There is no doubt that climate change is happening, and it is clear that the negative effects of this change are increasing at an alarming rate. As a young person, climate change is an issue that terrifies me, and I am sure will continue to effect my life in the future.
My country, the U.S., is one of the top consumers of fossil fuels, and in September 2017, one of our territories was hit with the strongest climate change disasters it has ever seen: Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Corporations and political leaders hold power over decisions such as fossil fuel use, and without any regulation or change, normal citizens will continue to suffer. I am going to look at the specific case of negative climate change effects in Puerto Rico, how these effects exposed corruption in Puerto Ricos government, and the underlying issue of colonialism.
The rainfall that occurred during Maria was incredibly destructive to the island’s infrastructure. It caused widespread flooding, destroyed crucial dams, and helped knock-out drinking water to nearly the entire island. It also triggered tens of thousands of landslides, which isolated communities for days or weeks at a time.
Climate change is the reason that storms like Maria are happening more frequently and becoming more intense. Warming oceans are responsible for increased rainfall and flooding, and the storms are thriving with warmer atmospheres and higher moisture availability.
But, the issue of climate change is not the only problem Puerto Ricans face. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria unveiled a corrupt government and problems of colonialism that were only recently brought to the worlds attention.
When Hurricane Maria hit, many Puerto Rican residents said that their lives changed over night. Fully, 83 percent reported either major damage to their homes, losing power for more than three months, employment setbacks or worsening health problems, among other effects of the storm. A year later, residents were still struggling with basic necessities. Both the U.S. and local Puerto Rican governments seemed to ignore or underrepresent these facts, and after Maria, basically left Puerto Ricans to fend for themselves.
Puerto Ricans have witnessed a failure of help from all levels of government. Donald Trump has long spewed the rhetoric that his administration’s recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Maria were appropriate and effective, saying that the federal government did “a fantastic job” there. Overall though, Puerto Ricans gave terrible feedback when rating the presidents response to Maria.
Locally, Puerto Ricans had an unsupportive government that underrepresented Maria’s death toll for months after the disaster. Then, a few years later, Puerto Ricans witnessed their Governor, Ricardo Rossello, targeting victims who had died during the storm after nearly 900 pages of messages were released between the Governor and his colleagues.
This was the last straw. After this news, thousands of Puerto Ricans gathered on the streets of San Juan to protest the resignation of Rossello. Immediately after, the Governor refused to step down, but after he was faced with impeachment and persistent protestors, he resigned a week later.
This protest was not simply about Rossello though. It has stemmed from decades-long economic crises and political mismanagement in Puerto Rico. Also, according to many Puerto Rican political observers, Hurricane Maria, and therefore climate change, was at the heart of their resistance.
The relationship between resistance and climate change is an important one. These issues in Puerto Rico were no secret to Puerto Ricans, but the protests against Rossello may not have happened if it had not been for Hurricane Maria. Therefore, this allowed Puerto Ricans to gain nation wide attention to the underlying issues of colonialism that has been occurring in their country since the 1500’s.
Changes that are happening with the earth are causing huge amount of suffering, and it is mostly concentrated in marginalized groups. Yet, we have a government and a President who does not acknowledge climate change, has changed fossil fuel regulation, and has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, and even after science has continually acknowledged that storms such as Maria are accelerated by climate change, the administration still does have any empathy or a solution for help.
We are one of the top consumers of fossil fuels in the world, and even when our own territory is experiencing the negative effects, we turn our backs and deny them help. Hurricane Maria is only the beginning of climate accelerated storms, and I believe the governments responsible for this acceleration should hold some accountability.
Support is still needed. The effects of Maria are still lasting through the island, and the U.S. should be there to help its citizens in need. The government seems useless in this manner, so I think it is up to fellow citizens to offer help in any way they can. While Puerto Ricans are able to make their own internal changes, they cannot fight the lasting effects of climate change alone.