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All Hands on Deck: Cultivating Resilience in the Face of Disaster

By 3p Contributor

By Daphne Stanford

Current attempts at federal aid for victims of natural disasters are inadequate. What, then, are we to do? Sustainability-minded companies, social workers, and civil engineers are all working in different ways to design buildings with sustainability, efficiency, and natural disasters in mind.

According to Annie Muldoon, “Attempts to improve social conditions may be lost if society itself lacks clean air, drinkable water, and adequate food.”  She continues:

It is quickly becoming evident that the groups who are most immediately and profoundly affected by environmental destruction are those who face multiple systems of oppression. These include women, the poor, people of [color] and people who reside in nations of the global South.
Does any of this sound familiar? Readers of TriplePundit realize this as a non-issue: sustainable retrofitting, microgrid technology and preventative city planning are all worth the effort, but how do we convince others? How do we reach those who simply don’t believe climate change is real? Many say those people are beyond hope, and that we should focus on our representatives. But what do we do when our representatives participate in group-think, when they are more concerned with the financial support of wealthy donors than the truth?

Sustainable Policies & Preventative Infrastructure

We need a three-pronged approach: utilize logic, rationality, and critical thinking skills to explain climate-related disasters to others in simple terms; appeal not only to rationality but emotion, spirituality, and ethics; and invest in companies and organizations interested in divesting from fossil fuel companies unwilling to commit to a sustainable, equitable, and long-term clean energy agenda.

Moreover, the issue of divestment is only one part of the picture. We can talk about clean, sustainable energy consumption all day, but unless we go out into the field and put sustainable building standards into practice in our communities and via clean energy policies and legislation, we’ll merely be preaching to the choir.

Civil engineers, for example, typically work for construction firms, consulting, government, development firms, the military, or non-residential building construction. Because they tend to deal with larger-scale building development directly connected to urban design and city-wide efforts, they can also provide input about sustainable design features and green retrofitting — a practice we will need more of over the next decade.

If we treat this as a human rights issue — as well as an issue of energy policy, city planning, and civil engineering — there may be some hope for our cause, yet. Nicholas Kristof understands this; Amnesty International understands this; Jimmy Carter understands this. However, many voters left-of-center, galvanized against a broadly-painted swath of “religious right,” still fail to understand this.

Religiosity does not necessarily equate to opposition to clean energy policies. The support is there, but it’s not headline-worthy, so the clickbait goes elsewhere. Maybe supporters of sustainability need to start speaking in ways that rural America can understand. By using terms like ‘evil,’ ‘immoral,’ and ‘unethical,’ we can draw attention to the ethical problematics of ignoring humanitarian crises.

Hurricane Maria & Puerto Rico: What Can We Do?

The current fallout from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico — specifically, the sluggish U.S. response to our citizens who live there — is a massive problem. However, because Puerto Rico is a territory, rather than a state, they have no official representation in Congress. Moreover, the Trump administration is delaying the necessary resources Puerto Rico would be able to afford if the Jones Acts were suspended (or, better yet, rescinded), as it was for Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina. This is because of some supposed adherence to fiscal responsibility — but there will also likely be a massive exodus from Puerto Rico to the mainland, because of the impending infrastructure collapse.

Numerous companies have stepped up to help donate funds and supplies to relief efforts. However, as long as the current administration fails to waive or rescind the Jones Act, their efforts are bound to fall short of the massive infrastructure rebuilding that is now needed.

An increased level of CSR-related funding is certainly not without widespread support. In fact, more than 90 percent of U.S. employees consider social responsibility to be a priority while 62 percent also cite sustainability as an important consideration

A Call to Action

So far, the current administration is succeeding in distracting and dividing us enough to make enough people believe there’s nothing that can or should be done to help those in need. What can we do? We can sign petitions and call our representatives in Congress. We can raise awareness among our friends and family. And we can donate to legitimate relief efforts conducted by locals on the ground who are well-connected, both geographically and culturally.

The humanitarian crises in Bangladesh, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Barbuda, and other parts of the Caribbean and southern United States are making one thing clear: we should prepare for mass exodus of people displaced from these areas into other parts of the world — including within the U.S. If you’re looking for a place to start, Lin-Manuel Miranda has written about the Hispanic Federation, a New York-based relief fund sending charter planes with supplies directly to Mexico and Puerto Rico

This should go beyond politics. Human lives are being sacrificed because of petty socioeconomic, cultural, and political hang-ups — as well as, let’s face it, racism. There is a lack of understanding of the larger issues, here.

Civic representatives, civil engineers, and corporate sustainability advocates can work with healthcare and social work organizations dealing with humanitarian aid crises to get help to the places that need it most — but only if our president can look beyond personal and political grievances to recognize his duty to the people he supposedly governs, protects, and defends.

Where will people go? It’s likely they will relocate to places affordable enough to sustain them.  For example, rather than big cities, smaller towns closer to more sparsely-populated areas of the country are likely to be popular. Perhaps when more U.S. citizens see other U.S. citizens relocating to different regions of the country for a habitable place to live, they’ll realize the future humanitarian crises brought on by climate change will need answers, and quickly — before time runs out.

Update: Immediately after this article was written, the Trump administration decided to temporarily waive the Jones Act for ten days.  However, they refrained from nixing it altogether, meaning Puerto Rico will likely have to grapple with the economic consequences of Hurricane Maria for much longer than would be the case, if the Jones Act were permanently rescinded.

Image credit: The National Guard

Daphne Stanford hosts “The Poetry Show!” on KRBX, her local community radio station, every Sunday at 5 p.m. A writer of poetry, nonfiction, and lyric essays, her favorite pastimes include hiking, bicycling, and good conversation with friends and family.  Follow her on Twitter @TPS_on_KRBX.

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