Climate Voices

July 29, 2021
By: Jothsna Harris, Director of Community Engagement

Climate Change is Hitting Home

Last week Climate Generation was invited by Climate Power, a national organization building support for bold climate action, to join a press conference in Washington D.C. on extreme weather fueled by climate change.

A week earlier our team was excited to read news about U.S. Senator Tina Smith (MN-D) who has championed a groundbreaking Clean Electricity Standard bill, which is being considered this session and described as the “backbone” of Biden’s climate policy. Sen. Smith referenced her motivation, when youth from Climate Generation’s YEA! program spoke with her in 2015 at the MN State Capitol when she served as Lieutenant Governor. The invitation now to join the press conference was an opportunity to join Sen. Smith in D.C. and share the story of how climate change is impacting everyday Minnesotans.

With this knowledge, I felt a sense of privilege and humility to go and represent Climate Generation as well as a voice from Minnesota. As I thought about what I could contribute to the press conference, I was reminded how often People of Color and other marginalized people are left out of the climate conversation. As the daughter of immigrants, a farmer, woman of color, mother, and someone who has been working on climate change for the last seven years, it became clear that I might be able to offer a needed perspective. Besides that, it was a challenge to think about which story I would tell—because climate change is connected to everything.

A few days before the press conference my father, whose American dream included coming to Minnesota in the 1960’s, called to tell me he had been diagnosed with Lyme’s disease. His love for our Minnesota winters grew from the early days when he would bike to work, even in the winter when the snow drifts were higher than he could have imagined. He would send letters back to India to tell family what seemed like tall tales of our epic Minnesota winters. Winters that are now disappearing, because Minnesota is among the top states for the fastest-warming winters in the nation. With our milder winters, tick populations that carry Lyme’s disease are not only surviving but the geographic range has expanded, meaning that they are more prevalent and can be found in our own backyards.

This summer in 2021, climate change is hitting home for many people with record breaking extreme weather across our nation.

This June was the hottest and longest stretch of early season drought in Minnesota history—and as a small scale organic farmer myself, I felt this personally in my daily worry for our crops. My children who are ages 16 and 13 had their summer camp in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) disrupted by nearby wildfires. It breaks my heart to know that the unpredictability of these experiences is our new normal.

Alongside elected leaders and everyday community members at the press briefing, I listened to firsthand accounts of just how deadly the combination of extreme drought and devastating wildfires can be, as many in the West are facing this reality in unbelievable ways. I heard directly from people who are on the front lines, including the mayor of Talent, Oregon, where wildfires burned down almost exactly half of their tiny town. And the fire chief of the Reno fire department, whose home is only 12 miles from where current fires are raging. It was sobering to hear these stories and more. Climate impacts are suddenly upon us all and the situation is demanding urgent action to save lives.

I shared the story of my father-in-law who lives in North Minneapolis and survived the violent EF1 tornado that tore through his community. I wanted people to hear that climate change is not only about worsening extreme weather events, but also the aftermath of the clean up and how we rebuild. The track record is not good and overwhelmingly shows that under-resourced and low income communities are often left behind: “The storm displaced hundreds, left thousands without power for days, and decimated the urban forest.”

That day, my father-in-law was in his house when the tornado ripped his roof right off—bringing back PTSD from his time in the Army. Climbing up on the roof and laying out tarps, the true lasting memory was in the aftermath of the storm, realizing that help was not on the way. After the storm passed, it was evident that it was up to the community to come together in support for one another. North Minneapolis is a low income area with predominantly Black and Brown communities. And this is often the experience of marginalized communities that lack resources to deal with climate change and yet are bearing the brunt of the impacts.

Minnesota holds many of the worst racial disparities across health, housing, income, and education. Climate change amplifies all these disparities; the opportunity is now to prioritize climate justice and to rebuild our economy in a way that is rooted in community voices and solutions.

Listening to scientists and the stories of the people who are experiencing the on-the-ground impacts now, that balance of head and heart is a powerful approach. The opportunity to work together on solutions is more important than ever.

My job at Climate Generation is to help people share their climate stories as a tool to advocate for solutions. Recently we published the book, EYEWITNESS: Minnesota Voices on Climate Change, written by people across the state sharing their lived experiences; from teachers, youth, grandparents, farmers, and more…. Last session, we delivered a copy of this book to every Minnesota policymaker, as a call for bold action.

Our testimonies tell us that we are out of time. Climate impacts are here, and we have less than a decade to address the urgency and scale of the crisis. I am reminded of this when I look at the faces of my children.

As I was leaving the briefing, someone asked me what would happen if the worst of the impacts would come to me and my family, what would that mean. I was startled by the question, unsure how to answer. I had a few hours to walk around D.C. and in the heat of the day, I seriously pondered how provocative it was. Walking past our national monuments and museums, I could not shake the feeling of deep sadness of where we are right now in this moment of experiencing climate change. But I also felt a pull and motivation that now is not the time to give up, but to dig in and get ready for this most important fight of our lives. Reading a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, I felt a deep resonance and reassurance in what I read:

“There is no point at which giving up makes more sense than fighting on.”