Last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it would not be providing individual assistance to Marshall town and its residents hit hardest by the July 19 tornado. The news left a sour taste for many who wondered how FEMA came to its decision. Did the agency leaders not see the people who were displaced, homes which have no future other than demolition and businesses that will struggle to recover? How could such suffering not warrant aid?
The truth is, FEMA leaders saw all of that devastation. But they also saw homes burnt to ashes in California, the destructive power of multiple hurricanes and flooding across the country. We don’t envy the decisions they had to make in weighing whose devastation mattered more and we certainly don’t envy the slap in the face they had to deliver to communities like ours who feel bitterness toward the agency for not seeing our destruction as “bad enough.”
We could blame the federal government for not providing enough funding to the organization, but pointing fingers would hardly solve the real problem at hand. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent. As a nation we must address that more natural disasters are occurring because of climate change and we need to do something about it.
The National Climate Assessment, issued by 13 federal agencies and made public in November, states some of the harshest findings about climate change to date. The assessment shows that the United States’ environment and economy are in grave danger because of man-made pollution.
Extreme environmental challenges such as intense wildfires, flooding, crop failures in the Midwest and water insecurity are all a result of climate change, which is caused largely by carbon emissions.
“The report puts the most precise price tags to date on the cost to the United States economy of projected climate impacts: $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise and $32 billion from infrastructure damage by the end of the century, among others,” according to the New York Times.
Research finds that hurricanes are becoming more intense, which equates to more damage, because of rising temperatures. Last year’s U.S. hurricane season was the costliest on record, according to the Guardian, with more than $306 billion in damage from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Recent research also indicates that areas more likely to be impacted by a tornado are changing, according to the Chicago Tribune. The research indicates that states like Iowa and Illinois are more likely to see tornadoes than they were in the past while some states will see fewer. The likely cause of the shift? Climate change.
The federal government could certainly allocate more money to FEMA to help cities like Marshalltown. But if we truly want to make a difference, we have to hold ourselves, our businesses and our government accountable for natural disasters that are being impacted by climate change.
It’s true, we can’t wipe away the nationwide pockets of devastation like what Marshalltown is experiencing. We will likely never be able to prevent all natural disaster. But if we don’t put our foot down and start addressing climate change, we are telling the future generations that they don’t matter and we don’t care if they have to face mass devastation. How hypocritical would it be of our community, who knows well the feeling of having a town destroyed, to not act against climate change?
As complex of a topic as climate change can be, some may not understand how they as an individual can make an impact. We each can each work to reduce our carbon footprint by evaluating our appliances and vehicles for energy efficiency, traveling only when necessary, reducing our food waste, investing in renewable energy and purchasing products from company’s that hold environmental sustainability at the forefront of their values.
Perhaps, more importantly, we must fight for large-scale reform. We need to tell our local, state and national representatives that climate change and sustainability matters. At the state level, we must call for water quality reform that’s backed by funding. Call your representatives and tell them enough is enough.
Part of the reason climate change has been so tough to address is because it is emotional. Addressing climate change requires major changes in industries like agriculture and coal which are not just industries, but deep-rooted foundations for many communities. We have to move past this emotional connection and move toward sustainability. Sustainable efforts may be more costly in the short-term, but they save us money in the long run.
Climate change is happening and it’s affecting us now. If we want to protect future generations from mass devastation, we need to act.