First Person

Strange weather, human consequences

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Miss Betty Jane Adams of Chauvin, LA. Photo: Grazioso Pictures
Miss Betty Jane Adams of Chauvin, LA. Photo: Grazioso Pictures

This June was one of the weirdest months I’ve ever seen in New England. Instead of warm days, we had endless cool and rainy weather. The Boston skyline vanished behind a perpetual cloud bank. Lately, I’ve taken to leaving my sunglasses at home and hauling my umbrella around instead.

Of course, besides giving Bostonians a chance to complain (something we love dearly), the unseasonal weather hasn’t really disrupted our lives. I haven’t put in my air conditioner yet, and some of my neighbors have held off on planting their summer gardens. But overall, we can live with it.

A thousand or so miles south of us, though, the weather is changing in a way that’s much more lasting and profound. Last week I watched some stunning footage filmed in the bayous of Louisiana, part of a series of forthcoming short films by Oxfam about building people’s resilience to climate change. The story centers on a local organization building elevated “lift houses” to protect Gulf Coast residents from increasingly severe floods and storms. 

“When I was younger the water would come and it would go down right away. Floods are more frequent now. Now the water comes up and you can wait for it for a few days, it’s going to stay there,” says Miss Betty Jane Adams, a resident of Chauvin, LA, for over six decades. Miss Betty’s previous home was destroyed during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, though her new lift house made it through Gustav unscathed. Although we can’t peg any single extreme weather event solely to climate change, scientists tell us we will witness more such events in the future if temperatures continue to climb.

A new Oxfam report, Suffering the Science, collects stories from people in countries from China to Bolivia whose lives have been disrupted by long-term changes in weather. “This is where climate change becomes as real as a redundancy or a repossession notice, or a daily missed meal, or a parent’s fear for the safety of a child,” write the authors. “People’s stories make us realize just how little we are doing to address the causes and effects of this crisis, although it has been bearing down on us for a quarter of a century.”

Like the people building lift houses in Louisiana, many are coming up with innovative ways to fight back against climate change. What’s missing are the resources to bring these solutions to everyone who needs them.

Last month the House of Representatives passed a new climate bill that contains some provisions for strengthening affected communities here and abroad. This bill now moves to the Senate, where it needs our support to become even stronger.  And we at Oxfam will be watching its progress closely.

In the meantime, I’ll keep checking the Boston weather report, waiting for a chance to break out my sunglasses. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+