The world’s continued reliance on fossil fuels has created extreme weather, whose cost to lives and livelihood worsens, year after year. Scientists have proven that fossil fuels contribute to rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, altering the climate. There is growing evidence that warming in the atmosphere and upper ocean, caused by human activity, is creating conditions more suitable for more destructive hurricanes — otherwise known as Super Storms. They cause death and destruction in their paths. People’s lives are upended, and families torn apart. Jobs are lost and homes obliterated.
These Super Storms are destined to become more frequent and stronger if no actions are taken to abate the climate crisis. Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) are calling on the president and Congress to enact a Climate Emergency Plan. The lives already taken by hurricanes this summer are proof that we cannot afford to wait any longer.
The East coast is still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Isaias that left many struggling through flood-choked streets and millions of Americans without power.
“Con Edison still doesn’t have the power on for all its customers in New York. Our communities of color are always the last to get their service restored. It’s wrong. I agree with Governor Cuomo when he says no company is too big to fail. Con Edison is causing untold suffering for people during the pandemic,” said New York Assistant Majority Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Council Member and veteran. “Isaias was small in comparison to Sandy. We have to be prepared for the worst and do all we can end our carbon economy, to halt the growth of these storms. They threaten our security. We need a National Climate Emergency Plan.”
In the face of environmental injustice, and the myriad threats to the health, safety, and humanity of communities of color, bold action now is the only way forward. It’s our moral obligation. Climate justice and racial justice are inextricably linked.
The 2020 Hurricane season, according to NOAA’s projections, will be “extremely active,” even more devastating than years past. There have already been nine named storms since the season’s start: that’s a record. Up to twenty-five are expected throughout the season, with strength and frequency only worsening as it nears its August peak. There may be so many the traditional naming system will fall short and we will begin to dip into the Greek alphabet.
“Americans deserve better. They have given their power to elected officials with their votes, expecting that they will protect them and do what’s right for their lives and livelihood, that includes fighting climate change,” said Oregon State Representative Paul Evans, EOPA Co-Chair and veteran. “If we don’t take the climate crisis seriously we jeopardize our national security. Enacting a National Climate Emergency Plan will help protect America now and set us on a path for a sustainable future.”
The chaotic and desperate process of trying to escape from a hurricane’s path promises to be unimaginably worse, because hurricane season isn’t the only thing surging in the United States. COVID-19 is too.
Governors struggle over whether to even open shelters, balancing the risks of mass infection against homes and lives lost to torrential rains and merciless winds. Evacuees have the capacity to spread the virus like wildfire wherever they take shelter inland. After all, many of the states likely to be hit by hurricanes are the states with the virus the least under control. From Florida to Georgia and up the entire Eastern Seaboard, the number of cases is cause for alarm on its own. With economies, communities, and families already laid low and made vulnerable by the fiscal, social, and practical consequences of a global pandemic, the devastation of hurricanes will be magnified.
The reality is that even in a normal year 51 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and 40 percent couldn’t afford a $400 emergency. Hurricanes have the nightmarish capacity to drive hardworking people into financial ruin. Lived experience and decades of research has shown that income and access to resources affects ability to respond to disaster. Those on the wrong side of the income gap often end up trapped in their homes as storms barrel in, contributing to an unacceptably high and ever-rising death toll each year.
A single storm, Hurricane Maria, devastated Puerto Rico and took nearly 3,000 lives. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, extreme weather and climate disasters caused nearly $100 billion in damage in the United States in 2018. In 2019, Hurricane Dorian left hundreds dead and missing in the Bahamas. The cause behind the ever-worsening impacts is no mystery: climate change.
“It infuriates me knowing some of those souls might be alive today if the federal government had acted in a humane way taking immediate action after Maria. It’s racism. Two years after, many people were still without water, and electricity,” said New York Assistant Majority Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Council Member, and veteran. “This is personal, I’ve friends and family there and even though I’ve visited with aid, I feel powerless. Every morning I wake up wanting hurricane season over.”
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens who overwhelmingly serve in our military but are denied the right to vote in Presidential elections. The island is poorer than any state in the union, and remains in a recession. When COVID-19 hit the island, the public agencies in charge of confronting the emergency had already been financially crippled. Now cases are skyrocketing.
A federal assessment found that Puerto Rico is far from ready for Hurricane season. Its precarious recovery would collapse utterly under another storm of Maria’s magnitude.
40 percent of Americans live in coastal counties, where extreme weather places their homes and lives in danger. America’s most vulnerable, low-income communities, communities of color and rural communities were already struggling before Coronavirus. The elderly, already threatened by the risk of contracting COVID-19, also experience greater dangers to their often already fragile health (Kim et al. 2017).
As temperatures continue to rise, the world’s oceans heat up. Out of the doldrums, warming waters combine with atmospheric pressures to whip hurricanes into a frenzy, gathering strength. Fishermen are seeing the bizarre consequences of the ‘marine heat wave’ generating these strong and frequent storms, pulling in strange, mutant-like fish from the abnormally hot surf.
But the public is too often left in the dark about the reality of how the weather is affected by the climate crisis. While broadcast TV networks’ news programs collectively aired hundreds of segments on extreme weather events that occurred in 2018, only nine of those segments mentioned climate change. With 60 percent of Superfund sites (dump sites with the capacity to do extreme harm to communities if compromised) under threat from extreme weather, the climate crisis is a real and growing threat to US national security. It’s a force multiplier, meaning it exacerbates existing risks and creates new ones each and every day it goes on unchecked.
News outlets have too often neglected the connection of extreme weather, caused by climate change, and national security. But some lawmakers and lobbyists in the pocket of the polluting industries are doing worse than ignoring them — they’re taking actions that make matters worse. Mayor Mitch Colvin of Fayetteville, North Carolina, EOPA National letter signatory, wrote an oped in the Fayetteville Observer that highlights the backdoor dealings in Washington D.C. He opened his constituents’ eyes to how the actions of the Trump administration with the support of certain United States Senators, like North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, are unraveling environmental regulations at a time when much of the nation is focused on dealing with the crisis of COVID-19 and working towards racial justice. This is worse than negligent.
“This decision reeks of complete disregard for the health of North Carolinians, especially communities like Fayetteville,” said Mayor Colvin, EOPA National letter signatory.
He described the challenges his community faces with contaminated well-water, carcinogens in the river basins, and hog waste lagoons that threaten to flood each time it rains. Killer hurricane after hurricane strands families, exasperating environmental injustices. The fight for clean water, according to Mayor Colvin, has never been more important than now, “What we know is that these actions to strip these safeguards away will disproportionately have a harmful impact on communities of color.”
“The Trump administration’s roll back of environmental protections and oil giants influencing the lawmaking decision process has to end. The American people are suffering while Trump and his cohorts are playing monopoly at our expense,” said New Mexico State Representative Debbie Maria Sariñana, EOPA Co-Chair and Air Force veteran.
Lawmakers from frontline communities know best what we stand to lose when we fail to take action on the climate crisis. That’s why they’re at the center of Elected Officials to Protect America’s (EOPA) effort, alongside young elected officials, and veterans who are lawmakers, fighting to protect our nation’s present and future from its most persistent, pervasive threat: the climate crisis upending lives across the nation, especially now, as hurricanes bear down on our coastlines.
Americans have been staying home for months. In many places it’s still a mandate necessary to preserve public health and protect ourselves. But when a hurricane happens, millions will potentially be forced to gamble with their lives on whether to stay or go. The consequences of the storms forming in the warm Atlantic waters extend far beyond wind and rain and downed trees.
We lose thousands of lives, homes, and jobs every hurricane season. The risks have only been compounded by a global pandemic, along with environmental rollbacks that further endanger clean water.
Elected Officials to Protect America demands to know why polluting industries get bailouts with Senate compliance, but Americans continue to pay the price for cleanups from hurricanes and other disasters like the pandemic.
“The continued lack of action by Congress and the president to address the climate crisis has helped to birth Super Storms. By helping the oil and gas industry they are fueling the storms,” said New Mexico State Representative Debbie Maria Sariñana, EOPA Co-Chair and Air Force veteran. “Our reliance on fossil fuels has created a crisis of our own making, posing an unacceptable national security risk to our nation, communities, homes, and families and jeopardizes our future. It’s time for a National Climate Action Plan that will address the climate emergency.”
Nationally, over 410 elected officials have signed the Elected Officials to Protect America’s National Climate Justice Sign-on Letter, like Mayor Colvin did. In it they demand a just transition from a carbon based economy to a clean, renewable energy based economy helping communities on the frontlines first and foremost. There is mounting support and pressure for individual states to take action and many are. The time is now to act. For millions of Americans who may be in the eye of the next storm we cannot wait.
The mission of EOPA: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission.
August 12, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Alexander Cornell du Houx, Elected Officials to Protect America Cell: 207.319.4511