The Human Story of Climate Change

The edges of our country are eroding. From Alaska to Louisiana, centuries of culture, tangible history, and dynamic communities are being battered by stronger storms and sea level rise—raising difficult questions about adaptation, relocation, and what it means to be an American. To connect the shared experiences of Americans facing these dramatic transformations, Victoria Herrmann has spent the past three years traveling across the United States and U.S. territories to understand how erosion and sea level rise are affecting coastal communities and identify what is needed at the national level to support towns in need of immediate adaptation and relocation away from America’s eroding edges.  You can see the results of her research project here:  Their research project, America’s Eroding Edges,

Community Created Solutions

At present, there are at least 13 towns and villages in America that have decided to relocate in part or in full due to the effects of climate change. Telling their stories is important, but we must do more to provide communities with the financial support and technical tools they need to survive rising tides.  Coastal climate change champions already have the vision and multigenerational knowledge to adapt to the effects of climate change we can no longer avoid. What they do not have is time to waste on an inactive government.

The Quest for Hope

Stories hope can be hard to come by these days. With the country pulling out of the Paris Agreement and walking backwards on other climate commitments, it’s hard not to feel like America has entered into a period of stagnation on climate action.   In the news we often hear about communities in crisis as sea levels rise and extreme storms become more frequent.  The stories we read, hear and see inform how we understand climate change, and that understanding dictates whether we act or don’t.  Feeling hopeless about a situation is cognitively associated with inaction and predicts decreased goal-directed behavior.  When all we hear are stories of crisis and disaster, we come away with the belief that all communities living on the frontline of climate change are victims with little hope of being saved.

 

But that is only half of the story.  All across the country individuals in blue-collar communities are stepping into leadership roles and forging unlikely coalitions to save their communities, even as federal support withers.  We rarely hear about stories such as these in traditional media, but we need these narratives now more than ever.  We know that climate change adaptation only works when we are hopeful for the future and believe that environmentally vulnerable communities have the agency to act.  We are at a point today where every decision we make counts in deciding what America’s climate change story will be:  today we have to choose the story of hope.