Facing challenges in climate change preparedness, Mass neighbors assist neighbors
Human civilization is living in difficult and unprecedented times, the likes of which we have never seen before. There are many injustices happening in our world today that manifest in forms of racism, sexism, ageism, classism, xenophobia, environmental devastation, and other forms of oppression.
The preeminent social justice issue of our time is climate change, a long-term change in global temperatures and weather patterns. The planet is in a great state of distress because of the climate change crisis, which represents an urgent and existential threat to civilization. As such, an international consensus of scientists agrees that humanity must reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050 if the world is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius without endangering the existence of humans.
From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. The effects are devastating in nature and dangerous in reality to the natural ecosystems. Climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. If human beings don’t take drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more challenging and costly.
Climate change is not a single special interest issue but rather a complex crisis affecting public health, foreign policy, jobs and the economy, labor, civil rights, immigration, agriculture and the food supply, housing, transportation, the survival of nature, and every facet of human lives.
Achieving the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C will protect 10 million people from losing their homes to extreme weather and sea level rise; assist the many Massachusetts coastal communities that are already being damaged; reduce the portion of the world’s population experiencing water scarcity by 50%; save hundreds of millions of people in frontline communities from climate-related poverty; impede catastrophic storm and wildfire damage; and prevent the extinction of many of the world’s insects, plants, birds, and other animals.
My name is Rev. Vernon K. Walker and I am a resident of Boston. Originally I was born and raised in West Philadelphia; I relocated to attend graduate school at Boston University in 2012. Since moving here, I have experienced the beauty of the state by visiting many historical landmarks, experiencing Martha Vineyard, seeing Cape Cod, and meeting folks who are committed to doing various kinds of justice work; and I have also witnessed the challenges facing the state, the list of which includes gentrification, urban violence, economic inequality, the opioid crisis, flooding, challenging winter weather patterns, and overall the impacts of climate change.
I am the program manager over the Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW) program based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. CREW is a newly formed grassroots organization that aims to build equitable, inclusive neighborhood climate resilience in Massachusetts and New England through hands-on education, service, and planning. CREW is under the organizational umbrella of the Better Future Project.
One of CREW’s chief functions is to help prepare people for the extreme weather that is coming as a result of climate change. As we witnessed recently with Hurricane Dorian’s impact on the Bahamas, extreme weather can leave a community in ruins and be a major disruption to life. The way we prepare people for such weather is doing emergency preparedness powerpoint workshops at libraries, faith communities, and community centers that show people how to create emergency backpacks We also are able to do emergency preparedness workshops in other venues as well.
CREW has volunteer teams in Somerville and Arlington that are recruiting and are involved in projects throughout the year to create awareness of climate impacts. The purpose of these teams is to build climate resilience communities by developing social resilience. There is a book out called Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago by Eric Klinenberg that tells the story of a terrible heat wave in Chicago in 1995. That incident killed 700 people, mostly low-income elderly, while Klinenberg found that the elders who did survive had a social network of people to check in on them. So, part of the CREW team mission is to connect with neighbors and build such a social network to ensure that no one dies because of extreme weather.
CREW is interested in partnering with organizations that have physical space to offer to convert into a cooling center during heat waves and a warming center during winter emergencies. Such conditions would greatly impact poor frontline communities where every person does not have central air in their homes or air-conditioning units, and these resources can increase the likelihood of people surviving during weather emergencies. CREW hopes to help mitigate the impacts of climate change by connecting people to community resources and to each other.
VISIT CLIMATECREW.ORG FOR MORE INFO AND TO HELP.
This article is part of the Special Climate Crisis Issue of DigBoston (9/19/2019, Vol. 21, Iss. 38) produced in cooperation with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of the global Covering Climate Now initiative organized by The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review.