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EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT | Addressing fear of global warming with local opportunities – Ventura County Reporter

Pictured: Young local residents in a Climate Strike March at Ventura City Hall. Sept. 20, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Rivers. 

by David Goldstein

As Halloween decorations appear this month, few children will fear the goblins, ghosts, and ghouls depicted in plastic and paperboard. But there is a topic sending shivers down the spines of young people today.  

Recently, KCLU, the local affiliate of National Public Radio, ran a six-minute segment in which Caroline Hickman, a lecturer at the University of Bath, in England, spoke about young people’s anxiety regarding climate change. Professor Hickman’s team surveyed 10,000 youth in 10 counties, asking their thoughts about climate change. She characterized the answers as “devastating,” claiming young people are so “frightened” about their environmental future, it affects their “daily functioning.”  

According to Professor Hickman, two-thirds of surveyed youth said they felt “angry, powerless, helpless, guilty and ashamed” of how society is responding to the challenge of climate change. Worse, “over half were telling us that they thought humanity was doomed”; four of 10 people aged 16 to 25 “felt reluctant to have children themselves because of their fears about climate change”; and many said these feelings negatively affected their “eating, sleeping, going to school, studying, working, playing and having fun.” 

Fears focused on increasingly frequent fires, floods, droughts and heat spells, as well as long-term changes associated with climate change, such as rising sea levels.

Just as parents can comfort children by explaining the truth about supernatural Halloween frights, Professor Hickman counsels sharing the truth about natural climate fears, mixing bad news with good news so hope can counter fear.  Empowering people to make a difference is also a positive response, and Aaron Engstrom, the Area Plans and Resources Manager of the Ventura County Planning Division, recently managed a project facilitating such an opportunity.

Using grant funding from the California Coastal Commission, Engstrom is engaged in a multi-year, multi-pronged effort, called VC Resilient, to update the county’s plans for climate resilience. He recently gathered public input through stakeholder and community surveys by engaging a group of California Lutheran University graduate students from the Masters in Public Policy and Administration program to collect and analyze survey data. 

The survey was designed to both gather data and educate the public, and Engstrom oversaw survey distribution through websites, email lists, and other outreach methods. Engstrom targeted areas inland of Ormond Beach and the McGrath Beach area for special attention, since flood control experts have identified these areas among local sites potentially most vulnerable to sea level rise, and these are also economically disadvantaged areas. The Planning Division sent paper surveys, in Spanish and English, to homes in these areas. 

Nearly 200 households provided input on preparations for climate resilience, and more will contribute as the process of gathering public comments continues for this sea level rise planning project.

After analyzing the data, the CLU students, led by faculty member Dr. Loredana Carson, presented their findings last month to the Ventura County Planning Division, providing the public’s input on potential actions the county can take to adapt to climate change. The students also made recommendations for additional community outreach. 

As one example of an adaptation policy, building standards for homes and infrastructure in vulnerable areas may require strengthened foundations, designed to withstand predicted levels of inundation during the expected lifetime of the structure being built. 

The Planning Division will gather more public input, collect additional data, conduct more studies and analyze options, and will likely present draft policies for review by the Planning Commission in early 2022, followed by referral to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors for consideration. 

On a Ventura County Planning website, VC Resilient Coastal Adaptation Project (vcrma.org), the public can leave comments and, at the bottom of the page, sign up for notifications of future opportunities to participate, including draft documents for review and notices of public outreach meetings and public hearings.

People may feel overwhelmed by the global phenomenon of climate change, and the requirement of worldwide cooperation needed to attain United Nations’ emission reduction goals is challenging, but preparing local resiliency and providing input to policy makers are empowering steps available to everyone, including our youth.

Contact: vcrma.org/vc-resilient-coastal-adaptation-project  

David Goldstein, Ventura County Public Works Agency Environmental Resource Analyst, can be reached at david.goldstein@ventura.org or 805-658-4312.

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