Climate Vulnerability

This story was originally created by Malini Goel during the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Minneapolis in 2019.

In 2006, my otherwise healthy father suffered an accident which rendered him quadriplegic on a ventilator.

What does this mean in layman’s terms? It means that in an instant, he could no longer move below the neck or breathe on his own. He was otherwise healthy before his accident.

He lived that way for 10 years and 8 1/2 months, but I recall one incident which is one of the scariest things that happened to us.

Some years ago, our small town in Northwest Indiana suffered one of the worst flooding events in its history. I saw it as just another sign of what climate change is doing to small communities around the world.

During that storm the power went out. The lights went out, my father’s medical bed deflated, and worse of all, the power on his ventilator turned off. He was on the emergency list of our local utility but somehow it didn’t work and our back up generator also did not turn on. We started to vigorously pump air into his lungs with an ambu bag just so he could breathe. I have never seen such fear in my otherwise brave, courageous stoic, cardiologist dad’s eyes. The street near the front of our house was flooding and we called emergency services.

I was terrified that he would succumb to his vulnerability. Was he going to become a climate casualty?

Like so many of the elderly and disabled did during Hurricane Katrina? Or like they did more recently during hurricane Maria? Or how so many of the vulnerable among us around the world are left behind to die during climate emergencies?

Luckily emergency services responded as they should. They were willing to evacuate him with the boat if needed. The utility got the electricity back up and running. His ventilator turned back on. We reinflated his medical bed. I realized in that moment that my dad could have become a victim of climate change just like so many of the vulnerable, disabled, and elderly people do in climate emergencies around the world.

Affluence didn’t matter in that moment. But household and community preparedness did.

After that incident, I created a household climate emergency action plan. I bought an inflatable boat and a crank radio and some emergency water and food. I communicated with neighbors so that they knew our needs and vulnerabilities. No climate action plan can be effective or complete without a safety net for the most vulnerable populations among us. And no man is an island. Pun intended.

Do you know your neighbors? Do you know if they have pets? Do you know if they are elderly or disabled?

While we strive towards climate change mitigation, we are already in a period where climate adaptation and resilience are critical.  I envision a world where we can all develop community cohesion and solutions together so that all of the vulnerable among us can survive the climate crisis.

We must leave nobody behind.

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