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Lessons From the Frontlines of Global Warming – The New Republic

Moving to a better place isn’t an option if you’re struggling
to survive day to day. Wedding photographer Anjali Ponni Rajkumar saw that when
record monsoons and devastating floods hit slum dwellers in Chennai, India.
When the more fortunate arrived with pizzas, those living in huts got angry and
threw them back, resentful of the inequality that leaves them so exposed. While
Rakjumar’s family can store a truckload of water at home, poor residents stand
in lines each day to buy a single bucket of clean water. Rakjumar blames
government corruption and mismanagement.

Instability, dislocation, and disproportionate devastation
for poorer populations are growing. But these climate-induced jolts are also
spurring survivors to rethink their priorities and assumptions. After the 2018 Woolsey
Fire near Los Angeles burned down his family’s house, architect Greg
Kochanowski was stunned by the level of community support, both from neighbors
and strangers. “Everywhere we turned,
people were offering something—money, clothing, food, a place to rent,” he said,
acknowledging that his family is still grieving over the loss. “You start
believing in the human race again.”

Carol Duncan was touched when locals contributed $13,000 in
one day to the GoFundMe campaign she started for her father, who lost
everything to the Australian wildfires. Angry with the Australian government’s
inaction and increasingly aware of life’s precariousness, she decided to quit
her communications work in Sydney, focus on her family, and volunteer with fire
survivors and other relief organizations. “We are at a tipping point,” she
says. “My future is open; I do anything I can to help people and to prevent
future devastating fires from happening.”

Others, too, have
responded to instability by trying to help. After Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria
in 2017 and the failed response from the federal government, Glorynel Ojeda Matos decided to move her
family and work on a Ph.D. studying sustainability, water management, green
infrastructure, and behavior change. Sylvia Watchman, a Navajo Nation farmer facing
extreme drought in northeastern Arizona, has urged local authorities to make
changes that can protect scarce water resources; she also finds solace in
trying to recall balance between people and nature through Navajo stories.

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