I didn’t know I would be making jam at 3-o-clock in the morning, but there I was.
I was 26 years old. I had just moved out of my family’s home and was living alone for the very first time. I had found a studio apartment in Miami with bright yellow walls that reminded me of sunshine, and it was perfectly cozy.
On this November day in 2020, my new tiny home was in the path of a tropical storm, with the strongest impacts projected to hit throughout the night. At the time, I was working in a climate organization and I had acquired some hurricane preparedness skills. Although I was equipped with emergency supplies, I was entirely unprepared for what awaited me.
In the early afternoon, the wind started howling and my windows started shaking. Debris violently pummeled into the window panes and I felt they would crack at any time. It was then that I became afraid for my life.
As the evening arrived, I found myself debating whether to go to sleep. I feared that if I fell asleep, I would awake to windows bursting and I would be sucked into the storm, like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.
I tried calming exercises and attempted to sleep, but was unable to. The hours passed by so slowly, and I turned to a source of comfort to keep my nerves at bay. I started to cook.
In the twilight hour of 3-o-clock in the morning, I took mixed berries out of my freezer and started making jam on the kitchen stovetop. My pot-stirring distracted me from the deluge of rain and debris that surrounded my building.
I didn’t end up sleeping at all that night, and fortunately in the morning, I emerged safe from the storm, but the experience changed me. You see, I have been involved with environmental activism since I was a teenager, but I have never experienced a fear like the fear I felt of being sucked out of my home into a storm. I thought I was going to die.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, as the climate warms, scientists “…project that on average, tropical cyclones and hurricanes will have higher wind speeds and higher precipitation rates.” This particular night, the storm highlighted the very real vulnerabilities that so many people, myself included, experience. I am a climate educator by profession, and I have often talked to members of the public about the intersection of the climate crisis and social justice. As many of you know, though, it’s very different to experience something first-hand rather than talking about it to someone else.
I thought I could protect myself from a storm with my supplies and climate knowledge, but that’s not true. None of us are immune from these threats.
Our communities have many issues of equity, and we need to address them on a global scale. Lives are at stake in this climate crisis, and our cultural emphasis on being independent and self-sufficient needs to change. We need each other. We need governments enacting creative, large-scale, and community-informed solutions. We need corporations to stop lying to us with their greenwashing messages, and instead foster a culture of authentic climate leadership and ingenuity rooted in community. We need community members to speak up and we need decision-makers to listen and act accordingly.
Let’s host more town halls, more climate rallies, more community events. Let’s foster more spaces for sharing our climate stories, Indigenous knowledge, and our feelings. Let’s make plans for more green and blue spaces, more renewable energy, less pollution, and less environmental degradation.
I believe we can counter the darkness of the climate crisis with the optimism of the climate movement. It’s going to take all of us.
Bring yourselves, grab a chair, and join the movement. It’s going to be a long conversation, but if we get hungry along the way, I can bring some bread and jam.
Julieta Rodrigo is a certified climate science educator and communicator, and a member of Climate Generation’s Window into COP26 Delegation this November. In her role as Program Manager at The CLEO Institute, she educates students, teachers, and the general public about the climate crisis. Learn more about Julieta and subscribe to follow her experience at COP26.