The unique and vulnerable environment of Louisiana is a hot topic. From the loss of wetlands to the heavy chemical pollution caused by manufacturing companies, Louisianans are flooded with environmental concerns. LSU science communication professor Stephanie Houston Grey, who has been a part of the LSU community for more than 10 years, explained that, while teaching courses like environmental communication, she’s noticed that many students, like other Louisianians, aren’t well-informed about what is happening in their environment.
“I think you see this statewide,” Grey said. “I don’t think our students should feel unusual, unique, or different, feeling like they aren’t exposed to adequate information.
“This is one of the reasons, for example, that I teach environmental communication….A lot of students come to class the first day and I ask ‘What do you know about the environment?’ and a lot of them don’t know much.”
Grey said she shares this experience. Moving to Louisiana has broadened and deepened her awareness of our local challenges.
However, it’s important to be involved and informed as Louisiana is on the frontline of environmental issues, ranging from pollution to global warning.
“We are the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine,’ or ‘egret in the oilfield,’” Grey said. “What’s happening around the world is happening right here, right now, and it’s up to us to bear witness and take action.”
Grey said many of us aren’t as informed about the environment due to our busy schedules and life situations. She said students are often “worried about taking classes, getting a degree, graduating, and a lot work outside of class – and our life as citizens is often directed at being consumers.”
She suggests that these things sometimes can hinder us from seeing the behind the scene to the hidden elements that “make society work.”
So what are some of the biggest issues affecting Louisiana’s environment? Grey said there are many, explaining that one of the biggest challenges we face is connecting these environmental issues to our daily lives.
“There’s a lot of attention paid to hurricanes events, which of course are important— they’ve had traumatic impacts,” Grey said. “ Hurricane Katrina, Isaac and Rita were all really big events and were of course very important in my memory and a lot of other people’s memory, they were great tragedies for the state.
“And now today there’s a lot of talk about the wetlands and how to repair them because what we’ve learned now is that the wetlands is a buffer zone, they buffer us against the assault of hurricanes, which there could increase in the future if the climate continues to change and become warmer.”
Grey explained that not only can climate change affect things like hurricanes, but it can also increase flooding in our communities.
Another major issue Grey points to is the budget crisis Louisiana and LSU are currently dealing with. She explained that students have a growing concern about the budget because it can affect personal finances, such as TOPS scholarships, and even raised the possibility of them not completing their education.
“This is directly related to the environment,” she said. “For example, for several years in Louisiana, the Haynesville Shale trend up in Northern Louisiana, was drilled—it was fracked for natural gas—and producers were granted a multiple year tax exemption,” Grey said. “I believe, according to a study I was looking at online – a story that ran on NOLA.com said that over the course of 2010 and 2014 Louisiana lost $1.1 billion in severance taxes, that could have helped us balance the budget and cou
ld provide security for higher education for the future for students.”
Grey said this is one of the reasons why all students should be engaged and concerned about the environment — because there are so many companies in Louisiana who aren’t paying their “fair share” to keep the economy in “good balance.”
“That’s a metaphor I use to describe this … things have gotten out of balance for us, in the state,” Grey said.
According to Grey, even in the best financial times of Louisiana, the state has still been considered a poor state. She explained that this is unfortunate because Louisiana is one of the richest places in the world when it comes to natural resources.
“We have what many would call the resource curse,” Grey said.
We have seen that “we end up with a lot of companies coming in…and we do get some jobs and they provide some type of stimulation for the economy, but I think we could make a better deal for ourselves,” she said.
Grey suggested that, by holding these corporations to their financial obligations, Louisiana could have better roads, a stronger education base and the ability to grow different types of businesses.
When it comes to Baton Rouge specifically, Grey said we should learn from the situation with Flint, Michigan and pay more attention to our water and air quality.
She explained that, because of the heavy industrialization, many pollutants are infecting our clean water and air and could potential grow into a major issue for the community. So what can we do as a community to help protect our environment?
“Of course recycle, try to reduce our carbon footprint, maybe advocate for a stronger public transportation system so that we are less dependent on cars – which we know are more polluting, and just consume more wisely,” Grey said. She said that changing the infrastructure so that it works more cooperatively with the environment could really improve a lot of the environmental issues we see. This requires public dialogue in many venues.
“Bring community members into the conversation. Let them know they have a voice,” Grey said. “And that is something you can think about as students. What would a greener LSU campus look like?”
The one thing that Grey wants students to realize is“The environmental community is often mischaracterized as overly radical, or that everyone who’s involved in it is sort of against business or development and I don’t think that’s true. I think the group of people who call themselves environmentalist are eclectic, they different levels of expertise and interests.”
In sum, they come from all walks of life. Grey urges all students to become active participators in the shaping of their environment and says there are many groups and organizations that students can join to become a part. For more information on how to become a part, contact Grey at Houston@lsu.edu.