Climate Change Is Not a Warning for North Carolina – It’s Already Here.

A view of a damaged trailer in Haywood County, NC, after historic flooding. Gov. Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency in Haywood County after the heavy rainfall from Tropical Depression Fred devastated the area, putting businesses under 6 feet of water and mud and killing several.l Climate scientists warn that climate change will produce more frequent and violent storms in the years to come. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

By Todd Zimmer

September 15, 2021

A rural North Carolina advocate on the need for big climate change and infrastructure plans to offset the impacts on farms and families.

It’s been a long, hot summer in North Carolina.

For those of us who have always lived in the South, you would think we would be used to it by now. But the truth is, the average temperature in North Carolina has remained well above normal since the 1990s and is consistently — and rapidly — getting warmer. 

I’m a native Carolinian who spent most of my 20s learning about the science of climate change and organizing for change. Ten years ago, it was still possible to imagine a future where we acted in time to avoid major disruptions. Now, as I begin to raise my own young Carolinian, I worry about her future. I wonder where she will find safety in our state, as we witness the local impacts of climate change from the mountains to the sea.

Climate change is no longer something we are being warned about– it is here.

From the devastating and destructive forest fires in the west, to tornadoes happening in places they have never occurred before, every week a new climate-related weather story breaks in our country. But this is no far away thing: Our state and our people are right in the middle of this crisis. 

The 140,000 North Carolinians who had to file for federal disaster assistance after Hurricane Florence know that climate change is here, as do the families of the six people killed in the tragic flash flooding that recently occurred in western North Carolina. 

Last year, the “North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan” was released, compiling the research of various state agencies and offering dire scientific warnings about the effects man-made climate change will likely have on our state by the end of the century unless rapid and sustainable measures are taken.

There is simply no more question about it. Climate change is already causing losses in our state’s agriculture and economy. It is affecting our residents’ health and our environment, tourism and transportation, public safety and water resources, housing and buildings. It is impacting everything we do from how we build our homes to how we travel to how we live our everyday lives.

We know that climate change will disproportionately affect poor and working class North Carolinians, especially those living in rural areas. It is already impacting struggling fishermen with habitat loss; poor hog farmers down east with dangerous storm surges; tobacco farmers in the Piedmont through drought; people eking out their living in hollers in Appalachia with flash flooding; and it is impacting the hard working North Carolinians who build, construct, pave, till, fish, hammer, and harvest for a living in the increasingly extreme heat. 

The effect of this increasingly severe heat and these dangerous storms is taxing our already fraying infrastructure. Mid-sized North Carolina cities such as Burlington and Salisbury are finding their aging sewer systems unable to handle increased rainfall and roads that for decades have stayed dry are now flooding. Western North Carolina residents are raising concerns about dilapidated dams. Coastal residents are watching the water creep ever closer to their homes and parts of the highway system in low lying areas now often become impassable even after lesser storms.  

North Carolina needs a major investment into our infrastructure to protect us from climate change and this investment needs to be done in a way that decreases our impact on the planet. The bold and ambitious “Build Back Better plan” creates a once-in-a-generation investment into states like North Carolina that does exactly that.

We need to encourage our representatives in Washington to vote for a strong, big, and bold infrastructure package that would create millions of good, union jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and do so in ways that prepare us for climate change without adding to it. 

To truly build back better, the infrastructure bill should target at least 40% of the benefits of these climate and clean infrastructure investments into disadvantaged and rural communities. 

Through this plan, we could rebuild dams and levies and other infrastructure to protect our communities from climate change induced catastrophe, we could invest in electric vehicles and alternative energies, we could modernize public transit, and we could provide good paying jobs to workers to accomplish all this. 

It seems like a win-win situation for North Carolina — a state that needs it now. 


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