This spring, I traveled to southwest Florida where my namesake hurricane had made landfall the previous October. As I navigated pools of standing water and rubble-strewn streets, I noted the contrast between the storm’s lingering aftereffects and the manicured luxury to which this area usually aspired. Yet even standing within the direct footprint of climate change, I could not shake a sense of incompleteness—that I was somehow no closer to understanding the full forces at play
Disasters make up a core part of the American media diet. Climate change is no different, appearing almost interchangeably in the common imagination with the extreme weather events it generates. Yet peering over the half-rebuilt wreckage of the Sanibel Island Causeway, I was struck by the inadequacy of this likening. Extreme weather events may serve as evidence of climate change, but these snapshots fail to capture the vast, shapeshifting complexities of the larger process itself. Linked as it is with gases, fuels, circulation, and waves, climate change is as much of a fluid undermining of the way we make sense of the world as it is a self-contained object as such. Climate change is a sunburn, an acid ocean, a mutated pathogen. It is an image of an alien planet, hatching from this one. It is not merely a collection of extreme weather events that punctuate our otherwise ordinary lives, but the ground in which those lives actually take place
Humbled by the enormity of this challenge, I have gravitated towards projects that foster systemic resilience. CREW’s work does not remedy climate change or prevent extreme weather. Instead, CREW recognizes that safe, livable social structures benefit people and their surrounding environment regardless of where or when the next eruption of climate disruption occurs. CREW brings education and material resources to communities in order to nudge habitual crisis response towards participatory service.
Working for CREW this semester, my job was to perform outreach in a number of municipalities lining Massachusetts’s Charles River to gather feedback on a regional project using nature-based solutions to cultivate stormwater resilience. These outreach efforts were challenging, as each town held a distinct set of policy issues surrounding the river. It was all on the table: development, property rights, extreme heat, invasive species—what began as a conversation about stormwater flooding became a space to air a range of general community concerns about the local waterway.
Weighing the range of community responses to this project, I was pushed to ask further questions of Climate Resilience as a concept. Should resilience preserve communities as we currently understand them or inaugurate a different (likely hotly contested) future state? How should we honor local priorities, knowing that they may be insufficient or even contrary to measures that might better address the systemic drivers of climate change?
I have found that stepping into the Weirdness of the climate crisis does not have a paralyzing effect, but rather empowers local action. Liberated from the need to grasp at moonshot climate solutions, I concluded in my work on the Charles River that it was far more important to establish a trustworthy dialogue than to convince a public audience that any specific project was worth undertaking. Climate conversations have long revolved around technical treatments of carbon saturation, emissions, and energy sources, when they could in fact revolve around just about anything that is collectively meaningful.
Leaving CREW, I bring an elevated appreciation for regional collaboration and participatory planning. I see numerous ways to apply these insights as I deepen my commitment to resilience and adaptation.