This article originally ran in the Democrat & Chronicle out of Rochester, NY.
(Photo: Steve Orr/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle))
Brady Fergusson's life odyssey took him from Rochester to the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati, where he lived for two years and met the woman who became his wife.
It was there, on Kiribati's collection of low-lying atolls and one small island, that Fergusson learned firsthand the effects of climate change.
Rising sea levels have caused salt water to infiltrate the fresh groundwater supply, making it unfit to drink and injurious to plants on which Kiribatians depend for food.
"These are people on the front line ... of climate change," Fergusson told 150 people who gathered in Rochester on Saturday morning. "It's likely that the people of Kiribati are going to have to leave their islands in the future. But where will they go?"
Experts say many people will be forced to abandon their island and coastline homes in coming decades and centuries as the oceans rise. Some may seek to relocate to the United States — to Rochester. "We have to prepare for this," he said.
Fergusson was one of 10 people who shared personal stories about the impact of the world's changing climate on their lives and the lives of people around them. The event at which they spoke, Rise for a Resilient Rochester, was intended to drive progress of the issue.
At Saturday's session, held at Asbury First United Methodist Church, the true target audience sat right in front: Roughly 25 elected officials and candidates for office, and representatives of government agencies, colleges and business groups.
The purpose of the meeting, and several thousand others like it that were held Saturday on every continent but Antarctica, was to urge the decision-makers at large institutions to act on climate change.
"We' are counting on you to. You can work to put these solutions in place now," said David Alicea of the Sierra Club Rochester Regional Group, a co-sponsor of the gathering.
The Sierra Club and the other co-sponsoring group, Rochester People's Climate Coalition, an eclectic group of citizens, to give testimony to those decision-makers.
- Nannett Cepero has spent years studying and growing exotic fruits and vegetables at her Rochester home, seeking to replicate a childhood in Florida filled with sweet delights. But the growing patterns of the plants she has nurtured are changing in response to rising temperatures. This signals to her that agriculture in this region, and in the entire country, faces an uncertain future. "I'm concerned about our food supply. Are farmers ready?" she asked.
- Ericka Jones, an advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, said the frequent violent storms that experts say are being driven by climate change have exposed "many gaps" in emergency transportation and communication for people with disabilities. "We need to look at what we're doing in the city and county for emergency management and figure out if what we're doing is enough," she said.
- Dorian Hall, an activist in southwest Rochester's PLEX neighborhood, said heavy rains and rising temperatures associated with climate change may well exacerbate the environmental and health threats of a notorious brownfield in the neighborhood. The Vacuum Oil site is heavily contaminated with petroleum products that were spilled and dumped there decades ago. "We are in a fight to try to get this contaminated land cleaned up as fast as possible," he said.
- The Rev. Ruth Ferguson, Episcopal rector at downtown's Christ Church, Rochester, is struggling to recover from Lyme and two other tick-borne diseases she contracted in upstate New York. Her medical leave may extend a full year. She warned that the ticks that carry many dangerous diseases are spreading as rising temperatures make northern climes more hospitable to them. "The rise and spread of tick-borne disease is global and it's not an act of nature," she said.
The worldwide lobbying effort, of which the Rochester gathering was part, is a lead-in to a Global Climate Action Summit to be held next week in San Francisco to celebrate progress in countering climate change and formulate strategies for “accelerated action.”
Linda Isaacon Fedele of the Rochester climate coalition, noted that many individuals have taken steps such as making their houses more energy-efficient or using renewable energy to light their homes.
But that's not enough, she said. Broader systemic change is needed to bring about significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — communitywide transitions to renewable energy, major improvements in mass transit, a rapid move away from reliance on fossil fuels in investment in fossil-fuel producers.
"Our leaders make these decisions. It's up to us to influence them," she said.
Brady Fergusson is a member of the leadership team of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers for Environmental Action. He is leading the effort to create a Peace Corps Action Team as part of Citizens Climate Lobby, an international action to create forward momentum on legislation to address climate change issues.]