This past week, Hurricane Ida tore into Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, delivering 150-mile-per-hour winds, torrential rain and massive storm surges. While the storm had lost much of its strength in the days since landfall, it continues to deliver heavy precipitation and high winds, making its way northeast and cutting a swath through the South Central, the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.
Ida’s severity has generated more discussion about steps that the agriculture sector needs to take to improve its resilience and mitigate the impacts of these enormous and wicked storms
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lists Ida as the latest of nine named storms occurring so far this season. She is said to be one of Louisiana’s strongest on record, a development that bodes ill for the months ahead (hurricane season formally ends Nov. 30), particularly following a record-breaking 2020. Last year, hurricane season brought with it an unprecedented 30 named storms, including seven major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher (Category 5 being the highest). Hurricane Ida was the latest of 10 storms that underwent rapid intensification before making landfall.
Ida is said by many researchers to be a near perfect example of what can be expected to become the norm if there is a failure to act on climate change. Forming very rapidly (half the time it took Katrina to form before wreaking deadly havoc on New Orleans 16 years ago), Ida was aided in her development by the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. Given the lack of shifting upper atmosphere winds that could counter it, the warm water served as an accelerator, pushing the eye of the storm to churn faster and faster. Barely 24 hours after it was identified as an unnamed tropical depression in the Caribbean on Thursday, its wind speeds reached 75 miles per hour – enough to be upgraded to a hurricane. By Saturday night, winds were hitting 105 mph, making Ida a Category 2 storm. She made landfall Sunday morning as a Category 4 event with horrific force.
While it is difficult to say any one storm is the direct result of climate change, the increase in global temperatures stemming largely from human generated carbon pollution is intensifying the factors that create hurricanes. Research shows that climate change has caused oceans to warm faster in recent years. Robert Kopp, an author of a chapter on oceans and sea level rise in the latest global climate analysis from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the clearest effect of global warming is that a warmer atmosphere holds more water. “Looking forward, we expect to see hurricane winds and hurricane rains continue to increase.”
This reality reaffirms the need to scale up Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) systems and practices that will help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners sustainably intensify production, improve resilience and simultaneously deliver valuable carbon sequestration and GHG reduction co-benefits.
A roadmap released last year by the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), a multi-stakeholder platform facilitated by SfL, outlined multiple agricultural pathways to effectively address the changing climate. Equally important are NACSAA’s Guiding Principles for shaping climate change and food system policy.
As Congress takes up the proposed $3.5 trillion dollar budget reconciliation measure, we urge policy makers to include funding and enabling authority for critically needed conservation, technical assistance and clean energy programs, water management and infrastructure investments, carbon pricing mechanisms and ecosystem service payment programs; as well as investments in integrated science research on climate risks, adaptation innovations, and the economic value and effectiveness of CSA production practices.
Ida is yet another call to action. With sound climate smart agriculture enabling polices, investments and markets, those who work the land can deliver solutions to climate, food system, energy and national security challenges. Who in Congress will help agriculture respond to these existential threats?