By Josephine Chu, Washington, DC
Unlike many environmentalists, I did not grow up appreciating nature or spending a ton of time outside, unless I was going to the beach. I associated the outdoors with mosquitoes, scorching heat in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. I was a nerd who much preferred spending my time reading books in the climate controlled-temperatures of the library.
So where did my passion for “protecting the environment” come from? It stemmed from a realization that the actions we are taking are extremely harmful to the environment, yet we are so dependent on the resources such as clean air and water that nature provides. My first introduction to these problems of environmental pollution came when I took an environmental studies class my senior year of high school. However, it was only when I took an introductory environmental studies class in college and learned the extent to which we had already polluted the earth and the degree to which that affected our livelihoods, that I dove head-first into all things “environmental.”
That was seven years ago now and the extreme weather events of the past few years have only served to remind me of our need to build communities that instead of polluting the earth, restore it and adapt to the growing impacts of climate change.
In particular, as someone who grew up on Long Island and whose parents still live there, the impact of Hurricane Sandy made me think even harder about the implications of climate change and what we can do to make our communities climate-ready. In light of all of this, I see the work that people all around the country and world such as my fellow Solutionaries are doing to build resilient communities even more important and urgent.
I wrote a blog about the need for resiliency in the face of stronger storms, which was just posted on the EPA website and I re-posted below.
We all remember Superstorm Sandy, especially those of us who live along the East Coast. My parents, who reside on Long Island, were very lucky and did not have any major damage to their home. They did, however, have to live without electricity for two weeks.
Seeing the impact on my parents during this time made me realize just how much we depend on electricity to run the daily tasks in our lives. My parents could cook at home on our gas stove, but without a working refrigerator, they couldn’t store perishables. Long lines at the gas stations meant that even the simple task of driving to buy supplies became difficult. Some of my friends didn’t have running water since there was no electricity to operate the water pumps. These stories made me wonder: will we be prepared if another Sandy hits? Are more Sandys in our future?
While there is uncertainty about the impact of climate change on the frequency of hurricanes, scientists have evidence documenting how climate change will intensify storms. According to the US Global Change Research Program, it is very likely that increased levels of greenhouse gases have contributed to an increase in sea surface temperatures. The intensity of North Atlantic tropical storm activity for most of the mid- to late 20th century has increased, too (see the orange “Power Dissipation Index” line in the figure above). This trend is associated closely with variations in sea surface temperature (see the dashed purple line). As sea surface temperatures are projected to continue increasing in a warming climate, we can expect that warm waters will fuel more intense storms.
Government agencies, including EPA, are working together to implement the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, with the goal of accounting for the impacts of more intense storms. Cities are also taking action; in June 2013, New York City mayor Bloomberg proposed a $20 billion plan of flood barriers and green infrastructure to build a more resilient city.
Check out EPA’s page on adaptation efforts for more information about how we can work together to build climate-resilient communities. With better adaptation efforts, hopefully, my family and other communities can be better prepared for the next storm.
Josephine Chu currently works with the communications team of the Climate Change Division at EPA and is the co-founder of Zenful Bites, a social enterprise providing food education and eco-catering services in the DC area.