I never thought that my house on St. Helena Island in South Carolina would host the United States Congress or the United Nations. However, due to the on-going global pandemic, I have been able sit in prestigious political places via my computer screen without traveling and contributing further carbon emissions. As I tune in, I am concerned about the omissions- the omissions of the cost of climate change impacts on cultural heritage communities like the Gullah/Geechee Nation on the southeastern coast.
I wanted to simply sit back and listen, however for us on the Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, we don’t have that luxury. We must constantly find ways to sustain our land and our cultural heritage during every hurricane season.
My Gullah/Geechee roots run very deeply into the soil of the Sea Islands. It is not an easy task to reconcile my reality with folks in the western world using mathematics to simply do “cost benefit analyses” which often omit the living cultural heritage of communities. We must quickly resolve these differences because time is not on our side. So, to that end, I found myself reflecting on The Build Back Better Act before the United States Congress and those particularly attuned to our community, such as Majority Whip Clyburn and Senator Warnock. Their Congressional support can impact our ability to address climate change and adapt to the impacts that we cannot avoid for generations to come.
Congress must pass the Build Back Better Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, and comprehensively invest in coastal community adaptation and resilience. This will allow us to empower ourselves economically while enhancing the coastal resiliency of the environment and citizens. The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition partners with federal, state, and local government agencies and universities to design successful community-driven climate action projects. These types of successful projects could be advanced and then modeled for the country with federal funding support given specifically to grassroots efforts that provide the knowledge, tools and assistance required to help communities.
Early reconciliation bill language included grants that will be offered for pollution monitoring and climate resiliency. Those of us called “BIPOC” that live in the midst of all this unfortunately monitor it and are impacted by it daily. We are the ones who are the most disadvantaged financially, while also suffering the most from climate change induced health and environmental hazards. Therefore what should be “granted” is protection of our lives by directly funding grassroots efforts on the front shorelines of climate change. We can show others how to literally “build back better” by returning things to a more natural state that aligns with the cultural heritage of those of us that are native to the coast.
Our working waterfronts increase and sustain biodiversity while promoting a robust blue economy, yet they need climate protections too. This is critical to not only our fisheries, but also to the food security of our communities. The Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association and the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition continue to oppose future offshore oil leases and encourage blue carbon and ocean acidification research, mapping, quantifying and coastal restoration activities like the South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative and the use of green infrastructure in adaptation and resiliency planning and coastal hazard mitigation.
The potential loss of our coastal environment and cultural heritage communities is a number that cannot be calculated because the living traditions of its people are priceless. That is why Congress must pass the Build Back Better Act. I’ve traded watching the screen for sitting on the shoreline of the Sea Islands awaiting good news about this legislation protecting coastal cultural heritage communities so that we can have a Gullah/Geechee fish fry in celebration.