Climate change creates another flood — of youth activists

Baltimore and Ellicott City are still reeling from the disastrous flooding on Memorial Day weekend when biblical proportions of rain fell in a matter of just a few hours. Both of us watched on TV as floodwaters engulfed local streets and schools, destroying homes and cars just a few miles away from us. Unfortunately, this wasn’t news to us — flooding like this from “hundred-year” and “thousand-year” storms has struck our home state several times in the past decade. And just like after previous floods, people in Ellicott City and other Baltimore area regions have begun to rebuild. But what will it take for everyone to finally recognize and address the root cause — climate change — behind this flooding?

We know the answer: another flood.

Not another flood of water, tears and frustration about destroyed homes and lost lives. This time, it will be a flood of youth just like us, crowding the streets in Washington, D.C., next month. After the climate-fueled devastation that has taken place in our communities, now is the time for us to rise up in a youth-led march for climate justice called Zero Hour. We are asking you to join us.

Multiple pieces of evidence have come out linking the increasing trend in extreme weather incidents like the recent flooding to climate change. Rising temperatures have caused increased ocean evaporation, putting more moisture into the air and leading to increased cases of severe precipitation events. Across the Northeast, annual total precipitation and extreme rain events have risen significantly since 1901; the Ellicott City region has seen two 1,000 year floods in just two years.

It’s not just increased moisture in the air that is fueling flooding. Some areas, from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Annapolis, have been affected by flooding due to sea level rise, sometimes dubbed “nuisance flooding.” In Annapolis, higher levels of ocean water have started coming up through the storm drains, resulting in damage to historic buildings that will someday be underwater. One of the most famous stories of a Maryland sea level rise casualty is that of Holland Island, a tiny fishing community in the Chesapeake Bay that 360 people once called home. The island began to succumb to erosion due to higher water levels in the late 1900s, and by 2010, the last house had collapsed into the bay.

Research connects flooding and sea level rises to a warming climate. What we need now is action — policies to strengthen climate adaptation plans, making communities more resilient in the face of natural disasters; and policies that enhance climate mitigation, decrease our greenhouse gas emissions and keep our planet’s temperature under check. Such policies will require an enormous shift of attention and funding, transferring the $20.5 billion in subsidies that the American government gives to outdated fossil fuel infrastructure to clean, renewable energy and to adaptation mechanisms like raised housing or living shorelines. Imagine: What if the billions of dollars that our government currently pays to polluters to pollute were redirected to industries that reduce carbon footprints and put people first?

That is why we and thousands of other youth from around the country will be marching for climate justice in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, July 21, with Zero Hour, a completely youth-led movement. In addition to the march, the day will include speeches from young climate leaders and a showcase of artwork made by students from around the world. We will also be hosting a lobby day on Capitol Hill on July 19 in partnership with the march to campaign for feasible policy solutions to the climate crisis. To protect Baltimore County, Ellicott City and the dozens of other Maryland localities recently affected by the flooding, we need this second flood. We need a flood of people marching for climate policy, and we need a flood of policies that address the effects of climate change in an equitable and effective manner. Our government needs to shift the narrative by putting our dollars where they are needed.

Kallan Benson is a high school freshman from the Annapolis area. Claire Wayner is a recent high school graduate from Baltimore. They are spending their summer working with Zero Hour (Twitter: @ThisIsZeroHour), a youth-led climate justice organization leading a march in D.C. on Saturday, July 21. To join a bus from Baltimore, visit tinyurl.com/bmorezerohour. To learn more about the Zero Hour movement, visit thisiszerohour.org .)

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