Louisiana’s response to coastal land loss and climate change may harm the very people it is intended to help. These are racially and ethnically diverse people whose cultural and social survival are threatened by this disaster. Louisiana’s response also benefits political-economic elites complicit in the destruction of wetlands and in the creation of climate crisis. This dissertation investigates how this current condition developed and why it persists. To meet this objective, I conducted 82 in-depth interviews, carried out four months of fieldwork in Louisiana, and analyzed over 150 texts. Using a neo-Gramscian theoretical lens, I describe how implementing Louisiana’s Master Plan (MP) for coastal restoration and protection became the goal of an organizational field, which I call the Coastal Action Field (CAF).
In this dissertation, I show how the oil and gas industry was historically able to avoid regulation and obscure its role in the coastal crisis, while political elites used industry as leverage to obtain federal funding for implementing the MP. As Louisiana’s ecological condition worsened, foundations, environmental NGOs, and academic institutions became part of the CAF and gave legitimacy to a technocratic MP funded by disaster relief and oil and gas revenues. Foundations influenced public outreach and engagement in coastal planning, contributing to public acceptance of MP projects that exacerbate risks to frontline coastal communities. I illustrate how dominant discourses used by engineers, non-profit employees, scientists, and government employees normalize the influence of the oil and gas industry and frame the MP as the only way to address land loss and climate change. I highlight how individuals in the CAF strategically challenge dominant discourses and seek to reform the state’s approach to coastal crisis, but still fall short in prioritizing environmental justice. I illuminate novel mechanisms contributing to climate adaptation injustice by connecting constructions of a hegemonic common good to utilitarian environmental management in a petro-dominated state. Specifically, I show how the combination of material constraints and coercive and ideological power impedes equitable adaptation, allows individuals to dismiss the negative externalities of the MP, and at worst, compels individuals to effectively regard frontline communities as disposable.
Ph.D. in Sociology
University of Colorado Boulder
Jill Harrison (Co-Chair)
Kathleen Tierney (Co-Chair)