Aerial view of the community of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, shown here in 2015. The land is disappearing in part because of poor river management and climate change. Photo: William Widmer / Redux

Editor’s Note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion who focuses on climate change and social justice. Follow him on Snapchat, Facebook and email. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

By John D. Sutter
8 April 2016

Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana (CNN) – Wenceslaus Billiot, an 89-year-old with suede-soft eyes and a bayou-French accent, asked me to follow him onto the second-story balcony of his stork-legged house here in the southern Louisiana marshland.

He held up a broom made of dried palmetto leaves and pointed way off into the distance.

See that tiny water tower? he asked.

The tower was on the horizon -- so distant that it appeared to be only about as tall as my pen was wide. Aside from a few tufts of marsh between us and the tower, there was mostly water.

All of that used to be solid land, he told me.

Now: "There's nothing but water."

This isn't some back-in-the-day, old-folks-exaggerating type of story. As Billiot knows all too well, the marsh of Louisiana's fragile coast is disappearing at a mind-blowing rate.

A football field of land, on average, falls into the Gulf each hour.

That bears repeating: A football field of land, per hour, gone.

The landscape of coastal Louisiana is marked with 'ghost trees' that have fallen victim to saltwater intrusion. Photo: William Widmer / Redux

Isle de Jean Charles, the mostly French-speaking, Native American community where Billiot lives, once was about the size of Manhattan. Now, it's about a third of Central Park.

The coastal island has lost 98% of its land since 1955.

And what's left is going fast.

"I don't know how long we're going to stay here," Billiot told me.

"If a hurricane comes, we're wide open.

"There's no more land." […]

Shortsighted government officials have strangled the Mississippi River with so many dams and levees that it doesn't deliver the soil that's needed to rebuild the marshes. Instead, all of that useful dirt, which normally would be deposited slowly as the river wiggles across a wide and free delta, is rushed out to the bottom of the sea.

Oil and gas canals and pipelines, meanwhile, have carved up what's left of the marsh, making it more vulnerable to collapse.

And global warming is delivering the knockout punch.

Because as the marsh crumbles, the seas also are rising. [more]

'There's no more land'

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