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Climate change will likely wreck their subsistences- but they still don’t buy the science

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The small Louisiana town of Cameron could be the first in the US are totally submerged by rising sea levels and yet locals, 90% of whom voted for Trump, still arent convinced about climate change

In 50 years, the region near where I grew up, Cameron Parish in south-west Louisiana, will likely be no more. Or rather, it will exist, but it may be underwater, according to the newly published calculations of the Louisiana government. Coastal land loss is on the upswing, and with each hurricane that sweeps over the region, the timeline is picking up speed.

As a outcome, Cameron, the principal town in this 6,800 -person parish( as counties are called in Louisiana ), could be the first township in the US to be fully submerged by rising sea levels and flooding. So its here one would expect to feel the greatest sense of alarm over climate change and its consequences.

Instead, Cameron has earned a different kind of renown: its the district that, percentage-wise, voted more in favor of Trump than any other district in the US in last years election. Virtually 90 % of the population did .

Why would some of the people more vulnerable to climate change vote for a politician skeptical of climate changes existence? Why would people in Cameron Parish subsistence policies that could ruin them?

To get to the root of this question, I slipped my tennis shoes into knee-high marsh waders, navigated the ropes on a rusty shrimp barge, and ate mountains of fried seafood. I spoke to people living different and yet parallel lives in Cameron Parish, where timelines are defined as pre-storm or post-storm, and where people kindly addressed me as Miss Shannon.

In rocking chairs and over lunch specials, I asked them about their seemingly contradictory views. I asked them why they voted for Donald Trump. And I asked them how they felt about being the proud residents of what may be Americas first drowning town.

Tressie Smith: If a hurricane comes, Im screwed

Tressie
Tressie Smith outside of her eatery, Anchors Up Grill, in Cameron. Photograph: Shannon Sims

Tressie Smith is a 44 -year-old mother of two and a business owned her seafood eatery is the most popular lunch place in town.

That popularity is aided by the fact that her would-be rivalry was all destroyed in hurricanes Rita( 2005) and Ike( 2008 ). The population of Cameron fell a stunning 79% between 2000 and 2010. When the hurricanes made, Smith was working for a cafe down the road. When it shut after the cyclones, Smith considered an opening. She bought a barber shop, tacked up naval-themed decorations and named her new business Anchors Up Grill, a wry nod to the local conditions. Her special is the dynamite shrimp poboy, a sandwich with jumbo shrimp grilled in a spicy sauce and covered in melted cheese and bacon, for $11.

Oh yeah, Im concerned, Smith says when asked about the future. And the bad thing is they wont gives people any hurricane insurance. They said my house dont qualify.

Her structure, with its glass and metal garage and creaky wooden trailer steps, stands out among the remaining houses on the street, which are mostly bunker-like big cement city offices. If another storm reach, Anchors Up looks like itd be the first to go. They did insure me the first year we were open, but then, for no reason, they wouldnt renew it, she remembers. But this is all I can do, because I had to mortgage my house and my land to get this. Because of the rules and regulations, it expenses so much to live here.

Many locals in Cameron repeat this phrase rules and regulations. Theyre referring to the strict construction rules placed on residents who wanted to return to Cameron and rebuild after Rita and Ike made the town. As a outcome, all structures needed to be raised in order to qualify for hurricane insurance. The result is a humble town whose homes appear strangely grandiose: single-story modest brick homes now rest on top of large, grassy man-made hills, a kind of south Louisiana castle.

Flood
According to Louisianas new Coastal Master Plan, Cameron Parish is at risk of being inundated by 15 feet of inundating within 50 years. Photograph: Coastal protection and restoration authority

For 10 years, Smith was a truck driver, which devoted her a specific vantage point from which to find the coast. I think the coast is disappearing, I really do. Because I traveled this road so much, driving for the oil fields. By the style it looks, it looks like the water is getting closer and closer.

But Smith stops short of offering an explanation. I truly dont know what is causing it, I dont know what youd call it corrosion? I guess its probably caused by climate change, but I dont genuinely believes in the concept. She pauses to sip her Coke, and reconsiders. She appears east down the road, where an $11 bn- liquefied natural gas plant is slated to be constructed, once federal approving comes through. But why would they be spending millions of dollars on those liquefied natural gas plants if the coasts going to disappear? And they probably know a lot more than me.

As for her politics, Smith guesses Camerons residents voted for Trump because we think he could help the oil field out, and hopefully stop the imported seafood from coming into our country so our people can make a living, she says.

Smith, like most of the residents of Cameron, has been highly dependent on country and federal assistance programs to recover after the blizzards. But what if, in Trumps push to shrink the size of the government, recovery programs are cut?

Wed be bolt, she tells frankly. But that doesnt change my opinion about Trump, she speedily adds. Foreigners think that everybody is just looking for a handout down here, but there is hard-working people that live here. There are just not many jobs right now, especially if everything you know is commercial angling. Even if Trump cuts those programs that helped us, we gonna make it one style or another here, with or without help. Down here we survive.

Brandon Vail: You cant wait around for some bureaucrat to tell you what you can and cant do

Brandon
Brandon Vail observes one of his rice fields in Cameron Parish. Photograph: Shannon Sims

Standing in green wading boots in shin-high water about 40 miles north of the Anchors Up Grill, Brandon Vail wipes the nitrogen pellets off of the inside of his glass. A fertilizer aircraft has just passed over his rice field.

Vail is a young, highly educated self-employed rice farmer who makes about $35,000 a year from farming. He works on 4,500 acres of land corn, crawfish, kine, hay, soy beans and rice which he leases from 22 different landowners. But the arable land around where Vail farms is vanishing, as development sprawls and coastal loss sneaks northward.

With the ground losses we have here, it doesnt truly pay to be really big for us. I do better to be diversified. I been losing ground to residential and commercial developing, and also to mitigation land to make room for that. So over the last four years, Ive lost about 1,000 acres. Some people have lost more.

Hes not optimistic about the future of farming. This year is my 19 th crop. I probably picked a poor career selection because I can see the writing on the wall. If I had kids I wouldnt want them doing what Im doing in this area. I dont guess farming will be a viable industry in this area 50 years from now. I may be wrong. I hope Im wrong.

Vail is a registered Republican, and he gets heated when he thinks about how his fellow Trump voters are perceived from the outside.

Everyone believes just because youre from the south youre a Confederate flag-waving drunk idiot. Were not all like that. Some of us are educated. We just see things different from you. He added: My mothers busted their ass and cut corners for me to go to private school. My sister is a complete Democrat. Were Catholic. But Im looked at like some kind of racist slaveholder. Im lumped into that category. But we dont fit.

Vail says hes pleased with the drawdown on environmental limiteds that Trump has instituted since taking office.

When he took office he stopped the EPAs Waters of the US rule, where anything that would flowing into a navigable tributary would have had jurisdiction for the purposes of the EPA. Well, navigable tributaries go across half the land I farm. So youre telling a ditch I put in my field to drain the water off, then that the land comes under your jurisdiction? You can tell me when I can go into it, and what I can use as fertilizer?

He shakes his head in disgust. Residents can go buy RoundUp, can send out their detergents and soaps and all this kind of runoff into downstream water, but then they want to blame the farmers?

Vail adds: Theres not a farmer on globe “whos going to” ruining soil or water. We learn best management practices, and most of us will use those practices because it increases the bottom line. You cant wait around for some bureaucrat to tell you what you can and cant do.

Benny Welch: If you go by what the real scientists tell, theres no proof

Benny
Benny Welch. Photo: Shannon Sims

Im gonna let you in on a little secret, Mr Benny says, as he leans close enough that his worn white baseball cap shades the afternoon sunshine on my face. Im the luckiest man in the world.

Seventysomething Benny Welch lives across from the oceanfront marsh in Cameron Parish, just behind a big oak tree, whose limbs he clung to through the night in 1957 when Hurricane Audrey reached, sweeping his family out of their home and him fortuitously into a wishbone-shaped crevice of branches, the only thing left standing when it was all over.

Mr Benny as everyone refers to him here expends his days strolling through a garage packed with boxes overflowing with severed alligator parts.

He and his family make their money hunting alligators, and then selling the otherwise discardable pieces of the alligator bodies the styrofoam-like manages of perforated jawbone, the scaly claws with ladylike fingernails, the phallic-shaped teeth stained brown with age. The Welch family have done well for themselves thanks to a number of contracts with gas stations around the south, whose clients impulse purchase the alligator-tooth necklaces as they pay for their Big Gulps. He shows me one of the most popular pieces: an alligator tooth surrounded by rectangular beads stamped with the Confederate flag.

But business wasnt always so good. The double-hit of hurricanes in 2005 and 2008 turned the marshes upside down, he recollects. We didnt know what what to do, there was no alligator eggs for three years.

Mr Bennys son lets me know that their alligator hunting business has brought in a high-end clientele. He brings out a photo of a grinning Donald Trump Jr taken during an alligator hunting trip. That personal connect has helped inform Mr Bennys politics. Im Donald Trump all the route, he says with a smile.

Even though Mr Bennys family has been directly impacted by hurricanes, and even though the country mapping agency indicates that his home is likely to be submerged within 50 years due to coastal land loss, Mr Benny isnt buying it.

I dont believe it, he tells, shaking his head. I dont believe that the tide is gonna rise 10 feet and that the Ice Age is coming and stuff like that. Like many of the residents here in Cameron, Mr Benny ensure day on a longer horizon than others might. I is right there 75 years, you are familiar with ?, he reminds me with gentle force. And Ive lived on the water and guess what? The tides still come up almost the same way, and there is no flooding. And today our front marshes arent underwater.

If you go by what the real scientists say, theres no proof. In the last 10 years the average temperature of the world hasnt even risen a half degree. And if you listen to everyone talking it, its up five or 10 degrees. And its absolutely no truth to the rumors! Its a political thing. How much fund has Al Gore made off global warming ?, he giggles, shaking his head with a cackle. It aint happened yet!

Bronwen Theriot: I guess the data is incomplete

Bronwen
Bronwen Theriot at home, overlooking the slab of homes destroyed by hurricanes in Cameron. Theyve been wiped out, she says. Photograph: Shannon Sims

Bronwen Theriot is the 36 -year-old science teacher at South Cameron High School. Shes also a member of a group colloquially “ve called the” die-hards: residents who had their homes destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005, managed to rebuild, and then had their new homes destroyed again in 2008 by Hurricane Ike. And still, she made it home. I came back every time. To the same place, says Theriot, proudly.

Theriots boyfriend works for the country, and so nation policies on coastal subsidence are regular dinner conversation for the couple and their kids. Ive looked at those maps a million times, she tells, referring to the maps recently published by the country of Louisiana that show Cameron 50 years from today in the red zone underwater. Ive looked at the aerial photos. I see how if we dont do something to protect our coast we will have no coast to protect, she tells, matter-of-factly. And it is evident if you take a ride around here.

To the right of her home are a line of weed-bedraggled cement slab, where her neighbors once lived; empty plots left by those driven away by the uninhabitability of this coast.

From a scientific view, she tells, putting on her high school science educator hat, the map is proving you look, this is going to happen. Compared to other places where they have stopped the erosion versus here where they havent, its clear that not sufficient is get done.

But I dont know what is causing the coastal depletion, she tells. When it comes to depletion and subsidence, I feel like there are so many items it could be attributed to, and perhaps it is not one individual thing, but a lot of things adding up.

Do I think it is climate change? Thats hard, she tells, smiling. Theriot seems caught between her chore as a science lecturer and their own lives as a longtime Cameron resident, tasked with teaching about the environment in a fiercely red town.

From a scientific view … data is manipulated all the time. So whoever is interpreting the data, as much as you try to not have a bias, you could still have a bias. Of course, I am going to be more proactive about coastal restoration and protections because it is directly affecting me, so for me, looking at the data, I am very very worried. She relents: But I believe the data is incomplete. And I am still not sure about climate change. I am still researching it. I feel like I dont have enough good sources to say yes or no on if climate change is a real thing.

Now, from her elevated balcony overlooking the old slab, she takes a clearer posture. Im a big supporter of the oil industry, because thats how my family and my community made a lot of its fund. So that is my subsistence. So it is hard for me to point that finger.

Leo Adley Dyson, Sr: If I believed global warming was real, Id be the first to admit it

Leo
Leo Adley Dyson Sr sits among fishing and shrimping boats near his dock in Cameron. Photo: Shanon Sims

The Louisiana shrimping season just opened the coming week, and as a lifelong shrimper and the owner of a couple boats and a dock, today should be a busy day for Leo Dyson , not a slow one. But the winds been blowing too hard to take out the boats, and so here he sits, perched on a piling of barnacle-crusted timber pallets.

Dyson cares most about shrimp. In these countries like China and everything, they work under communism where the governmental forces owns everything the boats, the factories. In China, they raise their shrimp in sewage ponds they load with antibiotics, and that can cause cancer. We are one of the few countries that will even accept shrimp from China, and it doesnt make sense that the FDA even permits that. But we gotta produce shrimp for the same cost as them under free enterprise.

So I guess Trump will help this. I think he will make changes to the FDA and import tariffs and all that. I think he will make a more even playing field where everybody will still be able to make a living. So I voted for him because I thought he was the best man for the job.

Dyson is not particularly concerned about the forecasts that demonstrate the coast disappearing over the next decade. He guesses global warming is a gossipy scam.

Too bad youre not writing for the National Enquirer, he taunts, because then you could say fisherman sleeps with alien and causes global warming!

The fact is Im 68. Ive insured cold weather and Ive watched hot weather. And you know the earths been through some ice ages. And when the ice ages was over, did they think it was global warming? A planet that doesnt change becomes a barren garbage, so thats why its changing.

Instead, Dyson says that what frets him most are the environmental regulations ostensibly intended to save the coast. The statutes are already there to protect the coast. And I understand Trump is not 100% environmentalist. But I think its a good thing to get the government out of our lives. I dont want any more environmental regulations. I dont want any more fishing laws. And I dont want a lot of restrictions where people cant make a living.

Dyson says hurricanes arent all bad news in his line of work. The wetland restoration is doing more to harm the ecosystem than if they left it alone. After[ hurricanes] Rita and Ike we caught a lot of shrimp, because the levees were washed away and nature worked the route it was intended to, where man didnt mess with it. These structures the levees and all are building it get worse every year. So for me having a hurricane would be good for business for a little while.

If I believed global warming was real, Id be the first to admit it, he says, looking out across the rough water. Because Id be the first to see it. Im here on the water after all. I could see how in 3,000 years we could be underwater, because I entail who knows, but in 50? I dont think so. I was told that 50 years ago. Things dont change much here.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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