Resiliency in the Face of Stronger Storms

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?

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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.

Chu pictureand yes! now, I love spending my time outside and can’t get enough 🙂

Lighting up Highland Park!

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The news is breaking: Highland Park has a solar-powered streetlight.

On Thanksgiving, we gathered together at dusk. The sunset was particularly beautiful that evening. The glow lasted in a sky with few clouds. As darkness fell, we filled the empty street, forming a ring around the light. It was like watching water to boil – we knew it would happen, we didn’t know when. It got quiet. Moments became hours. All the work, the stress, logistics, arguments, fundraising, became compressed. We’d scrambled for funding and footing, scheduled and rescheduled, and hashed and rehashed. And just when it seemed like we’d have to postpone, the money came, the logistics became logical, and on Tuesday, Craig from SolarStreetlightsUSA drove out here to put it in the ground. AJ was up in the cherry-picker with him, wiring the wires and connecting the connectors. The press, the city, and the people were all present. By Thursday, the news had already broken, and this ceremony was effectively unimportant. But it was Thanksgiving. This was what we’d waited for. It was a small crowd – Andre, AJ, Lawrence (dressed as St. Nick), my family, a few people from the neighborhood. In the shadows of the original Model-T factory, we waited to see our work come to fruition. Continue reading

More Using Less

I came to environmental issues initially from what seems to me to be a very middle class standpoint. My family had always been frugal, adverse to waste, etc., but these were choices that we made from some sense of social responsibility and personal financial responsibility, not absolute necessity. Moving my things out of my dorm room after my first year of college, I realized how much arbitrary stuff I’d kept throughout the year because of my socialized (and possibly genetic?) aversion to throwing things away. But this also meant that I had accumulated plenty of stuff, which made me think about the fact that despite the fact my family and I may have opted to not live excessively, we never went without, and certainly have always had small luxuries.

Therefore, as I gradually came to engagement in environmental issues growing up, I faced what I feel is, at least in my experience, a somewhat common paradigm that “doing stuff that’s good for the environment” means sacrifice. However, I always had this idea – that always felt vaguely idealistic due to current well-entrenched systems – that it shouldn’t mean sacrifice, that there were common sense ways, for example that more localized food production should be able to be environmentally sustainable and build local economies. However, I never felt particularly empowered to be able to make this happen.

My thoughts in the last few months about Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF) have been gradually informing this idea, and tonight Timothy told his story of growing up (which I don’t really want to delve into here because I feel it’s still his story to tell) and I felt like the way in which I perceived his observations and experiences in a way complemented mine. To describe what I took from his story tonight, I’m going to go with something else I’ve heard Timothy say, over a month ago: “Let’s see lack as an asset.” I see this as a way that can (maybe in different ways depending on background, but maybe not, I don’t know) engage people from many class backgrounds (both the “haves” and “have-nots”, let’s say) in ventures that are both environmentally and economically sustainable.

The model being tested by CEF understandably seems unusual: capitalizing energy efficiency can also be described as creating something out of less, which runs opposite to most modern notions about wealth creation. While this is not an entirely new concept (see the ’70s cookbook, More With Less), carrying it out on any scale and with distinct entrepreneurial intent is definitely not a widely-thought-about idea, but it has lots of opportunity as we’re getting to the point at which continued excess is seeming unfeasible. However, less excess doesn’t mean the end of “business.”

Tonight I was told that CEF has been described as “a different kind of more,” which I see as very well capturing what the future will look like in a myriad of sectors. This is a different type of business plan, and it allocates value differently in some ways, but it’s still a business plan. Such a business can still create value and support people.

[Note: Our community conversation I reference was under the understanding of confidentiality, and I got Timothy’s permission to reference him and his comments.]

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Note: This post cross-posted from Discovering Solutions by Christina Getaz.

Itching for some solutions…

I’m itching for some solutions. My teachers are itching for solutions. My classmates are itching for solutions. Everyone is itching but can’t seem to find the spot.

These past five weeks I’ve been in a class called Energy Systems and Climate Change and have gotten to know an incredible amount of amazing people with unique perspectives on the state of the world. Many of them represent people I know outside of school and I usually spend most of my time day dreaming about how I can express my excitement in local solutions to the class. Ive tried the emotion draw of rebuilding communities, I’ve gone at it from an anti-authoritarian perspective by advocating for the elimination of government, and finally I tried talking about social capital and people as a part of complex interlocking systems, as a way to create self-sufficient communities.

But none of it has had its desired effect. The teachers destroy my poetic visions of local economies with local energy production by saying that it is impossible and will get us no where.

That stand has really highlighted the need for concrete examples and solutions to demonstrate the effectiveness of what we are trying to envision.

LETS GO CRAZY!

We have no time, we have negative time, stuff should have been done yesterday!

Summer of Solutions/Grand Aspirations is us. We are it. Our futures are so entwined that one cannot survive without the other! What is my identity? Am I even human anymore, if my soul is somewhere else shouldn’t my body follow? Live our dreams today so we can live them tomorrow. Who wants to sit on a train when you can steer it.

I send you all my love, and a belief that you can do TRULY AMAZING things everyday that empower people to take their lives into their own hands and help in creating the world that we want to live in!

With love from the rainy (but amazing) Pacific Northwest,

A person that cares about everything!