Climate Equity Report Gives Us Tools to Save Ourselves

Audrey Peterman, , UCS | November 30, 2015, 2:29 pm EDT
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This post is a part of a series on Communities on the Front Lines of Climate Change

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ USA climate equity report, Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Rising Seas, landed in my mailbox the same day two impassioned articles I wrote about the issue appeared in local South Florida Black weekly newspapers.

“South Florida flooding will make Katrina conditions ‘a walk in the park’” read one of my headlines. I acknowledged in the story that it would be understandable if my audience dismissed it as hysterical. They might logically presume that if we’re heading toward a fate so dire, we’d all have been warned and would be actively working together to minimize or avert the effects.

So when the climate equity report showed up the same day it really took a load off my shoulders. Not only does the report highlight the vulnerability of black and poor communities in places such as Charleston, SC; Plaquemines, LA; and Miami-Dade County, FL, but it also recommends the urgent changes in policy and development that need to be made.

Whew!

I’d encouraged my readers to contact their elected officials at the state and local levels up to Congress, and also advised them to educate themselves about the issue and bring it to their business, civic, and religious organizations. Now the report’s Climate Equity Tool takes the guesswork out of what needs to be done and gives us all a leg up in addressing the most urgent issue of our time.

Waterfront construction continues in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, though the road in front of this new building is often impassable during high tides. Photo: Audrey Peterman

Waterfront construction continues in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, though the road in front of this new building is often impassable during high tides. Photo: Audrey Peterman

As an advocate for environmental protection over more than 20 years, I am painfully aware of the preponderance of evidence showing how non-white Americans are most egregiously affected by environmental disasters.

It’s no secret that American and foreign corporations have targeted communities with the least resources and political power as the site for their most toxic industries. The deliberate and casual poisoning of these communities over many decades has reduced the life span and the quality of life for generations of non-white citizens and their families. And while there is enough blame to go around and little shame on the part of these despoilers, the conditions created will become an apocalypse of sustained Katrina-like conditions when climate effects take hold.

So I am incredibly grateful to UCS for providing both the concise validation of these unequal conditions, and the remedy. Is it too much to think that Americans of good will should stand with their fellow-citizens who, with this report, are now empowered to act on our own behalf? All of us need to bring this report to the attention of our employers and those in power who will lose their workforce and the means of production if we continue business as usual.

In the interest of full disclosure, UCS contracted with our Diverse Environmental Leaders Speakers Bureau to review and comment on the report before it was issued. I cannot emphasize enough how important that is to the organization’s credibility and the authenticity of the report. Too often large organizations purport to “study” non-white communities from a distance and prognosticate with little input from the affected parties. So it was a privilege for members of our network who live in some of the communities cited by UCS to be able to contribute their perspective as longtime residents.

The upcoming elections give us a lever to help determine the future of our country. All of our political leaders need to get on board with the science, because Mother Nature doesn’t care about politics or politicians. Evidence of climate change abounds in the increased occurrence and intensity of wildfires, storms, marine life showing up where they’ve never been seen before, and flooding already affecting commutes in coastal neighborhoods.

We can do something about it now, or we can wait until we’re in the throes of a Katrina-like “new normal.” The UCS report gives us the tools. It’s up to us to use them to save ourselves.

Audrey Peterman and her husband Frank have been leaders in the movement to reconnect Americans to our publicly owned lands system since 1995. Focusing primarily on non-white communities, Mrs. Peterman has been instrumental in raising awareness about our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges and expanding the constituency that enjoys and cares for them. Observing the effects of climate change has made her passionate about communicating the dangers and encouraging the public to use their influence to reduce pollution and increase resilience.

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