Posted on January 23, 2023
I live in South Louisiana on the front lines of the climate crisis and cover the fossil fuel industry and impacts related to the warming planet, so facing gaslighting is a regular occurrence for me.
So it resonated with me that Merriam-Webster dictionary chose “gaslighting” as the word of the year. This year saw a 1,740 percent increase in lookups for gaslighting, according to a post by the dictionary company, which defines gaslighting as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” I would add to that, that gaslighting is a driver of disorientation and mistrust, and a common practice used by the fossil fuel industry — one that DeSmog is committed to countering by drawing connections to those funding misinformation.
“Gaslighting is a fitting choice,” Ivor Van Heerden, former deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, concurred during a recent call.
Heerden is now a consultant specializing in environmental and coastal issues who analyzes recently approved permits for fossil fuel industry projects slated to be built in Louisiana, on behalf of his clients who are challenging the permits. He described the flaws he has found in multiple permits as glaring and plentiful, and views their approvals as a form of gaslighting by regulators.
“At best the permits minimize coastal erosion and gloss over storm surge and flood risks in relation to climate change,” he said. “Real science isn’t being used to guide their decisions.”
Heerden was hired by three Louisiana-based environmental groups — The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ), Sierra Club, and Healthy Gulf — that are suing the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources for exempting Venture Global LNG from needing a coastal use permit to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal. Heerden recently filed an affidavit in conjunction with the case that alleges design flaws in the project’s proposed storm wall, which could lead to a levee failure. It also alleges that any major hurricane poses a risk of contaminants escaping from the proposed terminal.
Louisiana’s approach to tackling the climate crisis is steeped in cognitive dissonance. In 2020, Governor John Bel Edwards (D) joined the international Race to Zero Campaign, which aims to reach net zero carbon emissions around the world by 2050. This is despite Edwards’s continued support for numerous carbon emitting projects, including proposed LNG facilities and Formosa’s proposed petrochemical complex in St. James Parish, even after a judge revoked air quality permits issued by the state.
The landscape in South Louisiana around the holidays is ripe with juxtapositions that mirror the state’s approach to dealing with the climate crisis. Giant inflatable Christmas decorations, including polar bears and penguins wearing Christmas hats, grace yards — some of which still have tell-tale signs of damage from extreme weather events. Earlier this month, displays of Santas on sleds being pulled by alligators were often enveloped in fog, due to the abnormally warm temperatures that were replaced with a cold front that spurred tornados.
This year’s headlines often featured newly proposed fossil fuel projects, or news of facilities as they went on line, like Exxon’s new polypropylene unit in Baton Rouge that doubles the existing plant’s capacity. Juxtaposed against that were stories of home insurance companies failing and or leaving the state as climate risks mount, and skyrocketing rates for homeowners wanting or needing to carry coverage required to get or keep home mortgages.
On numerous occasions while covering public permit hearings this year for DeSmog, I recorded instances of industry representatives, the politicians they funded, and environmental regulators gaslighting opponents of the industry’s expansion.
Roishetta Ozane, a community organizer for the environmental group Healthy Gulf, questioned whether regulators were really listening to the communities’ concerns at an LDEQ hearing on Commonwealth LNG’s proposed export air quality permit. “We are not a climate sacrifice zone,” Ozane stated.
For example on October 20, at the St. John the Baptist Parish council meeting in LaPlace, a suburb of New Orleans, Andrew Connolly, the vice president and general manager of Air Products, a supplier of industrial gases, equated the CO2 it plans to capture from a proposed “blue hydrogen clean energy plant” in Ascension Parish and inject under Lake Maurepas, to the CO2 in beer and soft drinks.
Connolly and other Air Products representatives downplaying any risks of the company’s proposed project reminded me of the 1944 film Gaslight about a man who attempts to make his wife believe that she is going insane by getting her to doubt her own perceptions.
Jane Patton, a campaign manager for the Center for International Environmental Law, told me on a recent call that comparing the CO2 Air Products plans to capture and inject to beer is a typical example of how the fossil industry gaslights those questioning the safety of carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects.
“Gaslighting the public about this project has been persistent since it was first announced,” she explained, pointing out that the company and the governor hail the project as a clean energy blue hydrogen facility when it is an ammonia production facility — a fertilizer plant.
“They want to keep saying blue hydrogen, because hydrogen gets this rap for being a clean burning fuel. But what they are building is an ammonia production facility, and hydrogen is required for ammonia production,” Patton said.
Opponents of Air Products’ proposed CCS project point out that if built, Manchac’s picturesque wetlands, its unique culture, and Lake Maurepas’s productive estuary critical to the local seafood industry will be put at catastrophic risk. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Persistent gaslighting by many of Louisiana’s politicians wasn’t restricted to the climate crisis during 2022. The frontrunner in the upcoming governor’s race, Jeff Landry, the current attorney general and a staunch supporter of the fossil fuel industry, inserted himself into escalating library controversies by creating a tip line to report library books that residents think are inappropriate, so as to stop the “taxpayer-subsided sexualization of children.” Citizens’ For A New Louisiana, a group that purports to offer “sound public policy insights” that reflect conservative values and promote transparency in local government, is spearheading the controversy by calling for a growing number of books, mostly related to the LGBTQ community, to be banned from public libraries across the state.
New construction in St. Tammany Parish continues despite worsening flood and wind risk and shrinking options for homeowners to obtain insurance.
Standing room only at the December 14 St. Tammany Parish Library Board of Control in Covington, Louisiana, where the board proposed new measures in response to mounting hateful accusations leveled against them. On the agenda were statements of concern about “I am Jazz” and “My Rainbow,” both books related to the LGBTQ community.