The April meeting of the Puerto Rican Agenda was a powerful retrospective of the great advocacy work of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago. As typical, the participants deliberated key issues concerning the Puerto Rican community from Education to Housing and the development of Puerto Rico Town as a cultural corridor in Humboldt Park. However, during this meeting the Puerto Rican Agenda began to address an issue they had not formally taken on in the past — climate change. An environmental scientist who studies Puerto Rico’s climate, Dr. Rao Kotamarthi, came to speak to the Puerto Rican Agenda representing Argonne National Laboratory. Dr. Kotamarthi showed slide after terrifying slide with figures showing the extent to which climate change is already affecting Puerto Rico. Dr. Kotamarthi described how the rise in sea level is disappearing our beloved coastal towns as the ocean continues to erode the beaches, coasts, and entire apartment complexes. He went on to explain how climate change is reducing precipitation on the island, which will begin to affect agriculture and water resources. The presentation on climate change in Puerto Rico was a rude awakening that exposed how vulnerable the island is to the effects of climate change, and how urgent it is for Puerto Ricans on the island and throughout the Diaspora to act to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies. Dr. Kotamarthi made it clear that climate change is happening now, the sea level is rising and with every hurricane more and more of Puerto Rico will sink into the ocean. Moreover, he made it a point to recognize that climate risks could exacerbate pre-existing conditions or create new resource justice issues, which means that most likely the communities who already do not have equitable access to reliable energy and water will be most affected by the effects of climate change. If we want to have an island to leave to our children, we have to act now to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change in Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rican Agenda is getting organized to tackle this issue and bringing the response to climate change to the forefront of the development of Puerto Rico Town in Chicago. However, the reality is that climate change is a systemic issue, so we must all work together to put pressure on the government, corporations, and particularly the U.S. military, which is one of the biggest polluters/greenhouse gas producers in the world. It is crucial that we understand the fight against climate change is an inseparable part of our larger struggle against oppression. The struggle in Vieques to expel the U.S. Navy was a fight for human rights and against climate change. While the U.S. Navy was successfully expelled from Vieques in 2003, they never removed and cleaned up the toxic waste they left behind after years of bombing the island. Because of that toxic waste, Viequenses suffer disproportionately higher rates of cancer, when compared to other Puerto Ricans on the island. Consequently, the struggle against one of the world’s most prolific producers of climate change continues on the island. Let this be a lesson to us all that we must continue to fight climate change in solidarity and as a component of every struggle against oppression!