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Escape from Irma

See that blue dot? Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got myself in this situation.

I remember quickly packing all my belongings into two suitcases and hopping onto a
small boat with 40 of my peers. This must be what it feels like to run for your life, I thought to
myself. Although we weren’t running, we were sailing.

All of us were packed on a ferry boat, the only thing the Coast Guard could spare at the time. The local islanders watched us drift through the warm Caribbean water, no chance they knew the monster that was coming for them. None of us spoke the entire way to Providenciales, the island with the international airport in Turks and Caicos.

The airport felt like a scene out of a movie. It was packed with people desperately searching for last minute flights off the islands. Anywhere out of the path of Hurricane Irma, the Category 5 hurtling directly toward us. The next few hours were a blur, with people approaching
me asking if there was room on my flight. Just one seat for a local child, just two seats for an
elderly couple here on vacation.

I remember holding my passport with shaky hands, unable to fully process everything. My abroad program was being emergency evacuated; our headquarters sent a private jet last minute to get us all out. Our plane would be the last to leave before everything shut down for the storm, and we all knew it.

I watched families beg airport officials to speak with someone higher up. “I’m so sorry, there’s no room,” I heard them say to everyone. We weren’t allowed to take any extras because of U.S. immigration laws. My heart dropped when we boarded the jet to find an overwhelming amount of extra seats. The privilege slapped me in the face in the form of immense guilt for abandoning the little island I was lucky enough to call home. I try not to think about it.

One year later and I’m feeling a bit of deja vu. Most headlines I saw last week were about
Hurricane Michael, the Category 4 classified as the third most intense hurricane to ever hit the
U.S. Before Michael, it was Florence, another intense Category 4. Aside from all the disaster
headlines, a “first of its kind” experiment was conducted on Florence. Led by Dr. Kevin Reed,
the study illustrates how Florence would have looked without the influence of climate change.

Using a climate model that generates forecasts with and without climate change factors,
researchers were able to find specific increases in weather patterns that wouldn’t have occurred if it wasn’t for higher precipitation, rise in sea levels and increased temperatures. They found that Florence was likely eight to nine percent larger than it would have been without climate change factors. Our planet is already changing.

After collecting two decades worth of satellite altimeter data, NASA has started publishing studies on how hurricanes are “intensifying significantly faster now than they did 25
years ago.” Category 2 storms in particular are reaching Category 3 winds roughly nine hours
faster than they did 20 years ago. Weather stations across the U.S. along with NOAA scientists
have recorded a 10 percent increase in precipitation since 1948. The science is undeniable.

Natural disasters used to make me sad, but these days, I find myself angry. When I
watched Donald Trump throwing paper towels at climate refugees, I wondered how we could
have let this happen. Our own government rebukes climate change, calling science “fake news” and stating that global warming is a hoax, part of a greater scheme to support the left. Trump not only pulled us from the Paris Accords but continues to hire policymakers who unravel crucial environmental regulations.

Trump originally named Scott Pruitt president of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even though Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times in efforts to block safe air and water regulations. After Pruitt left in light of multiple scandals, Trump appointed Andrew Wheeler. Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the Murray Energy Corporation, the largest coal mining company in America. You see the pattern that’s going on here. Sadly, it’s often the poorest who repeatedly experience the wrath of climate change.

I watched the president play golf while people in South Caicos and other Caribbean islands like Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory) suffered without clean water or power for months. The region is already one of the most indebted in the world with 70 percent of that debt stemming from natural disasters. Governments are forced to borrow money for recovery efforts but aren’t able to repay the loans before another disaster strikes.

The evolution of environmental policy has been halted by our current administration, so
the next question is what do we do? First, we can start by voting for officials who are dedicated to fixing the problem. Research your local candidates and exercise your right to voice your opinion. Next we can attempt to reduce our own personal carbon footprint. Decrease your meat consumption, drive less and unplugging are simple things individuals can do. Finally, we can focus on our youth. They are the ones who will develop new technologies to monitor our changing planet, create ways to save lives during these mega-storms and vote for future leaders.

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