Growing up in central North Carolina, close to the coastal beaches and mountain ranges, I learned that the land was so much more than the ground beneath my feet. As someone who loves to be outside, I would look forward to the one week every summer when my family would head out to Wrightsville Beach in Wilmington, NC, escaping our worries and responsibilities with the sand and ocean air. As we got closer to the beach, the same familiar signs and houses would start to appear, making me and my sister squeal with excitement. Within 15 minutes of arriving, we’d have changed into our bathing suits and flip-flops and run onto the beach. We’d spend hours collecting sea shells and sand dollars along the coastline.
We’d always enter the beach at the same entrance near Jim’s ice cream kiosk. Annually, for every day of that week-long trip, we’d stop by Jim’s and satisfy our sweet tooth. Even though we only saw him for that one week each summer, he’d always greet us with big hugs. “I was wondering when you folks were gonna get here!” Jim came to know us so well he began sending us his family’s annual holiday card. Jim became a hallmark of our annual beach trip.
As I grew older, I became increasingly aware of climate-related changes around Wrightsville Beach. Local businesses began to close or relocate due to flooding. “SAY NO TO OFFSHORE OIL” signs began popping up on residential lawns on the path to the beach. An employee of the local oceanography museum warned us that native species were beginning to move because of changing sea temperatures. A few years ago, Jim informed us that it would be his last summer selling ice cream on the beach. He was getting older, and the increasingly hot summer temperatures were bad for both him and his business. And in 2018, my family watched in horror as Hurricane Florence landed just south of Wrightsville Beach, devastating Wilmington homes and businesses and leaving most residents without power for days. News outlets flashed picture after picture of Wilmington families hurriedly evacuating from the hurricane and our familiar places inundated with water and debris.
Although my family could escape the coasts of the state and return home, many families who permanently live on or near these beaches do not have this luxury. While the beach was a nice vacation for my family, people’s lives and livelihoods rely on the coastal land and economy. Patterns of climate change threaten many, like Jim, who rely on their local, coastal businesses for financial security. Flooding from rising sea levels, heavier rainfall and storms, and extreme temperature changes now haunt the residents of Wrightsville Beach and other coastal communities. While the city of Wilmington continues to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Florence, the effects of climate change that lie in its future might be much worse. With recent studies indicating that Wilmington homes and businesses could go underwater in as soon as twenty-five years, we must act now to protect our coasts from the harsh effects of climate change.
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9), requiring the Trump administration to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement and hold itself to international emissions regulations in the fight against climate change. While this is a powerful first step in accountability and environmental advocacy, we can and must do more. More climate legislation like H.R. 9 is gravely important. This requires electing representatives who recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and prioritize environmental policy and holding this administration and future administrations accountable for our planet. It also requires us to exercise our civic voices and make sure our representatives hear us when we say we want climate action now. The fight against climate change is personal; we all see it in our communities and the way we live our lives. It requires all of us who share this same planet to advocate for climate policy and accountability, recognizing the urgency of this crisis and acting now.