Sunday, December 5, 2021

Hurricane María: Time to turn data into action

By on October 24, 2017

When I heard the forecast of the arrival of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, it felt like I was listening to a report from the Puerto Rico Climate Change Council.

The mission of the council is to generate scientific reports on the current and potential impact of climate change on people living in vulnerable communities, as well as to infrastructure, ecosystems and wildlife. Their reports are often highly technical and unattractive to the general public. However, the news about Hurricane Maria was called climate change everywhere.

Describing the atmospheric phenomenon as a ferocious one that followed the passage of another historically intense storm, gaining force from the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and threatening coastal areas with storm surge, I could conclude nothing else than what I was listening to was the statement that we are already living in the new hostile climate that has been talked about for decades. This time it was reporters who presented this report in a natural way. Finally, climate change was a relevant issue for all.

This photo shows a farm in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, before it was destroyed by September 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Poinsettias, orchids and other ornamental plants were raised and sold to major retailers including Costco, Walmart and Home Depot. In a matter of hours Maria wiped it away. (Héctor Alejandro Santiago via AP)

This photo shows the same farm after being destroyed by Maria. Farmers fear Puerto Rico’s small but diverse agricultural sector may never recover from the destruction to one of the island’s economic bright spots. (Héctor Alejandro Santiago via AP)

However, prior to the threat of Hurricane Irma and the arrival of Hurricane Maria, scientific data reflecting this potential impact were never translated into a common language. There has been no intentional campaign in Puerto Rico for these data to be considered in generating public policies that encourage prevention and adaptation; to halt the development of any project in vulnerable areas or to achieve the operation of power generating plants by means of renewable resources.

The lack of translation of the results of scientific studies on climate change and its imminent impact on our environment is a serious offense. Given this information, we must raise the alarm to achieve action toward adaptation and prevention. It is necessary that we make a transition from academia to action in Puerto Rico; that we develop public policy with this information; that we collaborate with every sector and that, once and for all, let not the political agendas lead the reins of our country, the reins of our future.

On the road to reconstruction, it is important that we take into account the track record of destruction and impact left by Hurricane Maria. Within the misfortune that we live we have this in our favor, a clear idea of areas not suitable for development and deficiencies in our infrastructure. Keeping this impact in our minds is important when proposing redevelopment measures.

My suggestion is one that incorporates not only studies by climate scientists, but also on food security, alternative and collective transportation, the development of renewable energy and natural resources as assets for economic development in reconstruction models. Only in this way will we promote opportunities to rise even stronger than we were as the Island of Enchantment.

We are all part of the ambitious country agenda that lies ahead. It is not cost-effective to work with independent agendas, obviating reality. I assure you that at the end of the road we will meet face to face and we will have no choice but to accept that our scientists were right: The threat of climate change in Puerto Rico is real and we are already experiencing its severe impact. Considering climate change right now is a matter of life and death.

– Brenda Torres is the executive director of the San Juan Bay Estuary Program

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