98% of this Louisiana coastal community has disappeared

By  | 

ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES, La. (CNN) - A coastal Louisiana community says it's a victim of climate change. Rising water and erosion have wiped out 98% of the town. Now, the federal government is spending millions to move families north before their homes vanish.

When the kids who live here are old enough to start families, their hometown will be underwater. Their great-great-great-grandparents settled here during the trail of tears and for the first 100 years, they farmed this land. But in the last 30 years, they had to raise their homes a few feet to stay dry.

And then a few feet more.

Until before and after satellite pictures proved what they already knew. 98% of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, has disappeared.

"I always talk about water as our life and our death. Once we weren't able to farm anymore that the waters, the shrimp, the oysters, the crabs that sustain our people now it's killing us. It's killing us," said Chantel Comardelle, Tribal Executive Secretary, Isle de Jean Charles.

Every hour of every day, a piece of Louisiana about the size of a football field slips into the sea. Every hour, every day. The loss is due to sea levels rising combined with levee construction and oil and gas exploration, according to ProPublica report published in 2014.

It started when America tamed, locked, and diked the mighty Mississippi, choking off the natural flow of mud that built this land.

But these days, as it sinks, polar ice melts.

Seas rise, big storms just keep coming. And those who study the drowning of Louisiana say it's happening faster than anyone ever predicted.

"What maybe five years ago was the worst case scenario, is now what we might call a fairly likely scenario," said Tjorborn "Tor" Tornqvist, Geologist, Tulane University. "It is terrifying. And it basically means that climate change is here in full force."

So, Isle de Jean Charles won a first of its kind federal grant. $48 million to move them about 40 miles north. The state recently closed on 500 acres of old sugar cane fields.

"We're going to have baseball fields, fishing ponds, wetlands, homes along the back," said Pat Forbes Louisiana Office of Community Development.

But before they can even break ground, they're getting a harsh lesson in just how hard it is to convince Americans to uproot and retreat. Half of the 40 families who live here say they will never leave, while others still aren't convinced it's the right move. Many are skeptical of climate change, even when the effects are right in front of them. "This so-called climate change thing," said resident Chris Brunet, making air-quotes with one hand.

But Isle de Jean Charles is just a tiny sample of how expensive and difficult the future will be. According to one estimate from the united nations, between 50 and 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by the year 2050. And most of those are the planet's most vulnerable are fishermen and farmers who live on the edge.

And if it is this hard moving a village, imagine moving Miami or New Orleans.

But Tornqvist says it is not too late to stop burning the carbon that is cranking up the global thermostat. Not too late to stop worst case pain. But that will depend more on human nature than mother nature.

Because as people argue, the seas rise, every hour of every day.