By LiAnne Yu
Last week, I attended the 42nd Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Al Gore was our main instructor, spending hours each day helping us get familiar with his presentation, made famous by the film, An Inconvenient Truth. As trained leaders ourselves as well, we now have access to that material in order to create our own, localized versions of it.
As part of this training, we were asked to articulate our climate stories – our narratives about how we have personally experienced climate change. I started scribbling notes about my big “aha” moment back in the summer of 2014. I remember jumping in at Two Step, my favorite snorkeling spot off of Hawaii Island, and immediately knowing temperatures were warm – too warm. The ocean felt like a bath tub. Over the next year I saw my favorite underwater spot transform. Record temperatures caused the cauliflower coral to become bleached. As the corals died off, the reef fish disappeared. Areas that were once rich reef ecosystems, orange and bright blue and purple and iridescent, now look like abandoned underwater parking lots. I started writing about the sadness I felt, having lost one of the most beautiful places I know.
And then I stopped writing. And had to call myself out on my own bullshit.
The fact is that all of my very privileged life has been well insulated from the effects of climate change. Sure, my favorite snorkel spot isn’t as pretty as it used to be. But so? Is my home being threatened by coastal erosion? Is my livelihood threatened by drought? Will I have to flee my country because of famine and the conflict that brings?
I am lucky (and nothing more than that) to not have a climate story. But those of us without one will eventually be in a very privileged minority. This June, at least 36 people have died as temperatures in India reached 123 degrees F. In 2018, 97% of Iran experienced an extreme drought. In the same year, the Camp Fire killed 86 and destroyed 14,000 homes and businesses in Paradise, California. Water scarcity already affects more than 40% of the world’s population. The World Bank projects that by 2050, 143 million people could become climate refugees – displaced because of sea level rise or other climate change outcomes.
Such staggering numbers are numbing. Let’s fight against that. Let’s tell these stories, one at a time. These are the stories that matter.