As North Carolina enters a new decade, seen and unforeseen challenges lie ahead for the state and its 10.6 million people — one such challenge being that of climate change.
While climate change is often spoken of as a future dilemma, its effects are already being felt throughout North Carolina, particularly in coastal and low-lying regions. In 2018, the climate change-fueled Hurricane Florence devastated the eastern part of the state, shutting down campuses, causing $17 billion in damage and killing 39 people.
As the consequences of human-induced climate change become more tangible across the world and in North Carolina, calls for action have become louder and larger. In North Carolina, various groups and individuals are calling for more action and preparing for what 2020 has in store.
Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, interim director of the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, cited prolonged droughts and coastal threats to freshwater resources as predominant issues the state faces.
Higher temperatures and increased rainfall also pose challenges to the state. He said the worst consequences of these environmental problems are often experienced by marginalized communities — particularly communities of color and those of a lower socioeconomic status.
”What tends to happen, and this proves to be happening with climate change at the moment, is that marginalized communities, poor communities, communities of color are those that are most impacted by environmental pollution and in this case the consequences of climate change,” Bayard said. “We’re seeing the persistent recurrence of communities that have been marginalized in the past be continually impacted to a much more severe degree.”
One such example is the water contamination that followed the construction of the Orange County Regional Landfill in 1972 near the Rogers Road community, a historically African-American community north of Carrboro and Chapel Hill. The landfill continues to threaten the environmental quality and health of the residents despite the Board of Orange County Commissioners voting to have it closed in 2013.
Robert Campbell, president of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, moved to the neighborhood around the same time the landfill opened. He said the county promised the residents at the time that they would receive access to amenities, such as municipal water and sewage and road pavement.
”At the time, when it began to talk about amenities, it seemed like it was a good idea to the community the way it was explained,” said Campbell.
However, the promise was not fulfilled. Some households have been waiting for decades, receiving access to the sewer lines as recently as the spring of 2019. Additionally, convenience centers are still operated at the landfill site, where residents dump trash, often without proper precautions that can result in contamination of local water systems.
Campbell said the contamination of green spaces and waterways is of particular concern. He said when pollutants from solid waste enter waterways and damage trees, those trees cannot absorb the polluting gases emitted from the landfill as efficiently, and air quality worsens.
”I would like for the community as a whole to be more concerned about taking care of the environment,” he said.
However, many residents of the Rogers Road community do not have representation beyond that of the BOCC. Most live in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Chapel Hill, with a segment of the community that can participate in Carrboro local elections. While they advocate and speak with representatives, Campbell said it is challenging that the community cannot vote for anyone who sits on the Chapel Hill Town Council.
Because of this, RENA strives to encourage collaboration between the three jurisdictions to solve the problems created by them in the community decades ago, and to further advocate for good environmental stewardship. With land near the Rogers Road community being the subject of discussions about development, many are calling for the impact of any development on the community and the environment to be kept in mind.
Julie McClintock, a member of the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, said the Town should adopt performance standards recommended by the American Institute of Architects that prioritize carbon neutrality in buildings as a way to mitigate these consequences of development.
In terms of protecting waterways, McClintock said CHALT has supported subwatershed studies to identify areas at risk of flooding and advocates for better stormwater rules to prevent construction sites from contaminating watersheds during storms. The costs of these projects, however, can impede significant progress. In 2016, the Town estimated costs of the project to be around $23 million for the Booker Creek watershed alone.
“Maybe there is a finite limitation on what the town can do about the changing climate, which is just a tragedy,” McClintock said. “If every town in the United States did something and if every town in the world did something, it’s all cumulative. That’s why we shouldn’t give up. But there are limits.”
McClintock said she has hope for more progress. The challenge is agreeing on how to solve these problems and how to have more productive conversations. CHALT has seen success in advocating for stormwater rules and solar energy systems and continues to advocate for carbon-neutral development, tree canopy protection and personal responsibility, among other things.
“I would say building, transit and stormwater, I think those are the three major areas where you can really make some progress,” McClintock said.
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