When we think about climate change, I believe we often get lost in the global context and forget about its local impacts. Climate change is a complex, unfamiliar, slow-moving, and intergenerational problem that covers a broad range of policies, topics, and headlines. We read headlines about melting glaciers, rising sea levels, global warming, and growing pollution. These types of things feel so far away and out of our view; however, their consequences have been devastating. The consequences are a slow-moving phenomenon that has manifested in recent years as record-hitting heat waves, wildfires, and increasingly strong and more frequent storms. While it is important to be aware of the consequences of climate change at a global level, I want to take a moment to reflect on the national, community, and local impacts of climate change.
At the national, and in many cases state level, climate change and environmental degradation has impacted our communities with rising monetary, infrastructure, and local cost. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 23 extreme weather events in the United States that cost $1 billion this year through August. Climate disasters have culminated in a cost of more 57.6 billion and have tragically claimed 253 lives. From the violent and tragic wildfires in Hawaii to intense storms sweeping throughout the mid-east to flooding in our coastal cities, climate change has amplified extreme weather events, and as they become more frequent, we must reflect on how we build our infrastructure and homes. We must consider how we can make our communities, especially vulnerable communities, more resilient against and more responsive to weather emergencies while taking bold preventive action.
As a California native, I am aware of the threat of wildfires each summer. In fact, I recall a time in elementary school when we went out to recess and saw the sky illuminated red and orange from distant wildfires whose impact reached my school many miles away. The wildfire wasn’t close to my city, but we still felt, breathed, and saw its effects. Similarly, the Canadian wildfires earlier this year affected communities not only in Canada but also across the United States. Approximately 70 million people experienced poor air quality and decreased visibility. While the threat of wildfires is always present in the West, I also think about the threat of extreme weather events across the United States. Our communities experienced Hurricane Idalia, mid-July Northeast flooding, and Minnesota hailstorms. Extreme or severe weather events are a normal part of nature; however, with increasing intensity each year, the amplifying effects of climate change are continuously present.
When I was still in university, I had the opportunity to be a research assistant to a professor researching climate policy across different countries, analyzing not only national policies but also the policies of states, provinces, counties, cities, and towns. It is through this research that I gained a local perspective on a global issue. This perspective continues to influence my work as the legislative assistant working on environmental and climate advocacy. I reflect on how local pollution can have negative health effects on vulnerable neighbors such as the elderly, children, and those with respiratory conditions. I think about family and community members who live in areas prone to flooding, wildfires, and storms and what can be done to ensure their safety in times of emergency. Our communities substantially benefit from improving our resiliency against extreme weather events. Similarly, we benefit from greening initiatives that put more trees and green areas in public areas, such as parks and community centers for a more beautiful and cleaner community. Expanding energy-efficient policies that bring less polluting clean energy to our cities and towns would go a long way to reducing air pollution and reducing costs.
At the beginning of this reflection, I wrote about how climate change can be a complex and daunting issue. Even though I personally engage in this issue area and aspire to make a difference, I must admit that the enormity of the problem can be overwhelming. However, I’ve found inspiration and hope from Jewish tradition and theology. The Jewish tradition teaches us that we were created b’tzelem Elohim, created in “the image of God” (Genesis 1:27), and thus encourages us to imitate God's care and benevolence. It is for this reason that while we “fill the earth and master it” (Genesis 1:28), we must also “till it and tend it” (Genesis 2:15) – we are stewards of our world at the heart of Torah’s vision for creation.
As we pursue our mission of tikkun olam, the sacred task of repairing the world, we hold the potential to bring positive change to our communities. The Reform Movement’s Power for Purpose Campaign for climate justice calls for us to unite and amplify our voices. I invite you to add your voice to our Power for Purpose campaign, urging our leaders to take meaningful steps in curtailing pollution and to join us as we advocate for pollution solutions at our November 16 town hall with an EPA official. Every action we do is a drop in a bucket, but if enough of us come together we will fill the bucket together.