Hurricane showcases potentially devastating effects of climate change

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Graphic credit to Sunny Ahn

When my classmates and I were evacuated because of Hurricane Florence in the beginning of  the fall 2018 semester, I carpooled with friends out of the path of the storm and enjoyed the unexpected break from classes. But when the College of William and Mary closed again this year in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, I started to reflect on what it meant for me to watch these kind of weather events intensify. It was only my education that was interrupted because of these storms; for other individuals, it was their homes, jobs, communities and lives that were facing disruption. I knew that the damage caused by hurricanes has increased over the past few decades and that the intensity of large storms was a predicted effect of climate change, but all I could see to do was feel useless in the scope of a worldwide disaster. What was one angry college student against the status quo of fossil fuel companies buying out politicians? 

I felt that way until a few months after the initial “Hurrication” last year, when I went to my first meeting of the newly formed Williamsburg Sunrise Hub. I dreaded hearing a pitch about raising money, putting up flyers, or hosting events that promoted “zero waste” living. What I actually found was a small group of students who were just as angry as I was about the lack of initiative taken by our political leaders but who also impressed me with their knowledge and organization. I learned about how the hub was planning action, however small, to make tangible change in the form of something called the Green New Deal, a transformative plan to stop climate change by shifting dependency on fossil fuels to renewable energy, protect clean air, foster safe food and water, and create sustainable jobs. At the town hall we put together, I spoke to people who are afraid of what climate change will mean for them and who are actively educating themselves and taking action. They were people who don’t wait to take responsibility for the change they want, and to take the initiative to work towards it. 

However,  the truth is that not everyone is affected by climate change the same, a fact evidenced by the recent devastation in the Bahamas. While some of us contemplate where and how we would live in a world affected by climate change, communities getting hit the hardest are living it now. Part of the Green New Deal is prioritizing a livable future for everyone and achieving that will require taking responsibility, individually and collectively, for protecting that future. It is less inspiring to think about the corporations and politicians who are complicit in allowing the climate crisis to happen, but who refuse to act or take responsibility. Fossil fuel executives, lobbyists and the politicians they fund have chipped away at the chance my generation has at a future where people can eat food, breathe air, drink water, and have a safe place to live. None of my generation made this mess, but if we don’t take responsibility for cleaning it up now, we won’t get another chance. 

This month, people around the world will walk out of their workplaces, classes and homes to demand politicians respond to the emergency as a part of a Global Climate Strike.  Sept. 20 at 3 p.m., I will be walking out of class to join fellow Sunrisers on the Sunken Gardens to demand that our local politicians support the Green New Deal and swear off donations from fossil fuel executives. To members of the College community, all I ask is that you take responsibility for doing whatever you can do, whether that’s coming to the strike, calling your representatives, voting, or sharing a post. Mike Mullin, Monty Mason and Elaine Luria, in the words of environmental advocate Greta Thunberg, “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire.” 

Email Maddie Belesimo at mnbelesimo@email.wm.edu.