This weekend a climate march was held in Fargo. I spoke at the rally before the march began. A few people asked for a transcript which I have provided below with links to some additional information. A recording of the speech can be viewed here.
For the past decade I have worked in emergency management and studied disasters. Throughout this time I have seen first-hand the devastation that disasters bring to people and communities across the country.
When we think of climate change we often imagine some apocalyptic world decades into the future where sea levels have risen and humanity has descended into chaos. Instead, we should think about:
- Eroding shorelines in Tasmania,
- The city of Houston and surrounding areas flooding five times in 13-months,
- 20 million people facing famine in Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, and South Sudan,
- Alaskans searching for relocation funds as their villages literally erode into the ocean,
- A war and refugee crisis in Syria hastened by severe drought
- Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana where members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw and United Houma Nation tribes are being forced to relocate inland as their land disappears.
This is not a list of future consequences. These are the effects of climate change that communities around the world are experiencing right now. Climate change is by no means the only cause of these disasters, but it is a factor that has made each of these situations worse or represents what we are likely to see in the near future.
When we partner the changing climate with things like neglected infrastructure we see situations like the recent Oroville Spillway incident in California. When we consider that population and development increases are occurring in areas that we know are vulnerable to climate change we can expect more people will be in harm’s way. We know that when groundwater depletion that contributes to subsidence is paired with sea level rise communities will become uninhabitable. We know that when we consider the relationship between climate change and factors like economic inequality we will see some among us disproportionately affected. And, when politicians not only fail to address these issues, but in fact make policy decisions to worsen them, it is then that we see a future filled with devastated communities across the world.
While we need to work aggressively to stop and reverse climate change itself the reality is that the climate has already changed and communities across the world are already experiencing the consequences.
The consequences have already begun and because of that:
- We cannot continue to elect politicians who ignore and denounce the scientific community to the benefit of their own financial interests or to please the minority of voters.
- We cannot allow politicians ignore the opinion of the majority of Americans who understand climate change is real and want action to be taken. They need to be reminded that they work for us.
- We need to help communities prevent and lessen the severity of the climate change consequences they are likely to face.
- We need to help communities prepare to respond and recovery from the consequences of climate change when they do happen.
- Within America and around the world people who are low-income, people of color, and women will disproportionately bear the brunt of these disasters and the other effects of climate change. These groups need to be at the center of climate change action and leaders in the fight for climate justice.
Climate change is not only an environmental problem. There are lives and livelihoods at risk right now and in the future. The consequences of climate change are an issue of national security, it is expensive, it threatens our history, our cultures, and our future.
Not acting on climate change is a choice that we are making, that our politicians, who we elected, are making for us and the rest of the world.
Yes, disasters have been a fact of life for all of human history. Floods are not new. Droughts are not new but they are getting worse.
This is not a time to be denying the science, dismissing scientists, and de-funding research. This is the time to do anything and everything we can to help our communities adapt.
- We know that we need to prevent congress from passing budgets that call for the elimination of programs and the defunding of agencies that help our communities thrive and prepare for the consequences of climate change.
- We need a White House who doesn’t undermine and weaken our ability to fight climate change. A White House that helps our communities adapt to our new climate.
- We need local leadership to take action at local and state levels across the country.
- We need to provide science-based education about climate change in our schools so that future generations grow up knowing this is not a hoax.
And although we certainly need major structural changes in addition to these types of policy reforms I’ve mentioned, there are no actions too small. We need to aggressively hold accountable the people and organizations who are in positions to shape these conversations and change policy.
- We need to hold The House Science Committee accountable when, in their recent hearing on climate change, they invited 3 climate deniers and only one climatologist who represented the consensus views of the scientific community.
- We need to hold The White House accountable when they threaten to remove the United States from The Paris Agreement.
- We need to hold the New York Times accountable when, in the same month that they hired a phenomenal climate change team, they undermine their credibility by hiring and providing a platform for a climate denier. The realities of climate change are not up for debate.
- We need to hold the EPA accountable when they take down any mention of climate change on their websites as they did last night and federal agencies start delete climate data.
- When the governor of Florida bans state employees from using the words “climate change”, we need to hold him accountable.
- And as Americans, we need to hold ourselves accountable. This country, our country, has contributed disproportionately to climate change so it is only right that we contribute disproportionately to addressing the consequences of it.
This means we show up:
- We show up to help communities prepare for the effects of climate change and contribute financially.
- It means leaving coal and oil in the ground, even if it is, in the short-term economically beneficial to our community to dig it up.
- It means we fund climate science research.
- It means not voting for politicians who do not vow to fund and fight climate change.
There are things that we can do to minimize the consequences of climate change but we need to act now. And we need to act based on scientific evidence.
It is easy to rattle off the consequences of climate change – air pollutants, spread of disease, the sixth extinction, food insecurity, droughts, floods, wildfires, more intense hurricanes, sea level rise, heat waves, ice storms, increased conflict, and loss of drinking water.
It is much harder to talk about who is responsible for these consequences of these hazards. It is much more difficult to discuss who will pay to rebuild our schools when they are destroyed by wildfires. It is much more difficult to discuss who will pay to rebuild out homes when they are immersed in floodwater. It is much more difficult to decide when communities can no longer live where generations before them have.
These are the hard questions. The questions we’ve put off asking. The questions we now have to start answering.
Politicians will not take action on climate change by their own volition. They do not have the political will to fund mitigation and preparedness in local communities to the extent that is necessary.
They will not act unless people like you make them act. It will be the work of activists and people like you that will make the difference here. We need to remember that each of us has the power to change hearts and minds about these issues. And it begins when you talk about climate change.
- It means throwing down with your climate denying uncle at family dinner
- It means calling out your old high school friends on Facebook when they post “alternative facts”.
- It means writing letters to the editors when they treat the realities of climate change as something that is still being debated.
- It means joining local and national environmental groups and support their work.
- It means knocking on doors to get state legislators elected who will vote for taking climate action.
- It means that scientists need to get loud. If we don’t talk about the research how can we expect others to?
- It means calling our representatives, like Heidi Heitkamp and telling her she is not to vote on bills that harm the environment and contribute to climate change (202) 224-2043 USE IT!
Today’s march is just one day of action. For some of you, it may be your first time participating in climate activism – So, welcome. Do not wait for others to organize and invite you to participate. I would encourage each of you to learn from seasoned activists but don’t be afraid to take on leadership positions yourself. Organize among your friends and family. For returning climate activists – thank you and power on!
This is our responsibility.
Climate change is not a hoax. It is not something that will just happen far in the future. It is real and we are feeling the consequences now. We must act now!