Opinion: The Climate Crisis Is Happening Now

Climate
Satellite imagery of Hurricane Ida as the storm makes its way to the Northeast at 11:37 a.m. Sept. 1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Hurricane Center Facebook image.

By Brandy Brooks

The writer is a candidate for Montgomery County Council at-large, a community organizer and a 2015 Environmental Leadership Program Senior Fellow with the Chesapeake Regional Network. 

Hurricane Ida has caused devastating damage and cost the lives of more than 60 people across seven states. It has rendered more than 1 million Gulf Coast residents and businesses without power; closed school for weeks for 250,000 Louisiana students, most of whom will not have the option for virtual learning; and flooded apartments, highways and subway systems throughout the Northeast, more than 1,000 miles from its landfall.

In Maryland, heavy rains have been devastating for our communities. Our hearts are with the family of Melkin Daniel Cedillo, who drowned on Sept. 1, as he was rescuing his mother from flooding in their basement apartment in Rockville. The additional 150 residents of the Rock Creek Woods Apartments who have been displaced also remain in our thoughts as they recover from this devastating flood.

Make no mistake: what we have seen across the country and experienced in Montgomery County in the past several weeks, with frequent flash flooding far beyond a typical summer storm — is how climate change will continue to show up in our communities.

  • More frequent and more severe storms that are more dangerous and do more damage.
  • Aging stormwater infrastructure that can’t handle the increased demand, damaging property and endangering lives.
  • Heat island effects that contribute to localized warming and require more energy use for cooling, releasing more damaging chemicals into the air that then drive global warming.
  • Non-porous paving that interrupts the hydrological cycle — preventing groundwater recharge, carrying toxins into our waterways instead of allowing soil to clean the water, and devastating freshwater and marine ecologies.

We can no longer treat the climate crisis as if it is something that will happen in the future; it is happening to us, our family members and friends, our neighbors and colleagues, right now.

At the beginning of August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report, the sixth one published since the group formed in 1988. The report is unequivocal: the extreme and rapid changes that we are experiencing in our climate are driven by human activity.

We have created this crisis, and it is our responsibility to act, so that we and our children and grandchildren can have daily lives that aren’t marked by widespread poverty, food and water shortages, and ecological breakdown.

The climate crisis can feel overwhelming, and it can feel easier to turn toward our daily lives and away from a tragedy that has been unfolding over decades. But we can act.

Here are things that we can move forward at the local level, right here in Montgomery County:

  • Rapidly shifting infrastructure dollars to building transit alternatives for all areas of our community, and taking control of existing transit infrastructure projects so that they are completed in a timely manner.
  • Focusing residential and commercial development around well-maintained and efficient transit infrastructure, in ways that prioritize affordability and support the communities most severely impacted by climate change to remain in their homes and businesses.
  • Requiring porous paving in new construction and any significant renovation of residential and commercial properties.
  • Supporting significant increases in development of and access to community-generated and community-controlled solar energy.
  • Rapidly shifting our waste management systems to prioritize and support recycling and composting and diverting the majority of our trash away from landfills or incineration — starting with closing the Dickerson incinerator, expanding the Dickerson composting facility for the processing of food waste, and mandating composting for commercial entities that produce significant amounts of food waste.
  • Making energy efficiency funds, tools, and other resources easily available to both property owners and renters.
  • Supporting local farmers in transitioning to non-animal agriculture and ensuring that it is done sustainably where it remains.
Brandy Brooks for Montgomery County campaign photo.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report also tells us that the next few years are our last chance to prevent the global climate from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Our current level of warming (about 1.1C) is already causing unprecedented storms, fires, heatwaves, droughts and floods across the world, and has already contributed to sea levels rising, polar ice melting, and the ocean becoming warmer and more acidic.

Every additional 10th of a degree pushes us closer to the breaking point of our natural systems — to ecological devastation that makes the current climate crisis pale in comparison, and that will fundamentally change how human beings can live on the Earth. The decisions we make now — this month, this year — around land use, transportation, energy and more will determine whether that devastation is our future.

Last, but by no means least, we cannot ignore that the people who are suffering the most from Ida’s impacts are the people who have continued to be marginalized and disadvantaged by our policies and politics. They are renters. They are Latino, Black and Indigenous. They are poor and working class. They are immigrants.

They are also the folks who disproportionately were exposed to and died from COVID-19, because they already had less access to health care and less economic security. They are the essential workers who we applauded — but refused to consistently protect by paying them living wages, providing protective equipment, or doing what was needed to stop the spread of the virus. The same attitudes that lead us to devalue the well-being of fellow humans on whom our society depends are reflected in how we devalue the ecosystems on which our lives depend.

The fight against climate change is not about finding a quick tech fix. It is about fundamentally changing the way we understand our responsibilities to one another, the planet we live on and all the other living things we share it with.

It is a fight for health, justice, dignity and the right to live and thrive. We need public leaders who will take up this fight with the urgency it demands. Our communities cannot wait any longer.