around a few hundred, but how are these trees supposed to reach full height if they’re knocked down by 150 mph winds every year? As climate change continues to worsen the frequency and severity of hurricanes, many of which will hit Louisiana, Mississippi and the rest of the Gulf Coast, how are people supposed to continue living there? If this year it takes a month to restore power and next year it takes just a little bit longer, how much longer until the power stays off for good? It will only get worse with time.
Eventually, the natural disasters and hurricanes that plague my home will render it uninhabitable. While there are efforts in place to restore the coast and prevent sea level rise, these aren’t enough to stop the degradation in its tracks, and it may only become politically viable to fully pursue it when more people start losing their homes to the Gulf. At that point it will be too late. To halt the ever-worsening hurricanes, it’d take extensive and intense worldwide cooperative climate reform. Essentially, the only way out for Louisiana is to solve climate change, and with the current status of international climate efforts, I’m becoming increasingly pessimistic that any help is coming in the future.
I’ve lost my home before, to a powerful storm. Now, I and 12.3 million other Americans living along a coastline have to confront the reality that they might lose their homes too. There is a huge human and cultural loss tied up in the destruction of the Gulf Coast — it isn’t just our houses at stake, but our communities. The places we grow up, fall in love, make art, work jobs, celebrate Mardi Gras, raise children and plan to die. All of that human experience, collected over hundreds and hundreds of years, will be gone.
This op-ed isn’t a call to action, nor is it meant to convince you of the science of climate change (others have already done a fantastic job of that); it’s a cry for help, from one Louisiana boy who loves his home and is scared to lose it again.
Hal Fox is a sophomore majoring in Chinese and international studies from Robert, LA.