Voices of the Next Generation: Community Climate Resilience by Kaia Olson

Voices of the next generation – Community Climate Resilience

By Kaia Olson

In less than thirty years, my grandparents’ property on Lopez will be an island, the house only accessible by boat. And with some of the local roads already facing erosion and washout during the winter storms and extreme rain events, the routes are wisely being redrawn and plans are being made for the relocation of roads to further inland.

The phrase, “you have to be more careful with an island” has never been more relevant that it is today as the already delicate balance of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, so unique to the San Juan archipelago, is increasingly disrupted by the effects of the global climate crisis. Rising sea levels are easy to observe, and even in my relatively short lifetime, I’ve seen enormous change. But there are other effects, often less noticeable due to shifting baselines—the change happens, but not enough in one individual’s lifetime to be recognized as significant.

In the case of the San Juan Islands, no one knows the effects of climate change more than those who live here. That is why climate resiliency must be community-based. It can be difficult to change the scale of climate action from global to local and vice versa, but the local level is where meaningful change is achieved when addressing a crisis so universal as climate change. The bumper sticker “think globally, act locally” is an excellent mantra for tackling the issue. The beauty of locally based climate action is that it directly benefits the communities that enact it: decisions are made intentionally by the people who care most, and changes are tangible for everyone.

Locally based climate action and resiliency building can look very different depending on the community—after all, each individual community has its own needs and challenges. But some aspects are universal. Firstly, community education and engagement are the cornerstones of local climate action; a group of people aware of and educated about an issue are a powerful force for change. Secondly, political will and momentum is imperative for enacting lasting and community-wide development. An example where these two conditions have the potential to come together is the ongoing update of the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan. It will take community members making their positions clear and their voices heard for this plan to be thoughtfully designed.

Long story short, local action in any context, but most significantly in relation to climate resiliency, depends on community education and political action. We may not be able to completely

avoid the climate crisis already upon us, but we can build resiliency, moving forward and leaving no one behind. After all, each of us has a stake in the future of our planet.

We believe that our property is more valuable if we and our neighbors protect the shoreline. Orcas need salmon. Salmon need forage fish. Salmon and forage fish need the protection of eelgrass and kelp. Eelgrass and kelp need clean water. Shoreline protections are good for ecosystems and for the long-term economy of these lovely islands.

Val and Leslie Veirs

members, San Juan Island