New Orleans Chemical Plant

Louisiana needs to reconsider its role in energy production as climate change threatens the future of the state.

The fossil fuel industry and Louisiana are intertwined, as seen in their histories. Native Americans first used oil from natural seeps in primitive medicines, and explorer Hernando Desoto reportedly used an oil-based mixture to seal his ships.

Shortly after the oil boom started in east Texas, Louisiana drilled its first successful oil well in 1901, and the precursor for today’s Exxon refinery opened in Baton Rouge in 1909. It was not until 1923 that companies started using seismic exploration to improve their productivity, which led to the opening of the first offshore well a mile off the Louisiana coast in 1934.

Today, there are only three parishes in Louisiana that do not have oil or natural gas wells, according to the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

The Energy Information Association reports that Louisiana accounts for 7% of the United States’ natural gas production, so the state’s economy naturally relies heavily on energy production. Louisiana’s fossil fuel industry makes up almost a quarter of total state revenues and employs 6% of the workforce, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

We are fortunate for the wealth the fossil fuel industry provides Louisiana, but the state is only in this position because our predecessors realized the importance of innovation to stay competitive in a constantly evolving marketplace.

It is for this reason that we must adapt or die. Expanding into renewable energy production will diversify the economy and put Louisiana on the forefront of a growing market. Renewable energy currently only accounts for only about 4% of Louisiana’s energy production, according to the EIA.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, renewable energy “comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished.” Renewable energy sources that could thrive in Louisiana include solar, geothermal and biomass. Geothermal is potentially the best option, though, since it can use old oil and gas wells to reach the depths required to harness pressurized heat.

Popular arguments against transitioning to renewable energy cite damage to the state economy and job losses in the fossil fuel industry, but it’s a long-term project and not an overnight transformation like the goals presented in the naive and purely idealistic Green New Deal to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

It will take many years and millions of dollars to switch from a fossil fuel-based infrastructure to one mostly supported by renewable resources.

Owners and benefactors of the fossil fuel industry could benefit greatly because they are the ones with the capital necessary to facilitate this type of modernization and would dominate the infant renewable energy market in Louisiana.

Job loss would not be an issue either because new employees would be trained in the renewable energy sector to compensate for those exiting the fossil fuel industry.

Economic benefits aside, Louisiana stands to gain the most from this adaptation because it also has the most to lose if climate change is not checked.

The state is already plagued by a land loss epidemic, so rising ocean levels will only expedite the process and eventually submerge large swaths of south Louisiana, including New Orleans, Houma and Lake Charles. Rising ocean temperatures will devastate the seafood industry, which also plays a major role in the state’s economy. Hurricanes and flooding will become more frequent, too, as storms feed on the tropical gulf waters.

Costs dropped drastically over the last 10 years for renewable energy technology, so it is more feasible now than ever before to tackle this momentous undertaking. Continued investment in renewable energy will only make it more affordable and efficient over time.

Action to combat climate change is necessary to guarantee the future of Louisiana, and decreasing our fossil fuel dependence is a great step in the right direction because progress is the only way forward.

Draven Coleman is a 21-year-old Mass Communication senior from Wesson, Mississippi.

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