Op-Ed

Fewer Would Die
if They Had Known

February 27, 2018 / By Adora Nweze, President of the NAACP Florida Area State Conference

Floridians are getting sick, some more than others.  For a long time now, the place people move to for retirement – to end their days in rest and leisure – is ending their days quicker.  Their health is ailing faster in Florida and sometimes they’re dying faster, too.  I’m not talking about the flu epidemic, but Lord, I do pray for those people.  No, if what I was talking about was flu-like, Florida would have pneumonia.

 

Who is most impacted by this epidemic?  People who are already ill or have weak immune systems, people who cannot afford to leave the area and escape to better (for now) climates, and people of color who are at risk because of environmental racism. We call these groups frontline communities because they are the ones at the forefront of the problem but who are also taking action to get things done.

 

Why are Floridians getting sick?  Because of the effects of climate change.

 

The health problems from climate change are real.  So real that Florida doctors are seeing the effects every day and are taking it upon themselves to do something about it.  The Miami Herald wrote about the Florida Clinicians on Climate Action, a group of doctors who realize that not everyone knows a climate scientist, but they do know a doctor.  These doctors explain that “Heat worsens asthma, heart and lung disorders and even mental illnesses. Rising seas push floodwater polluted by leaky sewage pipes into neighborhoods. A changing climate helps spread mosquito-bourne diseases (think Zika), and research shows it makes hurricanes stronger and more common.”

 

They are working to make sure that “…everyone knows about the impacts of climate change and how to protect themselves, all the way from making sure high school coaches know how to teach their athletes the warning signs of heat exhaustion to explaining the benefit of community cooling centers in low-income neighborhoods to politicians.”

 

At the same time Florida frontline communities are getting sicker because of climate change, they are also being left out of the information loop.  Emergency planners are not getting the voice and knowledge of the Black community, the low-income people, the elderly, and others before they do their evacuation plans and other kinds of climate change planning.  So people are not only sick, but don’t have the information about how to escape circumstances like flooding, or what they need to do when there’s a hurricane or a tornado.

 

And Florida is getting hotter. Make NO mistake about that.  These high temperatures mean more fires, bigger hurricanes, more frequent tornadoes, and the list goes on.  Climate change caused the sea level to rise and flooded the roads in Key Largo and Big Pine Keys.  The flooding got so bad that the county officials are looking into raising the roads – one of the first road projects in the Keys in response to the future impacts of sea level rise from climate change.

 

These high temperatures also mean that people will get sicker faster and more often.  People with asthma are going to suffer more and some won’t be able to afford to turn their air conditioning on to where it needs to be for their health so they’ll be having more asthma attacks.  And some who depend on electricity for life-saving oxygen and other medical devices will be more at risk for health emergencies when the storms come and knock out their electricity and their devices stop working.  More asthma attacks and medical emergencies means more hospital visits that some Floridians cannot afford.  So they won’t go.  And Floridians will die.

 

Think you’re safe?  Climate change, while it impacts some people more than others, ultimately impacts absolutely everybody.  No one, and I mean NO ONE, can escape it.  No matter how many sandbags you can make or how many SUVs you can rent to get yourself out of the high waters.

 

Just the other day, Dahr Jamail at Truthout wrote an article about what climate change means for our kids and grandkids.  “Many of the humans being born right now will be alive in 2100. They will live in the conditions we are creating for them today: In a world where it will likely be impossible to feed the majority of the projected 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, water wars will be the new oil wars (the US military has already been practicing for water wars for years), major coastal cities will have long since flooded, and droughts and wildfires will have become year-round events.”

 

This is not some apocalypse movie, this is real life.  We cannot afford to debate about climate change for one more second.  No.  Climate change is real, it is making Floridians sicker faster, and it is destroying the potential for our future generations to thrive as we have done.  We have to act NOW.

 

I am the President of the NAACP Florida Area State Conference and the Chair of the NAACP Emergency Management Taskforce.  And, I am calling on everyone to get involved.

 

I am leading the environmental and climate justice work for Florida’s communities of color and low-income people.  Just last month I organized a training with, FEMA, the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), and Citizen Corp to train 57 representatives from 25 Florida NAACP branches to not only be Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members but to also be trained NAACP’s Human and Civil Rights in Emergency Management Monitoring.  Now, every county in Florida has an NAACP representative who they can partner with so that they get their climate change emergency plans more in tune with the people they serve.  Plus, more NAACP members can now provide basic medical care and attention to their neighbors and communities in a time of a hurricane or other event.

 

I’m calling on every other NAACP State Conference President nationwide to follow Florida’s lead.  Because this isn’t just a Florida problem.  Every state has environmental and climate change issues – whether its wildfires, blizzards, droughts, or flooding.  We need to be prepared for more heat, less drinkable water, bigger hurricanes, more storms, more asthma attacks and cardiovascular diseases, etc.

 

But most importantly, we have got to take care of each other!  We can’t be around destroying each other.  We have to work together so that the next generation can profit just like how we profited from the last generation.  If we join together NOW, we can make plans that will benefit everyone in the community, not just a few.  We’ll get stronger, wiser, and safer as a family.

 

Fewer would have died if they had only known in time.   We don’t want that to be our future as much as it has been our past.  Join us.

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