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Rising Seas and Extreme Weather: Communities in Harm’s Way Want U.S. to Act Now

New America Media, Commentary, Staff Posted: Feb 10, 2010

Editor’s Note: This editorial was produced in association with New America Media (www.newamericamedia.org), a national association of ethnic media, and was published by ethnic media across the country to bring attention to the urgency of addressing climate change.

U.S. public concern about climate change has waned. The climate change summit in Copenhagen – largely viewed as a failure – did little to elevate the issue among the public. Climate change is foremost among the concerns of our communities. It is our responsibility, as the media that serve them, to call for action on this urgent matter. For many ethnic Americans whose family members are at the frontlines of global warming back in their home countries, climate change is a life-and-death issue.

If no action is taken, immigrants will continue to see their family members back in their home countries bear the brunt of rising sea levels and devastating cyclones.

About 300 million people live less than five meters above sea level, and 80 percent of them are in developing countries. Rising sea levels will inundate coastal countries and, in some cases, wipe out low-lying island nations.

In 2007, the World Bank assessed which developing countries would be the most devastated if sea levels rose by one meter. Vietnam, with 2,140 miles of coastline, topped most lists of indicators, such as land exposed, people affected, and farm land and wetlands destroyed. Egypt, Suriname and The Bahamas also consistently ranked among the highest. More recent research suggests sea levels will rise even more than that and at a faster rate.

Sea Level
Sea Level

Climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of storms and will devastate nations least likely to be prepared to respond to such natural disasters. The toll on human life and economies will be tremendous.

The countries most vulnerable to extreme weather events are Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Honduras, followed by Vietnam, Nicaragua, Haiti and India. In the last two decades, these countries suffered the most deaths and greatest economic losses as a result of extreme weather events, according to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2010.

Extreme Weather
Extreme Weather

Manila (Philippines), Alexandria (Egypt) and Lagos (Nigeria) top the list of cities, projected to be the hardest hit by storm surges, like the one that ravaged New Orleans post-Katrina.

In the United States, our communities are at the frontlines of climate change.

Many communities of color live in neighborhoods with the worst air quality and the highest rates of asthma, and pollution there will worsen as temperatures rise. They, too, have fewer resources to respond and adapt to climate change. A study by researchers at USC and UC Berkeley found that blacks in Los Angeles were twice as likely to die from a heat wave than other city residents because they lacked access to air conditioning and transportation.

As media who advocate for diasporic communities and serve as a bridge between home countries and neighborhoods here, we call on the White House and Congress to address climate change on two fronts: taking steps to reduce our own carbon dioxide emissions and helping the world’s most vulnerable countries respond and adapt to climate change through disaster preparedness, adaptation plans and green technology transfer.

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