When the world’s leading scientists warned that climate change is “code red for humanity,” it was no surprise for those of us living on the frontlines.
“The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable,” they tell us. No kidding.
Welcome to my home, Lake Charles, La. We are ground zero of the age of climate consequences.
I first started working in Louisiana’s petrochemical industry in the 1980s. At that time, I had no idea that climate change would one day turn my family into climate refugees. But that day has arrived.
In the past year, my family had to relocate after our home was ravaged repeatedly by wind and water. In one terrifying day, Lake Charles was deluged by 15 inches of rain in a matter of 12 hours. I have seen bodies fished from drainage ditches. I have watched the coffins of family members washed from their graves and floating away in flooded streets.
This is the land where natural disasters are no longer natural.
The repeated destruction and devastation here in Lake Charles and other rural areas of Louisiana has created a climate domino effect. With families fleeing Lake Charles as climate refugees, the parish is losing homeowners. Without homeowners to pay property tax, our school systems are falling deeper into financial crisis.
What’s happening here in Lake Charles should open the eyes of everyone who thinks that we can adapt to climate change without transformational change.
How could we adapt when two hurricanes hit us in rapid succession with devastating force in 2020? Instead, companies are praying on our misfortune. Instead of rallying to aid their customers, some insurance companies used the second hurricane as an excuse to double up on insurance deductibles.
Climate is rearing its ugly face across the country, not just here on the Gulf Coast. The worsening drought that is drying up the Colorado River and has turned much of the West into a tinder box is the flip side of the climate coin that dumps torrential downpours in other regions.
Droughts or floods. Pick your poison.
As a Black American, the human injustices of toxic pollution disproportionately harming the health of people of color and the poor really hit home.
I have tried to do my part.
I left the petrochemical industry earlier in my life to fight for fence-line communities.
Increasingly, climate change has layered a multiplier effect on top of these toxic injustices, bringing ferocious floods and winds to cancer alley.
In the 1990s, I went to the global climate talks in Kyoto, Japan, to seek global climate action. I have travelled the halls of Congress to speak to members and I have testified on the need for a clean energy transformation. Today, I work to create clean energy opportunity around the world as a green entrepreneur.
Even with all of this experience, I didn’t want to believe that it could be this devastating so soon in my lifetime.
I am living the curse of being able to connect the dots of the climate crisis.
I'm not talking statistics and scientific theory. I'm talking about real life.
I’m not looking to the future. I am talking about right now.
I still have hope. We have rebuilt our house in Lake Charles. This is our home. We are not ready to give up or give in to despair.
Now is the time for America to invest in real solutions. We need clean, renewable energy.
And we must do it by putting people to work in good jobs. The workers along the Gulf Coast and throughout the country who have built America’s past and present need to be part of powering our future with cleaner, healthier energy.
We can’t rewind the clock, but we must pay attention to the Climate Clock counting down the moments of opportunity left to us before climate change runs away altogether from our ability to change its course.
Which is why it is especially hard to watch the same old stalemate in Congress. Too many elected officials defend the status quo, but it’s as much a mirage as an oasis giving way to bone dry sand in the desert. Protecting the status quo for the industry has exposed the rest of us to destructive change.
Some in Congress have attacked President BidenJoe BidenGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Sanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'Its not coming out' Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE’s Build Back Better plan as being too green. Stick to roads and bridges, they have argued. The old way is the best way.
But here’s the truth. There’s little point in building roads if we aren’t protecting the people who will travel them. Why build bridges if we can’t build livable communities on both sides?
Recently, the Senate voted on a simple budget measure to allow Congress to consider additional funding to address “the crisis of climate change through new policies that create jobs, reduce pollution, and strengthen the economy of the United States.”
The measure was passed by the narrowest of margins. Only one Republican, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE of Maine, supported it — Louisiana's senators did not.
What will it take?
The nation is under attack from a climate system that we have neglected for too long. We need to mobilize and throw everything we can at the problem and lead the world with American can-do ingenuity, grit and determination.
Now is the time for fortunate Americans who haven’t yet experienced the ravages of climate change to pay attention to those of us who are on the front lines.
For any members of Congress who doubt the severity of the climate crisis, I invite you to come visit us. Stay at our rebuilt home. Visit our family’s cemetery and see where waters lifted coffins out of the ground like a scene from the apocalypse.
See with your own eyes what is happening here.
It’s time for America to wake up and for Congress to step up.
Jerome Ringo is the co-founder and chairman of Zoetic Global and is the global ambassador of Climate Clock, a clock that counts down the critical time window to reach zero emissions. Ringo is past chairman of the National Wildlife Federation and was president of Apollo Alliance, a coalition of organized labor, environmentalist, business and civil rights leaders.
This piece has been updated.