Lessons from Harvey: The Need to Lead

climate leadership

Hurricane Harvey, which struck Houston late last month, was unprecedented: The category 4 storm left some 50 inches of rain in its wake, killing more than 60 people and displacing well over 50,000 residents to date. And the extent of damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure is still being calculated.

As Hurricane Irma bears down on the Atlantic, the need for new and ongoing climate leadership from all sectors is clearer than ever.

Fortunately, opportunities abound, and now is a perfect time to consider, apply, and share the lessons of Harvey. In this way, we will not only be better prepared to address climate impacts in our own communities, but also help reduce the drivers of climate change in general. Here are just a few of these lessons and suggestions for action.

Climate change is happening.

Scientists agree that while climate change may not have “caused” Harvey, it played an important role in the storm’s severity and behavior. Also, stronger and more frequent storms are an expected effect of climate change.

What you can do: If you live in a region prone to hurricanes and/or flooding, such as low-lying coastal areas, use your position to point out climate connections. Even doubters may be more open to this message. As a recent article pointed out, “A growing body of research suggests that perceptions of climate change are influenced by experience with climate-related natural disasters.”

Recommended reading: ecoAmerica’s 15 Steps to Create Effective Climate Communications is a good place to begin.

Visit this ecoAmerica web page to see who is leading and to find partners.

Communities need to be resilient by design.

Sprawling cities like Houston and Miami were not built with climate change in mind. Better urban planning can help ensure sustainability. Options range from transit-centered design with plenty of green space to limiting development in flood plains and building sea walls.

What you can do: Advocate for policies and participate in projects that prevent or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase your community’s livability, and can help it withstand natural disasters and heat waves. You’ll likely get a good reception: ecoAmerica’s research has found that 8 out of 10 Americans agree that local communities should take up the mantle on climate solutions.

Recommended reading: Let’s Talk Communities and Climate: Communication Guidance for City and Community Leaders

Visit our Path to Positive Communities program website to see who is leading and to find partners.

Climate changes health.

Both the causes of climate change (such as air pollution from coal-fired power plants) and its effects (such as heat waves, drought and wildfires, and flooding from more powerful storms and sea-level rise)  have many potential health impacts. These  include asthma, allergies, heat stroke, burns, and insect-borne diseases such as Zika. Texans also risk health ailments from air and water pollution caused by flooded industrial facilities. Climate change can also impact our mental health, potentially triggering grief over losing one’s home or anxiety about the future.

What you can do: If you are a health-care professional, talk to your patients and colleagues about climate change’s health impacts, and work with your facility on climate preparedness. Thanks to financial investments and best practices, most emergency departments in the Houston area were able to remain open during Harvey.

Recommended reading: Let’s Talk Health and Climate: Communication Guidance for Health Professionals

Visit our Climate for Health program website to see who is leading and to find partners.

Climate change is a spiritual issue.

The effects of storms like Harvey as well as the other, more direct impacts of climate change remind us that being good stewards of nature is not only an important value in its own right, but also helps insure that human communities will thrive into the future. In fact, 95% of Americans polled by ecoAmerica—whatever their religious beliefs—agreed that we have a moral responsibility to protect our environment.

What you can do: Faith groups of all denominations can unite to ease the burdens brought on by natural disasters, as many churches, temples, and mosques in the Gulf Coast did when Harvey hit. If you are a faith leader, you can get involved in Creation Care activities to reduce climate risks. For example, your congregation may wish to go carbon neutral, as the Disciples of Christ recently committed to do.

Recommended reading: Let’s Talk Faith and Climate: Communication Guidance for Faith Leaders

Visit our Blessed Tomorrow program website to see who is leading and to find partners.

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